Mais Non!

ImageMy boyfriend is French. Let’s call him French Fries from here on in, because he’s French. And thin. We actually met through a friend and got to know each other because I had recently been to Paris and fallen in love with it and decided I wanted to learn French. But of course. Three lessons in and I’d learnt precisely zero French so FF dumped me as his student and I moved to girlfriend status.

Now, you’d think that having my own personal, part-time French tutor (not to mention his family who live here and whom I see fairly often) would facilitate me picking up the language quite easily, wouldn’t you? Mais non*! Largely because FF’s English is so good (and his accent is pretty cute), it’s made me lazy with it. I really really really did want to learn French, I really honestly truly did, and still do, but something’s holding me back. I think I’ve worked out that it’s fear – fear of hard work and failure.

I was a pretty good student at school and managed to get through Uni with ‘good enough’ marks  get into Honours and from there into a PhD. I’m a complete nerd-face though. I studied as much for the love of it as for career advancement. As I’ve gotten older though, it’s become waaay harder to learn anything new. Doesn’t matter what it is – having to master any new set of skills, and apply myself to learning them, is daunting, and if I don’t pick it up quickly, I give up. That’s not ‘historically’ me. Or maybe it is. Maybe if school hadn’t come ‘easily’ to me, I’d not have persevered with it? Something to think about.

But I digress. The point is I’m pretty impatient with myself these days, and easily frustrated. For example during our short-lived student/teacher relationship, FF would say something in French, I’d repeat it, flawlessly, and he would cock his head on the side and squint a little and say “almost. It’s more like (insert here an exact imitation of whatever French word it was that I’d just said) at which point I’d have a dummy spit because that was what I just said and we’d have to move on. I’d get all paranoid and frustrated and embarrassed, too embarrassed to – heaven forbid – practice in front of him or any of his family so I would retreat to the safety of cultural dominance and expect every conversation thereafter to be conducted in English.

Why is adult learning such a scary concept? Or is it just me? I’ve heard other people say that languages, in particular, are more difficult to learn the older you get. There are some French words or phrases that I physically cannot work out how to twist my tongue around. The road ahead from conjugating to conversation seems impossibly long. I do have a good textbook that I’ve cracked the spine on, and have downloaded various audio files to practice pronunciation, but they speak too bloody quickly for me and I get even more annoyed.

I suspect that although we never stop learning we generally leave the sit-down-in-a-classroom-and-study type learning far behind. That’s my comfort zone, this independent and unstructured learning, ‘just for the sake of it’ isn’t. Even when I did a PhD, there was still some structure to it – a goal, an expected time frame, a ‘known’ output. One of the advantages of getting older is you get more introspective, and insight (so the theory goes) is a little easier to find. So possibly I need to do some investigating into how I learn to get past this mental blockage. Am I visual learner? Auditory? Kinesthetic? I’ve got a distant memory of some sort of work training where I sat right on the border between visual and auditory. Not sure how helpful this is but it’s something to think about for when I do get off my arse and sort this French-learning business out.

I’ve been saying to FF for ages that I should enrol in a class so I can combine the classroom type learning, the structure and discipline it offers, with plenty of verbal practice. So I’m going to do it. I am, I am, I am, I am, I am. Watch this space. (I’m also thinking about doing an MBA but that’s a blog post for another time…)

*Mais Non is an expression that translates most literally to “But, no!” when disagreeing with something someone says. I don’t think it’s meant in a harsh way, or at least that’s not how FF uses it.

Example A:
Me: I’m a whale. I should be harpooned. Bet you don’t want to draw me like one of your French girls.
FF: Mais, non!

Example B:
Me: I’ll never learn French. It’s too scary. I’m going to be monolingual for the rest of my life.
FF: Mais, non! (Then he’ll give me a gentle reminder that I need to actually pick up my text book and do the occasional lesson if I’m actually going to get anywhere with it).

The Kitchen Garden

The other night I was lucky enough to go with my friend Vicky to hear Stephanie Alexander, she of The Cook’s Companion fame, and Annie Smithers (a chef who runs a restaurant that almost entirely serves up produce from her own garden) speak at the University of Melbourne. The University frequently puts on free public lectures that can be really interesting and it’s a great opportunity to hear some very inspirational people talk about the things that matter to them.

