Tuesday 26 August 2014

The wood, and the trees

I wrote an epic post a couple of weeks back about how to know if the sugar free diet is working. Apologies and thanks to any of you who trawled through my stream of consciousness! But it was quite cathartic, and to be honest. Rally was a ramble through my thinking on the matter.

But then, suddenly, it clicked in my head. Ignoring weight loss / measurements, the thing that has changed so monumentally is my relationship with food.

I am a baker. Mrs Baker knows her way around a Kenwood mixer. I love making cakes, and experimenting with recipes. I love creating a really dense chocolate ganache, or simmering a pan of lavender infused milk to make delicate scented cupcakes.

Since quitting sugar, the only baking I have done is sugar free, and have developed a few nice recipes for cookies and crackers, but I haven't baked the old favourites. Partly this is because I couldn't see the need if I wasn't going to eat them, and partly because I wasn't certain whether I would manage not to lick the bowl clean!

Then, last week was my mum's 60th birthday. She asked me to make a few cupcakes, so in true Mrs Baker style, I made coffee and walnut cupcakes, lavender cupcakes, vanilla buttercream cupcakes, jam and custard cupcakes, lemon cupcakes, an old fashioned ginger bread, and a decadent chocolate layer cake frosted with ganache.

It was an interesting test. Obviously a certain amount of tasting is necessary to adjust flavour and consistency, so I did have to have a few teaspoons of batter and icing throughout the process, but for the first time in my entire baking life, I didn't feel compelled to nurse the bowl of every scraping of chocolate ganache. It was slightly tricky to taste test the mixtures, because my tastes are so differently tuned now that actually everything was far too sweet. The gingerbread mixture, equal parts of butter, flour, treacle, syrup and sugar was tooth be singly sweet, but familiar and comforting to have a tiny taste. But the reassuring development is I had no urge to have any more.

My dad has also given up sugar, and I did feel that perhaps he and I would feel a bit denied without a sugar free sweet treat at the party, so I decided to have a crack at a sugar free cheesecake. I made a crust with ground almonds, butter, coconut flour and desiccated coconut, and a creamy filling with avocado, raw cacao, peanut butter and double cream. It was nice enough, served straight from the fridge it had a dense chewy crust and the chocolate and peanut filling was rich without being sweet. But the problem was, it wasn't actually what I fancied. What I really fancied when everyone else was tucking into the cakes was a piece of cheese.

It is very freeing to know that the sugar cravings I have been dogged with my entire life have now gone for good. To finally shake of the mantra "if you are good you can have some sweets" which has ring in my ears for my entire life is fantastic, and I can't recommend it enough.

My dad is a bit evangelical about giving up sugar at the moment, and is encouraging my mum to quit too. She is tempted, but thinks it will be too difficult, or that she will miss sugar. She said, I don't want to go through life never having a piece of birthday cake ever again. I do understand the fear, but the thing that keeps resonating with me is that actually, you won't miss it. You won't want it, but you won't have to keep reminding yourself not to have it like you would on a diet. And if ever there was a social expectation to have a piece of cake, you know, granddaughter's birthday or such, you can have a little piece, but you probably won't want any more than a taste anyway.

I wish I had known this 20 years ago!

Wednesday 6 August 2014

A very dangerous disease...

This graphic is very interesting.


How do you know if it's working?

The thing is, because I never planned to quit sugar, I never really had a plan for what I was hoping to achieve. It was more a kind of 'see how it pans out' type experiment, so I hadn't really devised any success criteria or objectives. I didn't even think to weigh and measure myself at the start, because I didn't realise I was doing anything to record.

So, if you don't have an obvious benchmark to measure against, how do you know if it's working?

I did know roughly how much I weighed at the start, and I have lost some weight, although not very much - about half a stone only. I think this is actually a bit unusual, because lots of other people's experiences have been that weight seemingly dropped off, either as a massive quick weightloss, or otherwise as a slow and steady reduction. I think the difference there is how much sugar you had anyway - it would make sense that people who eat loads of sweets and drink sugary coke would see a more marked drop when they first stop. It's a bit depressing though. My dad lost 18lb in a couple of months, whereas I have been unwaveringly dedicated for six months now, and have not even dropped a dress size.

It raises the question, am I doing something wrong?

