why i try to avoid sugar as much as i can: part one

Thursday, May 2, 2013

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in an attempt to move past the eating disorder i experimented with everything–took every sort of healthy lifestyle into the dressing room and tried it on for size. i wanted to feed myself with as much information. i wanted to know what would sit well with me–what would feel right. and by feel right, i mean feel right in the everyday-for-the-rest-of-my-life-kind-of-way (FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE–i can’t emphasize that enough).

and about a year ago i began reading about and researching sugar and its ills.

and if you’re interested what follows is a really good place to start:

60 Minutes video on the dangers of sugar

NPR’s On Point: regulating sugar

and holy heck if the information isn’t terrifying and unnerving. but also, really, really comforting.

because it’s an easy fix.

look around. people are fat. they are.

and i don’t think fat is bad word. it is not a cruel word. it is a descriptive word. what is unkind or unfair is our emotional attachment to the word–or rather, all of the unkindness we empty into it. fat simply is. and if we’re going to address the health issue we can’t be afraid to use this word and we can’t be afraid to acknowledge when someone is.

i truly believe if everyone cut out sugar (added and otherwise)–or at least drastically reduced it–we would see a tremendous shift in weight and all of its associated ills.

fat is not bad for us. sugar is.

and what happened is (keep in mind this is my very cursory understanding) that in the 1970′s heart disease was on the rise and doctors were trying to figure it out and two schools of thought came about. 1. fat was to blame. and 2. sugar was to blame.

but there wasn’t enough information to know which and essentially the health community decided to put all of their eggs in one basket and invest in the notion that fat was to blame. it was a grand experiment, one that has seen a rise in obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. (its also a fascinating political study because the man behind the notion that sugar was to blame was then cast as a fool and a sort of subversive campaign to undermine him took place).

ah, politics.

fat-free is a huge industry. it makes a lot of money. it employs a lot of people. but fat-free usually almost always means added sugar. when the fat is removed the food tastes terrible (like cardboard!) so sugar is injected to make it palatable.

and an interesting story begins to take shape…one with a widening waistline.

when i began to invest in the notion that i could no longer diet–that i wanted to move past the eating disorder stage of my life–i began to avoid all of the foods i had eaten during that period of time. and most of those foods were fat-free.

but that was years ago.

it was last year that i began eating full fat foods and avoiding sugar as much as possible. and in this last year i’ve stopped binging in full. and i’m very close to having gotten rid of my belly-fat–fat in that place that is so very bad for the health of the heart. as it turns out, and i know this from experience, when you put on quite a bit of fat (in an unnatural way, which is to say by eating a heck of a lot of food–and most of it processed) much of that goes to your belly–and damn if that isn’t hard to lose).

this is such a big and important issue (on a personal level and a global one) that i want to write about it without throwing out too much information at once. so with just this very simple idea planted: that fat isn’t the culprit, sugar is, i’m going to step away from the computer and return with more science and personal anecdote tomorrow.



  • kate

    i’ve been trying to cut out sugar more and more, i’m curious do you still use stevia or truvia (one of the more natural sugars?) i’m not sure i could drink coffee without those. would love to see a bit more of what you eat regularly!

  • Ashlea

    So true. There’s a brilliant documentary called Hungry For Change, which emphasises this point hugely. Our bodies weren’t made to eat such processed foods.

  • Maggie

    Thanks so much for sharing-I have been reading Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food” which definitely addresses the food industry making one too many off hand decisions just because they wanted to make money. It’s amazing how much of our diets have become determined by inconclusive information…scary, actually. Looking forward to watching/reading the info you shared and continuing to read about your own discoveries about food-it seems like it is an on-going process for all of us! Cheers!

  • shawnee

    yes, yes! thank you for sharing. i believe this, too, in fact. can’t wait to read more.

  • Meg

    This is such a good article! Question: would you ever post a day to day of what you eat and drink? I love this and would want some ideas on yummy treats that are sugar free.

  • Autumn

    This is very interesting. Thank you for sharing–makes me genuinely interested for more!

  • Candice

    Meg thank you for starting this top on your blog. I too have started questioning sugar especially since the whole Bloomberg initiative. What’s even worse is the polictics around it’s promotion, it’s quite insulting to our health and as humans just trying to live on this planet. Anyhow I look forward to see what other scientific works you come across.

    • Candice

      OMG excuse my horrendous grammar and spelling…lol. See, that’s what happens when you are working, eating, blog reading and typing all at once.

  • Carina

    Have you seen ‘Hungry for Change’, it’s really interesting.

    Carina xx

  • Toni

    Love this. Can’t wait for tomorrow!

  • Toni

    Love this. Can’t wait for tomorrow!

  • eileen ragan | leaner by the lake

    Ohh, the belly fat. I’m still on my journey to get rid of it through lower sugar, a transition to healthier sources of fat, and more movement. I often find myself wondering what it will feel like one day when it’s far more diminished. The change just over the fast few months is already something that I’ve noticed.

    Have you read Eat To Live? While it’s more about a plant based diet, which doesn’t float everyone’s boat, they make some really interesting connections about sugar and heart disease. The book scared the hell out of me and at the same time educated the hell out of me. I’d say I indulge in sugar once a month, like via a cookie or something, but for the most part I’ve narrowed sugar intake to natural sugars found in fruits and natural sweeteners. It’s frightening how addicting processed foods and sugar can be.

    Thanks for the science-y post. Again, really enjoying this week’s focus.


  • Katrina

    I, too, am eliminating sugar and it is making a huge difference! Like you, I do it because my body says it’s happier without it. I just do not go for the the demonizing of sugar/sugar products and the companies who produce them that many do (not at all inferring that you are, just my opinion in general). I definitely don’t think govt’ officials should ever try to tell us, by law, how much sugar we can or can’t have. It’s important to put the knowledge out there and then give everyone the opportunity to Choose for themselves. :)

  • sadie

    love this “why” post.. can we get a “how” sometime????? meg, you are beautiful!

