For our Dear Aussie friends and family, this will sound a little familiar and somewhat repetitive – us talking about the evils of sugar! 🙂  When we started cutting ‘added sugar’ out of diet four years ago, it was the catalyst for a major change in our health and the introduction of our 30 day challenge, which helped others to do the same thing: navigate the way to a life without so much sweet stuff! (Big Chris M, showed us the way, all with a 'little 'ole book').

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We knew within a month of giving up ‘added sugar’ we were onto something, but in reality it was a holiday and a massage therapist that confirmed things! Our first holiday, off the sugar, resulted in zero weight gain and this was a big holiday – 4 weeks in Cape Town with friends and family, which included drinking every day and eating out most nights. In the past, most of our hols would have seen us gain between 3 and 5 kg over a 4 week period, even when we exercised most days. And, indeed, even some big weekends socialising at home could include a 2kg weight gain. We were on this yo-yo/see-saw of putting weight on and taking weight off, trying our hardest to maintain our weight between holidays and big weekends.

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Does this sound familiar? Christmas period: gain 3 to 5 kilos, lose it between end of Jan and Easter, gain it back over Easter, maybe only 2kg, lose it by end of May, gain it back and a bit more on July holidays, lose it by September if you are lucky, gain it again on a few weekends aways, lose it in the run up to Christmas and gain it all again at Christmas. Weight loss result? Zero. Weight loss gain? 1.5kgs. Add this up over a few years and you are suddenly 5 to 10 kilos heavier.

Flogging ourselves silly through exercise became too much as we aged, so we knew something would have to change. Jack kept saying to me, ‘I’ll have to change my diet when I can’t train like this anymore, otherwise I’ll be the size of a house’!  Yes, we were training hard and eating heaps and managed to keep things at bay, but it was an upward struggle as we were not built for ‘skinniness’ and we loved to enjoy ourselves.

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Back to the massage therapist: we saw an excellent sports massage (Joanna McKeown, formerly Walsh!) therapist every 6 to 8 weeks in Australia, who sorted us out and allowed us to get back on the horse, so to speak! After six weeks off the sugar, she said to Jack, ‘are you drinking heaps more water, because your skin has changed, your tissue, it’s less stringy and more spongy!’  She noticed it with me too and saw a distinct difference in the feel of our skin and muscles.  

What we noticed was our cheekbones, which we had not really seen since our twenties and a reduction in our ‘sugar bellies’ that little lip that sits down low on your tummy. Better moods, less irritability, lack of cravings, feelings of being satiated from eating and the ability to maintain our weight even when we did not exercise much were the other amazing benefits. We’d found our perfect diet and it wasn’t a diet!

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So how did we do it? Well we read ‘Sweet Poison’ for a start, a great book, written by David Gillespie, on ‘why sugar makes us fat’.  It’s a simple read, written by a guy who’d struggled his whole life to lose weight on every diet available and thus began researching the science behind our current diet, the one set by the governments of the countries with the biggest obesity problems. He found out a lot about sugar, fat and why we are getting fatter, it’s not really our fault, it’s the government!……. setting the dietary guidelines and the food manufacturers who put sugar and bad fats in everything and get away with it!

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Once you know what’s really in your food, then you can change your lifestyle/diet etc. without feeling deprived, starving or helpless and you never have to diet again. I doubt most people even know how much sugar is recommended by the Association of UK Dieticians (30 grams per day if you are 11 years or older or 7 sugar cubes), or what the difference between glucose and fructose is,  and how they break down in your body, or which sweeteners are safe?

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The problem with the white stuff is: Number 1, it’s addictive, more so than drugs according to studies on rats, and we are hardwired to love it, plus unlike when we eat fat, we don’t have an ‘off’ switch with sugar. We can eat a lot of stuff that's full of sugar – trying eating 5 apples, but you can drink them in 1 glass of apple juice, which is a major fructose overload! The less nutritional a product, the more your body will want to eat to satiate your appetite for ‘real food’; Number 2, sugar is in everything and when people say to me, 'I rarely eat sugar', then I know they don’t have a clue what’s in their food, because it’s pretty much in everything, just read the labels, although of course it’s often not called sugar, it’s called something else – which is another way to confuse us! If you don’t know what an ingredient is, then how will know if it’s good or bad for you. Maybe try and google the ingredients in a loaf of bread perhaps?

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The food technologists and marketing gurus have set it up so that we are all now addicted to sugar and need the sweet stuff every hour, on the hour, hence the boom of snack items. It all started with the ‘low fat’ craze, which was introduced by the USA government, and then it spread to other countries. We were told to eliminate as much fat as possible from our foods, and the food companies- who needed to make sure food still tasted good once they’d sucked the fat out of it – were quick to find alternatives, the cheapest and easiest being sugar and vegetable oil (funny thing is, veggies don’t have oil) and nearly every product on the supermarkets shelves from the year 1960 onwards contains both of these ingredients in spades.

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Actually our diet for the last 30 years (except for fresh fruit, vegetables and animal proteins) is pretty much made up of sugar, vegetable oils, emulsifiers and stabilisers, preservatives, colours and additives! Now depending on how much you rely on packaged foods, and I mean ALL packaged foods, even the salads, sandwiches, take-aways, juices etc. that you buy for lunch, will determine the quality of your health …….and waist-line.  

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Sugary drinks of course are the worst as some contain nearly all of your recommended daily sugar and the UK’s sugar tax on drinks, which will be introduced in 2017/18 will go some way to help, but they are not taxing milk based drinks and fruit juices, which are loaded with sugar, some more than Coke and Irn Bru – which is crazy.  And what about every condiment? Soup, yoghurt, breakfast cereal, muesli bar and pasta sauce all contain sugar: taxing everything with sugar is crazy! If folk give up their fizzy drinks because they cost too much, they’ll just find their sugar elsewhere.

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David Gillespie has an answer for governments:  ‘Simply require our supermarkets to tell us the lowest sugar choice in any food category with shelf labels. Sugar is not like cigarettes. You can’t accidentally shove a ciggy in your mouth and light it. But you can accidentally consume 40 teaspoons of sugar a day without touching a can of coke!

Shelf labels allow customers to vote with their wallet by buying the product that has the least sugar. Companies who want part of that action will ‘reformulate’ quickly, and the market-driven race to the least sugar, should persistently drive down the sugar content of the food supply.

We don’t need more tax, we need a way for the consumer to reward companies that make foods with less added sugar. Shelf labels are a simple, direct, cheap way, and likely to produce material,  long-term change in our food supply, and our health’. said, David Gillespie. 

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We are running a seminar this weekend, called ‘Sweet Nothings’ which will help people navigate their way to a future free of added sugar. We’ll talk a bit about the science and what fructose does to the body; how to shop for sugar-free goods; how to cook sugar- free; eat out sugar-free. We hope to do a few more of these over the next few months to build awareness and help people who are genuinely keen to make a change but just need a wee bit of guidance. Watch this space! 

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We are both continually on ‘alert’, checking our shopping ingredients, labels etc, & always will be, but in terms of our own health and well-being, it’s the best thing we ever did.

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