When you make the decision to change something that can’t be hidden – something that, eventually other people will have to know about – you do have to gird yourself for the inevitable battery of opinions you will be faced with. Many of us in parts of the world where food is fortunately in great abundance have troubled relationships with it (particularly women, in which this is all bound up with the public messages about our bodies and our ownership of said bodies). So taking any sort of food-related stance – particularly if you’re passionate about it – immediately marks you out as making a moral decision. It’s not hard to see how that happens with offensively stupid terms like ‘clean eating’ being bandied about (what if I washed my cheeseburger before I ate it?). But it can be frustrating to keep having to explain or defend your choices because they make someone else feel uncomfortable, or like you’re sitting in judgement of theirs (and maybe you are, in which case do try to stop, because that makes you a bit of an ass).
So, what to do? Well, the first thing is to assume you’ll hear at least one of the below. And then decide how much of your time it’s really worth addressing it – and whether the comment comes from a genuine place of interest or is simply a knee-jerk reaction. Personally this is how I’ve come to react to other people’s reactions to my quitting sugar. YMMV.
1. I couldn’t live without sugar!
Well, obviously not. No-one can, since our energy comes from glucose. But clearly I am still alive… Hey. A little melodrama makes things fun. For me, this is a nod and smile, because what is to be gained from arguing? They don’t want convincing (unless you genuinely think they secretly do, in which case, have at it).
2. Are you making your family do it too? I think that’s cruel.
Genuinely, I have heard this, and there is so much that’s weird in there. From the ‘making my family do it’ (well, I do make my daughter do stuff, because she is four, but Ash is full-on a grown up and makes his own food choices) to the – admittedly joking – idea that preferring a particular diet is cruelty…. Well, I guess I know how people who raise vegan kids feel now. I think I mostly laughed.
For those interested: no, I don’t make my daughter follow my own choices in exactly the same way as I do. I do restrict the overall amount of ‘treat’ food she has at home, since I know she has desserts at school and in childcare and with her grandparents. But everything is in the context of conversations about general health, keeping our bodies fuelled and the importance of foods that we need (plants, fats etc) versus foods we want (treats). I don’t think there’s a lot to be gained at this stage from making her stand out among her peers – or crave the ‘forbidden’ – as long as there’s some reasonable moderation being practiced and good habits modelled by her parents (eating our veggies, eating when we’re hungry but not clearing plates just because).
3. When are you going to start eating sugar again?
We’re so in the habit of thinking of nonsensical detoxes, short-term fixes and inevitably failed restrictive diets that it’s almost impossible to take in the idea that this could be a permanent change (I think even sometimes for the person doing it). But if you’re not doing this just for a weight loss fix, there’s really no reason why it might not be an indefinite change. I started the process last June and have yet to see a reason to go back on the full-on fructose.
4. Do you eat natural sugars / fruit / honey / maple syrup instead?
In fairness, this isn’t actually a stupid question, since the term ‘sugar’ is pretty vague. Plus every no-sugar plan you can follow is slightly different; my friend Sherri who did Five Weeks to Sugar-Free with Davina (literally with Davina – how cool is she?!) ate some sugars I didn’t on I Quit Sugar, because they’re different approaches leading to a similar outcome. But it can take some patience to keep answering this one. So be it.
As an aside: When I talk about quitting sugar, I mean a considerable reduction in fructose consumption. Thus for me substituting with honey or maple syrup is pointless as it’s still high fructose (most of my fructose I get from 1-2 helpings of whole fruit a day). But generally I’m not a fan of the word ‘natural’ applied to food; table sugar is natural, if by that we mean ‘it comes from a plant’, but I think there’s a lot of privilege and nonsense to be unpacked around the term. And since even among the JERF crew there are plenty of foods that actually do undergo some form of process (butter and cheese, for a start), it’s a whole area I’m loathe to get too evangelical about. I also recognise the reality of busy people’s lives, and the importance of available budgets and convenience. Basically, I think if you give up sugar but take up being a jerk, it’s not good news for anyone.
5. Isn’t it just a fad?
I have delved a little into the science of this and am relatively convinced it’s a good thing to do, but I recognise my limitations in understanding all of it. I know that I feel healthier since starting out. I know I have better skin. (I’ve also lost quite a lot of weight, but I like to steer clear of that subject for the most part because there’s an unhelpful assumption that this means it must be good). I eat (even) more veggies. I cook more. I am much less likely to have binge moments. My blood pressure, always low, has gone down further. Other health measures have also improved a little. You know? It works for me. I appreciate what it has done for me. It’s okay if you don’t want to do it.
If you gave up sugar, what are the comments you heard most of? What did you respond? Did it put you off? I find the politics of eating absolutely fascinating, and would be glad to talk about it more with anyone else who also does.
More posts about sugar you might find interesting: