Wednesday, 25 April 2018

The Lent Experiment Part 3 - The End of The Road

Vital Statistics 3 (March 31st - 46 Days In)

Weight: 8st 10lbs (55.3kg)

Stomach Circumference: 34.5" (88cm)

46 days & I've not once thought about chocolate; now to just Rolo-ver the finish
 line, through the Blue Riband and complete this Snickers...I mean Marathon!

General Feelings: Well, I made it - 46 days without refined sugar! 46 days without knowing the sweet, sweet taste of chocolate, of cake, of cookies, of ice cream, of chocolate (I know I said chocolate twice, that's because it's doubly important)! Now that it's over I'm not going to start acting all smug and make out that it was easy, it's not like I decided to give up vegetables and then feigned tears as I pushed away the brocolli dish! No, of all the foods to give up, sugar is definitely the hardest one for me. But in all honesty, it wasn't as horrifically awful an experience as I was expecting it to be, at least not once I'd got into the swing of things. Articles I'd read beforehand had laid out a series of terrifying withdrawl symptoms I could expect so I went into this expecting the worst.

How I fully expected sugar withdrawl to feel!
That's not to say however that I gave up all sugar, I genuinely don't think I could have made it through the entirety of Lent as even a semi-functional human being if I'd attempted that! But by replacing the refined sugar found in most sweets, desserts and drinks with the natural sugar found in the likes of fruit, yoghurt and honey, I'd like to think I hopefully managed to find a healthier alternative. After all, sugar (in moderation) can be an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. That being said, I did eat a lot of natural sugar alternatives in the last 46 days, possibly exceeding the recommended daily sugar dose on numerous occasions, but there's absolutely no question in my mind that this was still a vastly better option than getting most of my sugar in refined form.


The biggest surprise came when I went to measure round my stomach as, in complete contrast with a couple of weeks previously, when I looked in the mirror this time I was convinced I hadn't lost any of the podge from my tetra belly. However, when I wrapped the tape measure around myself I found that I had in fact lost 2 inches from my stomach since my last measurement! I was so convinced there had been an error that I measured it a few more times, making sure the tape hadn't slipped or become twisted somewhere, but it hadn't. Sure, there could be several factors outside of diet that could have contributed to this 2 inch loss and I have stated previously that without core muscles a person's stomach is more prone to fluctuations in size, but I'm choosing to see this in a positive light and as an indicator of the benefits of a refined-sugar-free diet combined with regular exercise.

The essential quad gym pack!

The other major benefit of a healthier diet - feeling better both inside and out. I've already talked about this in my previous updates so I won't bore on for too long and keep repeating myself, but it's true what they say, replacing refined sugar with natural sugar does indeed seem to make you feel more alert, more energetic and generally more positive throughout the day. I was as sceptical as anyone about this "fact" going into Lent but I soon found that a handful of fruit, mixed with a few dollops of natural yoghurt and a squirt of organic honey filled me up and energised me far more than say, a piece of cake, which would initially leave me feeling satisfied but not long after I'd find myself tired and craving more. 

Tastes as good as...Tastes much better than it looks!
Another handy (and quintessentially British) trick I found was to drink numerous and varied cups of tea throughout the day, switching between cups of standard blend, chai, and the vast number of fruit/herbal varieties on offer. These not only quenched my thirst but also tended to take my mind off snacking, I would assume due to the various flavours and spices in them satiating my taste buds. On the whole, I found there were a surprising number of quick and easy alternatives to sugary snacks and drinks that required very little preparation. And hell, if I can do it, anyone can!

The essential tower of teabags!
However as I was soon to find out, giving up refined sugar for six weeks is one thing, having the willpower not to dive straight back into it afterwards is something entirely different...

Falling Off The Wagon

It just so happened that on the day Lent ended, I was at the wedding of a couple of friends of mine; a joyous occassion that included the all important Three L's: love, laughter and lots of cake! Not just cake either; there was cheesecake, a muffin tower and an old school pick 'n' mix which you were free to delve into at any time. Untethered from my Lent leash, surrounded by sugar, ambushed by cake: I fell off the wagon, hard!

Over the course of the evening, I consumed one slice of cheesecake, multiple muffins and an entire bag full of pick 'n' mix, not to mention getting well into double digits of soft drinks and cider. I ate, drank, laughed, danced and partied the night away with impunity, or so I thought.

As I was chatting with friends in the wee hours on the way home, I realised that I was becoming short of breath, needing to inhale longer and deeper in order to get sufficient (or at least what felt like sufficient) air into my lungs. I stopped talking for a bit and focussed on catching my breath until I was confident enough that there was nothing overly sinister going on. Once I got home, I dragged my wheezing, sluggish butt to bed, fell straight to sleep and woke up feeling completely fine the next day. I'm not trying to make out like my being out of breath was a huge deal or anything, but I am 100% convinced this was due to my body being suddenly inundated with refined sugar after a six week starvation period and it struggling to cope with the sudden rush. And no matter how minor this "incident" may have been, it surely can't be a good thing, right?!

Rolling Forward

So, what have I learnt from the last couple of months, what can I take away from it moving forward and what advice would I give someone who was considering something similar?

Well, simply put, the main thing I've learnt from this is that it's not as teeth grindingly hard as I thought to give up refined sugar and with the right attitude, preparation and willpower, a person can accomplish whatever they set their mind to. And for all of us in a constant battle with the phenomenon known as "the tetra belly", the results over the last six weeks definitely seem to suggest that it is possible to slim it down, though maybe not eliminate it altogether, but who knows? As I stated in Part 1, refined sugar was my one true addiction in life, so if I can give it up then anyone can! I know what you're all thinking though, "come on, you only gave it up for six weeks then went straight back on it again, what was the point?!" Which smoothly segues into my plans moving forward...

I daresay I could have gone longer without refined sugar if I had so wished, but the simple truth of the matter is that I like it and it happens to be in pretty much all of my favourite sweet treats. Giving it up for six weeks was great; I'm proud of myself and I feel better for it, but I don't want to go through life having to check the ingredients of every item I buy at the supermarket or order at a restaurant in order to deny myself this little thing that gives me pleasure. However at the same time, I want to try and retain some of the positives I have gained from this experience. Which is why I've decided that, now my Easter binge is over, I'm going to primarily go back to my fruit, nuts, yoghurt and honey diet when at home. Sure, I might get in the odd tub of ice cream or bottle of coke in the summer and splurge on sweets during Christmas; and yes, if I have guests round I'll likely get in some form of biscuits/dessert, afterall no one comes round to visit hoping for a cup of tea and my world renowned selection of blueberries! But other than that I'm going to try to keep my house refined-sugar-free more or less. And speaking of cups of tea, as soon as Lent ended I began adding a sweetener tablet back into my tea; however after the initial first couple of cups I subconsciously reverted back to going sugar free and this would seem to be how I take my tea now, huzzah

And to anyone thinking of trying something similar, I would say: Do it! What have you got to lose? Find a selection of products containing natural sugars that you enjoy and try substituting them for the unhealthier items you would normally have. Combine this with regular exercise and see how you feel. You don't have to completely give up everything, start off small and work your way up, find a balance that you're happy with. Remember to give it time, you may start to feel worse before you start to feel better, let your body gradually adjust to your new, healthier lifestyle. And finally, don't doubt yourself, you're almost certainly capable of more than you think!


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