Giving up caffeine and sugar

sugar and caffeineWhy would I decide to quit sugar and caffeine? I mean really. The world wakes up to coffee and the day is rounded off nicely, with a big sugary dessert. I can even combine the two with my iced-mocha-choca-latte with extra cream.  But…and it was a big butt that was the problem. My jeans were started to feel rather snug and I found I had unsightly bulges poking over the top and sides of the waistband. I was also finding combining motherhood and work really tough. I felt permanently tired and had been alternating between coffee and sugary snacks in a feeble attempt to stay awake. Some mornings I was so tired I was ready to cry, so chocolate, Lattes and ice cream had become seriously bad ways to cheer myself up. The result – a caffeine and sugar high, followed by an almighty crash which left me even more tired than before.  Something had to give!

I knew exactly what the culprits were, so there was really no excuse. I had researched eliminating sugar from my diet – reading articles by Sarah Wilson author of ‘I Quit Sugar for Life’ and had watched Dr Robert Lustig’s excellent Lecture on YouTube Sugar: The Bitter Truth. I had also read lots about the negative effects caffeine could have on my health, including the premature aging of my skin. It was time to ditch them both – for the good of my energy levels and my waistline.

Of the two, caffeine was the easier to remove from my diet. I had given up caffeine before, so I knew in advance to expect the monstrous headache after a day or two without it. This time I was ready for it and got through the pain by drinking copious amounts of water and taking paracetamol. It was also easy to find a coffee substitute. I already drank decaf tea so swapping to decaf coffee didn’t make much of a difference taste wise and surprisingly I felt less tired almost immediately. I had found that the high of caffeine was often followed by a low and so the effect was a much more even flow of energy throughout the day.

However, giving up sugar was going to be a lot harder. Namely because:

a) I loved cake – particularly raspberry cream turnovers and eclairs which were my cravings of choice when I was pregnant. I was no longer pregnant. I had no excuse.
b) Sugar is in practically every type processed food I could think of.

A) – would be hard but I could do it. I had a choice. No one was going to force feed me cake and it was mostly a matter of getting out of the habits I’d got in to. Cake had stopped being ‘a treat’ for holidays and high days. My treat was occurring on a regular basis. Although the Adverts we watch on TV encourage us to ‘treat ourselves’, in reality it’s actually about selling more cakes, rather than for any great concern for our health and wellbeing.

The other culprits were my family and friends. My family thought they were making a loving gesture by providing me with a sugary gift and I ate desserts and cakes when I went out with my friends. This was due in part so that no one felt left out and also meant that they could indulge themselves without feeling guilty. When I thought about this it seemed rather daft. I realised I also told myself that it was ok to eat cake as I wasn’t fat. However it was proving surprisingly quick to add-on a few pounds when I didn’t watch what I ate.

The other problem was the thought that I would no longer be enjoying something I really loved. But then I reminded myself that actually there was lots of savoury food I enjoyed – I would hardly be starving. Finally I found out that sugar actually has no nutritional value and our bodies get exactly what they need from other foods. Apparently 58% of protein and 10% of fat turns into glucose. Our bodies are cleverer than we think

B) would be the real obstacle to overcome. Sugar was everywhere, especially in processed foods and in items you wouldn’t even think of such as bread. I would love to say that I would stop eating processed food and cook absolutely everything from scratch, but who was I kidding. There was no way I would be planning on baking my own bread anytime soon. What I could do was to be more sensible about the choices I made and consciously avoid the foods that were loaded with the sugar. The idea would be to lose my sweet tooth and make healthier choices. I would be unlikely to eliminate every bit of sugar from my diet, but I could certainly have a very good stab at it.

These are the tricks I used to eliminate sugar from my diet.

1) I followed Sarah Wilson’s advice of always reading the labels on food packaging. Now if I see anything with more that 5 grams of added sugar (about 1 teaspoon), I know that this should be avoided. I also avoid the ‘naughty aisles’ in the supermarket – no point heading down the cake and chocolate aisles if I’m not going to buy. I’ve also become mindful of foods that appear to be savoury, but actually contain lots of sugar. These include sauces, dressings, marinades and supposedly ‘low fat’ alternatives that leave out the fat, but stack up the sugar to compensate for the lack of taste.

2) I replace a pudding with a piece of fruit. Apparently the best fruits to choose are berries and grapefruit which luckily I love, but I’m also wary of fruit. Dried fruit is also high in sugar. Reducing sugar is meant to reduce my craving for sugar and my sweet tooth but by drinking smoothies or eating dried fruit, I’m sabotaging my own efforts.

3) I watch what I drink. I’ve already cut down on drinking alcohol, but apparently drinking fresh or concentrated juice has almost the same effect on my liver. One of the most insidious ways that sugar gets in our diet is through what we drink. This mens I have to avoid almost all soft drinks and branded drinks in the shops which all seem to contain either sugar or caffeine or both. So I now I stick to water which can be annoying, because sometimes I really fancy something else to drink other than H2O. Even Vitamin Water which is marketed as a healthy drink contains sugar.

4) I tell my friends and family I have given up sugar. This should preclude any impromptu presents and gifts and stop those awkward conversations over dinner about why I am not having pudding. I also ask my husband not to eat sugary snacks eg chocolate, in front of me.

5) I avoid restaurants where I love to eat the desserts. My favourite Italian is definitely off-limits until my cravings are reduced. Instead I choose Indian or Asian restaurants where my the time I’ve eaten my way through the starters and main, I’m usually too full to even contemplate pudding. I also avoid my local ‘all you can eat buffet’ with its chocolate fountain of loveliness.

6) I decided that this was a plan for life and I started it at a time when temptation was low. Summer was good time for me as opposed to Christmas when temptation would be everywhere. I wanted this to be for life and I spent a bit of time thinking what this would actually mean. At times it seemed a rather miserable existence, but really was it so much of a sacrifice. Probably not. The only thing I thought I would struggle with would be mulled wine at Christmas, but that only amounted to a couple of glasses a year.

I’m am now two weeks’ into giving up caffeine and sugar and I can report that it is going rather well. I’ve managed to avoid sweet things all together. I wrestled for a few moments over an apple cake and a flap jack, but the moment soon passed. My decaf coffee is going down a treat and I’m drinking more water. As a result I feel like I have more energy, especially when I get into work very early and my skin looks better and feels smoother.

Of course the rest of my life is a long time to go without sweet things, but for the moment – I’m doing good.

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