Tonight’s topic was, unsurprisingly, food, as well as a general discussion of the two books that both women have published recently. Annie’s book is called Annie’s Garden to Table, and it’s an exploration of her love of growing and cooking her own food. Stephanie has recently published her memories – A Cook’s Life, which sounds fabulous.

As those who know me will know, and anyone else who has read over this blog during its brief lifetime, food is a ‘thing’ for me. I love to cook, and eat, but even more importantly, I’ve become all too aware in recent years of the symbiotic relationship between food, my body, health, and general emotional wellbeing. I’ve also observed the way in which food ‘trends’ have infiltrated the world I inhabit. Slow food, raw food, soul food, sustainability, seasonal, organic, gluten free, sugar-free, vegan, super-foods etc etc, are all terms that have come to mean so much more as society increases its sophistication about food.

Paradoxically, I feel that food has, like coffee, become one of those things that symbolises, or at least contributes to a class divide. Being educated about food and making healthy food choices is one of the marks of particular social groups. What I’m getting at here, not very articulately, is that food snobbery is rife. While we might be more sophisticated about food, and educated, and take it all the more seriously, these conversations can ostracise people who are disadvantaged and don’t have the luxury of choosing organic, or waxing lyrical in conversation with their buddies about whatever the latest food trend happens to be.

Like most things that are good for us, good food is harder to access, the fewer resources you have. I’m acutely self-conscious – probably too much so – that constant thinking and talking about food is a tad offensive and insensitive to people in our own societies who have to just take what they can get, let alone those in other countries for whom starvation is a reality. I suppose the best way to rationalise this, or at least the way to do it is using my relative privilege to make good, ethical, sensible choices. To NOT think about what I put into my body since I have the luxury of being able to think about it, would be worse, wouldn’t it? Awwww hell – food is just complicated.

One of the things I so admire Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Foundation is that it uses food to bridge the divide between socio-economic groups, not widen it. The Foundation was established in 2004, in response to the overwhelming interest in and success of the piloting of the program at Collingwood College. Basically, participating schools build a garden, and students between the ages of 8 and 11 nurture the garden, harvest its food, and once a week they have a cooking lesson where they cook with, and then get to eat their own produce. Stephanie gave numerous examples the other night of how much the kids love it, and what a huge trickle down effect they’ve noticed it having, with food conversations making their way into homes where they might not otherwise. You can find out more about it here. I think it’s just fabulous, and if I had the disposable cash I’d be donating to it. In fact, I just might anyway.

Annie Smithers remarked tonight that we’ve over-complicated food and I tend to agree, although we tie ourselves in knots talking about it. I have a new favourite recipe courtesy of my friend Rachael – Raw vegan brownies. Not normally the kind of thing I’d have gone for in the bad ole’ days, but now, these things are the bomb.

 

Trust me, the chocolate hit you get from this, and the yummy chewiness of the dates is amazing. Bear in mind though, that dates are high in both fructose and sucrose, so you won’t want to try these in the first couple of months of being sugar-free. I’m going to experiment with trying other forms of dried fruits – I guess the benefit of the dates is that they’re a bit oily and can replace the texture of butter or egg but I’ll give it a go with others and report back 🙂

The F Word

As a teenager I rejected the idea of feminism. Of course I didn’t understand it, so what I Imageactually rejected was the idea that my gender was an ‘issue’ worthy of any debate. I associated feminism with man-hating lesbians who brought gender into conversations where it didn’t belong. It was something ‘of its time’ – a time of suffrogates and bra-burning. I was grateful, of course, but in the way you might be grateful to the early settlers, or your grandparents for having fought in world wars.

I categorically denied, right into my 20s, that I would be in any way held back or disadvantaged by being a woman. The feminists had done their job, thanks very much, now bugger off and let me get on with conquering the world. Like most women of my generation, I was going to have it all. In the earlier years of my ‘career’ I was interested in an academic discipline that’s largely male dominated. I refused to engage with feminist discourse at Uni or take the feminist ‘unit’ of either of my majors, because I resented the stereotype of a woman being only interested, or at least predominantly interested in, ‘women’s issues’. In some ways I was grateful to be female because it might give me a competitive edge, yet I was absolutely determined to get ahead based only on merit. Gender was irrelevant to me because I could rise above it – wasn’t that what the earlier feminists had argued for?

