Words || Leah Aharon
I didn’t quit sugar.
Coping with the world can be difficult when all the food you love quits you.
Let’s start by saying this is not a fitness, health or ‘I quit sugar’ promotion. I really had very little choice in the matter, but saying that, I still wouldn’t take it back.
In April 2013 I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) but for those of you who know anything about IBS, they know that calling it a diagnosis is a bit of a stretch. You go to the doctor and they tell you they have no idea so unless it becomes something dangerous, they leave you wallow in its pain. This is why more than one in ten people have it at some point in their lifetime.
Once diagnosed, I went through an elimination diet to see what seemed to piss off my bowels. Bowels…. funny word, say it again. Lovely. An elimination diet is where they remove all things pleasurable from your diet then slowly re-introduce them to discover what causes your pain. This inhumane process left me starving for much longer than the two week process, the doctor and I discovered a specific reactions to wheat and most gluten products, cane sugar (as well as concentrated fructose and sucrose) and lactose.
Sugar, gluten, dairy. Sugar, gluten, dairy. Sugar, gluten, dairy. Not even minute amounts of this terrible trio would excuse me from suffering. Many of you will not know how much of your diet is cancelled out and it doesn’t matter how ‘healthy’ you think you are.
I remember my first meal: Red quinoa, avocado, capsicum, egg and tomato. I had no idea what I was doing and what I was left with was repulsive. It was dry, tasteless, and nowhere near filling.
This all took place in 2013 and while paleo diets were beginning to show their face, it had definitely not yet reached the gaggle of sixteen year old girls I called my friends. I had no idea what to eat. Ever. When I Googled it, the only other people who kept similar diets were fitness fanatics and even they had their cravings! By comparison, there was me, an average teenage girl who hadn’t done any exercise since the sport carnival the year before (and let’s be honest, I probably came last); I had no motivation and was terrible at self-control.
All I knew was that if I ate this, after my taste buds were satisfied, I would spend the next twenty four hours constantly shitting, farting out deadly gases, and worst of all, writhing in pain. Imagine somebody gripping your gut so hard their nails slip into every inch of your insides. Grab it. Pull it. Knot it. Punch it. Rip it into a million pieces then mix vinegar and baking soda in your stomach. Think of the worst period pain you, your friends, your girlfriends, have ever experienced and triple it.
Some people thought I was exaggerating, or made it up for who knows what reason, and sometimes I thought my body was lying to me. How does it make any sense for something as deliciously tasty as chocolate or ice cream to be so cruel? We were lifelong friends, it couldn’t hurt me, together we had always been invincible. Those midnight snacks, when mom wasn’t looking, the sugar highs or something as simple as my daily vegemite sandwich were now my worst enemies.
I retested myself more than I could count. Constantly thinking maybe this time I’d be okay. Maybe I am lying. Who said the doctor knew what they were talking about? That never worked, as much as I hoped. Eventually I learnt, it was not a choice, I just had to do it.
Looking back the first two weeks of complete self control was torture. I was constantly hungry. Dinner time was the only meal I could eat and feel sufficiently full because my mother had prepared everything and still I couldn’t always count on it. During the day I would fend for myself. Fruit, vegetables and corn thins did not satisfy. I was still discovering what was available in Coles let alone what to do with it and this was before my Coles had the health sections.
Being as lazy as I was then, I never looked much into substitution, or food experimentations, I would just make combinations of whatever was in the fridge. If we went out I became that teenage girl on this ridiculous diet, restaurants would decide if they wanted to take me seriously or not, and if they did it was always too complicated to keep track of all their sauces, spices, etc. My stomach shrank dramatically to the point where a cucumber filled me up. Within the month I lost over seven kilos.
But something I never expected started happening – the compliments started pouring in. I went down a size and weight that no one realised was even there disappeared. I felt amazing. Soon my dietary restrictions became the most entertaining thing about me, anyone that met me somehow found out and that was how they remembered me, even my friends started to use it to describe me and it became my life. It became me.
Now I was that quiet thin girl who couldn’t eat anything. That is what justified it all to me; I couldn’t so that meant it wasn’t dangerous. I was just healthy, which was true but completely false. After a few months with not much more weight to lose; I still looked quite healthy (I naturally have a thick look) but I began to notice small things that started becoming difficult; opening bottles, lifting heavy objects, but I accepted this.
My energy levels went from refreshingly high after my ‘lifestyle change’, to dramatically low and then I realised things needed to change. I started eating double of whatever I could, suddenly aware of how my body and life had changed. I began despising this new identity that became me -before I was mostly proud and confident in my body, my looks, strengths and weaknesses, now I started noticing the differences in how people treated me. And yet, all my friends wished they could eat like me, as far as appearance was concerned I had nearly ‘the body with no effort’. Skinny, boobs, bum, long hair and a pretty face.
Is that really the most entertaining thing about me?
My ‘double diet’ only resulted in me gaining a kilo or two so I decided to take a more dramatic control of my appearance. My whole life I’d had long brown wavy hair, but I wanted to escape the ‘pretty girl’ look, so, I cut it all off. I wanted to look like a boy, to slip under the radar and just be me again.
It was so liberating for around a day… but that was all I wanted. Maybe I was still the girl that couldn’t eat anything but in a single hour I redirected the focus from my appearance and eating habits. It made such a difference, it felt like the world looked at me differently, guys, other girls, and my own reflection. I was so much more confident in who I was not what I looked like. It wasn’t always so easy but I’d just remind myself of my process and it was working.
That was a turning point where I realised I could be more than my looks. I realised that I was in control, once I was comfortable. For the first time, my young sixteen year-old self realised it didn’t matter if that’s what people saw, because it was me! It stands out, and that’s okay I just needed to prove to myself what else I had in me, redirect my focus and not let it consume me.
I also learned the secret to dieting – everything in moderation.
Now that got the hang of my diet, I’m quite healthy and eat like a pig.