For six months I have followed Sarah Wilson's guidelines religiously, and have never wavered once. Aside from the time I had cough medicine (5 day headache!) I have not had any added sugar, anything with more than about 6% sugar, or more than about 20g sugar per day, for six months.

Now, don't get me wrong. I have seen some results. Last weekend I watched a short film a friend had made of me just after Christmas, and I could definitely see a difference in the shape of my face. I look much less puffy, less rounded, and my skin looks clearer and less wrinkled. I did take measurements about a month into the quit, and I have lost centimetres from every measurement all over my body. I have lost 5cm from my waist, and 3 from each thigh.

I am also fitter than I have ever been, and whilst I do still have weight to lose, can definitely see muscle tone and definition hiding underneath. I can swim non stop for and hour and a half, covering a distance of 2.5 km and can lift my body from lying face down to a forearm plank. I couldn't do this 20 years ago.

But - and I wish this didn't bother me so, but it does - why haven't I lost more weight?

Perhaps it isn't about the weight loss. Perhaps actually, I am losing weight, just very slowly, and need to focus on the other things that are happening. As well as the physical issues, I can't argue with the fact that I have a healthier relationship with food than I have ever had. I am no longer addicted to sugar, I don't comfort eat, don't crave dessert or find myself buying a chocolate bar after a hard day because I deserve it.

I make all my own bread, since I discovered that sourdough is much easier to digest than the typical shop bought loaves. I eat homemade burgers on a bed of salad, not a bun. I add fermented veggies to meals wherever possible, and make my own recipe sugar free oat and seed cookies.

I wonder sometimes if I am being impatient; if perhaps the process of recalibration will mean that weight gradually ebbs away over a year or two. However, six months in, most dieters would have jumped ship of they weren't seeing some impressive results by now. To be fair, most dieters would quit 6 weeks in if they saw no results.

I did have the idea to visit the GP, talk through what I have been doing and ask to be weighed and measured, then leave it three months before going back. Then I wonder whether there could be any underlying cause for not seeing results... Would the GP be able to run tests to check everything is working properly? Or, would they just tell me to try the slimming clubs, and choose low fat again?

It has occurred to me that there are a few differences between what I have been following and what the big diet clubs recommend, but I need to keep listening to the plan, and not get sucked back to the bad ways. That sounds like I'm saying I'm not prepared to listen to advice, but actually what I mean is that no other diet plan has ever helped my relationship with food, nor have I ever stuck to food rules for this long. I do feel better, fitter, healthier... Just not slimmer. But it wasn't originally about slim, was it?

Thinking back a few years to when I successfully lost weight with a big weight loss group, the mantra was so different. Yes it was low sugar, but the main issue was about fat. Points were calculated factoring in calories per portion and grams of saturated fat, which I now understand means that 100 calories of sugar was deemed better for you than 100 calories of avocado. The way to success was to consume as little fat as possible, replacing fat with low fat, and often sweetened alternatives, diet chocolate bars, and fat free light yogurts laced with aspartame.

The fact of the matter is, yes if I were to go to a slimming club, the rules would change. I could still stay sugar free, but they would also suggest fat free, or low fat at best. But fat helps you stop eating when you have had enough - would his affect my ability to push the plate away? They would suggest that a glass of red wine is worse for you than a double gin and tonic, despite the known health benefits of a glass of red, and despite the insulin spiking tonic full of sugar or artificial sweeteners. They would measure bread by the ounce, and not identify any difference between a slow acting wild yeast and a squishy supermarket square loaf. Logic tells me that I would lose weight if I were to follow a slimming club plan, but my fear is, would I fall back into that horrible cycle of constantly having talk myself out of eating foods I 'shouldn't have' and undo all of the wonderful liberating work I have done. I don't want to go back to the idea that fat is the enemy and calorie free sweeteners are the way to happiness.

I have learned a lot about fat during this process. Firstly, that fat doesn't make you fat. Sugar does. Secondly, that fat is essential to your body to unlock vitamins and minerals from vegetables. Thirdly, that whilst saturated fat has had a terrible press over the last 40 years, it is known actually now to have a positive impact on health. Fourthly, fats and oils that destabilise at high temperatures are far worse for us than stable ones, so we should be cooking with butter, ghee and coconut oil, pouring extra virgin olive oil, and keeping well clear of vegetable and seed oils. It doesn't make sense to now go back to restricting good fats in favour of fats that are known to be harmful, or worse still, pseudo fats like spray emulsions, no calories, just pure chemical nastiness.

So what should I do then?

1) keep on keeping on, and see how it all feels in another 3 months or so?
2) count 'points' but still eat the good fats and try not to swallow to nonsense?
3) ask the doctor to run some tests?
4) try and cut down on the known naughties, such as wine and cheese, and see if that is the problem?

I think I will start with 1 and 4, and maybe consider 2 and 3 if I'm not getting somewhere in another few months. It's weird because aside from the lack of any real weight loss, this is the healthiest, easiest, most nutrition-dense diet I have ever followed.

I guess I will keep you posted on this one. If you have any pearls of wisdom to share with me, please do leave a comment. Cheers all xx

Monday 28 July 2014

I have this conversation at least once a week...

"Oh, wow, so you've completely quit sugar?"

Yes, for five months now.

"I don't have much sugar"

[Cue lengthy and often frustrating discussion about their diet, which is usually high in artificial sweeteners, low fat sweetened options, and fruit.]

"I shouldn't eat this [double chocolate cookie ice cream thingy laced with caramel] in front of you then... So sorry"

Actually, I really have no desire to eat it, or anything sweet really. And I know that if I did, I would have such a paralysing headache for days afterwards that it wouldn't be worth it. So it's fine, you can eat it in front of me. I promise I won't snatch it out of your hand and gobble it up.

"But what about NATURAL sugars, they must be ok? Surely you can have honey / agave / bananas?"

No. Sugar is just sugar. Natural sugar does have some benefits, but no, I haven't replaced sugar with honey. I really really have quit sugar.

"But you MUST have SOME sugar??"

Well, now that I have a couple of pieces of fresh fruit a day, I average about 3 or 4 teaspoons of sugar a day.

"Oh that's ok, that's quite a lot. I don't have sugar in coffee..."

Well, when you consider that when I first quit I shaved 12 teaspoons of sugar off my school lunch by not having a low fat yoghurt (7tsp) and a juice carton (5tsp), actually 4 teaspoons all day is very low.

"Ooh, it must take loads of willpower!"

I have precisely no willpower. I never have, and never will. If I want something, I have to have it eventually, and if I can't have it straight away, I will quietly obsess, dream, yearn, and ache for it until I finally give in and have it. So diets requiring willpower fundamentally don't work for me, if anyone. I believe that if we could say, righto, from now on I am only going to eat small portions of super healthy food, we probably wouldn't be the middle of an obesity epidemic, in my humble opinion!

But quitting sugar wasn't about willpower. After the first five days when I was clucking like any other addict, and had the mega hangover headache from hell, then suddenly it was fine. Easy in fact. And if ever there was a day when I thought "I'd like that... Oh I can't" there are plenty other things, not diety things but actual nice food that you would want, that you can have instead. A cheese plate instead of dessert, or a latte, or a glass of red wine. Not too shabby.

"Well, if you're managing to stick to it, fair play to you. Do you think you will do it forever?"

To be honest, yes. I just wish I had known about this 15 years ago. It would have fixed everything. Do I think I will ever go back to eating loads of sugar? No, absolutely not for the same reason as I never envisage going back to smoking cigarettes, or living in student houseshares.

Life is better without it.

Thursday 26 June 2014


I've been thinking again (sorry) since my last post, the mega post. Perhaps the missing link is recalibration. So, I have taken a few days off, and spent some very valuable and enjoyable time doing things that healthy happy people seem to find time to do, namely exercising, focusing on food, and talking to friends.

The main thing I have done is swim. Miles and miles and miles. It cleanses the head whilst cleansing the body, it makes me challenge myself and feel how my body works, and I can do it, far more than I would ever imagine.

The other thing I have been doing a lot of is tinkering around with sourdough, and I know have 2 viable starters, a lovely bowl of sponge bubbling away under a cloth in the garden, and 2 loaves ready to bake. It has been an interesting process, requiring endless patience and care, openmindedness and dedication. It is a tremendously therapeutic process.

Therapy. It's peculiar how in a world so obsessed with therapy, there seems to be so very little of it. Small therapies such as keeping yeast alive, and baking, swimming and thinking are so incredibly soothing and powerfully recalibrating. We should all do it, much much more often.

Being out of work for a few days has also given me a bit of long overdue clarity. Time to write down what it is that's wrong, what needs to change, and most importantly what I like and want to keep doing. The phrase that keeps coming to mind is about making a difference, and my area of interest is still so firmly emotional health and well being, or lack thereof.

And then, while I'm thinking about what kind of thing I would really love to do, an opportunity to do just that presents itself. Not an open door yet, per se, but certainly a shiny letterbox to be peeked through. And peek I will.

It's a shame I'm not religious. No, I say shame, that's the wrong word. I mean religious people would have lots to say about these kinds of epiphany. As a person who knows she stands on a big rock within a vast blue sky, it makes me very conscious that sometimes, you have to stop, consult the map, figure out where you're trying to get to, maybe have a bit of lunch, take a deep breath, and see where it takes you.

Sunday 22 June 2014

Figuring a lot of stuff out.

I haven't written for ages. I hadn't realised it was quite that long. I haven't defected, I have just been busy trying to figure some stuff out.

In a way it would be easier to explain all this in a sort of spider diagram than as a written account, because it all links together really, but hey ho, I'll do my best.

I'm still sugar free, for over 4 months now. I am now eating 2 or 3 portions of fresh fruit a day, usually berries or grapefruit. My body seems to have got over its readjustment problems though and now I have no sugar headaches but neither am I struggling to manage how much sweet stuff I need or want.

I am still struggling with lunch. I teach at a vegetarian school, and for someone like me who predominantly fuels on protein, I find I have to rely very heavily on cheese. Now, don't get me wrong - I love cheese. Perhaps a little too much - but it is annoying to have to have it when you don't want it and then stop yourself from having it when you do. But not for much longer. 4 weeks and counting.

The problem with the cheese is that it naturally increases the fat intake. Now, I appreciate that the IQS programme does purport swapping sugars for fats so that you can get off the sugar without feeling denied or not satiated, but it doesn't fit right with me to be eating cheese more than say once every day or two. A bit of cheese as a mainstay, and occasional full on cheese treat seems more realistic, although I have to confess that this logic does stem from 10 years dabbling with "normal" diets where low fat is the way forwards.

I am hoping that once I leave the vege school, and can have a tuna salad, chicken, or a boiled egg, and therefore don't have to reach for the cheese quite so frequently, it can slip back into the role it used to play, much like chocolate, wine and chippy chips - a nice treat every now and then, to be enjoyed for its flavours but not for its nutrition.

See, that spider diagram thing is happening again. I am now trying to write about wine and chocolate at the same time. I'll come back to both.

Then there is the issue of bread... eating bread doesn't seem to make sense in the context of sugar free, but I do like bread, and my husband certainly does (Mr Baker - must be genetic!), plus I don't want this to be about denial and restriction. Instead it must be a diet of abundant nutrition. To which end I generally buy multigrain wholemeal, although I was slightly unhinged when I realised a forgotten loaf left in the cupboard had not developed any mould in 2 weeks. That can't be right!

Sarah Wilson suggests sourdough, as it is better for the digestive system than the shop bought ones with the fast acting yeasts. I set about trying to start my own sourdough starter, but 3 weeks in, I have a jar of flour and water goop which whilst emitting a few yeasty belches, is not the frothing doubling-in-a-day wonder yeast that Hugh Fernley Whittingstall manages to produce. I had a go at baking a loaf, in spite of the seeming lack of action, and whilst it certainly looked the part, it was so solid it could be marketed as a green alternative to concrete. I am still nurturing the yeasty beastie, so will keep you posted.

I am surprised to say that I don't really miss chocolate. I thought I would, but actually it hasn't featured much on my radar. I haven't eaten any chocolate, and I have been around it. it seems that the reprogramming has had the effect I hoped for, that being that it has dropped out of my conscious. On the couple of occasions that I have fancied chocolate, I have either had a spoonful of cocoa in some Greek yogurt, or have mixed a teaspoon of cocoa with a teaspoon of coconut oil. The coconut oil works really well - the darkness of the cocoa is preserved, and the oil makes for quite a convincing smooth chocolate. Any more than a teaspoon and you would be scunnered, because it is so very rich, and the coconut oil quashes your hunger completely so there's no woofing down a whole bar, like frequently happened in the past if I was left unsupervised with a big bar of Dairy Milk.

