End of Week 13 – Hello old friend

energy

“Ironically, many of us have a tendency to reach for sugar-filled items, including so-called energy drinks and caffeinated beverages, when we’re tired. Yet without all the sugar, we’re guaranteed to have a higher energy level naturally. In other words, all that sugar is blocking our body’s ability to keep our energy stores at maximal levels. Plus, there will be no up-and-down with your blood sugar, so afternoon crashes will become an experience of the past.”
Kayla Matthews
http://naturalsociety.com/5-things-happen-quit-sugar-for-life/

ENERGY.

There now, that’s better. I’m actually feeling some; a sneaking suspicion of energy; a desire to move and to exercise. Nothing earth-shattering. I’m not going to be dancing round the kitchen all day, or running down the lane – yet. But there’s potential.

At last!

That it’s there at all is wonderful. A little glow of motivation, swirling around inside me. The notion that I could – if I really wanted to – get up and DO! The potential is there now, for greater things. A better, more active life. The things I want to do – Pilates, Yoga, Walking, Dancing, Cycling, the physio exercises for my back – all now within my reach with an eagerness that was entirely lacking before yesterday.

It arrived quietly, and knocked gently on the door of my brain. The little whisper of a familiar voice, an old friend: “Try it. Today. Yes, go on. You can.”

And I could.

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“[Quitting sugar] doesn’t mean deprivation, it means abundance! Abundance of energy, good mood and clarity that has dramatically increased the quality of my life.
Jess, Researcher
https://iquitsugar.com/testimonial/jess-researcher-quitting-sugar-gave-me-strength-and-energy/

End of Week 12 – Recovering From The False Happy

sugar addiction 3

Sugar addiction is the term for the relationship between sugar and the various aspects of food addiction including “bingeing, withdrawal, craving and cross-sensitization”. Some scientists assert that consumption of sweets or sugar could have a heroin addiction-like effect.”
Dr Christopher M Olsen, PhD

In my last blog, I touched on the idea of a middle line between a sugar low and a sugar high, and the unrealistic expectation that off sugar, the mid-line would continue to exist as was. I revealed the difficulty that I was experiencing in reaching ‘a happy place’ in the absence of sugar, and trying to come to terms with the realisation that without sugar, this ‘middle line’ between lows and highs was much lower than I had expected it to be.

Having spent a large part of my life in a state of sugar-induced happiness, it has been a challenge to come to terms with a new normality. After all, years and years of excessive sugar consumption had given me a skewed and unrealistic notion of what it means to be happy.

It’s taken me a while to face up to it, but the truth of the matter is this: The ‘happy’ I felt on sugar was fake. It was not a realistic measure of life, or how it ultimately works, for all of us. Reaching for sugar for ‘help’ with the least event, either in anticipation of it, or to deal with the fall-out from it, created an unreal life, one where I was in my own happy-but-oblivious state. I thought sugar made it easier for me to think clearly. I used sugar for comfort, emotional support, and reward – an age-old cycle familiar to most of us.

Exploring this on the Internet, I came across some very interesting articles, particularly this one by Dr Christopher M Olsen –

“In rats that were trained to press a lever to receive intravenous self-administration of drugs, highly palatable foods such as sugar and saccharin were shown to reduce self-administration of cocaine and heroin, and these natural reinforcers have been demonstrated to outcompete cocaine in choice self-administration in the majority of rats tested. This would suggest that sweet foods have a higher reinforcing value than cocaine, even in animals with an extensive history of drug intake.”

Gosh.

“During repeated access to sugar, escalation of intake is observed, a phenomenon previously associated with cocaine and heroin self-administration. Escalation is an increase in intake that occurs during the initial phase (e.g. the first hour of a six hour session) of self-administration after a history of repeated sessions, a phenomenon thought to mimic human patterns of drug intake. Following removal of sugar or fat access, withdrawal symptoms including anxiety- and depressive-like behaviors emerge. After this period of “abstinence”, operant testing reveals “craving” and “seeking” behavior for sugar or fat, as well as “incubation of craving”, and “relapse” following abstinence from sugar. In fact, when given a re-exposure to sugar after a period of abstinence, animals consume a much greater amount of sugar than during previous sessions. This deprivation effect was originally described for alcohol, and is thought to be another preclinical model of craving and relapse.” Natural Rewards, Neuroplasticity and non-drug Addictions, Christopher M Olsen PhD. Full article, complete with references and links, at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3139704/

sugar addiction

Wow. It’s hardly surprising, then, that removing sugar from my life caused genuine withdrawal symptoms, and ‘finding my happy’ has been harder than I thought it would be – because I was not in touch with the unreality caused by sugar-addiction, and was not aware that the happy I thought of as normal was anything but.

Even this realisation was a start. Acknowledging it, and subsequently accepting it, has meant that I can work on it. And this work starts by being kind to myself. In the words of Karly Randolph Pitman –

“Eliminating sugar will create a vacuum; better to fill it with something positive – self love and self care – than something that is hurtful, like self sabotage. Care for your tender self so that you feel nourished, capable, rested and strong.

“While yes, your body may be sugar sensitive, and while, yes, you may gorge on sugar, it’s not “you.” It’s just a coping mechanism: how you learned to care for yourself when life felt painful, overwhelming or scary. This is probably something you learned when you were very small. It’s not your fault. Being addicted to sugar or bingeing on sugar is not a character flaw – proof that you’re a terrible person. It’s simply a form of self protection, how you’ve cared for your tender heart.

“When we release the blame – and most of us blame ourselves, and terribly so – we find we can also release the sugar. It creates a spaciousness where we can act differently, where we can respond to sugar in a different way and let go of its hold on us. Forgiveness and compassion are the only way I found peace with sugar. It’s the only way I found that I could stay sugar free long term.”
http://growinghumankindness.com/10-steps-to-control-sugar-cravings/

Thank you, Karly. That helps.

Today marks the end of my twelfth week without refined sugar, and I think I am doing well. I have slowly reintroduced fruit (not every day, and only in very small amounts), and it has been a pleasure to feel that burst of fruit-freshness in my mouth once again. There is no food on earth that can replace that. Today, the humble strawberry looks better and tastes better; and I find myself actually looking at it before I eat it, and actually tasting it when I do.

You will probably enjoy your food more, so don’t worry about not enjoying your meals. You’ll need less, and appreciate real food once the sugar fog has lifted. With your mouth no longer craving sugar, your taste buds will be able to experience an intensity of flavour that you may never have known.
http://growyouthful.com/remedy/sugar-addiction-recovery.php

Most importantly, I am no longer plagued by sugar cravings of any sort; these have gone completely. Life without the white stuff is … good. Actually, it’s better than good. My days are passing with a calmness I could never have imagined I would achieve.

Slowly but surely, the ‘mid-line’ between the sugar-induced high and the lack-of-sugar dip has risen. Happy is no longer an unreachable, ‘up there’, concept. Today, it might even be only a conscious decision away.

I am sugar free, and I can finally choose to be happy.

Day 78 – end of week 11

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“We all know that sugar is not good for us and we all know, deep down, that we probably eat too much of it. But most people are so attached to it – emotionally and physically – that the idea of not eating it at all petrifies them.”
I Quit Sugar, by Sarah Wilson

Somehow it doesn’t seem possible that I have managed to avoid eating refined sugar for almost three months. The time has just flown. Well, the past couple of weeks have, anyway. I admit that since I began this adventure, some days have dragged, some have been difficult, and a couple have been plain awful, but all in all, it’s been a success.

I don’t think about sugar now. Avoiding it, not eating it, not reaching for it in response to any little thing that might be happening in my life, has now become a habit. I eat almost exclusively what I cook for myself, or if it’s something bought, ready-made, I make sure the sugar content is as low as it could possibly be.

There are many wonderful recipes in the book which started this whole adventure, but I have to be honest, when someone starts talking about spinach and avocados, they’ve lost me. I’d never even heard of chia seeds before I read the book, nor stevia, nor rice malt syrup, and I don’t even know if we can get them here in Ireland. I’m not an adventurous cook in any event, and tend to stick with what I know best, and with the things I know I like eating. I’m still thoroughly enjoying my lunch mixture of red peppers and tomatoes, sometimes with new potatoes, sometimes with bought breyani, which is absolutely delicious. I still have eggs on ham for breakfast, or alternatively a slice of wholewheat toast with Bovril. Gluten-free bread has even less sugar in it, I’ve found. When I make dinner for the boys, I over-cater on vegetables, or roast some specifically for Neil and I, and we enjoy those for our evening meal.

I think what I miss most is yoghurt. Sweetened yoghurt, I mean. Greek yoghurt seems to be quite hard work, no matter what you mix with it, and it is very hard to find even plain yoghurt that doesn’t have something added.

With my mouth not as busy chewing as it used to be when I was eating sweets morning, noon and night, I have to keep myself distracted. The best way to do this, I find, is to keep my fingers busy. Hence the dress-making, knitting and, lately, clay work I’ve been doing. Keep the fingers busy and the mind focused, and somehow the need to snack fades away. Sarah Wilson suggests you ‘wait twenty minutes’ when the need for sugar strikes, but sitting still for those twenty minutes wouldn’t help at all. Getting creative for twenty minutes means getting mentally involved in something else, and before you know it a whole chunk of time has passed beyond those vital twenty minutes, and the craving has passed along with it.

What I was finding when I was eating sugar – particularly large amounts of refined sugar – was that my life was a bit of a roller-coaster. I was either sugar-high, or in a sugarless funk which would have me reaching for sugar again. I always imagined that the mean line, the central point between these highs and lows, would be just that: central, like the black line in this picture:

sound-waves 1

However, without sugar, I have found that the mean line is lower than I expected – illustrated by the red line in this second picture.

sound-waves 2

That was why, in my last blog post, I wrote about struggling to find the happy, because it was significantly further away than I had anticipated. Getting that ‘happy high’ had always been a handful of jellybeans away. Easy to achieve. Without that quick fix, and feeling a lot less continually sugar-happy than I was, reaching that happy place seemed to present a bit of a problem. I knew it was ‘up there’, I just couldn’t quite get my finger-tips up to it.

However, today that red line is probably slightly higher than it was two weeks ago, and I’m sure that in time it will rise yet further as I continue to adjust. Finding the happy no longer feels like an impossible challenge; in fact, it could just be around the next corner…

End of Week 9 – a relapse of thought?

happy

“We may think there is willpower involved, but more likely change is due to want power. Wanting the new addiction more than the old one. Wanting the new me in preference to the person I am now.”
George Sheehan

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This has been a difficult sugar-free week for me.

I have been bombarded almost constantly by sugar cravings of a low but all-pervasive level. In previous weeks, the need for sugar would arrive like a bolt from the blue, swirl around my brain, and then fade away. This week it hasn’t done that; it’s been there all the time, like the background musak in a lift that no one really wants to listen to. Annoying. I wish it would go.

I haven’t given in to it, but I have wondered long and hard what the point of all this is.

I’ve been struggling this week to find my happy and hold on to it. Okay, external factors have been weighing against that too; too much driving; too many of my men on holiday, which leaves me struggling to keep on top of their mess and no space to clean the house properly; having to meet with and be nice to someone I really really don’t like, and having to deal with the mental fall-out from that; my car failing its NCT (roadworthy) test for the first time ever, which left me feeling strangely disappointed … I suppose it all adds up.

When I felt like this before, I would grab a handful of jellybeans and go walk around the garden eating them one by one, admiring the colours, enjoying the various flavours, breathing the fresh air and enjoying the sugar-hit that came with the sweets.

Jellybeans made me happy. They had a specific place in my life.

Of course, this past week, while I have been struggling to get on top of this constant low-level sugar craving, I have eaten far too much Other Food and one of my newly departed kilo-chickens has come home to roost. Now that is seriously depressing! The weight had just fallen off by itself and I rejoiced in its leaving, but that I could put it back on by being sugar-free-but-careless … well, blimey, that’s just awful! So now I have to be careful AND careful; to stay sugar free AND to watch what I eat.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and the conquest of any addiction leaves a hole which must be filled by something of equal weight, of equal addictive quality. Somehow I don’t see dog-walking and dress-making filling that void, do you? It cannot be eating, that much is clear to me already. I think I’m expending a lot of energy searching for my replacement addiction. Perhaps more energy than I can afford to waste.

So, end of week nine. My head is a mess; my bathroom scale is no longer my new BFF; I’m struggling to find my happy; and I’m wondering what on earth this is all for.

BUT I still haven’t fallen off the wagon.

