I first met Fern when she was flatting with my husband in a dank, musty house in Hamilton East. At the time she was a footloose uni student, often to be found in barefoot sandals and a long skirt. Fast forward to 2016, and Fern is a married mum of four and creator of a fantastic blog/vlog 'My Kiwi Family'. Fern has kindly written this piece for me - and omg it's so relatable, read on ...
I’ve always had a sweet tooth. In fact, I reckon I had one of the sweetest teeth in the history of the world. As a kid I’d take an hour to eat my dinner, but I’d be licking my pudding bowl clean in two minutes flat. On top of all the home baking and cordial I consumed on a daily basis, I remember sneaking heaped tablespoons of Milo whenever my mum wasn’t looking. And if there was ever any sweetened condensed milk leftover after a weekend baking session, I’d scoop it all out of the tin and into my mouth with my fingers. Delicious.
As I got older my sugar cravings got worse. I began working as a paper delivery girl at the age of 11, and every cent I earned was spent on treats from the local dairy. I ended up developing a taste for Coca-Cola, and by age 14 I was addicted. For real. You know how people say that alcoholics often start feeling uneasy if they realise there’s not much wine left on the table? Yeah, that was me. But with Coke. I drank Coke all day, every day. If I woke in the night and there was Coke in the house, I would drink that instead of water. I’d quite happily go without food, but Coke? No freaking way.
Let’s fast forward to early 2016. A 32-year-old woman with four children (and a gut that people kept mistaking for a pregnant belly), I was hungry all the time. I ate chocolate every single day. Breakfast was always an enormous bowl of pre-packaged cereal, followed by a cup of coffee (sweetened, because I used sugary coffee as a replacement for Coke). By 10am I’d feel starving again, and so I’d snack on biscuits or jam toast. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I would eat next, and an ever greater amount of time swinging from happy to angry and back again. I was tired and grumpy and uncomfortable in my body. I was uncomfortable in myself. Something had to change.
As fate would have it, when the husband and I sat down to watch a bit of Netflix one evening, we discovered an American documentary called Fed Up. Its focus is the so-called obesity “epidemic” and it argues that really it’s the sugar that’s making, and keeping, everyone so fat. Sugar in fruit is okay, I learned, because of the fibre. But eating sugary foods (or drinking sugary drinks, which is even worse) that are not high in fibre means your body is going to convert that sugar into fat. Call me an idiot, but this was my lightbulb moment. I could reduce my calorie intake and exercise more, but if I was going to keep eating sugar I was never going to look and feel the way I wanted to.
I ignored my sugar addiction for a few more weeks. I made an extravagant, novelty train cake for my son’s third birthday, and I bought every member of the family (including myself) a mountain of chocolate for Easter. We spent the month of March stuffing our faces with one sweet treat after another, and though I enjoyed every mouthful, I couldn’t help but notice how awful I felt afterwards. My stomach hurt. My self-esteem was low. I was officially fed up.
When I announced my decision to start living the sugar-free life, I was surprised by the number of people who tried to dissuade me.
“But you look good for someone who’s had four babies!”
“What? You’ll never eat sugar? That’s impossible.”
“You have to have some treats.”
But I was determined. I didn’t want anyone to mistake me for an expectant mother again. I wanted to lose weight, and I wanted to do it the right way (I’ve done Weight Watchers in the past, and though I reached my goal weight, I obviously gained it all back). This time I would not count calories. I would not skip meals. I would not diet. I was going to make Cadbury a thing of my past, whether people believed it or not.
The first week without sugar was awful. I was expecting headaches, but I was not prepared to feel like I had the flu. I was weak, lethargic, and nauseated. I didn’t feel like eating, yet I couldn’t stop thinking about chocolate. Everything felt wrong. Everything tasted wrong. But knowing that it was the lack of sugar that was making me feel so awful strengthened my resolve. I knew I was doing the right thing.
I am now over a month into my life without sugar. I still eat fruit (as a general rule, anything that is fresh or unpackaged is okay to eat), but I don’t have any natural sweeteners such as honey or maple syrup. I check the labels of every food item that comes into the house. If the sugar content is higher than five grams per 100 grams, I will not eat it. I no longer have salad dressings or relishes. I have stopped using Maggi recipe base packets in my cooking. I do, however, eat treat foods like pizza and potato chips, and I still eat whenever I’m hungry. Despite that, I’ve shifted five kilos of excess weight, with a noticeable reduction to my middle. Already!
Though weight loss was definitely my motivation for quitting sugar, I’ve noticed a couple of other life-changing side effects. Remember how I said I was hungry all the time? Well I’m now going hours between meals, and barely ever need a mid-morning snack anymore. I don’t feel hangry anywhere near as much as I used to and, best of all, my moods have become more stable than they’ve been in years. I mean, I’m still the sort of person who gets wound up easily, but I’ve got more patience and tolerance, and I’ve been getting over things a lot quicker too. I feel like a different person!
I’ve had quite a few people now ask me how I did it. This wasn’t a question I ever expected to hear, but I always answer with, “I made the decision to stop putting sugary food in my mouth. And I stuck to it.” I’m pretty sure that’s not the answer they were looking for, but it’s the truth. There is no trick to it. It’s a conscious decision. It’s a lifestyle you have to be prepared to fully commit to. And if you’re sitting here reading this thinking, Oh I could never stop eating sugar, just remember that I’ve been eating all sugar, all the time for as long as I can remember. Yes, you will feel terrible when you first cut it out. But believe me, the results are definitely worth the pain.