‘ My life is basically over’- 14 days on a sugar-free diet

Were told that sugar is the source of all evil, but devoting it up induced me grumpy, skint and antisocial

Day 1: I spiralise a courgette

I wake up alarmed and dehydrated with a deep sense of dread. This is not just a hangover I have agreed to give up sugar and keep a food diary. All I can think is: Thank God Im starting today as yesterdays would have been truly embarrassing. Crisps. KFC. Vodka.

Its not my fault. I am clearly not an adult capable of make informed choices. So I resemble most overweight and overwrought people. My fat and my sluggishness are not a mystery to me: I eat and drink too much and my January was not dry.

Sugar is the source of all evil, so much so that a sugar tax is now being mooted. But how easy is it to dedicate it up? I call a man who is going to help me, and I make a cheese omelette Im not sure what I can eat, but presume it is a low-carb diet, so this is likely to be OK.

I arrange to meet personal trainer Nyambe Ikasaya for advice. He has and Im getting technological here a lard testing machine, and Im too lardy. Also dehydrated. I explain about the vodka. He points out this is not the result of simply one nights drinking. He gives me what he calls a nutritional protocol and what I call a diet.

Things I cant have: bread, liquor, carrots genuinely? and all fruit. I dont am worried about the fruit. He asks me what I want to achieve, and I enjoy whinging on to him.

At home, I begin reading books about detoxing and giving up sugar. You know how they go: three or four days in, most people feel terrible and then suddenly brilliant. This is the detox narrative. Largely, they seem to be written by 20 – or 30 -something women who apparently believe they are what they eat and who dont seem to have to feed anyone but themselves. Perhaps my terrible position is toxic, but few of these volumes speak to me at all.

Apparently I should have cleaned out my cupboards of all the bad food and freshly stocked them. But I havent done this because: life. I buy lots of veggies and order my teenager a takeaway while I spiralise a courgette. Someone says on the news that its Blue Monday. It surely is.


Illegal foodstuffs only a few of the banned items. Photograph by Felix Clay Photograph: Felix Clay for the Guardian

Day 2: Dedicating up sugar means giving up my social life

Im very confused about everything. Am I trying to lose weight or simply go cold turkey( apparently permissible because this is lean protein) on my sugar addiction? Or is this, in fact, the same thing? All advice on giving up sugar ends with a similar evidence: Incidentally, I lost two stone, got glowy scalp and my entire life was better. Sugar ages us as well as inducing us obese, they say. Willpower is no match for the food the enterprises and we are sold more and more detoxes. Also, I am very confused about breakfast. I never commonly want it but have been told its better to have it than not. But not coffee. Have mushrooms get sugar in their own homes? Apparently I can have a few.

It seems to me I am doing a modified Atkins diet. Not so high in fat and dairyish, which is good as that stimulated “i m feeling” dreadful. I have to go to a session so I take some smoked salmon and avocado with me to avoid an illegal sandwich. It goes to mush in my suitcase and savor only of foil.

This diet involves me to plan all my dinners. Do I seriously have to read all food labels? A bit of mustard with my steak is surely not the end of the world? I cook separate dinners for myself and my family. Well why not, as I have cancelled going out. Devoting up sugar entails giving up my social life as I am not one of those people who can stand around with a glass of sparkling water feigning this is just what they have been looking forward to ALL DAY.


Sour dough Moore, breadless. Photograph by Felix Clay Photograph: Felix Clay for the Guardian

There are now competing voices in my head: This is the most self-indulgent thing you have ever done. Why can you not look after yourself properly and see that cutting down sugar constructs sense health-wise?

Is sugar an actual narcotic? Does defying it induce you morally superior? I merely dont know.

Day 3: I dont want to sit there with freak food

Been sticking with it but tonight, I have to cook dinner for family and friends. I need to be able to eat the same stuff as everybody else as I dont want to sit there with freak food. I get around this by not having rice, but inevitably I go on about it. My eldest, who is fit and health-conscious says: Mum, I have a friend doing this. It is just really boring. Explaining to other people what I can and cannot feed and how sugar is in everything is, I realise , not a dazzling topic of conversation.

Day 4: My intellect is full of information about the cure of smoked salmon

Terrible nights sleep. I feel anxious and got to go to the loo, a lot I have never drunk so much water. Eat leftover salmon for breakfast. Do some light exert: stretches, step( horror) and weights. Nyambe teaches me some stretches for my lower back ache while I spaff on about seeds.

These stretchings are a revelation and Im happy to learn them. Truly helps. But my mind is full of data concerning food, about sugar, and the cure of smoked salmon. My mental space is crammed, because basically all diets make you preoccupied with food. I want a break.

Day 5 : Its all so dull that I go to a store and try on clothes

Slept 10 hours. Guess about how much fund I have already expended. Organic salmon. Steak. Sea bass. Parmesan. This is a very expensive protocol. Go to a Turkish coffeehouse and the woman offers me hummus and all sorts, but I order an egg salad. She brings it over and says: Darling, I built it nice for you. I put pomegranate in. You know? I do know, and this is where I differ from some of the low sugar gurus. I dont decline it or shriek: Get behind me, you Sugar Satan. I just think a bit of pomegranate wont kill me. Likewise, the rogue lentils that have also find their way into the salad.