As I’ve gotten older, however, my views on most issues, feminism not the least, have softened. There are shades of gray everywhere. I’ve come to appreciate women more, in all their variety and for all their voracious strength. The image of the bitter middle-aged divorcee (think that final scene from Jerry Maguire where the support group are sitting around bitching about men) that repulsed me in adolescence (after all hadn’t they failed their femininity? Hadn’t they given up and gotten old and cranky and redundant, proving that they couldn’t successfully ‘have it all?) now drew sympathy. At only 31, I ‘get’ them. I now suspect their bitterness was hard-earned and well deserved. By judging them, I was buying into the feminist blaming that has turned the ‘F’ word into something wildly unpopular.

Last week I went and saw Kathy Lette, she of Puberty Blues fame, interviewed at the Wheeler Centre. I’ve not read Puberty Blues. In fact I haven’t read any of Kathy’s books. I knew very little about her, except that she wrote ‘chick lit’ (not my genre), and was married to Geoffrey Robertson QC (the irony that who she’s married to matters isn’t lost on me). Titles such as ‘How to Kill Your Husband and Other Handy Household Hints‘ seemed to me to be brash, shallow, and frivolous – a brand of female assertiveness that I wasn’t particularly interested in, sceptical I suppose that chick lit was just another example of the ‘dumbing down’ of women. I misjudged Kathy. Seeing her speak last week, I was struck by the fact that she embodies, at least in her public persona, the best of what it is to be a woman. She’s funny, bright, warm and not ashamed to take care of her appearance. She epitomises a woman in middle age who seems to have achieved a harmony between the feminist stereotypes – the holy grail ‘middle ground’.

Monica Dux, who incidentally interviewed Kathy Lette last week, writes in The Great Feminist Denial (co-authored with Zora Simic) that feminism has become the enemy of women who feel failed by it – they held out a carrot that may yet turn out to be inedible. But could it be that feminism is a continuing battle and we’re judging, unfairly, an unfinished product?

I don’t know yet how I feel about most of these issues. I don’t know if we can have it all. I don’t know what that means. I vacillate between the two extremes of empowered femininity – a woman who is proud of her erotic capital, for example*, and her hairy-legged non-makeup-wearing sister. I’m glad to know I have options, and choice, but with choice comes decisions, and having to bear responsibility for the consequences of those decisions. Is there a more potent symbol of femininity than motherhood? Children, and whether or not to have them, is probably the biggest decision I will ever make, and something I think about at least daily. My concerns about the impact it may have on my career path, the strain it could place on a relationship, and in fact whether I’ve become too used to my selfish easy life to be a good mother, are huge questions that I’ll reserve for another post. Suffice to say here that as I’ve gotten older and started to face choices like these, gender inequality has taken on a more personal resonance.

For a few years there I was ‘living the dream’ of combining full-time study with part-time work and full-time step parenting. It was bloody hard. As a result of just this taste of domesticity and without going much further on this topic, I can sympathise with women who turn their backs on their families and run off to join a commune. The experience left me with the knowledge that I am not ok with any preconceived ideas about what role I will play in a family unit. I am not ok with women being treated as doormats. I’m not ok that despite having come so far, women are still treated largely with contempt in the media, portrayed in advertising as either stupid or sexy, or worse – long-suffering. We are still, largely, wives, mothers and domestic goddesses. How many advertising scripts contain a guilt-laden entreaty along the lines of ‘don’t you want what’s best for your family?’ I am not ok with the astounding prevalence of violence against women in our society – in all societies. I am definitely not ok with the fact that we still only earn approximately 75% of a male wage and do 90% of the housework.

Clearly my understanding of feminism is embryonic, and in a decade I may have a different view entirely. I’m planning to read a lot of books on the subject and this is something I want to become more informed about, so as to firm up my own feelings about what feminism is, and how to continue to fight for the cause of equality for women.

*Now this is an interesting one. I came across this article last year in The Age – The Power of Erotic Capital, which basically argues that it’s ok for women to use their femininity, even if it means flirting, to get ahead in the workplace. You can read the whole thing here http://www.theage.com.au/lifestyle/life/blogs/ask-sam/the-power-of-erotic-capital-20110907-1jx06.html. Not sure how I feel about it, but it’s an intriguing concept – what do you think?

