Jun 13, 2012

Sweet Nothings

by Michelle Douglas

Sweet Poison: Why Sugar Makes Us Fat

This is the name of a book I’ve been reading by David Gillespie. I’m not usually drawn to these kinds of books. I think they can send out the wrong messages to people, especially women. Our value is not defined by our weight. However, weight (of the excess kind) has been on my mind lately.

I’m now in my forties and I’ve definitely found that my metabolism has slowed these past couple of years. Last month I attended a wedding. When I pulled on my lovely black dress pants I discovered they were too tight. Oh, I could’ve gotten away with it, but they were far from flattering. Vanity is not generally my besetting sin (please don’t ask me about sloth and gluttony), but even I have to draw the line somewhere. I went out and bought a new pair of pants. And while I love clothes shopping, I don’t when it’s because I’ve outgrown clothes that I love.

Obesity has been a big problem on the maternal side of my family. When my great grandmother (a wonderful wonderful woman) died, she was so large it took four grown men to lift her out of her bed. Her daughter, my great aunt, cannot walk any great distance due to her excess weight. She needs two knee reconstructions but surgeons refuse to operate on her because of her weight. My mother is five foot nothing and has tiny legs, but a very round apple shaped middle. She has type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

I’m not obese, but during my lifetime I have fluctuated from a size 10 to a size 14 and back again. I’m roughly a size 12 at the moment. Problem is, over the last couple of years my weight has been steadily increasing.

Denial also runs in my family :-) so I’m refusing to bury my head in the sand about this issue. I do not want to develop my mother and aunt’s health issues.

Maybe that’s why Sweet Poison captured my attention (though I fear it may have more to do with the fact that the front cover bears a picture of a doughnut—my favourite food in the universe). I read it with a very healthy dose of scepticism, but…

So much of what Mr Gillespie said made sense, and he backs his claims up with research from reputable sources. His primary message is that our bodies have not evolved to process large amounts of fructose. Fructose is a sugar. Table sugar—sucrose—is half fructose and half glucose. Our bodies are designed to deal with glucose and lactose (the sugar naturally occurring in milk), but not fructose. Fructose is not detected by the appetite-control centre of our brain either, which means it’s very easy to overeat foods containing fructose. If that news isn’t bad enough, fructose is converted into fatty acids and released into our bloodstream. There is a lot of growing evidence that diets high in fructose are responsible for cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and other metabolic diseases that have been previously blamed on diets high in fat.

So, for the next two months I’m going to conduct an experiment and, to the best of my ability, give up fructose (this actually means not exceeding more than 10 grams of sugar per meal). This doesn’t mean giving up fruit or suddenly eating a diet high in fat. If Gillespie had promoted either of those things I’d have run for the hills (actually, I don’t like running so it’d be more of a lazy amble, but I’m sure you get my drift).

I do think women can obsess too much about their weight and I think rigid diets do more harm than good. What I want to achieve with my experiment is to promote good health in myself and, hopefully, avoid some of the health issues that plague other women in my family. I’m not going to deny myself the occasional treat if I’m craving one. It just won’t be a sugary treat. It might be some lovely Camembert instead. Also I am going to have a piece of birthday cake in July to celebrate my DH’s birthday. Will be interesting to see what a sugar hit will do to me after having abstained so long. :-)

In August I’ll report back and tell you how I’ve fared—if I’ve lost weight, if I feel healthier and more energetic…or if there is no discernible difference.

But I’d love to know if any of you have ever made a “healthy” change to your lifestyle, and what the outcome was. Or maybe you have a tip or two you could share about how I can avoid sugar for two whole months? Come on folks, I need all the support I can get. :-)

Michelle's latest release, The Man Who Saw Her Beauty, is currently available in Australia and New Zealand


  1. Good luck, Michelle, I don't envy you. I got through Lent (well, minus a week) and its not easy. But easier than you think once you don't touch processed foods. That's where the danger lies.
    I think its important to emphasise your point that it doesn't mean giving up fruit. Even though fruit has been grown sweeter over time, the fibre in it more than makes up for the sugar content. I'm now waiting for them to grow a chocolate apple!

  2. Michelle, I've never been a "sweets" person so I don't have a problem with sugar. But I do have that middle-age slowing metabolism thing happening. Coupled with writing as a living (aka sitting around on my butt all day) it's a problem.
    I think you have it right! It's about maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The more we promote regular exercise and responsible diet in our lifestyles, the better we feel. The more energy we have.
    In fact, might just go for a walk right now!
    Thanks for the inspiration. I look forward to hearing the results!!!

