lifestyle

An unapologetic rant: "Everyone, stop shaming me about sugar".

For God’s sake people, it’s a BANANA.

I was in a lift. It was lunch time. I was holding a banana. I was thinking about other things.

A woman got in. I didn’t know her, she didn’t know me. She looked at my snack.

“Oh,” she said longingly. “I WISH I could eat a banana.”

I was confused. “They sell them at the cafe next door,” I told her. “They’re a dollar.”

“Oh no,” she said, her face contorting with something like disgust. “Sooooo much sugar in a banana.”

I looked down at the fruit in my hand. Its bend seemed a little more pronounced now, like it was hanging its little yellow head in shame. I stepped out of the lift at my floor. I gave my banana to a colleague. It was, quite literally, forbidden fruit.

Banana Skin
A dietary slip.

Yes, in case you haven’t noticed, sugar is out of fashion.

I buy my vitamin-averse child a fresh juice and I get a warning about the impending ‘sugar rush’. I take my kids to the pool and five mothers are reading I Quit Sugar. I ask my friend, “How are you?” and she says, “I’m on the 8WP.” And if my peers aren’t doing it, they want to. They’re pondering a life without chocolate. Or wine. Or, you know, tinned tomatoes.

Read more: Thinking about detoxing? Read this first. 

It’s not new. Back in 1972 a book by John Yudkin called Pure, White And Deadly warned of the dangers of sugar vs fat. But in Australia, the anti-sugar movement really kicked into gear a few years ago, when the savvy Sarah Wilson published I Quit Sugar, sold a gajillion-million copies and built an empire.

ADVERTISEMENT
Sarah wilson thumb resize
In Sarah’s empire, everything is sugar-free. And has really good hair.

Now, there’s a movie coming out about it. That Sugar Film is by Damon Gameau, who used to be in Underbelly and has his photogenic family onboard for an engaging, funny movie about how SUGAR IS KILLING US ALL, MAN. He  is everywhere I turn, in his jocks, showing me the flabby belly that was the result of going back on the hard stuff after three years off.

If it’s not Damon, it’s Pete Evans. Sugar is not Pete’s problem. But there he is, in every magazine I open, every site I click on, every TV I pass, with his impossibly twinkly eyes and healthy glow, having serious issues with all the other food groups.

I’m fucking over it. Because really, it’s not sugar that’s out of fashion, but moderation. And living a life of extremes is not sustainable for me, or for most of the actual human beings in the world.

Moderation is something that ordinary people can actually DO.

Nutritionist Susie Burrell agrees.  “The problem with these diets is that they’re not realistic for anyone who doesn’t want to make their whole life about food. The average person who comes to sees me is tired, busy, overwhelmed and overweight. They do not have time to make their own paleo bites, or to soak everything they eat. The last thing that they need is more pressure.”

ADVERTISEMENT

In the podcast: Explain to me: Why does everyone hate paleo Pete?

But Susie also understands why people love these diets. People respond well to simple instructions. Cut out this food group and you’ll live longer. Cut out this one and you’ll lose weight. Cut out this one and you’ll have more energy.

And, she says, the science of nutrition is complicated. “It’s extremely complex. And these food fadisms make claims that no nutritionist would ever make. Because we’re acutely aware that quitting sugar is not necessarily going to stop you getting cancer or heart disease. It may help to reduce risk factors but not more than any other lifestyle change.”

Susie Burrell
Susie Burrell: We’re simple creatures. We like simple messages.

Of course, people who do the diets see results. But not, Susie would argue, because they quit sugar, or gave up grains. It’s because, for however long they committed to the program, they were on board, and completely focussed on eating better quality food and cutting out the crap. And that will do it, but for how long?

Eventually, they will fall off the wagon. Eventually, they will go back to eating something that they have told themselves is poison. And then they will berate and admonish themselves for it.

My colleague Kate Leaver has written with eloquence about how extreme diets can be triggering for people who have experienced eating disorders, because it’s just another way to be obsessive about food and eating. That argument makes complete sense to me, but that is not my particular problem.

ADVERTISEMENT

I’m sick of being told what I shouldn’t eat. I’m sick of being told to punish and deny myself. I’m sick of being shamed for eating something that is a perfectly healthy source of dietry fibre and vitamin C (hello, banana).

I want food to be joyous, I want it to be a pleasure in my life, I want eating to be a happy collection of moments in my day, not a source of confusion and anxiety.

I don’t want to obsess about it, and have spend time and money that I don’t have adhering to a complicated regimen that promises me the world. I don’t need the world. I just need healthy, fresh food.

m&billy-eat-ice-cream-jpg
Really sorry, everyone. But sometimes, my kids eat bad, bad sugar.

And what’s dangerous is this: All this fussing around with extremes dilutes the simple message that make actually make a sustainable difference:

DON’T DIET. EAT WELL.

Susie thinks that the reason IQS and Paleo appeal is partly because their extreme positive is controversially “sexy”. She tells me that “Eating more vegetables is probably the single most powerful thing you could do for your health. But no-one is going to click on that, so no-one says it.”

Really, Susie? Really.

Here you go:

EAT MORE VEGETABLES.

And let’s keep going…

EAT LESS JUNK FOOD. (You already know what it is).

EAT CAKE AT BIRTHDAY PARTIES.

EAT LESS PROCESSED FOOD.

HAVE A GLASS (or two) OF WINE ON FRIDAY NIGHTS.

BAKE COOKIES WITH YOUR KIDS. PUT SUGAR IN THEM.

EAT THINGS THAT LOOK LIKE REAL FOOD.

ENJOY A BIT OF CHOCOLATE WHEN YOU WANT IT.

MOVE AROUND. GET SWEATY.

BREAK ALL OF THESE RULES, SOMETIMES.

But then, why would you listen to me? I’m not an expert. Oh, wait…

FROM OUR NETWORK
00:00 / ???