Falling Off The Wagon

So much for giving up alcohol, caffeine and sugar.

In my defence, the run up to Christmas was never going to be the best time for such substantial lifestyle changes. After all, what is Christmas all about. Surely it’s about overeating, massive commercial consumption and excessive alcohol. Ok, it really shouldn’t be, but it kind of is.

Sugar has really been my downfall over the past couple of weeks. It started with the almond paste. It is a bit of a tradition in my house that every year I make two Christmas cakes – one for us and one to be shared between the grandparents. I make the cakes way back in October. I do this with good reason. Fruit cakes taste much better with a bit of time to ‘mature’. Also, I ‘feed’ the cakes with a bit of brandy ever week and the earlier they are made, the better fed they are by the time they get iced.

So, the cakes were already baked when I decided to quit sugar. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to do about this since Mr Mummysgoneacycle doesn’t like Christmas cake (or mince pies, or marzipan – he’s weird). Still, they were going to have to be covered with almond paste and royal icing regardless of their final destination. So, in the middle of December I set about making the almond paste for the cakes.

By this point I had settled fairly well into life without sugar. I actually wasn’t missing it so much. I had developed new eating habits and was starting to get the hang of regulating my food intake by appetite rather than by myfitnesspal. People kept asking me if I felt better for it and to be honest, I wasn’t all that sure how to answer. I felt that my appetite was far better controlled. I was eating less but feeling less hungry. I felt very virtuous but I can’t say had noticed feeling all that different. This was a slight let down after reading all about the new found health and mental clarity I was going to find in my post-fructose reality.

There is another tradition in my house which goes hand-in-hand with the baking two Christmas cakes. Every year I ‘accidentally’ make far too much almond paste for the cakes. I am talking enough almond paste to cover at least three cakes. Every year I spend a couple of days browsing recipes for almond paste containing seasonal recipes like stollen and frangipane mince pies. Every year I fail to make any such things. Because every year, I just eat the leftover almond paste. In doing this I am ably assisted by my three year old and five year old.

Because, here’s the thing.

I absolutely love almond paste.

And when else do you have the excuse to make a massive lump of it?

So this year I gave it some serious consideration and decided that I was not going to abstain from all sugar while there was almond paste to be considered. I had read that the occasional ‘slip’ from fructose free was not a bad thing in that it reminds you why you have given it up.

So, over two days, almond paste was consumed. Really quite a lot of almond paste.

And then it was back to fructose free.

At least that was the plan.

The reality was slightly different.

It turns out that the almond paste was something of a ‘slippery slope’. Next it was a

mince pie. Just the one obviously. Or maybe two. Actually just a steady stream of them. Then there was the chocolate advent calendar which my mum had bought for me before I announced I was quitting sugar, and which had been left in the wardrobe. Then the Christmas chocolates. Just a few. Well, quite a few. Then the finished Christmas cake. And the Christmas trifle. And, and, and….

I have still stayed largely off the caffeine. I have had maybe five cups of coffee in the past three months and never more than one a day. Most of those five have been in the past two weeks though.

As for the alcohol. I had not totally given up my beloved red wine although I had cut back to one glass a night on the weekend. Ok, so it might have been a little more than one glass a night and a little more than just at the weekend over the festive period.

Maybe this is simply me justifying my falling off the various wagons, but I think it has actually been a helpful experience. Going back to eating sugar and drinking alcohol and caffeine has actually made me more determined to minimise or remove these things from my diet.

See, I didn’t really feel all the incredible benefits that I was expecting to experience when I gave up these things. But I have definitely felt the impact of putting them back in my diet.

For example, on 13th December my husband went out for a couple of drinks with a pal and this remarkably coincided with both children going straight to sleep at their bedtime. I effectively had the house to myself. Cue a film which my husband would hate (I can’t even remember what it was, suffice to say it can be happily labelled as a ‘chick flick’) and lounging on the entire sofa. The only thing which was missing was chocolate. But then again, there was that chocolate advent calendar hidden away unopened…. So I ate chocolates one to thirteen (well, I wouldn’t cheat and go past 13 would I?!).

I can honestly say that I don’t think I have experienced a manic high like the one which followed in as long as I can remember. I think it must have been a combination of the sugar and the caffeine in chocolate. I was wide awake until 3:30am. When I say wide awake, I mean absolutely hyper, manic, and a little bit mental. I went to bed at a reasonably sensible time but thoughts were flying around my head at a tremendous speed. I seriously could not even keep my eyes closed. So I got up again and did about a billion things at once, until 3:30am. It was incredible.

It was a little less incredible at 6:30am when the cry of “sun’s up, it’s morning time!” rang out from my daughter’s bedroom (Ellen is possibly the more reliable alarm clock, ever).

Here are some of the other effects I have been feeling as I toppled headlong off my various wagons:

  • I have not stopped eating. There is seriously no point at which I am not thinking about food and what I can eat next. Sometimes it’s actual hunger, other times it is just for the pleasure of eating.
  • My moods are a little more wild. I have found it harder and harder to stay calm as the children’s general mania over the festive period has risen.
  • I feel generally just a bit sluggish a lot of the time.
  • As my sugar consumption has risen, my vegetable and wholefood consumption has decreased.
  • That furry teeth feeling after eating sugar – I had forgotten just how unpleasant that was.
  • A general sense of unfocused vagueness has settled over me (this could just be the general ‘no idea what day of the week it is’ feeling of the Christmas period).
  • I feel pretty fat. I actually have no idea how much weight I have managed to put on in a couple of weeks. But regardless of the reality, I feel fat.
  • The longer I have been consuming sugar, alcohol and caffeine for, the harder it has been to complete my turbo sessions

So, a new year has now begun and it is time for some new years resolutions. I am still having a think about sporting resolutions but I am very clear on my diet resolutions for 2018:

  • No caffeine at all.
  • No sugar (fructose) at all.
  • No more than two glasses of wine per week.

So far, so good (I know, it’s only 2nd January). I have successfully resisted all the sweet Christmas leftovers for almost two days now. Not drinking alcohol is not really a problem until the weekend when I just fancy a glass or two. And the desire for caffeine wanes as I stop drinking a glass or two (or three) of wine a night. I have been to the shops and stocked up on avocados, eggs, spinach, macadamia nuts and greek yoghurt. I am overjoyed to find that we still have a fridge full of cheese leftover (some treats are still fair game).

I have to say, I am not looking forward to the sugar withdrawal again. I remember what it was like last time and I remember that it took weeks. I also really need the children to finish the Christmas cake for me – there is still half of it left and it really is the hardest thing to resist!


13 Replies to “Falling Off The Wagon”

  1. I was wondering about the fructose too. Why particularly fructose? On a bike run where you need some energy what would really be wrong with the standard DIY energy drink of 50/50 fruit juice and water with some added salt? Or some raisins?

    That aside, and digging out goal-achieving techniques with my Scottish Cycling L2 Coach hat on, it’s often the case that people tend to do better if they use SMART goals, which is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely. You’ve got Specific, saying what you want, and Measurable (none, or 2 pieces of fresh fruit), but the other ones might possibly use some work? As suggested in the first paragraph, without knowing you or how fructose affects you I’d want to at least look further in to why are you particularly singling out fructose as particularly bad and worthy of elimination for Relevance. My go-to cycling snack on a long ride is a flapjack recipe suggested by Emma Pooley (who knows a thing or two about baking and a thing or a two hundred about cycling and athletic performance) with condensed milk and shredded apple in place of the syrup and butter, and I add a handful of raisins or sultanas, and you wouldn’t be allowed it and I wonder as to how helpful that is? With Timely, “in 2018” is pretty vague, so perhaps work things in smaller more defined steps, so say “by the end of each month I’ll have cut alcohol consumption by 10%” (I’ve no idea if that would work, it’s just a top-of-head example that gets you to zero by the end of the year and doesn’t require a sudden big change).

    1. Hi, thanks very much for the advice on goal setting, that’s really helpful.

      The answer to ‘why fructose’ is one which probably warrants a blog post in itself! It basically comes from reading a few books about sugar.

      According to the research quoted in these, fructose is the part of sugar which is actually damaging. This damage can be mitigated by eating fructose with a large dose of fibre, hence why fresh fruit is still ok in moderation.

      I did have a bit of a panic about what to take on a long bike ride at first, then realised that nuts are a brilliant energy snack and totally fructose free.

      I will post more about why fructose soon!

  2. While not wanting to say or even suggest “Rubbish” (on the grounds I really don’t know), I note that with some well presented evidence backing it up it’s easy to get carried away beyond the generally very useful maxim of “everything in moderation”*.
    https://theskepticalcardiologist.com/2015/03/21/fructose-and-the-ubiquity-of-added-sugar/ suggests that rather than eliminating fructose you might look to eliminate unnecessarily added fructose, which sounds a lot more realistic and achievable and rather less cramping of style, especially on a big ride where you need energy (and the author of that blog piece has clearly come across Lustig’s work).

    For a general wariness of nutrition advice that hasn’t come from your doctor I’d suggest Ben Goldacre’s “Bad Science”. That’s not meant to suggest you’ve been reading bad science, but the amount of not entirely justified advice out there is worryingly high (my day-job is an NHS Clinical Scientist, though I’m mainly concerned with IT and not nutrition at all so don’t pretend to have any great insights in to it) and that book gives you a good set of tools for deciding how far you can trust what you’re reading. Plus it’s a great book!

    * the full version is “everything in moderation, including moderation”. The typical modern diet includes vast amounts of added sugar, so if you eat “normally”, especially in Scotland, that’s arguably not moderation. A packet of raisins or a swig of juice on a long ride arguably is.

  3. I think we cope better when we admit that we will crash and burn all healthy eating ideas during the holiday. (I did all alright, but that was largely down to spending 4 days with the in-laws who are militant about calorie/sugar control because one of them has T2 diabetes.)

    Friends brought us a gorgeous big box of chocolates which we ended up not eating while they were here. Being clever, I hid it so we wouldn’t be tempted, reasoning we could bring it out when we have visitors.
    I can’t remember where I hid it.

  4. It’s not what you eat between Christmas & New Year, but what you eat between New Year & Christmas that counts!
    I have a much simpler food philosophy: If my stomach isn’t starting to rumble come mealtimes then I ate too much at the last meal (or snack!). If it is then I lose weight (or become the right weight). I don’t ban anything – why make yourself suffer? Everything in moderation.

      1. I can empathise with the all-or-nothing issue. I’m quite different from my wife in this respect, so if there’s a bar of chocolate I can leave it for ages, but once the seal is broken it’s GONE, where she can’t ignore it, but will happily eat a chunk or two and then put it back for another day.

        Our respective weight balancing systems reflect this, so she’ll cut back, while I will banish snacks utterly (while keeping my main meals as normal) until I’m back at my target weight. By keeping an eye on the scales I don’t have to do this for long in most cases, though with a rather stressful end of year on all sorts of fronts I’ve got about a month to go 🙁 By keeping my main meals as usual I can easily differentiate between stuff I should eat and shouldn’t while in trimming mode (main meals fine, anything else, don’t). As long as I’m getting my usual levels of exercise and am not going for excessive comfort eating my normal snacks+meals keeps me at a reasonably steady weight.

        But of course it’s not just about weight. Caffeine doesn’t seem to do anything much to me (I can drink espresso by the mug and easily go without it too with no obvious changes) but I know it affects others quite a bit and I can see why it’s potentially beneficial for some people to cut it out or down, and that’s nothing to do with the scales.

        1. Your wife sounds like my husband! He can have just one biscuit or piece of chocolate and put the rest away. He tends to hide treats on high shelves where I can’t reach.

          As for caffeine, I didn’t think it affected me that much until giving myself a bit of a stomach ache led me to decide to give it up


          The awful headaches I had withdrawing from caffeine convinced me to stay off it.

      2. All or nothing doesn’t really work with food though does it? 🙂 Hopefully there is a happy medium somewhere between Anorexia and Obesity.

        A few people have a medical need to cut things out from their diet, for the rest of us there is the latest fad or devil food; first it was fat, then it was fat & carbs at the same time (Atkins), then it was gluten, now it’s sugar or fructose. Cut that one thing out and all your problems will be solved we are told.
        Except that it doesn’t stack up.
        I know people who eat very healthily indeed, but they are still obese because they just eat too damn much of that healthy stuff and don’t exercise much. I know others that live on pizza and chips and are skinny because they don’t eat much else and exercise regularly. I’m not saying that is healthy but I think people should consider how much they eat (compared with their exercise) before they worry too much about the next devil food.

        Anyway I’m off to the spin class to try to burn off that Christmas cake!

        1. I’m not usually one for fad diets to be honest, but the sugar thing has convinced me to give it a go. That said, I am taking my reading as inspiration and then seeing how my own body feels before I decide what is right or wrong for me. Having given up sugar for 6 weeks before, the fact that I struggled with it is enough to convince me to try it again – I really don’t like to feel dependent on anything.


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