  3. Hi Michelle, fascinating post. I'm intrigued- what are the main fructose culprit sources? I always (obviously mistakenly) thought it was fruit- and as I eat a fair bit of fruit am I doing the wrong thing?

    Otherwise, I'm not a huge fan of sweet based things- but I'm betting that fructose is in hidden in savory stuff (and, knowing my luck, cheese and wine too), right?

    The healthiest choice I ever made was to give up smoking- the day I discovered I was pregnant- I wasn't a heavy smoker at that point, but had smoked my share of fags over the years. I haven't touched one in 16 years and am sure I'm reaping the benefits. The other thing I started doing once I hit my 40s was ZUMBA! - Find an exercise you love to do, they say. I lost 10kgs and have kept it off with 3 classes a week.

    I'd love to hear more about this sweet poison, though. As a wife and mother of chocoholics I need a bit of ammunition to steer them clear of the sugary stuff.

    Very best of luck with your experiment! Will be intrigued to hear the outcome.

  4. Hi Michelle, I've recently changed my diet to reflect some of the principles of the Paleo diet -- which includes no sugar. I'm not 100% strict, I do allow myself the occasional treat. But I can't believe how much better I feel and I have lost weight too (I hear ya on the slowing metabolism thing!). The hardest part is the first little while, when those cravings are sharp. I found it helped to remember that as Gillespe says in that book, sugar is like a drug. Coming off it is like detox! But once you've gone through that, things change. I really find I don't get as hungry as I used to, which is nice. :)

  5. Thanks for the good wishes, Jo. :-)

    The good thing about my experiment is that I'm not feeling deprived like I would on a "lose weight" diet. All I'm avoiding is fructose. But I can still have bread with butter (love both!) and a glass of wine on the weekend. Still lots of yummy things to eat. :-)

  6. Robbie, I have a terrible sweet tooth, but I find that I mostly avoid sweet things through the week. It's the weekend that's the problem. The dh and I can just hoover back a family block of chocolate in the blink of an eye. And it's past time for that to stop, I'm afraid.

    Hope you enjoyed your walk! I just got back from one. I love walking. It feels so...zen.

  7. No, no, no, Louisa -- keep eating your fruit. The fibre in fruit compensates for the fructose. 2 pieces of fresh fruit a day is what Gillespie recommends (he's less enthusiastic about dried fruit, mind).

    The big culprits are soft drinks and fruit juices. Both flood our bodies with fructose (and glucose too but our bodies can deal with glucose-excess just ends up on our hips and thighs). Fructose, however, is converted to fatty acids and pushed straight back out into our bloodstream (and that's what bad for us apparently). A lot of cereals are full of sugar. There's the usual suspects like cakes and biscuits and chocolate (sob!). Also Jam. Honey. And sauces -- a 20ml squirt of tomato sauce has 5.2g of sugar (just over a teaspoon) and I expect half of that would be fructose. So I'm avoiding sauces for the moment too.

    The good news is that most alcohol is fructose free -- except for dessert wines, ports and liqueurs. Cheese and crackers are sugar free. So I shan't feel too deprived. :-)

    And good on you for giving up smoking! I was a smoker once too. I figure that giving up sugar should be a cinch after that.

  8. Emmie, it's fabulous to know that the change in your diet has made you feel so much better. It's a nice incentive.

    I think the reason a lot of "diets" are hard to stick to is that they leave one feeling constantly hungry. I'm not having any problems with that so far -- feeling full and satisfied. But, hey, this is only Day 3. :-) The weekend will be the real test.

  9. Michelle, I startted the sugar free thing a few weeks ago. The hardest bit ws the start, much easier now. I slipped on the weekend because we were at a BBq, and the kids did cooking and I had ot taste. But I find I don't crave it anymore which is a big help.

  10. This is really interesting, Michelle. There's a speaker at our local community hall next week talking about exactly this topic! I hadn't intended to go but now I just might. I've never been much of a sugar lover, but show me a bag of potato chips and I'll inhale it in a second.

    The biggest change I made to my diet was when I was pregnant. I finally started to "listen" to my body and ate when I was hungry and stopped when I was full - and I started to think in terms of nutrition instead of just any onld food. I know, it sounds so basic and logical but I'd spent my later teens and all of my twenties either depriving myself, or bingeing or exercising to excess to stay slim, that I'd lost all sense of the "signals" in my body.

