Thursday, 23 February 2017

Sugar Free February - or "Why the HELL do they put SUGAR in THAT?" - A ReadItTorial

For the last few weeks we've been attempting to follow "Sugar Free February" - an idea kicked off by Cancer Research UK and picked up by the Chris Evans Radio 2 show, but also endorsed by health experts as a way to live a little better.

Food is something of an obsession for kids, and for folk in children's publishing, whether they be authors, illustrators or cake-scoffing PRs (c'mon, we know who you are!)

Let's face it, no one can quite read through a copy of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" without salivating at Roald Dahl's deliciously scrumdiddlyumptious descriptions of the various treats that Mr Wonka makes in his factory, and what book launch goes unaccompanied by a huge book-shaped cake? But is there really any way to treat treats as treats and live a better way?

We try to maintain a fairly healthy lifestye at ReadItDaddy Towers, mixing exercise and a good diet (being non-preachy non-smug vegetarians helps a little bit with the latter) but the no-sugar thing has been a startling revelation in so many ways.

The toughest bit was working out decent nice-tasting alternatives to the stuff we normally eat. Take your breakfast for example. Think you're eating a lovely healthy cereal just because it isn't dotted with hundreds and thousands or laden with chocolate? Think again because even the humble weetabix is stacked with added sugar (and if you are like I used to be, you can't eat that horrible stuff without adding even more sugar to it).

We started to eat porridge, purely because it seems to be one of the few breakfast staples that A) fills you up and B) doesn't have a truckload of extra sugar added to it (but of course you need to make that from scratch, which is huge fun when you're already stretched for time in the morning on a normal school day - YAY!)

Then lunches. The next big challenge was to find enough to eat, because anyone knows a tiny little salad pot really isn't going to cut the mustard in the middle of a working day. We kept the salad, opted for wholewheat pittas (again try finding THOSE without any added sugar, you can but you've got to looked DAMNED hard as virtually every single bread product has - yep you've guessed it - well over a gram of added sugar for every 100g).

One of the toughest changes - coming up with an alternative for this stuff!
Again we managed to do a mix of pittas, salad, low fat cheese, eggs and nuts (no added salt) to keep the nibbles away.

Dinners weren't a problem - the easiest way to cut sugar out of your dinner diet is to make everything yourself from scratch (I say the easiest way but again, who the hell has time to do all that in the few scant hours they get in the evenings after school / work?)

We've trialled lots of quick meal ideas and somehow we're not starving to death. Avoiding ready meals is a key change to this because again they're all flipping laden with added sugar, regardless of what you go for.

The effects have been quite startling though. Losing 8 lbs in the first couple of weeks meant that I had to reel in my belt a lot (coupled with HIT sessions and the usual exercise regime of making sure we walk our socks off at the weekends and always take a good screen break for a walk during the day helps keep the spare tyre down).

Weirdly also I noticed my skin was changing. Not quite so horrible grey and sallow, not quite so dry (though stuck in an office atmosphere it's extremely difficult not to get dry skin), almost glowing in fact (even my wife noticed, which really was the strongest indicator that there'd been some sort of a change as she's the poor unfortunate person who has to stare at my fizzog day in day out, poor woman!)

It's had an impact on Charlotte too. All the rubbish you've always been fed about needing sugar for energy (mostly by well-meaning grandparents who say that sort of thing as a good excuse to stuff you full of junk) really is rubbish as she's got just as much get up and go as she's always had (more so in fact) and aside from the usual school-induced tiredness, she's weathered the no-sugar challenge quite well with only a few blips (worst thing about no-sugar February? Having two birthdays in February where you really do have to fall off the wagon - particularly as birthday this year involved a visit to Cadbury World!)

The real overall aim is not to become one of those horrid whiny preachy diet bores, but to slowly but surely factor in a lifestyle change so that sugar (if we eat it at all) becomes a rare thing, not an everyday thing. It has meant we've turned into label-staring zombies when we do our weekly shop but the health benefits are real, measurable and surprisingly become apparent very quickly indeed.

You can find out more about No Sugar February through the Cancer Research Campaign Website here: