Giving up sugar: could you go cold turkey?

It was a diagnosis of thyroid cancer that spurred Rose Long to give up sugar, now being demonised as ‘the new tobacco’.

In February last year, a month before my wedding, the unthinkable happens. I am diagnosed with thyroid cancer. My acupuncturist, Sue Cheetham, finds a lump on a routine visit. It’s totally unexpected: at 42, I’m reasonably fit and healthy. As the news sinks in and I struggle to come to terms with what lies ahead, I wonder what I can do to give my body the best chance of responding to the treatment.

A week before the wedding, I’m in bed recovering from surgery to remove my thyroid gland. Following the wedding, I’ll receive radioactive iodine treatment and will have to go into solitary confinement for three weeks to protect people around me from my radioactive state. It’s not exactly the honeymoon I was hoping for. I look around for ways of mentally preparing myself for the treatment. Sue gives me a book called Anticancer: A New Way of Life by  Dr David Servan-Schreiber, and I’m riveted.

Dr Servan-Schreiber was a neuroscientist who developed an interest in integrative medicine when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour in his thirties (which, sadly, killed him in his forties). “All of us have cancer cells in our bodies. But not all of us will develop cancer,” he explains in the book, which was published three years ago and became a bestseller, before going on to describe theories about how certain factors can encourage cancer to take root. These include the typical Western diet, stress and lack of exercise. All of these are present in my life to some degree. I decide to tackle my diet and as I extend my research, one theme jumps out at me: sugar. I have a seriously sweet tooth and it may not be doing me any favours.

Where once it was fat that was considered the demon of our diets, now we’re turning our attention to sugar. The American endocrinologist and author, Dr Robert Lustig, who last year published a book called Fat Chance – the Bitter Truth About Sugar, calls it a “poison”, that is responsible for obesity, diabetes and all manner of other ills. Last month, one epidemiologist and government advisor even went so far as to say that “sugar is the new tobacco”.

Life is sweet: Rose Long now enjoys a diet almost totally free of added sugar Life is sweet: Rose Long now enjoys a diet almost totally free of added sugar Dr Servan-Schreiber’s book explains how glucose is the primary fuel for most of the cells in the body, including cancer cells. Eating sugar increases blood sugar levels, which in turn stimulates the release of insulin. He goes on to say that if we eat refined sugar regularly, insulin levels remain elevated, causing an increase in inflammation of the body’s tissue. Then, through a complex series of events, Dr Servan-Schreiber believed, the inflammation acts as fertiliser to the tumour cells, signalling them to multiply.

There are many who have questioned the science behind Dr Servan-Schreiber’s theories. But I’m not inclined to take any chances. I decide the sugar’s got to go. This is something I’d rather not tackle alone, so I contact a retreat I’ve heard about, Amchara in Somerset, where therapies such as juice fasting and colonic irrigation are employed to help people recharge their batteries, improve their health, or recover from illness. Its mission, it says, is to help people “change for good”, and this is what I want: sustainable change. They are not fazed by my quest to go sugar-free and have a varied programme to support me. In a few months’ time I will attend a 10-day detox programme. It won’t be cheap, but it sounds like just what I need.

But first, I meet with its naturopath, Rhaya Jordan, who listens to my situation, asks me about my sugar habits and calmly responds: “You’re describing typical addictive behaviour.” A sugar addict! I didn’t see that coming. The fact that I reach for sugar when I’m emotional or stressed means I am, in effect, using sugar as a drug. Serotonin is released when we eat sugar, giving us a happy feeling, and that’s what I’m after. She advises a total ban. This is a challenge. I miss the well-earned reward, the comforting consolation, the enjoyable treat and the quick energy fix. There’s a hole I can’t fill with carrot cake or a muesli bar. Without sugar, I feel tired, and must experience the emotions that I would usually stifle with a sugary serotonin hit. I find eating protein at breakfast curbs my physical cravings, but it doesn’t sever my emotional associations, which can still have me gasping for a sugar hit.

The latest calls for a tax on sugar are a lost cause  

I feel self-conscious making this dramatic change. It seems an imposition on friends and family and I feel a real killjoy refusing sugary delights. But it’s when I’m declaring my new sugar-free status to a friend over lunch – and she suggests that I might want to hold off on the brown sauce – that I realise I’m still eating sugar hidden in processed foods.

Her observation begins the dispiriting process of checking everything for added sugar. It’s everywhere: yoghurt, bread, even the healthy seaweed snacks I’m smugly eating. I become a woman obsessed with ingredients, and find myself bamboozled by what “going sugar-free” actually means.

"After five days, my mood lifts and I have renewed vitality." Dr Nyjon Eccles, a medical doctor working with Amchara, comes to the rescue. “The body needs glucose,” he explains. “It occurs naturally in many of the foods we eat, so we don’t need to add sugar. While refined sugar is arguably the most detrimental to our health, we’re not doing ourselves any favours by switching to a healthy alternative such as honey, thinking we can then eat as much as we like. We are not designed to eat large quantities of sugar.” I learn that our genes developed in an environment where one person consumed maybe 2kg of sugar per year. This increased by the 1830s to 5kg and rocketed to 50kg by the end of the 20th century.

Five months in and my emotions are more balanced, my energy has increased and my skin is clearer. But I’m still not 100 per cent sugar-free. While I’ve quit “using” it when stressed or emotional, I still like to indulge in a treat on special occasions. I attend a family wedding and, in the spirit of celebration, I give myself a day off. Well, I’m two ice-creams in and we haven’t had lunch yet, and when we do, I wolf down the dessert and wonder  when they’re going to cut the cake. I’m like a child at a birthday party – once the sugar is in my system, I just want more. I leave the party with a doggie bag, filled with wedding cake. I feel sick but I can’t resist it. I’m shocked. Is this what addiction feels like?

In October, I head to my detox programme at Amchara’s country retreat in Somerset. I’ve signed up for a vegetable juice fast, optional daily colonics, yoga and meditation. To my surprise, I don’t feel hungry switching to the juice, but once my body goes into detox mode, I don’t feel so great. I feel heavy and listless and wonder why I’m putting myself through this. Then, after five days, my mood lifts and I have renewed vitality. I’m conscious of my energy in a new way. It’s life-affirming. I understand why religious traditions often include fasting; without being full of food, I am more sensitive to life itself.

When I introduce food near the end of my stay, my taste buds go into orbit. The butternut squash soup tastes out of this world. But after eating, my energy drops dramatically as my body digests the food. I’m learning that when it comes to energy, eating isn’t always the answer. To my surprise, salad tastes better to me than a brownie. Now that is new!

It’s while I’m at the programme that I receive the news that my cancer treatment has been successful. I am given the all-clear. I return home glowing with energy. I’ve realised that the feeling of happiness that I sought from eating sugar can equally be found in taking care of myself. I also find great alternatives to sugar such as cinnamon, vanilla powder and liquorice extract – they’re delicious, but not irresistibly so. I have a new creative flair in my cooking, appreciating new tastes. I walk past a patisserie and do a double take when I realise I haven’t had a “Mmm” moment as I look in the window.

I’m not a saint – and I can’t say what will happen at future weddings – but I’m satisfied with the progress I’ve made and trust there’s more to come. Life is sweet.

Rose Long is a certified health coach with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.

Amchara detox retreats

Residents of James Turner Street such as White Dee will have a chance to share their experiences of benefits on a Channel 4 spin-off show
peopleBenefits Street star says mixed-race children were subjected to trolling
Angel Di Maria
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
Life and Style
Jourdan Dunn gave TopShop’s Unique show some added glamour at London Fashion Week
fashion week
Groundskeeper Willie has backed Scottish independence in a new video
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor poses the question of whether we are every truly alone in 'Listen'
tvReview: Possibly Steven Moffat's most terrifying episode to date
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Day In a Page

    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
    The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

    The fall of Rome?

    Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
    Glasgow girl made good

    Glasgow girl made good

    Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
    Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

    Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

    Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
    The landscape of my imagination

    The landscape of my imagination

    Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories