Junk Free June is an initiative created to both fundraise for the Cancer Society of New Zealand and to encourage people to eat well and live a healthy life. Unhealthy lifestyles and the way we eat play a factor in the development of some cancers. Therefore, eating well and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a key factor in reducing the risk of developing preventable cancers.
Deciding to participate in Junk Free June was in large part due to my incredibly proactive boss, Claire. She encouraged our small team of four lovely ladies to join together and participate as a group, to compound our fundraising efforts and also to form a support network. Support was a huge contributing factor to my success over this month; especially when I became exhausted and stressed from my studies. We were in it together.
I am typically a healthy eater. I don’t eat a lot of “junk food’, but I do love sugary treats and before this month started I had a fairly bad addiction to cake (as you all know from my many loud proclamations of love to that sugar filled, carb-y hug of a treat). I was eating cakes, slices or muffins every day and was completely blind to the fact that it is not healthy at all to eat that way; sweet treats are exactly that, treats. It made complete sense for me to cut out these delicious but not so healthy treats and focus my efforts on eating a healthy diet full of fresh, unprocessed foods.
I was worried before I started this month, not only because I LOVE sugar, but also because I find restricting foods from my diet incredibly difficult. Whenever I try to cut out unhealthy foods, I will inevitably crave, binge eat, feel guilty, restrict again and repeat – a vicious cycle. So I have learnt to be a little more flexible with my eating, practicing mindful eating and being a little kinder to myself. It’s just what works for me. I felt like I would be setting myself up for failure, but I put those negative thoughts behind me and threw myself into the challenge of cutting out refined sugar from my diet. I bloody love a challenge, so thought of it as that. Little Miss Competitive.
What really, really helped was going to see That Sugar Film at the start of the month. I knew sugar was bad for me, but I had no idea how intensely it can affect the human body if over-consumed. Our bodies are designed for a hunter-gatherer diet. We are not designed to consume the huge quantities of sugar hiding in foods that are considered “healthy”; anything from fresh juices and smoothies, to diet yogurts, to cereals, even breads, not to mention condiments and “organic” convenience products (bars and snacks). And yes, fructose in fruit is a sugar that can be over-consumed too – nature’s dessert for sure. The film, and book, taught me that over-consumption of sugar is not only detrimental to our physical and internal health (affecting our liver, our weight and contributing to cancerous diseases and diabetes) but it also affects our mental health. The spikes and crashes in our insulin and blood sugar when consuming sugar in foods affects concentration, mood and energy levels.
What is over-consumption of sugar? For a woman, it is recommended that I consume no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar a day, including natural fructose in fruits. The Australian average is 40 teaspoons. 40 teaspoons!!! Sounds insane, but as the film revealed, a “healthy” breakfast of Just Right, diet yogurt and a glass of OJ has 20 teaspoons of sugar hidden neatly away. Yeah. Not good.
So, That Sugar Film and its companion book, That Sugar Book, became the kicker that I needed to restrict sugar. Because how could I keep eating huge quantities of sugar when I had seen what it can do to your body and your mind? And yes, you should all go see it because it is so informative. And no, I haven’t given you any spoilers. Go.
Put very simply, for the past 29 days I have restricted my sugar intake to those 6 teaspoons per day. I have cut right back on fruit, only eating one or two pieces a day. I have been very mindful of foods that I haven’t prepared myself. And do you know what? Once you stop thinking about the restriction and start thinking of it as eating well to look after your health, it becomes really easy.
I only had one moment where I craved sugary treats enough to give in. During the week leading up to my design review I was craving chocolate SO badly that I bought a Whittaker’s 85% cocoa chocolate santé bar and ate half of it. I did not feel guilty in the slightest because I was nearly crying from the cravings, yes, actually. It was so sweet that I left the second half for a week before touching it. 85% dark chocolate tasting too sweet makes me sound slightly insane, but cutting back on sugar changes the way you taste. Seriously, I made a smoothie with a banana, a cup of milk, PB and a teaspoon of honey and could barely drink it – it tasted like a far too sweet vanilla milkshake.
The month actually hasn’t been too hard at all; in fact I’d call it easy. It’s because of the challenge, the support and the education factor. All things that I can now apply to my healthy life journey in order to succeed. The results? I wrote about them yesterday, but I’ve lost 1.5kg and my mind is clearer, my skin is better and my moods have been far more balanced. At the beginning of the month I was counting down the days until I could FINALLY have a thick slab of chocolate cake from my favourite café. I don’t want it anymore. I actually think I would be sick if I tried to eat that much sugar in one sitting.
I am going to continue to eat the way I am eating, maybe I will introduce the odd treat into my diet, but for now sugar knows its place. Like in these healthy-ish little no-bake cookies. ❤
I’ll never look at a piece of cake in the same way again.
PS please donate to our campaign to support the Cancer Society of New Zealand HERE. Thank you!