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The Eight-Week Milestone

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The rich and vibrant colours of my new life.

Tomorrow marks the end of my eighth week without sugar. I started this journey on Sunday, 10th May 2015.

I have not broken faith with my promise to stay away from sugar. In all those weeks, I have not eaten anything made of refined sugar; I have not eaten anything obviously sweet (the biscuits/buns/cakes of this world); I have not drunk any kind of fruit juice or soda; and through it all, I have somehow managed not to be at all sanctimonious. No, seriously, I have really tried.

Around me, friends and family are trying it too, and I applaud their efforts even as I occasionally observe a more ‘sugar-lite’ approach, rather than strictly sugar free. But any effort is an effort, and I’m truly proud of them. My husband. My mother. My friend Kirsty. It’s lovely to see and I hope they can tap into the benefits I have enjoyed.

Kirsty asked me if what I wrote on this blog was the truth and the whole truth, and she asked me some pertinent questions which I was happy to answer. I hope she won’t mind if I relay a couple of them here together with my responses, because they go to the heart of the matter and are worth sharing.

…after so long without sugar, do you notice a marked difference in your energy levels?
I wish I could say Yes! I’m bounding around like a rabbit! It’s wonderful, life is amazing, I’m fizzing with energy, etc, etc. The truth is, I’m not really sure. Sometimes I just feel better, inside myself, as if I’m free of some burden. Perhaps instead of feeling as though I have more energy, I just feel stronger all round – on a continuous basis, rather than sugar-up and sugar-down. Some people – and there are dozens of ‘i quit sugar’ blogs out there – say it gives them much more energy. The only way you’re going to know for sure is by committing to it and seeing what happens. 8 weeks is not that long, really, for a potential life-change.

Do you notice any difference in your sleep patterns, that you can clearly attribute to being sugar-free?
This I can answer definitely yes. Although I have been waking up at night again a couple of times, I know I am sleeping better. Proper deep sleep. That is a huge plus.

Do you notice any difference in your thought processes, and state of mental well-being?
This is a very good question. I think the answer is yes. Perhaps there is more consistency now, whereas before it was guided by sugar-rush or sugar-lack. If I wanted to be sharp or pay attention to something, I would use sugar to enhance my thought processes. (Wow, there’s an admission to addiction if ever I saw one!) I think I feel calmer and more connected now. More grounded.

Did you lose any weight? If so, how much?
I have only lost 3kgs – and these just fell off all by themselves – but I am now being a little bit more careful not to snack continuously on calorie-rich foods, like nuts.

Is this something you’re going to continue further, because it really really has made a difference? Or do you think you’ll treat yourself to a slice of cake here and there, because after all, what is life without a bit of sweetness in it?
This is an interesting one. As I commented to my sis-in-law, for an addict there’s no such thing as ‘a little heroin’ or ‘just a tot of alcohol’. At this stage, I’m avoiding it completely. Whether that’s for The Rest Of My Life, I don’t know yet.

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So while I haven’t been shy to share the worst side of sugar withdrawal, perhaps I was a little shy to share the good. Honestly, I wish I’d done this years ago. Another kilogram has slid quietly away and I’m making friends with my clothes again. Perhaps in time I will make friends with my body, too. Our relationship has been tense and unfriendly for rather a long time. And of course, as my wonderful friend and Pilates teacher has been quick to point out to me, this tenseness is clearly reflected throughout my body. Hmmm… There’s nothing worse than fighting against yourself, is there? But even though intellectually it makes sense to just ‘let it all go’, it is infinitely harder to actually do it. I am still a work in progress.

Overall, the last few weeks, Weeks 6, 7 and 8, have run really smoothly, and I feel well within myself, more grounded, and strangely free. It’s a subtle kind of freedom, perhaps the mirror image of the subtle, stealthy imprisonment of sugar addiction, which creeps up on you bit by bit until you find yourself entirely chained by the need. The freedom feels good, in a wholesome, old-fashioned way.

I am completely happy I did this, and I would urge anyone who recognises and can face up to their own sugar addiction to try it too. Go on, try it properly. Not sugar-lite, sugar free.

It’s worth it.

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Day 46

Day 46
Wednesday

Two days ago I bought some fruit. A punnet of fresh apricots, some kiwi fruit, and a small punnet of raspberries. I then put them in the fridge and avoided them. Why? Well, I suppose in some way I was wary: all that fructose within my grasp; how would I react?

This morning I made a small fruit salad with most of the raspberries (they don’t last), three of the kiwi fruit, and several apricots. I added the tiniest pour of orange juice – a teaspoon’s worth, no more – and then I closed the tupperware and put it in the fridge. Out of sight ….

After I had my lunch, and because I was feeling self-righteous and comfortable – I spooned a small amount of my fruit salad into a cup. Not even half full. About three raspberries, four quarters of apricot, and a few thin slices of kiwi fruit. It was absolutely delicious, and the fruits I had chosen went beautifully together. Yum, yum!

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I worked out afterwards that it was probably worth – at worst – about two and a half teaspoons of sugar. Not ideal; not too bad.

But what a treat!

However, forty-five minutes later I find myself furiously hungry. Really stomach-rumbling, prowling-around-the-kitchen hungry.

Is this brain or body? I can’t tell. I have a cup of tea, and it fades away completely.

How interesting.

The urge to eat sugar all day every day has left me now, but strangely I do occasionally find myself standing in the pantry for no reason other than I’m just … there, looking around, as if I need something. In truth, I need nothing.

It’s the middle of my seventh week. Tea without sugar now tastes completely normal – which I never believed it would – and although I’m inclined to reach for nuts when the urge to nibble strikes me, this is less often than it was. And the need to be distracted has led to some amazing work in the garden. It’s looking better than it has in years, which is an entirely unexpected bonus.

Day 40

Day 40
Thursday

Of course, I won’t get to eat my juicy apple. Not yet, anyway. With between 6 to 8 teaspoons of sugar per apple, I will be avoiding it for as long as I can. Just imagine that on the countertop in your kitchen: six teaspoons of sugar, side by side. Would you eat them? Okay, would you eat them all? Somehow I doubt it. Having worked so hard to get my body used to life without sugar, flooding it with that much fruit sugar all in one go would not be the best idea.

So when I do try some fruit again – which will probably be fairly soon – I will be heading towards the ones containing less sugar.

Consulting the chart (the link at the end of my last blog), I have hand-picked the following :-

Apricot – 1 medium = 1 teaspoon of sugar
Cranberries – 1 cup = 2 teaspoons of sugar
Kiwi fruit – 1 cup = 3.5 teaspoons of sugar
Peach – 1 medium = 1.5 teaspoons of sugar
Plums – 1 cup = 2.75 teaspoons of sugar
Raspberries – 1 cup = 2 teaspoons of sugar
Strawberries – 1 cup = 1.5 teaspoons of sugar

I can see an awesome fruit salad approaching …

Some people have expressed concern over my new ‘diet’ and wonder if I’m eating the right things. In the words of Sarah Wilson, author of the amazing I Quit Sugar book, the book which started this fantastic adventure in my life –

“Quitting sugar is not a diet. It’s not about crazy draconian rules and restrictive one-off weight-loss stunts. Indeed, it can be distilled into two supremely sensible concepts I reckon we all just get, intuitively:

1. Quitting sugar is a way of living without processed food. When you steer yourself away from sugar, it – by necessity – cuts out pretty much everything that comes in a packet or box. When people baulk at my no-sugar status, I calmly point out that I simply don’t eat garbage. It’s that elegant.

2. Quitting sugar is about eating like our great-grandparents used to, before the additives. This – again by necessity – sees us eating whole, un-mucked-with foods that were commonplace before the advent of modern metabolic diseases. One hundred years ago we ate eggs for breakfast, meat at lunch, vegetables prepared simply, fruit as a treat and drank our milk whole. One hundred years ago type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease and cholesterol issues were a much less significant problem.

Exactly.

Week six is sliding by. I’m not even noticing the lack of sugar any more. I’m drinking lots of water, and becoming more adventurous with what I’m cooking for myself.

I haven’t cheated – I suspect it would be impossible to continue this if I did – but the door on sugar is closed. The colours of my life are richer now, no longer pastel-coloured. The colours of real foods, beautiful and vibrant, nutritious and healthy.

Jellybeans? Ugh! What jellybeans?

Days 31 – 36

Days 31 – 36
Tuesday to Sunday

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The week slides by. I don’t change anything, and I avoid contraband completely – and easily. Now that I’ve managed to re-establish my thirst monitor, I find myself incredibly thirsty, dry-lipped and craving water. This is amazing to me; I used to drink very little, the thirst warning almost always over-ridden by the sugar ‘need’.

But the comments! I have been told I look ‘younger’, ‘more vibrant’, that my skin is ‘glowing’, and that my ‘eyes are clearer’. Now, who wouldn’t want that? 

Because the rampant cravings have stopped now – except for the occasional flash – I no longer feel the urge to nibble all day long. I have been out for dinner with friends, and they were happy to accept my sugar-free state. I gave myself a ‘night off’ and enjoyed pizza with a multitude of toppings, including a few tiny pineapple chunks. I drank water, and had no pudding. Around me there was chocolate cheesecake and Eton mess, and although I had one momentary urge to dip my finger in the little bowl of hot chocolate sauce, I remained absolutely neutral to the sweet foods around me.

I now carry a little tub of nuts around in my handbag in case of emergencies – and I’ve been grateful for them more than once – and I carry a bottle of water in the car to deal with my newly recovered thirst monitor. Otherwise, I carry on as before.

I am now in my sixth week without sugar.

It’s all good.

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The link below is to a chart showing how many teaspoons of sugar are in various fruits. I found this very interesting. Fruit is the one thing I will be reintroducing to my diet at the end of the 8-week sugar-detox period, and I have to admit that I’m really really looking forward to biting into an apple again!

images - apple

http://www.nourishingtreasures.com/index.php/2012/03/13/sugar-content-of-common-fruits-choose-wisely/

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Day 30

Day 30
Monday

A Quiet Celebration.

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the jellybean jar

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Today I took all the forbidden foods from the pantry, lined them up on the kitchen counter-top, and slowly and carefully – and with deep deliberation – went through the sugar content of each one.

Slim Slabs – 43.7% sugar
Go Ahead Yoghurt Breaks – 41.1% sugar
Jellybeans – Carbohydrates 92% – and as they have no nutritional value, make that 92% sugar
Mango Liquorice – 48.3% sugar
Ian’s biscuits (a rare indulgence) – 39.0% sugar
Dutch Waffles – 36.0% sugar

In my head I try to imagine white sugar granules in place of half a stick of mango liquorice, or a third of a Dutch waffle – or most of a jellybean. It’s hard to think like that.

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I throw everything into a bag and take it out to the bin. New and old, it’s all going. (With the exception of Ian’s biscuits, of course.)

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I tip the jar of jellybeans, and watch them fall into the black void.
Goodbye, jellybeans. I doubt we will ever meet again.

IMG_20150608_091936

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Do I feel free? Saved? Unshackled?

No, of course not. I’m in my fifth week now, and although the ambushing images flash into my head less often than they did, they are still there – and I wonder if they will ever go away.

Hello. My name’s Fiona, and I’m a sugar addict. Today is my 30th day on the wagon ……….

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Day 28

Day 28
Saturday

This week has passed incredibly quickly. And easily. It is important to say that. I still occasionally get flashes of desire for something sweet, but I no longer get the same yearning for sugar that I used to. My head is in a better place, and I don’t feel curled in on myself any more. Now I feel decidedly uncurled, in fact. Healthier, stronger, and more alert.

The best news of all is that I am sleeping well. Really deep, refreshing sleep – of the kind I haven’t enjoyed since my early twenties. Although the urge to nod off during the day is still quite strong, I’m less inclined to fall asleep in strange places, and I don’t feel tired all the time.

Oh, and because it keeps coming up in conversation, I googled wine and the making thereof. During the fermentation process, the sugar in grapes (fructose and sucrose) is feasted on by the yeast, sucrose first. If fermentation is stopped at this point, the wine will have a high fructose content, and taste very sweet (dessert wine), but if fermentation is allowed to continue, the yeast will feed on the fructose as well, and convert both sucrose and fructose to alcohol. The drier the wine, the better, sugar-wise.

I haven’t emptied the jar of jellybeans yet, nor thrown away the stashed sweets or muesli bars. In one way, they represent a security blanket; in another, knowing that they’re there, and NOT giving in and eating them, gives me a feeling of immense satisfaction.

Another day perhaps …