Social media and me

ImageLately, as I’ve become an even more avid social media user, I’ve become more aware of the criticism that can be lobbed at people who admit that they use a lot of Facebook or Twitter. In one recent example, I was drawn into a conversation in the work lunchroom about Facebook. Someone I barely know was talking to a colleague whom I do know well, about Facebook. The conversation went something like this:

Barely known colleague: I just don’t get Facebook, I don’t understand why people become friends with people they barely know, and I can’t help wondering what that says about their real friendships.

Well known colleague: Um… well, I like Facebook. I find it really convenient. It’s a great way to organise things. It also means it’s easy to find out what old high school friends are up to now. It’s especially good for friends who are overseas.

Barely known colleague: See that’s the thing. I’ve lived overseas and I have a lot of friends in different countries, and I never have any trouble keeping up with them!

Me, interrupting: I love Facebook for all the reasons that well-known-colleague mentioned. It’s just easier to stay up to date. And I tend not to be friends on Facebook with people who aren’t friends In Real Life. It all depends on how you choose to use it.

Facebook is a tool, like any other. I suppose it could become too habitual or addictive. I’ve heard of cases of people being ‘different’ to their real selves because the online medium provides them with a bit of coverage. It’s the ‘online’ version of opaque glass or airbrushing, and they can fake a life, or at least choose to package it up a certain way to suit an audience. I vehemently believe that I don’t do this. I am the SAME PERSON, 100% me regardless of the medium. I hope that those who know me In Real Life would agree with this. Frequently, I take the piss out of myself, online, because I’m all too aware that my life might appear to be a bit of a 30-something yuppie cliche to the uninitiated observer.

I have heard that people can find themselves suffering Facebook Envy – where it seems everyone around them is having more exciting lives than they are. The harsh truth is – they probably are. Facebook perhaps isn’t for people who are already feeling lonely, depressed, unfulfilled or in some other way inadequate. But the point here is that there is a disposition to feeling this way – Facebook might serve as the catalyst for unhappiness, create unmanageable demands on our time, or induce self-loathing, but it’s not the cause.

What inspired me to write this post, aside from being home sick (again! – pesky cold discussed in previous post hasn’t buggered off yet) is that when I got home last night from 3 blissful hours with two very good friends, eating dumplings and sharing each others lives, I flicked on the telly and there was a show on the ABC about the empire that is Facebook. All manner of intelligent and learned commentators were discussing the phenomena that is Facebook. What pissed me off is the number of them who were convinced that the dilution of friendship, via an online medium, can have no other consequence other than lowering every human interaction to its lowest common denominator. Personally, I resent the implication that because I’ve allegedly ‘diluted’ my friendship capacity down by having *gasp* 100 facebook friends (!!) my real friendships suffer. They don’t. They haven’t. I’m as good a friend (or bad, depending) now as I would be without Facebook in my life. Maybe better in fact because Facebook makes it easier to arrange face-to-face catch ups. I’m not denying there’s a risk it makes us lazy friends. But it’s not me, it’s not my life, and it doesn’t define, or damage my friendships.

In my ‘research’ for this post (I use that term loosely), I stumbled across the The Anti-Facebook League of Intelligentsia. Oh. My. God. What a load of drivel. The name alone should alert you to the arrogant assumptions that are being made about those who use Facebook – apparently we’re not intelligent. They don’t just hate on Facebook either. One particularly golden quote says that “One recent piece of research shows that “periodically checking your e-mail lowers your cognitive performance level to that of a drunk.”” Um, ok. I wondered what my boss would say if I told her that I apparently spend my day performing at the cognitive level of a drunk. She’d probably be stoked to know that I’m apparently capable of far more than I currently deliver. My vocabularly fails me at this point. I’m an intelligent woman and not afraid to say it but all I can come up with when I read this crap is “bullshit”.

