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