• Katie Dodsworth

I'm giving sugar-free February a go again. Last year I kept it up until June and felt great, bu

Out of the blue – over breakfast on the morning of 31st Jan 2017 – my husband came up with what I an initially thought was a crazy idea. “Chris Evans was just talking about Sugar-free February on the radio” he says, “Should we try that?” Immediately I dismissed the idea – why would I give up chocolate? Then I realised this was probably a good challenge to myself to do an experiment I’d been curious about for a while. Could I actually give up sugar, how hard would it be and what impact would it have? “Let’s do it” I said – feeling curious and actually perversely excited for someone with such a sweet tooth. Although we weren’t planning to inflict this on our children (a challenge I felt would be beyond me anyway), it would be a good way to raise awareness in them as-well. Also, we have a holiday coming up in March and I envisioned myself looking like Kate Moss in a bikini.

See my Diary of a Sugar Free Feb to see how it went.

Day 0: This was a fairly spontaneous decision, but with the day I had, I planned as best I could. Together my husband and I agreed our ground rules:

· No refined sugars

· No products with added sugar

· No honey

· Fruit is ok

· Alcohol only on special occasions (I know this one is cheating a bit but there was Valentine's Day and a few other celebrations we had planned for the month which were already now going to be cake/chocolate free – there’s a limit to my self-sacrificing!)

To maximise my chance of success, I wrote a list of the main categories of foods we couldn’t have (sweets, cakes, biscuits, soft drinks, jam, ketchup etc) and next to them wrote my ideas for substitutes. I then hid the obvious temptations that were already in the cupboards – I figured out of sight, out of mind.

Day 1 – It’s bedtime and I’m feeling smug. This is not so hard! Thinking about it though, I realise the only change I’ve had to make is not having orange squash and putting Bovril instead of jam on my toast for breakfast. Hubby, however, says he’s been fixated on chocolate all day! My most interesting observation of the day: I had a PTA meeting this evening in the pub (not a special occasion!) – there was literally nothing I could drink except water! How much sugar do we “accidentally consume” in situations like that normally?

Day 2 – I’ve woken up with a splitting headache - is that a side effect or just coincidence (possibly caused by having left heating on all night by mistake – must get better at controlled variables if this experiment is to work)? I also feel much hungrier than usual – thinking about it I often have hot chocolate before bed. Maybe I cut out a few more calories than I thought yesterday. Also, I realise this was the wrong time of the month to start this! I have PMT and even at 7.30am I'm wondering if I will actually make it through the day without running to Costa for latte & ginger biscuits - my guilty breakfast secret!

Come the evening, I have to rethink dinner. The plan was for sweet and sour chicken - but the sauce is 20% sugar. Chicken and savoury rice it is!

Day 3 – I wake up feeling proud. Yesterday was a tough day at work, which combined with PMT means the fact that I didn't run for chocolate, I am taking as a major achievement. I am going to a friend's later. She knows about my bad day & offered to get in the chocolate. Luckily, she's a good supportive friend and promised to hide the biscuits when I explained my experiment, but interesting that it is such a typical social response to offer sugar as comfort.

Day 4 – today was a bit of a turning point and revelation. Both Hubby and I have noticed that food is tasting different, better. Also, we went out for a birthday meal for our nephew and actually didn’t find it particularly hard to decline dessert or cake.

Day 5 – I realise I don’t have a headache anymore (was it sugar or just tension and time of the month?) and am not actually craving or missing sweet treats. The only issue is my substitutes are starting to get a bit boring and I do feel hungry quite a bit of the time – but I am determined to persevere.

Day 6 – one thing I have always been aware of is that my job as a consultant results in me eating out and on the go a lot and today is a prime example. Today I flew to Edinburgh for work. An airport (or train station or service station) breakfast for me would normally be a croissant or biscuits to accompany my coffee. The only thing I could find in a rush today that met our rules, was an egg mayo sandwich. Not quite as enjoyable to my palate! The other sugar-trap I have at work is catered meeting – the constant supply of biscuits and cakes is hard to resist. But, resist it I did today! I was hungry by the time I left the office though. Knowing that arriving hungry at the hotel would be a recipe for failure when presented with in-room biscuits, I tried to buy a snack on the way. I ended up having to go into 3 corner shops (all there was in the location I was in) before I could find anything in the rules – and what I ended up with was an uninspiring dry bread roll and an apple! It is quite appalling that healthy snacks are so hard to come by. Even those branded as healthy options contain surprising amounts of sugar, as do supposedly savoury snacks, like crisps or rice cakes. .

Day 7 – I'm at a hotel, and it turns out continental breakfast is NOT sugar free. I had to walk passed the pastries

, the sugary cereals, the syrup-soaked fruits, the toast with conserves etc and ended up just ordering boiled eggs & soldiers & took an apple! I couldn’t even go for full English because for me a cooked breakfast isn’t a cooked breakfast without baked beans and ketchup. I did feel cheated; that didn’t feel like £15 well spent and I was coveting all the lovely sweet foods on other diner’s plates! It also made me realise that breakfast is the meal I have been struggling with most. Partly because I eat it on the run so much (those ginger biscuits I think I’ve mentioned a few times now) and partly because when I am at home I tend to have toast and jam, hot chocolate and fruit yogurt – none of which I can have at the moment. I don’t like porridge without syrup or honey, cereals all have added sugar and I am frankly now bored stiff of Bovril on toast!

But, apart from that, one week in - have I noticed a difference?

On reflection:

- It has been easier than I thought – I don’t miss the treats that I thought I would

- I've had a tough week emotionally and would normally have used (and been given by caring friends) chocolate as a comfort – but I have coped fine without!

- I have been hungrier than normal - because I eat on the go a lot and buying sugar free food that way is hard. I need to plan more and carry snacks

Day 14 – We are half way there. In the first few days, I was thankful we'd picked the shortest month of the year. Today however (over our sugar free Valentine’s meal!) we're talking about extending it until our holiday in mid March.

My husband is feeling less lethargic and I have noticed my skin is much clearer. A bit surprisingly, we haven't lost any weight (which is a relief to my husband and a disappointment to me - but that is more of a sign of gender stereotyped body issues, neither of us is actually over or under weight). However, what we have noticed is that our stomachs look flatter and less bloated – and to be honest I do feel healthier.

Now we're thinking of keeping it up I am thinking about how to make the changes sustainable. The breakfast problem has to be fixed! This morning I made a batch of unsweetened Apple purée (a skill from my baby weaning days!). I mixed a spoonful into plain Greek yoghurt with a handful of raspberries. It didn’t hit the mark though. Without sugar it was pretty bland. I need to be more creative!

Day 21 – three quarters of the way now and I’m starting to form some really sustainable habits by finding better alternatives, rather than just going without and feeling hungry. I think I've cracked breakfast. This week I’ve had avocado on toast, scrambled egg with chorizo, banana &/or apple with (no added sugar) peanut butter, berries with cream – all of which are taste sensations and don’t take long to prepare, so breakfast boredom has been broken! I need a few additions to my menu though - suggestions welcome!

Day 28 – We did it! With the exception of wine on 2 occasions and the unknown as to what was in my curry when we ate out, we have had no refined sugar all month. It does feel like a real achievement and not actually too much of a sacrifice. I don't miss soft drinks or even cakes and chocolate – and having a solid reason to turn them down when offered helps resist temptation and social pressure.

The hard things for me are actually going to be sauces & coffee shop snacks. I think it might be all or nothing. If I go back to them "occasionally" I think it'll be a slippery slope to "often" - but is never worth it? I'm yet to decide…for now we are just going to keep it up until at least our holiday.

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