I’m sure the conversation I had with the two colleagues, and even some of the general social-media hating that goes on, mirrors experiences that you’ve had every day, most likely face-to-face, (although I do love the irony of an online discussion debating the whys and wherefores of online communication) with people in your lives. I would love to hear your views. Are you frequently called upon or in some way challenged to defend your love of a particular social media? Stay tuned for all the reasons why I love Twitter. Bet you can hardly wait 😉

Starve a fever, feed a cold

I’ve just spent a couple of days at home with a cold/flu (what’s the difference? A lot – ‘real’ flu knocks you out for weeks, whereas a cold can be horrible but is unlikely to kill an old person. Trust me, I’m a doctor ;-)*. I’ve done basically what I do every year – gone into cold/flu season totally unprepared. Every year I think I’m going to be a super fit healthy freak who glows all through winter, whose skin doesn’t dry out and flake, who doesn’t get the sniffles like all the commoners do, and doesn’t need a single day off work. Bollocks. My usual pattern is a day or two sick at home earlier in the season, then I battle through considerably under-par until, say, August, then it’s down like the sack of proverbial excrement for several more days.

It’s not like there’s a shortage of information out there, especially online, about how to protect ourselves and boost immunity. I ‘try’ but what that really means is remembering to eat well for about a week… and pop the occasional vitamin C.

I don’t know where that expression ‘starve a fever, feed a cold’ came from, but something that I do swear by is a wicked combination of garlic and ginger. Not in pill form – who can remember to take those every day? Actually probably most people, just not me. But there’s been a couple of occasions where I’ve felt a cold coming on – you know the scratchy throat, aching eyes, just generally feeling crapola. Recently, January actually, I was in NZ for a week visiting family and was about to set off on a three day hike, which was already going to be a challenge for my sugar-fiend, non-gym-going former self. I felt the cold coming on and really didn’t want to be sick for the duration of the hike (plus this was during NZ’s odd patch of really foul weather and hiking in it was going to be gruelling enough), so I took myself down to the nearest thai restaurant, ordered a satay or something and asked for extra chilli and extra ginger. Worked a treat. By that evening I was totally fine and was symptom-free for the duration of the hike.

Tonight I’m having one of my winter favourites for dinner – Lemongrass and Ginger Chicken. Super easy to put in the slow cooker on a weekday. Basically you chuck chicken drumsticks, or lovely legs or fillets if you’re rich, into the base of a slow cooker, add 2 sliced onions, as much chopped garlic and ginger as you can manage (MUST be fresh) and one or two chopped sticks of lemongrass.Over this you sprinkle any other spices you want – chilli, peppercorns, maybe a star anise for something different, 2tbls of oyster sauce, 1/4 cup of soy sauce and a cup or so of chicken stock (I only ever use home made stock but that’s up to you). This is what it looks like in the morning when you leave for work:

And this is what it looks like when you get home 6, 8, 10 hours later. Enjoy with rice and any green veg.

 

Yum! I feel better already.

So, I do definitely stand by the garlic, ginger and chilli solution, but as for the rest I’m yet to be convinced. I used to take a general Immunity pill – vitamin C, zinc and echinacea. I’m not entirely sure if it did much good but no doubt my inconsistency would have derailed any control study, making it impossible to draw any conclusions. I’ve decided to buy some more, and see if that, in combination with my supposedly stronger (sugar-free) immune system does any good. I’m sceptical, partly because of research that found that neither echinacea or vitamin C are any help in avoiding a cold (study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2005 – you can read about it here).

The other things I MUST do is buy some slippers and be a good girl and wear my scarf when walking to work (or anywhere else). Beyond that, I’m open to suggestions. What cold-busting tricks do you swear by?

* Not a Real Doctor. Obviously that’s crap – but it’s something to do with society that people generally associate the Dr with medical doctors and most PhDs have heard that ‘not-meant-to-be-insulting-but-totally-is’ expression many times.  When asked what sort of doctor I am, I tell them, and usually add ‘not a medical doctor’, just so we’re clear.

Colour my World

You know how sometimes you walk into someone’s house – say an older couple, in their 50s or 60s and there is floral shit everywhere? Enough to make you gag. I mistakenly confessed at work the other day that I could almost sympathise with this, or at least understand the trajectory that has brought older women to the point where they want to be surrounded by delightful and delicate and feminine things. Much teasing ensued when I said I love those flowery aprons you see in shops sometimes. The older I get, the more girly I become. I like pink now, more than I ever have. When I see something gorgeous – often there’ll be a floral/bird related theme, it can literally take my breath away.