And now to wine. This a source of concern. I don't want to sound like one of those women who I encountered at that fateful slimming club, who were desperately trying to negotiate a diet that would make them lose weight whilst still being full all the time, and drinking a bottle of wine a day, but I confess I was relieved when Sarah's book said that a bit of red wine a few days a week is ok on the plan. The issue arises though when a combination of factors all combine in that glass.

There is the "I deserve a treat" factor - and in a world without Tobelerones and ice-creams, the treat of wine is somewhat amplified, as it is a treat that is allowed. Then there is the "crap day at work" factor, which would perhaps lead most of us to have more days on than less. The "sunny summer evenings" factor fits very snugly with the "social yes-man" factor - I love a good drink and laugh with friends, but it is easy with wine to rack up quite a few glasses over a long evening. In the past I would have opted for a fruity cider over ice, about 1/3 as strong, and just simply lasts longer. And finally the "empty calories" factor - sugar aside, even a few glasses a week does contain a lot of calories, and calories that don't bring anything useful with them.

Weirdly, and loosely related, I now longer get hangovers.

I'm not sure how to play it. stress wise, I do think that leaving my crazy job will help, although then I will have more sunny summer evenings through the school holiday, so mustn't get complacent. Ultimately, there is a balance to be struck between enjoyed a few glasses but finding treats elsewhere, and remembering the mantra to eat dense, and a bit like the fruit, and the cheese, only have it at levels that mean you identify the novelty and the special occasion. Sarah manages to have a couple of glasses most days with dinner, but I think I am going to try a couple of weeks off, then maybe a glass or two once or twice a week.

In the first IQS book, there wasn't much instruction on exercise, aside from "do some you like". The new book has a whole section on Ayurveda. I am so clearly a Vata - flighty, stressy, enthusiastic and lively, and prefer calm sports such as yoga and swimming. In fact the only Vata characteristics I don't have are being tall and thin! I drive myself mad with pressure to go to the gym and use the machines for a hour. Often when I go, I do actually enjoy it and find the hour whizzes by, but more often than not, I talk myself out of going. I feel quite rejuvenated figuring this out, and have taken myself back to the swimming pool. The funny thing is, my husband is a perfect Kapha, basically the opposite from me. He is grounded and solid, enjoys stamina activities like long walks and could sleep for England. Sarah writes that a Vata and a Kapha can balance each other out, with Kapha bringing Vata back down to earth, and Vata giving Kapha a boost of energy. Opposites do attract!

This leads me to the crunch really, the weight issue. I had hoped for weight loss, but apart from a couple of kilos in the first week or two I haven't lost much at all. I have lost centimetres, but not enough to drop a dress size and get back in my pile of maƱana clothes.

I keep thinking it has to happen sooner or later, because I do not snack, I do not eat sugar or sweets, I have never really been a crisp person, and I don't drink pop, so the magic must therefore be in the balance of increasing exercise and decreasing unneeded calories. I hope so.

Its strange because I don't feel like I am on a diet, so perhaps it isn't wrong not actually to be losing weight. I had envisaged a slow recalibrating rather than a dramatic 3 lb a week drop, but it would be reassuring to see it going in the right direction. I am hoping that the combination of reducing empty calories, continuing to enjoy exercise, swapping salty fatty proteins for leaner choices when I don't have to be vege at school, and hopefully getting this long awaited sourdough off the ground will all help.

So that's it - that's what I have been thinking about for the last 6 weeks. I promise I wont leave it so long next time.

* I should just clarify that you can go sugar free and be veggie / vegan, and that I'm sure it's a perfectly healthy option for many, but it just doesn't work for me. It's a bit like diesel vs unleaded - merits to both but make use you use the right one for your engine!

Tuesday 6 May 2014

Happy no diet day!


Interesting reading.

No surprises really, for anyone who has seriel-dieted, especially the concept of putting the whole lot back on on five years!

I'm not losing weight, at least I don't think so, but I do have a far healthier relationship with food than I have had in years, well ever really. I don't have to consciously say no, I just have no desire to say yes.