    Back in those days I couldn't have had any "naughty foods" in the house becuase I'd have thought about them morning, noon and night and then finally succumbed and scoffed the lot. I never miss a meal now, whereas in the past I might not have eaten until 4pm and then binged like a maniac.

    I'll be really interested to hear how your experiment goes.

  11. Oh, Anita, I'm glad you're finding the sugar-free lifestyle easy now. I'll just keep that in mind on the weekend when I'm pining for a sweet treat.

    And, tbh, I don't think the occasional slip is anything to stress about (even if David Gillespie has freaked me out about how bad fructose is for our bodies). :-)

  12. Barb, I did find the book really interesting, so if you don't get to the community talk I'd certainly recommend popping into your local library and borrowing a copy (if you can get it, that is. I've reserved the companion Quit Plan book at my local library... but it has 7 reserves on it prior to mine! My 2 month experiment will probably be long over).

    Wow, moderation really wasn't in your vocabulary when you were younger, huh? And I honestly get that -- not the exercise stuff, perhaps, but the eating too much and then hardly eating anything to compensate cycle. Fact of the matter is I can't treat my body like that any more, it just won't let me. I think learning to listen to your body's signal is a very wise thing to do.

  13. Interesting post, Michelle! I have big issues with corn/maize and after reading your post I wonder if it's really a fructose problem because I don't tolerate a lot of fruits either. Bananas are about it these days for me!

    I also discovered I have a sugar-headache connection. Kinda sad but since some of those headaches used to really lay me out, giving up sugar has been a huge improvement for me.

    My treat of choice is very very dark chocolate - but not too much of it!

  14. I have not read this book but have been following the following protocol.


    It has made eliminating sugars and grains so much more easy. I would highly recommend. I have lost kgs and cms and feeling so much better.

    I no longer crave sugar and starches. I also had gained weight as I got older and those cms around our middle. I still have a few more to loose but am more that 1/2 where I would like to be.

  15. Michelle, what an interesting post! My healthy change has been to change my usual toast for breakfast to fruit at least 5 days a week, or occasionally a good Greek yogurt with nuts and fresh fruit (after all, we're told to remember the calcium intake too). I found I wasn't eating much fruit during the day and thought this would be an easy way to do it. I'm smirking, reading your post, as my son had recently told me he'd read about fructose being bad for you and it had been interpreted as meaning we shouldn't eat fruit. And now that it's navel orange season, I couldn't bear that. I have to say i've noticed a huge difference - feel much better when I start the day with fruit. If I'm hungry I can always top up on yoghurt or wholegrain toast but usually I don't need to.

  16. i don't think i have an idea because i love sweet thing especially chocholate *grin

    but i think if you really want to avoid sugar for two months, only with strong determination you would success :)

  17. Sharon, you have my sympathies with your food intolerances. That must make life very difficult (and dashed inconvenient at times).

    Sugar doesn't give me a headache, but if I eat too much of it I do find that I get very lethargic. And if I've eaten nothing but sugar, in the afternoon I get a weird "I'm going to faint if I don't eat something good soon' feeling. I think it's probably a good thing to remove the sugar bowl from my proximity.

    So...am doing my best not to think of luscious dark chocolate right now.. :-)

  18. Daisyrose, thanks for sharing your experiences and best of luck with your continuing program. Shall head over to changing habits to check it out.

    Am finding the knowledge that the cravings disappear very heartening!

  19. Annie, I need to increase my fruit intake. Shall I shock everyone if I confess that I'd be lucky to eat 3 pieces a month? I buy it, and think how pretty it is...and how good it smells...and how yummy it will be...and then it just gets thrown out because it's gone bad. Shall be trying to do better on that front.

    I hope you enjoy your navel oranges (and setting your son straight!). ;-)

  20. Eli, I'm hearing you on loving sweet things!

    But you'll have to forgive me because now I'm blocking my ears. ;-)

  21. Michelle, I understand your attitude to fruit. I was the same, which is why I started eating it for brekkie. It always seemed too much effort for a snack. And I have to say these navels are delish.

  22. Well, Annie, you have inspired me as I have eaten 2 pieces of fruit so far this week. Bananas -- they're so easy to eat on the run! But, I do have some gorgeous Royal Gala apples in the fruit bowl, and they are calling to me.

    LOL. I do enjoy oranges when I eat them, it's just that I always feel as if I need a shower afterwards. :-)