I Quit Sugar: Eating out and on the go

I wasn’t intending to write much more about IQS; I’d shared my initial thoughts, addressed misconceptions, voiced my post-blip considerations and come to my end-of-programme conclusions and I’ve just kind of quietly been living a mostly IQS-friendly life ever since. I do occasionally splurge, but mostly I keep my fructose levels pretty low, and I’ve not regretted it. My skin has stayed clearer and my ability to resist an OMGSNACKBINGE is at its best for years (not infallible, and now I have an even bigger obsession with cheese, so…) and though it wasn’t my intention particularly to lose weight, it has stabilised at about 20lbs lower than it was.

Of course, I should have anticipated that come January lots of people would be embarking on various versions of their own reduced-, low- or no-sugar journey – most of them, in fact, focussed on reducing fructose, not sugar in general, although some just focus on so-called ‘refined’ sugars, preferring honey, maple syrup and drief fruit (I don’t really get the point of that, but to each their own). Naturally, I’ve thus been thinking about it more, and been asked questions by various friends and family. I’ve also observed a number of people on social media suddenly interested in ‘detoxing’ (meaningless) or ‘clean eating’ (even more meaningless and offensive to boot).

As such I wanted to touch on an issue that I think rears its head for anyone practising a dietary restriction, whether for health, medical, preference or religious reasons: eating out, and eating on the go.

Now, most of us are broke at the moment, and making our own lunches to bring to work, but at some point That Week happens when you seem to be buying an extortionately priced sandwich every day; also the drive to reconnect with friends inevitably seems to result in everyone being free over the same three days at the end of January and you leave a succession of restaurants considerably lighter of pocket and possibly of spirit, but with the nagging feeling you’ve done something wrong.

Well, rid yourself of that feeling immediately. Feeling guilty about food is never a good idea. If you have over-sugared, you’ll probably know (I get actual sugar munchies and sometimes nausea; a friend tends towards stomach upsets and headaches) and really what is there to do but drink water, eat your veggies, chow down on some yummy fat and move on? No-one made you sign your name in blood to pledge to give up sugar for ever and ever, and if you decided you wanted the damned piece of cake (or accidentally had something you didn’t realise contained added sweet stuff), then who cares? There is no place where lists are kept, and red marks are added by your name. It is, in the end, only food and not a moral decision that will haunt your every step until you turn into some sort of cursed Miss Havisham, forever condemned to chow down the neverending yet crumbling remains of a wedding feast made entirely of sugar and marzipan. Chill.

Still, I can understand wanting to feel like you have a go-to – restaurants and cafes you feel you can safely order a few things from without feeling ill or uncomfortable or, yes, guilty afterwards. Or you’d at least like some guidance in good choices to make if you’re going somewhere you have no say in. To that end, I’ve gathered together a few tips that have helped me navigate these waters without getting too bogged down in Super Special Snowflake Rules, and would appreciate any of your own you have to share.

  • Certain cuisines are a bit of a sugar minefield. Thai and Chinese cuisines – at least in the form that tends to appear on the British high street – do tend towards added sugar (that is a massive generalisation though; there’s almost always likely to be something you can have and both have plenty of protein, nut and legume-filled dishes). I prefer to avoid them unless I have a specific craving for them – then I’ll just have what I’m after and move on. There are also a few things that have ‘hidden’ sugar – for example, Japanese sushi rice is partly made sticky by the addition of sugar. It’s not really a big deal and you’re eating it with lovely fatty fish like salmon, so meh, but just so you know.
  • Cheese makes an excellent starter and dessert. I have before managed to have three courses that all involve cheese and I’m pretty proud of that. I tend to sidestep the inevitable fruit and chutneys on cheese boards, which can help.
  • ‘Health food shops’ are tricksy buggers. Whole Foods is often where I pick up some of the more expensive hard to find ingredients for various low-sugar dishes, but it also has plenty of healthy-looking pre-packaged foods that are heaving with the stuff. Be wary of ‘no added sugar’ signs that have the caveat that it’s ‘pure fruit sugar’ – that’s fructose, so… if you really want a fructose load, just eat the piece of fruit. You’ll get the fibre and goodness too.
  • Some fruits make better snacks than others from a low-fructose perspective. Strawberries, raspberries and apricots are my go-to and all travel well in a tub. Try having them with fat – a piece of cheese, some full-fat yogurt – if you’re prone to sugar munchies like me, as it helps you feel more sated and less snacky.
  • In terms of high street lunch chains, Pret a Manger, Pure (Made for You) and Itsu all have nutritional info on the website; Itsu, however, does not list sugar. From the carb count, you can usually make an educated guess (and it looks more than 6g sugars – not carbs! – per 100g, I tend to avoid) and there are some lovely coconutty, avocado-y, chicken-y choices. It’s often quite a nice way to have a little sweet touch (like a sprinkle of pomegranate) mixed in with a delightfully fatty main. At Pure I often go for the Falafalo Soldier – not exactly low sugar, but not high either (and yes, all their product names are that bad).
  • If I’m out and about with the Kid, she will generally request a trip to Wagamama. I’m happy to oblige because, despite the website being more fancy than easily navigable, if I have any doubts about what i’m going to order the info is all there. I particularly ❤ the Coconut Seafood Broth.
  • If you want something sweet, dark chocolate is never not marvellous, and the higher the cocoa percentage the lower the sugar. My current faves are Lindt 90%, Hotel Chocolat Dominican Republic 90% (and 100%) and Tesco Swiss 85%.
  • I’m a bit obsessed with tea-with-everything but if that’s not an option and you don’t want still / tap water, then ask about soda water; it’s rarely on the menu, but any place with a bar should have it as a mixer.
  • You know when you’re on a diet and it’s all “don’t choose the creamy dishes as they’re full of fat, choose tomato sauces”? Flip it. Cooked tomato is great stuff but in large amounts does boost the sugar level. Cheeeeeeese.
  • Consider alternatives for treats; for example, if you’re a massive afternoon tea fan like me, go for one that has good savouries as well as pastries, as after a while sugar-free you’ll be far more interested in those anyway. I’m dying to try Fortnum & Mason’s entirely savoury tea… you know, when I win big on the lottery that I never play.
  • Eat, enjoy and feel well. Whether that includes sugar or not.

My apologies if you were hoping for more strict rules and regulations than that, but I’ve had a disordered relationship with food for so long that I am all about the freedom now. The entire reason I tried sugar-free living was to fight off cravings and the feeling that I had to try and control everything – so I’m not about to undo all that work liberating myself just to obsess over every mouthful, or encourage anyone reading this to do the same.

That said, if you have a failsafe idea you’d like to share in the comments, go to it!



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