I gave up refined sugar for Lent

After a sugar hangover unlike any other, I swore off the stuff

On my recent internship, I was offered a biscuit at a meeting, in front of a room of people I’d quite like to impress. They’re good biscuits, too – Hobnobs and Jammy Dodgers, no own brand rich tea nonsense here – there’d have to be something really up for me to refuse them. But I do.

I confess in hushed tones: “Thanks, but I’ve actually given up refined or added sugar for Lent.”

Only vegans are more forthcoming.

Only vegans are more forthcoming.

I have created an Ella Woodward-shaped elephant in the room. I am such a douchebag. A Generation Y prat who’s obsessed with their health and probably blogs about it, too. Everyone present assumes that I Instagram chia seed puddings with – at a conservative estimate – around ninety hashtags including the words “fit”, “glow”, or “paleo”.

This was not something I did lightly. I made the decision after building a Super Bowl snack stadium for this year’s game, and enjoying a six-hour sugar binge that almost certainly knocked the rock candy nail into my diabetes coffin.

Snackageddon: the Super Bowl stadium that started it all.

Snackageddon: the Super Bowl stadium that started it all.

In a moment of rash stoicism the next day, on a sugar hangover (peanut butter Oreos and chocolate covered pretzels are a knockout cocktail), I announced that I would be giving up all things containing any artificial sugar for Lent. And I soon realised – of course – in an age in which Man Versus Food has a cult following, and Super Size Me gets Oscar nominations, everything has sugar in it. Everything.

Cereal bars? – gone. Fruit-flavoured yoghurt? – in my dreams. Vanilla chai lattes, my favourite hot drink? – no chance. I hadn’t realised that it contained sugar, which I guess makes me both basic and stupid.

This is a strawberry lace made with - wait for it - black carrot.

This is a strawberry lace made with – wait for it – black carrot. Playing it fast and loose with ‘strawberry’…

Particular low points have included eating blueberries at a housemate’s birthday while everyone else feasted on caterpillar cake, and discovering that almost every cocktail or mixer was off limits.

But I began finding ways around the self-imposed restriction. Just as opiate addicts wean themselves off heroin through the lesser evil of marijuana, I learnt to satisfy my sweet cravings with healthier alternatives: frozen grapes are deliciously sweet, dried mango delivers a sugar rush minus the refined elements, and Nakd has a whole range of sugar-free snacks that are surprisingly enjoyable.

Just some of the sugar-free snacks that have hauled me through the last few weeks.

Just some of the sugar-free snacks that have hauled me through the last few weeks.

I’ve actually contemplated making this a permanent thing: a lifestyle change. I’m joining the masses: the bloggers, the juicers, the yogis, the nut butter ‘gang’. I’ve got a Holland and Barrett loyalty card now.

Obviously, there are myriad downsides. It’s expensive: my savings are trickling away in 99p increments, another almost-pound spent on Pret’s Yoga Bunny sparkling water drink.

That said, it’s satisfying knowing that these snacks aren’t actually bad for me, and – with less than a week to go – I don’t crave sugar at all. It’s incredibly easy to say no to offers of a slice of cake or a biscuit, and I’m not even excited by the prospect of Easter eggs.  The health food aisle has become my Wonka’s factory, my Zonko’s, and I quite like it that way. I’m also a total bore about it. I empathise completely with Cady in Mean Girls:

“I was a woman possessed. I spent about 80 percent of my time talking about Regina. And the other 20 percent of the time, I was praying for someone else to bring her up so I could talk about her more.”

Substitute the word ‘sugar’ for Regina. Apparently speaking is no longer sufficient – I’m resorting to writing articles about just how clean my diet is. I’m almost too #UKfitfam to function.

‘Is vanilla chai a sugar?’ ‘…yes.’

‘Is vanilla chai a sugar?’ ‘…yes.’

Do I feel healthier? It’s hard to tell. I don’t, apart from one-off dietary train wrecks like the Super Bowl, eat much sugar, but I’d never have passed up that biscuit in the meeting before Lent. I think my skin might have a new glow to it, and I don’t have to deal with the post-sugar rush slump any more, but I haven’t otherwise noticed anything drastic. 

As much as I like to get on my high, gluten-free horse and think that I’ll carry this on forever, treating my body like a temple built of cacao nibs, surrounded by a moat of agave nectar, I know I won’t. I can guarantee that, on Sunday, I’ll demolish my Lindt rabbit, and – what’s worse – my poor, sugar-deprived self will get embarrassingly hyperactive as a result.