The one-week quest against sugar

After starting to feel the benefits of porridge, I was convinced that better eating habits could change a lot of things for the better in my life. So I asked Alice (my new nutrition coach) recommendations about what I could improve.

She gave me a fun challenge for the week to come: try and reduce my sugar consumption, banishing pretty much all industrial products containing sugar. She also asked me to do my own research about the benefits of avoiding refined sugar in favour of brown sugar. By doing this research I not only acquired some useful knowledge, but it also taught me how to do my own research about nutrition, something that I didn’t even consider doing before.

Without trying to be scientifically exhaustive, I discovered that:

  • Sugar is quite rare in the natural state (mostly fruits), but it’s fundamental for the brain and body. So thanks to Darwin we sapiens developed a very special taste for sweet things, to incite us to go deeper in the forests and look for more berries. This craving for sugar is now exploited by the food industry to sell more products.
  • Refined sugar is basically sugar with many useful nutrients removed from it.
  • Consuming too much sugar can potentially causes all sorts of health issues.

Alice told me to try and find new sugar sources by eating fruits, maple syrup, honey or dried fruit (I went all-in on dried cranberries as a snack during that week). She also suggested to try out a few recipes to treat myself from time to time, such as an avocado-based chocolate mousse, banana ice-creams and energy bars. I tried two of them so far:

The chocolate mousse was a success!
The energy bars were’t that bad either but there was a bit too much honey and it melted very easily. Need to retry this once I find a blender.

That week fighting against my crave for sugar was quite fun and it wasn’t as difficult as expected. Alice had warned me and said to take it easy if the crave was too strong. But I didn’t feel any specific lack of sugar (maybe the cranberries helped). But more importantly, I experienced a few positive things:

  • My sense of smell improved. For example, walking past the bakery brought all kinds of new images in my mind (OK, that might have been a consequence of a lack of sugar…).
  • I started to eat a lot more fruits.
  • I was able to better appreciate the sweet taste of fruits.
  • I started to feel when things were ‘too sweet’.
  • If I remember well I started to sleep better around this period as well.

Another major positive point is that I realised that I could keep learning about nutrition by myself and try out new recipes. I became actively interested in the subject of food, cooking and nutrition.

The next step in my nutrition adventure came from reading a book called In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. I will share the main ideas and the consequences it had on my eating habits in the next post.

In the beginning came the porridge

Everything happened one evening at the climbing gym. The place was about to close and a friend (let’s call him Kevin) working in the staff gently offered me and another friend (let’s call her Alice) a bowl of porridge. I had never eaten porridge before. It was delicious. Kevin and Alice were quite surprised and started asking me questions about my eating habits. It took them a few seconds to realise the gravity of the situation…

Of course I’ve always known that nutrition was important. I was also slightly interested in the topic. For example, I used to watch a few videos from a rock-climbing Youtuber exposing his view on nutrition. Still, I never considered the subject too seriously. But now it was different. It was clear that I needed a proper food education.

A few days after this realisation, I went online and looked for porridge recipes (like this one). This was literally my first time watching a cooking video. I discovered what chia seeds are (hey, new friends!) and I started eating porridge every morning. My classic recipe has a base composed of 1/3 cup of oats, warmed up in water with a pinch of salt (pro-tip from Alice – it can be soaked overnight. See here an article about the benefits), augmented with chia seeds, greek yogurt or milk (now replaced with almond or soya milk), honey (now replaced with maple syrup or marmalade) and all sort of things for topping (dark chocolate, almonds, bananas, strawberries, blueberries, the sky is the limit!)

Best way to start the day

The ‘porridge benefits’ came quickly:

  • Breakfast was now a real feast: delicious and varied.
  • I had a new reason to wake up in the morning.
  • For the first time in a while I was feeling energetic during the whole morning.
  • My digestion improved (you don’t want more details).
  • My interest in food and cooking was starting to grow and I was appreciating eating good food again.

I’ve eventually became a fierce defender of the porridge community and I highly recommend it as a breakfast idea to anyone who haven’t tried it yet!


What I used to eat and the start of my nutrition revolution

From January 2017 to June 2018 I was working like a machine on a personal project and I gave little thought to what I was eating. My diet was composed almost exclusively of:

  • breakfast: a cup of coffee and some nutella spread on some of those Swedish crackers (wasa), or some muesli with milk
  • eating outside once a day: pizzas, sushis, salads, burger-king, often in take-away
  • very basic home cooking: pastas/rice with pesto or tomato sauce, pork chops, chicken breasts, beef steaks, frozen vegetables or veggie mixes and sashimi
  • snacks composed of cookies or milk chocolate

Looking backwards from where I am now, a few points (pretty obvious for most people) stand out about this diet:

  • Not healthy: lack of diversity, fast food, processed food, quite ‘greasy’, not organic
  • Produces tons of wastes from the packagings and boxes
  • Not environmental-friendly
  • Almost no fruits and very low on vegetables
  • Quite pricy
  • Not considering animal suffering (spoiler alert for my current experience with veganism)

From an external point of view though, I wasn’t looking that bad. I had been eating in a very healthy way since I was a child (thanks mom!) and I always exercise a lot. I can’t tell how exactly this diet impacted my health but I’m pretty sure it played a critical role in the depressive state I was in, as well as in the apparition of a few weird body symptoms that I’m not sure I want to talk about here.

In late June 2018 I realised that it was time for a change. OK, some friends rightly suggested that I needed, I quote, a proper food education. I don’t know if it sounds rude, but they were right (many thanks to them!). So I decided to start a personal nutrition revolution. And there came the porridge, and the very first step from getting back to reality and out of depression.