...or DO YOU???
Happy Blue Monday! How’s your January going? Sucky? GREAT.
As our annual celebration of Good Will to All Men gives way to the yearly Festival of Self-Loathing and Unsisterly Side-eyeing of All Women, I would like to offer you a complete and highly scientific review of the available literature, with some editorialising by me, a person whose name is DOCTORS and whose opinion is therefore SCIENCE.
There have already been some excellent and insightful reviews of the latest diet books to skew the sales figures of the publishing industry and convince the world that people are still buying and reading books. I'm guilty of participating in this myself. New Year, new me, new fad diet book. My resolution last year was to Stop Dieting and Start Living, a venture so successful that in a mere 12 months I have gained a celebratory ten kilos, which translates to about 22lbs or, to help you visualise, 44 bags of sugar.
I think it was those 44 bags of sugar which were the problem.
I love sugar. It has been my lifelong friend, companion, secret elicit affair. I have shared beds and holidays and dining tables with it. We've had cozy nights on the sofa and raucous nights out on the lash. I have never met a dessert I didn't like, although I always wonder about people who order the crumble when there’s a sticky toffee or chocolate pud on the menu. I have a particular love for the unloved and unpopular treats. Chocolate covered raisins, Fry's Turkish Delight, marzipan, glaceé cherries, soft red liquorice, jelly beer bottles. I am a recent convert to doughnuts. Cadbury Twirls and Picnics are obvious choices but good ones. Marshmallows are underrated, and chocolate covered marshmallows are my absolute favourite, see also the M&S Walnut Whip. Anything sold by the cash register at TK Maxx or Topshop is an undiscovered gem, in fact 9 of the 10 kilos I gained last year were Candy Kittens. And if you were wondering who the hell buys those sweets by the check out at Toyshop and TK Maxx: it me.
I try to be as body positive as the next person (which is generally Not Very, but hey ho, change comes slow) and so this isn't about changing how I look, but it is about changing. Yes, I have a problem. And having lost over 65kg (which is, coincidentally, the weight I should be for my height if you believe in BMIs), not to mention the years and years of diets and regains that marked my teens and twenties, I know I need to get off this slippery slope. Sure, it’s been a hell of a year, and eating my emotions was probably the of the least harmful things I could do in the circumstances, but… but… BUT.
Added to this I have all sorts of metabolic and gut-plumbing issues which mean I do gain weight easily (at around 1400 kcals as day), and digest sugars poorly. I have a family history of diabetes and liver problems, a personal history of yo-yo dieting, and a really complex and painful medical status quo. All in, it would be no bad thing to quit sugar, lose a few pounds, no big deal.
I first quit sugar in 2002, when we were all doing Atkins. Fat was in and Carbs were out. Little did we know then of the harm all the nitrates in the bacon and salami were doing us, so that we might as well have been putting them in a pipe and smoking them. There were no sweets. You were meant to avoid Diet Coke and all caffeine and any other addictive substances, but I ignored that, and replaced the sugar in my diet with endless coffee, fags and sugar-free fizzy drinks. Boozing was quite tricky in Atkins as your body simply processes alcohols into Happy Sugars, but switching my customary quadruple Baileys for a gin-and-slim and a sugar free vodka jelly no doubt contributed to my Astounding Weight Loss. I was at Uni, and I didn't have a kitchen, so I worked out how to live on mugs of microwaved scrambled eggs (they turn in to a perfect eggy sphere) and the occasional Pepperami. Friends would come round to feast on ham (the poor students had been starved of protein themselves) and all the left over Baileys I was no longer drinking.
I lost a shedload of weight. It took me about 5 years to regain it (and then some) but with courage, perseverance, and three unhappy love affairs followed by a stable relationship with a loveable slob, I did it. And so, I had to quit sugar again. This time I did Weight Watchers. I had a WW meeting in Soho, near the publishing house I worked at. I was living alone in gorgeous little flat in a posh area, a cool day job, and was working on a load of shows evening and weekends. I was swanning around feeling very pleased with myself and eating my bag of Florette salad leaves like crisps, and GUESS WHAT - the cravings subsided, the weight came off.
Then I got a real grown up difficult job with a long commute. It was less glamourous, but I was busy and important. I moved in with the loveable slob and together we ate man-portions at home and restaurants. It was before the credit crunch and eating out was a thing people could do. I worked long hours, but luckily there were plenty of places to grab plentiful cheap food. A bacon sandwich for breakfast would often be required what with the late nights and early mornings. Chocolate brazils would get you through the afternoon energy slump. And drinks and a bite to eat in the evening, obviously. We’d just moved in to King's Cross, as the first outriders of gentrification, setting up camp around the same time as the area’s first tapas bar, so my diet was soon 90% chorizo and cider. And around the same time came the trend of fancy milkshake bars, and it was important to me to support the local economy. My favourite of these milkshakes contained chocolate ice cream, whole milk, a Dime bar, and two whole chocolate muffins.
Not that I consumed these things regulalry or engaged in binges, you understand. I wasn't trying to gain weight. But these things would call to me, speak to me, and I spent a lot of time, energy and mental exertion trying not to eat them. Attempts to get my diet and my thoughts under control failed and failed again. Finally after very drastic surgery, which also failed and failed again, I no longer had the appetite, capacity or desire to eat sugar. My new regime was necessarily low carb, low calorie. I lost over 80% of my excess body fat.
Ironically, becoming slimmer gave me permission to enjoy food, to be open about liking food, and to not feel like food was in charge of me. It was liberating and joyous. It was also remarkably short lived.
When I took up running in my new lean(ish) body, I found it necessary to unquit sugar. This so confused my metabolism that whilst I still much lighter, I am now over 80% marshmallow. Marshmallows are made from egg whites, which is a good source of lean protein, and sugar, which is not. Sugar confused me and my appetite and my emotions, and I have been in its thrall, expending incredible amounts of time and energy trying to avoid it, only to find myself ecstatically polishing off the Percy Pigs (to say nothing of the Reversey Percies, which are not just just delicious, but win extra points for sounding FILTHY).
So, here we are. I don’t want to Go On A Diet, but I do want to get rid of this toxic relationship and these 10kgs I seem to have found (and as many of their friends as want to go along for the ride). I’m ploughing my way through range of literature on the subject and will report back. I want to understand the science and my own experiences in a wider context, so I’m including diet books, science, history, recipes. This is my reading list - let me know what you think!
Gary Taubes: The Case Against Sugar and Why We Get Fat
Dr Jeff S Valek and Dr Stephan D Phinney: The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living
Dr Michael Mosley: The Eight-Week Blood Sugar Diet
James Walden: Sugar
Michael Pollan: The Botany of Desire and The Ominvore’s Dilemma
Russell Brand: Recovery - Freedom from our Addictions
Dr Robin Lustig: Fat Chance - the hidden truth about sugar, obesity and disease
Plus I’ve got a load of I Quit Sugar-type bollocks, and the new Tom Kerridge, which I am dubious about because I think that someone might have killed and eaten the old Tom Kerridge and is wearing his deflated skin around like a macabre man-suit in order to sell books. But I'll probably give these books a cursory glance as well, if only because I think they might be funny.
So, Happy New Year, Happy New You. Wish me luck!
*stuffs last marshmallow in face and hopes no one notices*