I Quit Quitting Sugar (and gluten, carbs, dairy…)

Last month, Mount Vesuvius erupted on my chin.

You might think I’m being dramatic, but I’m not. Honestly. It looked like a red Wine Gum had been superglued to my face. It was quite possibly the biggest spot anyone has ever seen.

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I thought that I had dodged the acne bullet as a teenager. Turns out that acne isn’t a bullet: it’s a boomerang. One that has smacked me in the chin, repeatedly, ever since I was twenty-five or so. I haven’t had clear skin in six years. SIX YEARS.

And in that time, I have valiantly fought The War Against Acne: going to the doctor, buying expensive skin products, trying different cleansing methods, going to another doctor, drinking gallons of water, praying to various gods, going to a different doctor, repeatedly Googling ‘a cure for acne’…

This leads us onto sugar. In my extensive research, it kept coming up as a potential Enemy of the Skin. Quitting sugar has now become something that people do: Davina McCall’s got a book about it. There’s been rubbish reality TV shows about celebrities doing it. Even Cancer Research UK has turned it into a fundraising challenge.

Sarah Wilson, an Australian TV presenter and writer, has made her name by teaching others how to quit through books and an £89 online programme. The alleged benefits of ditching the sweet stuff, as listed on her website and in her books, are compelling: weight loss, clearer skin, fewer wrinkles, more energy, improved mood (and more!). And to be honest, I was desperate enough to give pretty much anything a shot, because having acne sucks. It feels painful and embarrassing. And with Mount Vesuvius erupting on my chin, quitting Crunchie bars for eight weeks seemed like a small sacrifice to make.

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As I don’t have a spare £89 knocking around, I took the cheap option, getting I Quit Sugar & I Quit Sugar For Life from the library. They are pretty, colourful books full of photos of Wilson herself. She is a beacon of happiness and good health. In some pictures, she GLEAMS. She looks as if she might have superpowers. Who wouldn’t want to sign up for that?


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After two-weeks of adhering to the plan, I hadn’t developed any new spots. But none of the other benefits materialised. I was actually more tired, despite getting plenty of sleep. I felt stressed, had low energy levels, and was right on the edge of burnout. This probably had nothing to do with quitting sugar, and everything to do with the fact that I was trying to balance a full-time job with a part-time Masters degree, training for a marathon, writing posts such as this one, and reading labels on every single food item. (Spoiler: sugar gets. in. bloody. everything.)

 

On week three, new spots appeared on my cheek. I was still exhausted. Still stressed. And so I quit quitting sugar.

 


 

Wellness is a very healthy business to be in right now. Cookbooks full of superfoods are a recipe for commercial success. And we eat it up without asking questions. Eating healthily is good; so eating super-healthily must be better, right?

 

We turn to people like Sarah Wilson, Deliciously Ella and Hemsley + Hemsley because they look the part; ignoring the fact that it is IMPOSSIBLE that a healthy diet alone has created their model looks, glowing skin, good health and amazing-looking lives.

 

We believe them because we want to believe them. Let’s face it: the idea that we can change our diets to change our lives is irresistible. It’s something active that we can do to solve our problems. It gives us control over our destiny. And our acne-ridden chins.

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The wellness industry is booming because we want to have that control, and its main figureheads make alluring promises about the unique benefits their programmes will bring. And therefore we will fork out £147 to have our bodies ‘transformed’ after three months. Or £2 for a 40g snack as part of a diet that could help cure your postural tachycardia syndrome.

 

The unfortunate truth is that the problems we want to solve are complicated and have no guaranteed solutions. Take obesity: despite the popular myth that we can cure it individually by cutting down on cake and going for a jog, it’s actually far more bloody complicated than that. In fact, it’s THIS complicated:

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These are all the systems that contribute to obesity. As an issue, it’s economic, psychological, environmental, genetic and hormonal. We cannot solve obesity in ourselves by cutting out gluten or sugar, or by eating chia seeds and ‘green powder’ (whatever that is). If only it were that simple.

 

And, sadly, it’s not that simple when it comes to my skin situation either. I will still continue to fight The War Against Acne but I am coming to realise two things: firstly, that there is probably not one single weapon that I can deploy to stop my spots for good. Women like Wilson may look like they have superpowers, but they cannot rescue my face.

 

Secondly, and sadly, clear skin might just be an impossible dream. I might just have to, you know, LIVE with my spotty chin and learn how not to let it piss me off.

And whilst it’s sad not to have an simple solution, it means that I can quit quitting things and go back to enjoying Crunchie bars and other sugary treats. As part of a balanced diet, of course.

