When Hannah Verdier agreed to give up sugar, she was confident life would get sweeter.
But the 46-year-old mum of two hadn’t reckoned on the rollercoaster of headaches , cravings and random naps she would have to go through first.
Here’s her diary of how it went….
It’s 3pm and I’m ready to kill someone. My stomach’s churning and my head is pounding. No, I’m not ill – I’ve agreed to give up sugar for a month. Not just me, but the whole family.
Usually, there’s nothing Mimi, 10, and seven-year-old Evie are forbidden from eating because I don’t believe in restricting food.
But will cutting out sugar make a difference to them too?
Our sugar intake has crept up on us lately.
My husband and I split in January and the three of us have been putting away a packet of Mini Eggs a night while bingeing on rubbish TV.
But last night was Mimi’s birthday party, so we went out with a bang.
If I never eat sugar again, then a Pizza Hut Hawaiian, a slice of Peppa Pig cake and two bags of Haribo is my last supper…
On my first day I wake with a slightly fuzzy head from last night’s two glasses of red wine, and I really need my usual cuppa with one sugar.
I pop in half a spoonful of Stevia instead – but I hate artificial flavours, so I pour it away and sulk.
According to nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville, whose book Natural Alternatives to Sugar is now my bible, it’s all going to be worth it.
“Don’t think of it as a diet,” she says. “What you’re thinking about are the benefits to your health and the benefits to your girls, without restricting them or it affecting them socially.”
My seven-year-old asks if she can still eat bananas.
“She absolutely can,” Marilyn says. “Bananas contain sugar, but with fibre and goodness around it.
“You have to become a label detective, because the problem is sugar is in our savoury food – tomato ketchup, baked beans, spaghetti sauces.
“A generation ago, you’d know if you were eating a couple of biscuits but now it’s hidden. We could be eating 46 teaspoons of hidden sugar a day – the World Health Organisation suggests no more than six.
“A fruit yoghurt could contain eight teaspoons. A teaspoon is four grams.”
Pasta with sauce is a big thing for both girls, so my first move is to swap the normal jar (containing a whole day’s recommended intake of sugar) to a fresh one I’ve made myself.
Of course, they hate it. I remember Marilyn’s advice: “It might be better to go all-out for you, but with children if you swap gradually they don’t even notice the taste difference.”
OK, so we settle on a Tesco fresh pasta sauce but use less, to halve their sugar intake.
That first week is hell.
I have a permanent headache and – TMI incoming – I’m very windy.
Ironically, the only time I’m happy is when I’m at the gym, sipping water.
As the music and adrenalin pumps, it’s a relief to feel OK again, even if I’m convinced Drake is singing about “traybakin’, no fakin’”.
I spend three hours in the supermarket checking labels. It’s amazing how much food labelled as healthy still has so much sugar.
It’s tough for the girls too. Their school has a cake sale every Friday and their usual café treat is a smoothie.
But that’s 18 grams (four-and-a-half teaspoons) of sugar – and it doesn’t say if it’s refined or natural. I’m taking no chances.
Although the kids are cheery about trying new things (Nak’d bars in their lunchbox, Greek yoghurt with mashed-up strawberries instead of a Frube, sugar-free Midget Gems from a Holland & Barrett shopping spree) I’m really suffering.
A trip to the park on the way home from school is littered with danger.
Craving a sugary coffee, I bump into a skinny mum who’s a bit of a feeder and is brandishing home-made Rice Krispies treats she “has to get rid of”.
I’m grumpy, shouty and I randomly fall asleep at 6pm after scoffing a fake truffle (date, cacao and almond butter ball).
Mother’s Day brings a crash after a pub roast and a pint of beer.
I would sell a child for a coffee with one sugar.
Beer, along with wine, is best drunk sparingly as it contains sugar (spirits are okay). I’d note that, although I’m separated from my beloved sugar-loaded cava for a month, the only time I fall off the wagon is after a night out.
I’m convinced a sugary tea will cure my hangover and I bite the head off a Malteser bunny. Nothing helps and I just feel disgusting for having broken my promise, but I come back stronger.
By this third week, a miracle has happened. I’m no longer sugar-obsessed… and feeling so much better.
As Marilyn promised: “You might feel your energy dips at first until your body stabilises, but gradually you’ll have less of a rollercoaster and cravings.”
She’s right. I’m sleeping better, it’s easier to get out of bed in the morning and the girls’ moods are more even (in short, less whingeing all round).
It’s the last week but it’s also Easter. Don’t hate me, I bought the girls fluffy chicks and stationery instead of Easter eggs.
They were thrilled (then came back from their dad’s with Thornton’s bunnies).
I lusted after and hated those sweet-eared gifts in equal measure.
Longer term, I’ve weaned the kids off sugar and will stick to recommended amounts, but allowing them their beloved fromage frais.
Now I’ve ditched sugar in tea and coffee, no longer crave chocolate at 4pm and the post-lunch square of Dairy Milk is no longer a thing.
And I have one less chin, and a flatter stomach than I’ve seen for 10 years.
So just how much sugar should you eat?
The NHS recommends that adults should have no more than the equivalent of 30g of refined
sugar a day.
That’s the equivalent of seven and a half teaspoons, roughly the same amount of sugar found in just one can of cola.
Kids should stick to 24g a day, the same as six teaspoons – which you’ll find in a single Dairy Milk bar.
If aged six or under, they shouldn’t have more than 19g – just under five teaspoons and around the same amount as contained in two Freddo bars.
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