Colour, to put it plainly, makes me really happy. I’m anti-clutter but I’ll never be a minimalist. Crisp white walls and floating timber floors are fine, as long as there’s an in-your-face oil on canvas somewhere, or some gorgeously lush cushions. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some of the things that make me smile to look at them, or warm the atmosphere, just a little. You may not share my taste but I’d be interested to know if anyone else has noticed this happening to them as they get older. I love rich, deep colours – yellows, reds, blues, greens, the lot.

I don’t know a shit about art, or how to talk about it, but I know what I love when I see it. Poh Ling Yeow, she of Masterchef fame, as you may well know, is also an artist. Her work is very simple – almost cartoonish, and has a consistent ‘look’ that I just love. Her subject, most often a little asian girl, is frequently accompanied by flowers, birds, or other creatures that take on a mythical quality reminiscent of creatures you might find in eastern literature – over-sized fish, for example. I would love to own a giant painting of hers – probably this one:

Poh’s work is not dissimilar to Audrey Kawaski’s. Audrey’s is more intricate – she paints or etches on wood panels, but there’s a similar anime-like quality to it. I love how she does flowers and women’s hair. It’s very, very… pretty. Reminds me of paisley in some ways, which I also love.

Although oil on canvas is often what catches my eye, I’m not really that fussy. I went to this guy’s exhibition a little while ago – Joe Blancks’ My Scrapbook and LOVED it so much I could cry. Here’s a youtube clip about the exhibition.

As a kid I wanted to illustrate books and as an adult that’s merged into a desire to create paper. I guess you could call me a frustrated artist. Frustrated because I don’t have any artistic talent to speak of, and also because I have to be practical and maintain a ‘real’ job, at least until I pay off a truckload of Sexually Transmited Debt. In the meantime, until I work out how to incorporate this lust for beautiful things into my life more (and how to pay for them!), here are a few things I have at home that I love.

I bought this just after my 30th birthday from the venue I had my birthday party at – Fad Gallery in Chinatown. Unfortunately I’ve forgotten the name of the artist, but I’ve loved this ever since I saw it hanging on the wall of the gallery.

I bought this unframed in Alice Springs a couple of years ago. The artist, Sally, whose surname I’ve unfortunately forgotten (doh!) is not an Aboriginal woman, which did give me momentary pause, however I just loved it. I remember texting my Mum to say there was a piece of art I really wanted to buy but it was a bit expensive and should I maybe not do it? She replied “you never regret buying art, provided you love it”. I think that’s something to remember.

So, what makes you wee your pants just a little with pleasure to look at?

How and why I quit sugar

This is the story of how I managed to quit sugar.

My health has been a worry to me for a long time. In my late teens I started to get hypoglycaemic attacks which I’ve had ever since, and despite numerous interventions they’ve only gotten worse, sometimes several times a day for days in a row. Most people have probably had a few and know they’re pretty unpleasant. It was a vicious cycle for me because I’d want to eat well to lose weight, and then a hypo would strike and I’d be diving for the nearest anything I could find to shove in my mouth to feel better. My blood glucose rollercoaster meant that energy wasn’t getting into my cells where it was needed, and I was/am tired and craving sugar ALL THE TIME.

In my early 20s I was reasonably fit and active, and kept my weight stable despite the insulin resistance by just having a generally good lifestyle and going to the gym often. Then, I fell in love and surprise surprise, I stopped going to the gym took on additional responsibilities of step-parenting and over the course of 2 years put on 20kg.

On my wedding day in 2008 I was a size 18 and I was 91g. Early in 2009 something snapped and I started calorie counting and for some reason I found it easy. I lost 15kg over 6 months, never felt better, and the insulin resistance improved marginally. I was still eating sugar though, in fact I was eating whatever I liked, just in smaller quantities to fit it into my 1500 calories a day.

