When you start CrossFit you are quickly introduced to a new and confusing lexicon and it feels as though you are learning a new language. Sometimes some of these ideas and concepts cross over into ordinary life and its interesting when that happens. Since I started CrossFit I have experimented with eating paleo, have completed the Whole30 and have been the subject of many bewildered questions from friends and colleagues about what I am eating and why. My standard response when people have asked me why I am doing Whole30 is simply that I am addicted to sugar. One of my colleagues told me this week that it had been all over the news that sugar is as addictive as nicotine. Sure enough the next day I caught a glimpse of the newspaper headlines: ‘Sugar is the new tobacco’ screamed one, ‘Sugar is now enemy number 1 in the western diet’ shouted another.
The Whole30 is, as the name suggest, 30 days of whole foods. Meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts. I know I have a sugar addiction because I used to smoke and the signs are all too familiar. The more I eat, the more I want. I use it to comfort myself when I am sad and to soothe myself when I am stressed. I eat it in secret and rationalise that I will quit on Monday. I binge and then feel incredibly guilty and that I have let myself, and everyone else, down. When I stopped eating sugar for the first time I experienced an intense, debilitating crash. I had absolutely no energy and felt borderline depressed for about a week. I dreamt that I had eaten sugar and woke up feeling panic and guilt (which is exactly what happened to me when I gave up smoking). I was hungry in a way that was so forceful that I thought I would never feel satiated again. I don’t want anything to have that control over me. One of the most challenging aspects of this is that it is socially acceptable in a way that other addictions aren’t. You aren’t encouraged to smoke at work and yet anyone who has ever worked in an office or school will be all too familiar with the cakes on a Friday or birthday cakes tradition. Who hasn’t looked sheepishly at their work buddy and whispered ‘I shouldn’t,’ to be met with ‘I will if you will.’ I know I’ve been on both ends of that scenario more times than I care to remember.
It is not just the obvious cakes, sweets, chocolates that are to blame. It is only when you try and cut out sugar that you realise that it is in everything. Everything! I was astonished when I began checking labels at how many products have added sugar. Perhaps the most alarming was a packet of dried fruit and nuts that my husband bought from a local supermarket as a ‘healthy’ snack. We have also found it in seasonings, stock and dried meats and it is not always clear that it is there. It disguises itself in a myriad of forms such as dextrose, glucose, fructose sucrose or ‘organic evaporated cane juice’, but it is all sugar.
In the long term I don’t know how this will pan out for me. Will I feasibly be able to cut out all sugar for the rest of my life? Do I even want to? What I do know is that I want to make informed choices about what I am putting in to my body. I don’t want to blindly trust a company that they will be making the right choice for me because invariably they won’t. I am very fortunate to be surrounded by a community of health conscious people, including a paleo expert in the form of the lovely Barney. I have a lot of free time to do shopping and cooking, I have a husband who is an excellent cook and who feels the same way about his health as I do. I realise that for others it is not that easy and I feel so incredibly frustrated that it is more difficult and more expensive to eat healthy.
Despite the sensationalist headlines on the subject I think it’s great that information about the dangers and implications of sugar is becoming more easily accessible and that people are able to make informed choices about what they consume. I am on day 11 of the Whole30 and I feel really good. Wish me luck!