I’ve been a sweet tooth for, well, as long as I can remember. I can recall waiting for Mum and Dad to leave the kitchen before hoisting myself up onto the bench, pulling down the sugar bowl and spooning the white stuff directly into my greedy little mouth.
Breakfast consisted of white toast with margarine and lashings of honey, or a monster bowl of Nutri-Grain, washed down with a chocolate milkshake (made with tablespoons of Milo or Nesquik).
I’d get home from school and make myself white toast with cinnamon and sugar sprinkled liberally on top, followed by another chocolate milkshake, this time blended with ice-cream and laced with chocolate topping and hundreds and thousands. WTF, right?
Somehow I stayed a skinny kid, but I didn’t get off completely scot-free – I was constantly at the dentist getting fillings (he had a note on my file, highlighted and underlined: Coke drinker!!) And it’s only now, a little wiser and quite a bit older, that I can also see the possible link to the anxiety I struggled with from about 14 – a GP suggested that I needed more fibre, after a night of back-to-back panic attacks. Say what?
As I got older I eventually dropped the milkshakes and white bread habit, but still gorged on sweets (I still haven’t met anyone who could polish off a 375g Haigh’s chocolate frog faster than me), alternating between delights like chocolate M&Ms and cacao and date bliss balls (but hey, they’re healthy, right?!). The cavities still kept coming (at last count I was up to about 20) and my anxiety was always just… there.
In June 2016, a year and a half after my son was born, I was really down about myself – I’d gained 21kg during pregnancy (it can’t have been those M&Ms, surely!) and had shifted about half that but couldn’t seem to get back to my normal weight. Nothing fit anymore and I’d literally lost sight of the woman I used to be – chocolate wasn’t making me feel better and I knew I had to make a change.
I’d always scoffed at the idea of doing the I Quit Sugar program, but deep down I think I was just scared of letting go of my sweet old friend – the one who’d gotten me through heartache, disappointment, joy and celebrations. But I knew it was time. I signed up for the program.
Every Sunday is cook-up day, so my husband and I went and bought little containers for freezing things into portions, and did the whole big food shop – unfortunately halfway through the very first food prep he ended up in Emergency with appendicitis! At 11pm on that first Sunday, after getting back from the hospital, I was ladling hot chicken broth into containers and fighting with the freezer to make room. But that prep ended up being a godsend, especially in that first week when I was juggling a toddler, hospital visits and work.
During the IQS program, all sweetness is removed between weeks two and five, to help your body ‘recalibrate’, and one of the side-effects is withdrawal symptoms. Lordy, did I have those – by week four to five I was an angry mess; think: headaches, nausea, fatigue, super snappy. Somehow though, I didn’t crack and fall face-first into a plate of jam donuts. I recognised something about me was changing – I was satisfied after meals, I wasn’t snacking or searching for the nearest biscuit or packet of chips, and most importantly, my energy levels were levelling out. No more 3pm crash or afternoon weariness. This was getting interesting.
By week six, when a little bit of sweetness was introduced back into the diet, I found myself on the IQS forum discussing with other IQS-ers our concerns about adding sweetness back in – what if that bit of nectarine sent me back into the sweet abyss?! Well, guess what? I tried the fruit and it tasted super sweet to me – I found that I actually didn’t even feel like it anymore. I know right, WHO WAS THIS PERSON I’D BECOME?!
After eight weeks I graduated from the program and went back to normal life – well, the new normal. I’d become one of those people you hear about who enjoy a couple of squares of dark (90%!) chocolate of an evening and shun office cakes and sweets, yet didn’t feel like I was missing out. And the best bit? I watched the weight tracker on my Fitbit slowly go down, and by October I was back at my pre-pregnancy weight. Another bonus? My skin was clearer and brighter. Gotta love that.
I’m not going to lie, there have been times, like at Christmas, when I dipped my toe into the sweet, sweet flow of the Wonka chocolate river. But I now recognise what happens to my body afterwards – the high (can’t beat it!) then the crash, accompanied by the inevitable hunger for more. So now I indulge when I feel it’s worth it (Mum’s homemade Anzac bikkies), then I dust myself off and start again the next day. I’m now almost finished my second round of IQS; I’m revelling in my steady-state energy levels and knowing I’m getting way more than my RDI of vegies. My skin is staying clear and I tried on a pre-preg dress today and guess what – it fit, with room for lunch. #IQS4lyfe.