  • Pips

    You know, sugar is my drug of choice, but I know deep down how evil it is and would love to try and reduce/cut out(?) my intake. Perhaps this is the kickstart I need… I’ll be checking back to read the next science-y bit. Thank you!!

  • ritika

    thanks for this post. i am in the process of slowly deleting out of my diet. however an occasional piece of cake, few squares of chocolate does feature. it would be really great if you could include these in your future posts:
    what fats do you include
    coconut oil in your latte? how…
    and maybe a week of your daily meals…
    asking for too much, i know. :(

  • kate

    this is really interesting! sugar is absolutely my biggest vice and i love getting a glimpse into your head and how you’ve eliminated it, mostly, from your diet! can’t wait for the next few editions around this topic…

  • bridget

    go meg. this is great. my mom read ‘sugar blues’ back in the 80s i think? she’s been talking about it ever since. so so so bad for you. i certainly eat my share of it, but i always feel better when i don’t. so glad you’re addressing this stuff. now i’m going to go listen to that NPR bit.

  • becca

    you could talk about this stuff all day. it’s personal for you (and for a lot of us), and your thoughts on it all are so comforting and practical and simple.
    I’ve seen this transformation in my own life as well. when I have avocados and don’t count up what I’m eating throughout the day, but simply eat well when I need to- everything just works.

    can’t wait to hear from you on this!

  • Tori

    I kid you not when I say I read this whilst eating a bag of pic n’ mix. It wasn’t intentional, I just so happened to be eating it when I came across this post. And yes, I did finish it, but boy, did I regret every (ok, maybe every other) mouthful. Your writing this has changed my way of thinking about things. I’m going to do what I can to start cutting sugar out. I can’t say get rid of it completely – I think I’d panic myself! – but I know I need to stop doing what I’m doing, not necessarily because I’m seeing huge effects now, but because of what it can do to the future me. And that’s a worrying thought.

    I think the problem I have is complete lack of imagination when it comes to thinking up alternatives. I just can’t do it. I don’t know what I should be eating, nor how to introduce those things to the diet I already have (and by diet, I don’t mean diet-diet – hopefully that makes sense!) and I think, for me, that’s why my eating has become quite poor. Coupled with the fact that I’m a (fairly new) vegetarian, it all seems a bit much at times – like it needs too much effort! I’d love some tips, if anyone has any to spare!

    Looking forward to part 2, Meg.

  • Melissa

    I’m curious. Do you also eliminate natural sugars like fruit? I’ve realized just how much sugar I consume by eating fruit alone.

    • KH

      I second this question – how does fruit factor into this?

      Thanks for writing about this topic!

      • Agnes

        Just wanna chime in and give my two cents and point out that any fruit is a whole food. Whole food can never be bad for you unless you have an allergy. The vitamins alone mean it is good to eat, the sugar is all natural so ok. Just my opinion, I’m not a nutritionist but I never get how anyone can think fruit is a no-no.. if I’m wrong would love to learn more..

  • SMDC11

    Ugh, I totally agree. I indulge quite a bit, but am more mindful (i.e., I love the Carroll Gardens pastry shops and choose that over a nightly cookie from a package).

    I used to buy only the “fat free” until I realized your body can’t absorb nutrients without it! A tomato has little health benefit without fat from an oil in your salad dressing.

    But, everything has varying degrees of “good” and “bad”. At some point, some sugars are better, and some fats are worse.

  • Duygu

    Hi Meg,

    I started to reduce sugar in my diet too like a month ago, maybe two. I eat fruits, honey and grape juice based jams and jellies but I try to avoid sugar and sugary drinks etc. I am not very strict (like if it’s a friend’s birthday I’ll have a bite of the cake etc.) because I don’t want to be that “annoying” person in the group. However, I just feel happy to see that there are other people like me who are conscious of what goes into their bodies. I can’t wait for Part 2. Maybe you’ve already written it, sorry I just found about your blog through taza and did not have a chance to read it thoroughly.

  • Emily Lunstroth

    I just found your blog fromSarah and wanted to tell you how much I love it. Your writing is thoughtful, funny and just darn intriguing! Cannot wait to continue following along!


    p.s your layout and fonts kinda rock!

  • Megan

    Agh, sugar is the worst! The low-fat thing drives me crazy. I wish everyone could stop for a minute and just think about it!

  • jamie

    I love that you posted this! I’ve completely cut out soft drinks from my lifestyle because of the high sugar content. They have the same potential to be as harmful as drugs. No need to live in such an excess life when healthy changes can be made!



  • Danielle

    I cut out all refined sugar 3 months ago and dropped 12 pounds….pretty telling in my opinion. I also cut out diary at that time, too. It’s sad how uninformed people are about their health and how to improve it. I recently watched the documentary “Hungry for Change” and I’ve been pressuring everyone I know to watch it, too! In the documentary they basically equate sugar to cocaine. It’s pretty interesting stuff.

  • Agnes

    It.is.so.true. I have never eaten low-fat food for this reason. And I have never been fat. My mom in the 70′s decided sugar was the devil so we weren’t allowed to have it. It has always stuck with me, and although duh I do eat sugar, it’s ALWAYS in moderation because I know it’s ‘treat’ food, not real food. And I ALWAYS have real butter, cream, full-fat yoghurt, when the option is to choose a low-fat I won’t because it’s no longer real food, it’s full of chemical stuff and extra sugar to compensate, like you say. Love the message, because it’s TRUE.

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