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In search of miracles with Gabrielle Bernstein

It’s a fact of life that things aren’t brilliant all the time. Sometimes things are great, and sometimes things are a bit shit. As someone who puts a lot of effort into trying to be happy, it’s doubly disappointing when life isn’t coming up with sunshine, rainbows and glittery unicorns. At Easter, I hit one of these bad patches. Ground down by coursework and job-work, I felt like I was dragging a weight around on my back. I needed a miracle.

Therefore, I turned to Gabrielle Bernstein. She’s described on her website as a modern day spiritual leader. Bernstein’s best-selling books include May Cause Miracles and Miracles Now. Her photographs gleam with happiness, health and serenity. Just look at her! LOOK!

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She was the kind of woman I instinctively felt happy to follow. I signed up to her mailing list and eagerly started on May Cause Miracles. The introduction tells Bernstein’s story. By becoming dedicated to miracles, she became a best-selling author, improved her relationship with food, made a ton of money and found true happiness. I wanted a piece of that action.

Embracing miracles is about releasing fear and choosing love instead. I didn’t really know what that meant, but decided to roll with it anyway. Apparently, your ~ing (inner guide) will emerge to show you the way. The 40-day program takes you through a new theme each week, with a daily affirmation and a meditation or journalling activity. Here’s what happened to me, spiritually speaking:

The good:

Starting the day with a reflection and a minute of meditation was quite nice. It was like a little warm hug for your psyche.

Saying ‘I love you’ to the mirror was good for a laugh, once I’d got over feeling like a buffoon.

The bad:

I tried programming the day’s affirmations into my phone to go off every hour as Bernstein suggests. The problem came when I left my phone sat on the table at work. Without context, the affirmations could suggest to the uninitiated that you have joined some kind of weird cult.

As the days went on, I found myself forgetting what the affirmation of the day was. I realised that it was because I just wasn’t finding anything meaningful in them. So I abandoned May Cause Miracles after three weeks.

 

Miracles Now

Despite the fact that May Cause Miracles didn’t do much for me, I wasn’t done with Gabby. I was grimly determined to find a miracle, somewhere, somehow. Thankfully, she had another book! Perhaps Miracles Now would be the book to give me the hit I needed. Rather than giving you a structured programme, it provides 108 bite-sized ways to live a more miraculous life.

So I attempted to bust out a miracle on a Wednesday morning. It was humpday, I was a bit hungover, and I had been put into a bad mood by the tedious pundits arguing about Brexit on BBC Breakfast. I flicked to Miracle #46: Measure your success by how much fun you’re having. I thought about it. Truth be told, I had not been having much fun. When you work four days a week on your day job and three days a week on your MSc, there’s not that much time for it. Over the following few days, I let my hair down. It felt good. One of my bad habits is getting grimly wrapped up in my to-do list, to the exclusion of actually relaxing and enjoying my life. The idea of measuring my life by how much I actually enjoy it was something I needed to hear.

On a Sunday night, I needed a new and different miracle. It was 1am, my alarm was due to go off in five hours, and I had been trying to sleep since 10pm. Thankfully, Gabby has few miracles for that. Firstly, a Kundalini yoga breathing technique. Sleep still eluded me. Secondly, a Yoga Nidra meditation. I was too wound up to focus on it, and still could not sleep. Thirdly, another Kundalini practice which involved pointing your toes back and forth. My bed squeaked as I did this and I still didn’t sleep. Miracle fail.

At its worst, the book is ineffective (see sleep ideas above) and verging on silly (jumping on a trampoline without wearing a bra helps your lymphatic system). But at its best, the book is like a self-help Rorschach test: you see bits of advice in it that you want to see, that you may well be better off following. And a lot of the things in here make sense: true that happiness does not lie in how much you weigh, that if you want something; you should ask for it, and that doing a headstand can help bust you out of a bad mood (I tried it. It worked).

If you take ‘miracle’ in the literal sense, Miracles Now and May Cause Miracles both fail to deliver. However, this doesn’t make me angry in the same way that I was about I Heart Me. Bernstein does make it clear from the outset that when she talks about miracles, she means it in a slightly different way to you or I. My life hasn’t cosmically shifted, but I have picked up a few new helpful tips. I still don’t know what it means to choose love over fear though.

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I’m on summer break from my course; which means more posts. I may actually discover something revolutionary, and you wouldn’t want to miss that, right?! The good news is that I have a mailing list, so please make my day and get on it:


Also: this post contains Amazon Affiliate links, as I have a credit card bill to pay and I’ll pretty much try anything. I’ll never actively endorse anything I don’t genuinely like because I’m not a Kardashian. Thank you!

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