Friday, April 16, 2010

A mountain of sugar is too much for one man.


I'm not completely clueless about nutrition. I know what should be eating so I duly fill my grocery basket with veggies and fruits, whole grains plus lean proteins and dairy products. I plan sensible meals and snacks for myself (even if I do indulge a little when dining out). However, everything comes unraveled when sugar is involved. I am a true sugar addict. The various posts about Tim Tams and cupcakes and Cadbury here reveal my fixation. Behind all these good-for-you meals and snacks is a background of sweetness. I'm talking about a steady trickle of sugar all day long, form the Starbucks skim no-whip hot chocolate in the morning to the late night square of Dove Dusk. Now that I add the numbers up for everything I consume, I've noticed that even when I'm within my calorie allotment for the day, the sweet treats end up accounting for most of the calories I eat. I know that consuming lots of sugar daily isn't wise and that I could be harming myself in all kinds of ways that are less obvious than my dress size. I'm well aware that my energy levels are volatile - I ride that crave-crash-crave-crash cycle constantly.

I don't like being so hooked on this stuff, so, I was wondering how I would feel without any sugar in my diet. From experience, I know that simply 'trying to eat less sugar' does not work for me. Sugar begets more sugar: one small taste never stops there. For the sake of an experiment, I decided to go just a week without any sugar at all. That means no straight sugar, no fake sugar substitutes i.e. nothing labeled as 'sugarless', no HFCS or other -ose chemicals, nothing that exists simply as a vehicle for sugar (chocolate, candy, baked sweets), no soft drinks (which I don't touch anyway), no booze and no processed foods with sugar listed high in the ingredients (cereal, yogurt, jam, granola bars, salad dressings, marinades etc.). I didn't worry about the natural sugars in fruits, and I also allowed myself one teaspoon of honey in a pot of ginger green tea.

The one week without sugar is over in an hour. I'm pleased that I was able to stick to the experiment even though there would have been no repercussions if I'd given up. And although a week isn't much time at all, I did learn a few things. First of all, I should point out that one week is not enough to feel any of the benefits of quitting sugar that I'd read about: more even energy, clearer skin, a less puffy belly, better mental focus, losing a few pounds... I've experienced none of these. In fact, my condition got worse for each! I found myself suffering with a pounding headache and throwing up on Days 5 and 6 so it may well be that I'm still 'detoxing' and feeling withdrawal symptoms. Or maybe I had a 24 hour flu, I don't know for sure.

I did notice that at the times of day when I'd usually chomp a square of chocolate or a biscuit, I wasn't really, truly hungry. I was in the habit of enjoying something junky at those times. I was craving a treat, but the desire was not at all due to hunger. The desire to eat was not felt in my stomach but in my mind. Without the option of a sugar hit, I ate much fewer snacks than usual during the day because I was much more focused on the presence or absence of hunger. I never went for something healthy like a piece of fruit or some pumpkin seeds if I wasn't really hungry. I've discovered that I cannot idly snack on wholesome foods. However, I observed that I was far hungrier than usual at dinner times. The finding is that my craving and mindless eating of sugary stuff isn't a response to hunger but to some other less specific need. Thus, since I wasn't hungry in the first place, I don't find myself getting full from sweets, which I why I eat so much.

I really should continue the experiment for another week or more to see if any of those benefits kick in. However, I've got a couple of social engagements this weekend that centre on eating sweets. I'm not ready to become the person who won't participate in food-related fun. With this new awareness that my need for sugar isn't connected at all to actual hunger, maybe I can be more academic about my choices.

For a few days, I've been thinking about what I'll have as my first taste of sweetness on Saturday. I haven't been able to choose anything particular yet. I'm more curious to know if I'll experience a big sugar rush after a week without the stuff

PS: Following up from this, I have lost a total of 10 lbs since February 1st but I've been stalled for the last six weeks.

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