In any case, its all so dull that I go to a store and try on clothes. Another unrewarding thing.

Day 6 : Meet friends in a tavern and drink water. My life is basically over

What I crave is not sweetness per se, but texture: doughiness, crumbliness, softness. Meet friends in a tavern and drink water. My life is basically over.


Juiced no OJ is permitted. Photograph by Felix Clay

Days 7-8 : I google the carb value of capers. FFS

Two days have blurred into one. I bump into people and talk about tomatoes. What have I become?

My personal trainer Nyambe is constantly supportive and realistic, which is great. The books are strict and hard to relate to. He is the opposite. I am feeing a lot of eggs but have given up proper cook wholly. Spend a fortune in the health food shop. One day I have stomach cramps. Is it because of the protocol.

My middle daughter says she is going to move back home as her flatshare situation is precarious. Dont worry, she says, I can cook for you all the time. I havent the heart to tell her this is well-nigh impossible.

One evening I google the carb value of capers. FFS. Still unsure about demonising of a whole food group. Sins, points, values, forbidden foods. Still, I have stopped snacking and opening wine when inducing dinner.

Day 9 : Gin is the way forward

Fall off the wagon in a Spanish restaurant that does the most amazing gin and tonics. Choose that gin is the way forward as I genuinely dont am worried about food. Just order a courgette bloom and more gin. This strikes me as a brilliant way to eat. Not the epiphany of a Gywneth, and God knows it costs a fortune, but at least its not quark.

Day 10 : I have lost a couple of kilos of fat

Spectacularly hungover and I have to get weighed. I have lost a couple of kilos of fat. So, if weight loss is the measure of all things, then somethings working

Days 11 -1 2: Eat celeriac

Go to Copenhagen for the weekend. Drink wine and feed celeriac, which they seem to put in everything. But I dont go mad.

Day 13: I reach for the prosecco

Do go mad. We are burgled and penalty on the same day in Denmark.( Thats another story ). We lose our laptops and all our valuables. Fly home emphasized and, once there, I reach for the prosecco. Find some horrible chocolates that no one consume at Christmas. Have an out-of-body experience as I watch myself shovelling them all in.

Day 14: I have lost more fat and increased muscle

Explain all this to Nyambe as I have another check in. The weekend has not ruined everything, though, as I have lost more fat and strengthened muscle. This is heartening; there is no way I can live sugar-free full-time.

Day 15: Life is too short to stuff a lentil

Reflecting back. Yes it is possible to give up sugar but, for me, it required too much planning and it is very expensive. Carbs are cheap and everywhere. Clever cooks may be able to do this on a budget, but life is too short to stuff a lentil. Such an attitude may well shorten my life. Right now I dont want to be cook separate meals from their own families. It feels antisocial, and I dont want to stop my teen eating an entire food group. I dont believe I have ever spent so much on food just for myself.


Forget it pasta is verboten. Photograph: viennetta/ Getty Images/ iStockphoto

Looking back, perhaps I entered ketosis( where the body burns fat) after a few days. This nation is described with nearly religion reverence by the low-sugar/ carb crew. Surely, I had no ecstatic experience, except a flattening out of appetite. But while you might stop caring about food, being on a diet still takes up a lot of mental activity.

Do I feel better? Yes, actually, and here is the bit where Im meant to say its all down to stopping the sugar poison. But what I feel has constructed certain differences are the stretches and bits of exercises Nyambe has taught me.

For all of my tussling, this experience has acted as a brake on my bad habits. How long will it last? Certainly, I realise we all need to eat less sugar and that even natural sugars( such as honey, agave syrup and fruit) are still, in the end, only sugar.

But , no, I cant imagine my life becoming sugar-free its too difficult and dull. Instead I will try to cut down, without bearing on. Cutting carbs/ sugar is helpful at my age, when “re going through” hormonal changes, as it levels your blood sugar spikes. Likewise losing fat and building muscle. Otherwise a lot of this is surely about calorie restriction. The weight loss bit is the sweetener of a no-sugar regime.

For this to be more achievable we need a fundamental rejigging of food pricing, or a different understanding of what percentage of our income we spend on food. Processed food is full of sugar, and its inexpensive. Carbs bulk out everything, even ourselves, in the end. Food is everyday and special, ga and gala. Our skewed relationship with all of this is unhealthy. Mine is, for sure. But its not only me, is it? This is not just about my sad struggle with a courgette flower A workable, affordable diet that is not downright antisocial is now the thing I crave most of all.

Foods forbidden by the diet :

Sugar; alcohol; ready-made dinners; bread; pasta; juice; sugary drinks such as Coca-Cola; Fanta; lemonade; Pepsi; fruit, cakes, prepared meats such as ham, salami, sausages, pates; honey, canned food eg chopped tomatoes; prepared salad dressings; prepared sauces; prepared soups; jam; carrots; potatoes; sweet potatoes; peas; tarts; cereals; dried fruit; instant gravy; sauces; pies; desserts; biscuits; smoothies, flavoured yoghurts.

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