Then my marriage broke up. In the midst of all the stress and the adjustment and the change, my weight again began to gradually creep up again. The insulin resistance got worse and my doctor said I was on the fast track for diabetes if I didn’t make some drastic changes. An ultrasound showed I have polycystic ovarian syndrome and my immune system had been severely compromised (I believe), by the kilos and kilos of sugar I’d funnelled through my body for so long. Plus I subscribe to some of Louise Hays’ theories around the impact of stress on the body. I had constant headaches and picked up every bug going around. I went on Metformin for awhile, which is an insulin sensitivity medication and it was HORRIBLE. The nausea was constant. My weight slowly increased and then 8 months ago I started a new job where I attend a LOT of catered events, morning teas, afternoon teas, lunch meetings and the food is always abundant and tempting and bad for me. My weight ballooned. I didn’t quite get back to 91kg, but I was heading there – fast.

So, this brings me to 12 weeks ago, when during a particularly bad sugar hangover (after eating a whole tub of Ben and Jerry’s the night before), I went searching online and found Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar e-book. She based this partly on David Gillespie’s book Sweet Poison and other research about the impact of sugar on our bodies. I bought it and read it, and believed its message that sugar really is the root of all my problems and I decided to banish it out of my life indefinitely.

I’ve used Sarah’s book as a basis for trying to educate myself more about nutrition. I knew the basics, that protein makes you feel full, and low GI is best, but applying those had made shit-all difference to me while my cravings for sugar were so constant and intense. Her plan is fairly simple. You spend two or three weeks weaning off sugar, and then 5 or 6 weeks with no sugar. By no sugar she means no fructose or table sugar (a combination of fructose and sucrose), so no fruit in any form, no sweet things, lollies, cake, honey, jam etc. You also have to avoid any products like bread, bottled sauces etc that have sugar added. Even weetbix has sugar added. Some natural sweeteners are ok if you feel you need it (although not having them much so that I get used to the absence of sweet flavour). Lactose is fine so I’m glad I didn’t have to give up dairy except for those sneaky products with lots of sugar added.

The thing I have missed most is fruit. It sounds extreme to give up an entire food group but if your problem is sugar, then I believe what Sarah says about having to give your body that time to completely detox and recalibrate. The idea is then you can work fruit gradually back into your diet because the fibre is good and helps to process the fructose. I’ve probably misunderstood some of the fundamentals of the nutrition science here but I wasnt stressing too much about that – her plan came highly recommended so I trusted it.

Around the three week mark I noticed that I started to get cold more often (which is normal apparently) and a bit grumpy (also normal) and I’m sure there’s a link with an abscess on my leg which I developed after falling down the stairs at work. Possibly all that detoxed sugar floating around in my system?
Around the same time I had a very interesting convo with my doctor, who is just fabulous. I was whinging about my shortened achilles, and saying I ‘had’ to get it fixed because I ‘had’ to get back into exercise to lose weight. She then said “do you really think you need to lose weight?”
My reply was “um… yeah! Don’t I?”

Then she proceeded to tell me that she’s “not in the business of prescribing unhappiness” and that perhaps I should make fitness my goal, because people who are fit and a bit overweight live longer, healthier, HAPPIER lives than people who are unfit and the ‘proper’ weight. She also gave me a bunch of info about metabolic set points, but the bit that struck me was about being fit and happy.

So with the new found energy from quitting sugar I joined the gym and started personal training (via a Living Social deal. Aren’t those awesome?! Not sure I could afford a PT otherwise). This really helped to capitalise on all the good feelings and distract me when it started to feel too hard.

Around weeks 5 and 6 it got tougher. I’m not sure if there was a particular reason – possibly I’d been allowing too many sneaky sugars through and these little ‘hits’ were feeding my cravings. Examples of sneaky sugar are flavouring on rice crackers and rice cakes, salami, bread products where I can’t read the labels and of course lemon pepper – my condiment of choice. In the scheme of things that’s not too bad, but as Sarah Wilson points out, if you’re going to detox from fructose you need to get rid of ALL of it.
I also started to realise, after OD-ing on “sugar-free” (artificially sweetened) chocolate, that physical cravings are the least of my problems. I’m thinking that I might need to just not have it in the house because I can’t DO moderation..yet. What drives us to over-consume, well past the point of physical satisfaction? With that in mind, I plan to investigate hypnotherapy to change the way I think about food (and will blog about the results). Perhaps I’d better do that sooner rather than later before finding other, almost as unhealthy, ways to fill that ‘gap’ that sugar has left. Hmmmm.

Having gotten through that week 5 slump, by the 8 week mark I was flying high on success. I’d only lost a couple of kilos but wasn’t too fussed about that. My clothes were definitely looser, I could SEE the difference when I looked in the mirror, and knew that I was doing everything right in terms of diet and exercise and general wellbeing, so that I could just relax a bit and let my body find its own rhythm and ‘new’ metabolic set point.

I was also fine-tuning my eye-roll-inducing sugar-free evangelist routine by this point, likely testing my friends’ patience. It was hard to hide the excitement at having seemingly conquered some of the problems that had ruled my life for YEARS. Here’s a true confession: I used to have this ugly habit of waking up at 2 or 3am every night craving something and I would snack on whatever I had in the house, preferably sweet. All it took was the sensation of food in my mouth to make me fall back to sleep and I’d wake up again later with food still in my mouth, or on the pillow. Gross. That isn’t normal behaviour, I’m sure.

I’ve also tried to change how I think about success and view every lesson as a win. One example was when I had an all day conference and stupidly I didn’t take any snack foods with me. I was just hoping there would be something savoury for morning and arvo tea. By morning tea I was really hungry because I’d had breakfast earlier than usual, and sure enough there were only biscuits, pastries, croissants and slices on offer. So I had a tiny little piece of shortbread which felt like the best option. I felt fine afterwards and it got me through until lunchtime no worries. Lunch was salad and sandwiches so that was fine, then arvo tea was scones with jam and cream – no other options. I had one because I knew I’d be having a hypo before dinner if I didn’t eat.Sure enough by the time I walked in the door at home 6.45 I was shaking and ‘dinner’ that night was a selection of sliced meat, cheese, crackers and hommus followed  by a few spoon fulls of plain yoghurt.

Where’s the win in this, you might ask, since I had sugar twice in one day? Well, the win was that I wasn’t tempted to any eat of the sweet stuff at morning tea – I didn’t have to fight temptation to wolf down two or three pastries and the shortbread was more than enough. Had I been better organised I wouldn’t have had anything at all. Same goes for arvo tea. And the reaction of my body, with a hypo 3 hours after a scone and jam was a predictable and timely reminder of why I was doing this.

Now, 12 weeks in, I can vouch that this really works. I feel amazingly lighter and more energetic and I’m sleeping better. I thought this would feel like hell but except for the odd moment, like a hen’s night recently where there was cake and sweet stuff everywhere, and morning teas at work, the cravings haven’t been too bad. The weaning over the first few weeks definitely helped – I now don’t even have sugar in my coffee which I NEVER thought I’d be able to do.

A ‘typical’ days eating for me includes:

  • Vitabrits and plain yoghurt with chia seeds for breakfast.
  • Cracker biscuits with hommus or cottage cheese, or grilled haloumi for morning tea
  • Mixed salad with plenty of protein, a bowl of vegie soup or left-overs for lunch
  • A bar of Well Naturally sugar-free dark chocolate or a small packet of twisties (sugar-free would you believe? Still plenty of other crap in twisties though) with a cup of tea for afternoon tea.
  • Fish or meat with veggies for dinner.
  • After dinner I might have a piece of toast if really hungry, or just a cup of tea or glass of hot milk. Hot milk is sweet enough without anything in it, as I’ve discovered.

In addition to plenty of good food, the key to success on this ‘journey’ (poxy word that it is) is to celebrate the knowledge gained about how our bodies work. Observing how my body reacts to sugar, without being caught up in the emotional entanglement of it is actually very freeing. Knowledge is power! Also being organised is critical – always having well stocked cupboards and fridge, with a variety of options on hand so that I can fill whatever gap it is that makes me think I want sugar. So far what feels right is definitely:

  • No, or at least very low sugar
  • High protein
  • Lots of good fats
  • Small amount of bad fats
  • Low GI, small serving sizes when carbs are involved
  • LOTS of water – I dated a guy once who told me that everyone should drink enough so that by the afternoon your pee is clear – I try to make that my goal
  • Definitely not interested in overly processed food, and meal replacement shakes – forget it! Unnatural and unsustainable in most cases I think.

Honestly, after the wild ride I’ve been on over the last few years, if I can do this anyone can. There’s not nearly as much will-power involved as you might think. Once you start eliminating sugar your body’s natural processes will take over and help you to recalibrate. Try it, I dare you!