The three month Quit Sugar challenge

Is sugar the sweet poison that some claim? A married couple go low-sugar for three months to see what happens to their bodies and moods… words by Tamara Pitelen. 

Is the amount of processed sugar in the modern diet responsible for everything from diabetes and obesity to cancer? How difficult is it to cut refined sugar out of your life and what happens if you do? That’s what my husband Adrian and I are aiming to find out with the three month Quit Sugar challenge. You may have read part one in the previous issue of Awakenings magazine where we wrote about doing a two-month challenge… we decided to add a month. This story takes up where we left off at the end of the last story. To recap, we’ve adjusted our normal eating to avoid any food with more than five grams of sugar per 100 gms and any beverage with more than zero grams of sugar per 100 gms (except milk – Adrian is still drinking milk and I’m drinking unsweetened almond milk). To give an example of how this has changed things, Adrian now eats a whole new breakfast – no more branflakes (20gms of sugar per 100gms), low-fat yogurt (10gms of sugar per 100gms) and orange juice (basically all sugar); instead our usual breakfast is now two free range eggs and smoked salmon – the sugar went down but the price went way up.

Along the way, we’ve discovered that there are a number of approaches to the low-sugar lifestyle. Some people simply cut out refined, added sugars like sugar in tea, cake, biscuits, fizzy drinks, etc. Other people go even further and avoid all foods that the body processes as sugar – this is everything from honey and agave syrup to bread, pasta, potato, fruit, rice, and so on. The approach we were initially following is recommended by anti-sugar author David Gillespie, an Australian man who lost 40kgs apparently effortlessly by going low sugar and then wrote a best-selling book about it called Sweet Poison: How sugar makes you fat.

It’s been exactly two months since we went low-sugar. For the last 10 days, we’ve upped the ante and also gone gluten-free, caffeine-free and dairy-free as well because we bought a book by Dr Mark Hyman called The Blood Solution 10 Day Detox Diet. Hyman says we’re all sugar addicts and the $1 trillion industrial food system is the biggest drug dealer around, contributing to tens of millions of deaths every year. He writes: “You are hooked – a junkie mainlining some of the worst, deadliest drugs on the planet: sugar and anything that turns to sugar in your body.”

So we’ve been following Hyman’s suggestions and both Adrian and I are starting to notice some changes. My cholesterol has gone from a “worryingly high” 206 mg/dl [the medical assistant at LifeLine Medical Centre who tested me a while back]to a safe-zone 120 mg/dl. Measuring cholesterol is a bit confusing though. We bought one of those home test kits so we could test ourselves once a week. For no reason we can figure out yet, the results can swing wildly from week to week.


I’ve just come out of a five-day cellular detox crisis that felt like something between having the flu and falling off a wall. I felt battered. At first, I didn’t realise it could be a detox reaction.

I woke up feeling like I’d been hit by a bus so I called in sick at work and dragged myself off to the doctors. It felt like a bad cold or flu was kicking in, you know, when you’re aching all over and a bit emotional. I felt exhausted and just craved being allowed to sleep for about two days. I’m embarrassed to say I even cried in the doctor’s office out of self- pity, it’s a surprise she didn’t prescribe me anti-depressants. Much to my consternation though, the doctors and nurses couldn’t find anything wrong with me. They took my temperature, did blood and urine tests as well as whatever else they test with their stethoscopes and thermometers but I was absolutely fine as far as they were concerned. So why on earth did I feel so utterly, indescribably awful? I asked the doctor, getting all teary again. She didn’t know and told me to come back in a few days if I hadn’t improved.

For the next two days, I didn’t leave the house, the aches and pains in my hips and lower back were so bad I took painkillers at night and slept in our spare bedroom so my thrashing about and moaning didn’t wake up Adrian.

Looking for answers, I re-read a book called The Body Talks: Heal Your Weight by Judy Cole. She describes the difference between a regular digestive detox, which lasts a few days or a week or two, and a deeper, cellular detox. Here’s what
she says about a cellular detox: “We are detoxing the residues of foods our bodies have not properly eliminated from the blood and then have stored in the cells over many years. It takes the body at least two months to flush the accumulated food intolerance residue out of the cells, during which time you will have ups and downs of feeling great and terrible! A commitment to an initial strict avoidance of your foods for two months is a must on the long road to completely healing your weight… try and avoid them for four months in order to allow a deeper healing to take place in your cells. If for example food has been the cause of irritable bowel symptoms such as bloating, pain and gas, these foods will have left your gut inflamed. This damage can take as long as five months to repair…”

According to Coles, symptoms of a cellular detox include:
• Deep fatigue and sleepiness
• Emotional outburst
• Worsening of some disorders
• Cravings
• Nausea
• Headaches above the eyes
• Cold or flu-like symptoms
• Strange aches and pains in the body
• Skin reactions such as acne, rashes, cracked lips
• Changes in the menstrual cycle, which will rebalance in three to four months

So, did I experience a cellular detox? Maybe. After five days, all the symptoms had vanished. According to Cole, a really deep detox can take six months to a year. As the body feels safe to release some of the gunk stored in your cells into your blood stream for removal from the body, you’re going to feel terrible. It will pass, you’ll feel ok again and then if the body still feels safe (ie, you haven’t consumed anything that causes intolerant reactions), it will dump another load of gunk from the cells to the blood stream, and so on.


A couple of unexpected changes have been to my fingernails, tongue and menstrual cycle – apologies if some of the details to come are a little ‘too much information’ for the more squeamish reader but I’m going to be reasonably forthright in case my experience helps someone reading this – maybe you.

For the last few years, I’d been unable to grow my nails longer than the fingertips. My nails would crack, break, or split and cuticles were dried out and ragged. They’re still hardly ready for any hand modeling jobs but for the first time in many years, my nails are now getting some length. Another thing is that, in the past for as long as I can remember, I always had a vaguely
unpleasant thick white coating on the back of my tongue. It’s now noticeably decreased, almost gone at times.

As for my menstrual cycle, that has significantly changed. For many years, I’ve had an unusually short cycle; it
would come round every 21 to 24 days. But for the last two months the cycle has been 30 and 35 days. Is it connected? It’ll
be interesting to see how if that balances out in the next few months.


It’s been a really interesting experiment. Three months ago, Adrian ate branflakes every morning along with a freshly squeezed orange juice. Today, he wouldn’t touch those foods with a barge pole. We’ve had slips and slides along the way of course, it wouldn’t be realistic to think we wouldn’t but we’re convinced that avoiding sugar, gluten and dairy the majority of the time has made a positive difference to our health.


  Tam Day 1 Tam Day 90 Result
Weight 68.5 kg 66.6 kg -1.9 kg
Fat 33% 32% -1%
Bone 2.0 2.0 No change
Water 46.9 48.2 +1.3
Muscle mass 35 36.1 1.1
Blood glucose 101 92 -9
Cholesterol 172 mg/dl 143 mg/dl -29 mg/dl

Tam says: “Feeling a bit trimmer is nice but I won’t lie, after three months of big dietary changes, I was hoping for a few more kilos to drop off. That didn’t happen and for me one of the realisations has been that there isn’t going to be a quick fix ‘lose 10kg in 10 weeks!’ miracle. For me and my body, things take time. Achieving optimal health is a long-term process requiring consistency. Yes, my nails and skin are much better but they’re not flawless and I still have digestive issues. Still, I’m 100 per cent convinced that eliminating processed sugars reaps health rewards so we are going to continue our sugar-free lifestyle… most of the time.”


  Adrian Day 1 Adrian Day 90 Result
Weight 89.8 kg 83.5 kg -6.3 kg
Fat % 31.4% 25.2% -6.2%
Bone 2.4 2.5 +0.1
Water 50.9 53.8 +2.9
Muscle mass 37.1 39.5 +2.4
Blood glucose 100 100 No change
Cholesterol 120 mg/dl 158 mg/dl +38

Adrian says: “I also have much better skin. I suffer from eczema that I associated with tiredness and stress, but that is now all but cleared up. I am also prone to spots, which have reduced significantly. On the feeling healthy front, I have significantly less indigestion and as a result I sleep much better. I also feel much better within myself, put can’t really put a finger on that other than I feel healthier. My figures show that I am lighter, leaner and better hydrated than at the start, but some of this I have to put down to additional exercise and going fairly hard core at the end. I will continue to stay low sugar as I see and feel the benefits, but the occasional slip is bound to happen, and as they say “a little of what you like does you the world of good”, which is the philosophy I intend to follow from now on.



The alarming rise in levels of obesity around the world motivated reporter Jacques Peretti to go in search of the people responsible for revolutionising our eating habits. He produced a documentary for the BBC about it called The Men Who Made Us Fat. We’ve summarised the main points here but it is well worth a watch, go to

Today, there are 1.4 billion overweight adults in the world and 500 million obese ones. British people are on average three stone (19 kg) heavier than they were in the 1960s.

In the BBC documentary, The Men Who Made Us Fat, Jacques Peretti investigates the men responsible for the transformation in our eating habits; how business changed the shape of a nation, as well as how the food industry choreographs temptation.

Obesity rates have doubled since the 1980s and according to Peretti, we’re in a war between our bodies and modern accessibility to fast and processed food.

In 1971, US President Richard Nixon appointed Earl Butz as Secretary of Agriculture. Butz had a vision to merge the country’s army of small farmlets into enormous, industrial farms of unprecedented output. “Get big or get out” was Butz’s motto and his plan was to grow more corn than ever before, in order to keep food prices cheap and housewives happy who would then vote his party back into government. Soon, these new, larger harvests of corn became feed for the cheaper beef flooding the supermarkets and huge surpluses of corn were being created – this was soon turned into a brand new food thanks to some Japanese scientists, it was a cheap industrial sweetener called High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). This cheap corn sweetener has ended up in just about every processed food imaginable – take for example the typical American fast food meal of a burger, fries with tomato sauce and a Coke; the beef is from cows fed on corn; the Coke and tomato sauce are sweetened with corn syrup; the bread for the bun is made with corn syrup, and the fries are cooked in corn oil.


The biggest health impact though was when HFCS replaced sugar in fizzy drinks like Coke and Pepsi in 1984. The reason was a no brainer – HFCS was a third cheaper than sugar. In two decades, fizzy drink consumption in the US has gone from 350 cans per person per year to 600 cans per year.

The damaging difference between regular processed sugar and HFCS is how it affects the body. There’s something very specific about fructose that accelerates obesity, namely, the effect of fructose on the liver.

According to endocrinologist, Dr Robert Lustig, fructose is easily converted to fat in the body, and scientists have found that it also suppresses the action of a vital hormone called leptin.

“Leptin goes from your fat cells to your brain and tells your brain you’ve had enough, you don’t need to eat that second piece of cheesecake,” said Lustig in an interview with Peretti.

When the liver is overloaded with sugars, leptin simply stops working, and as a result the body doesn’t know when it’s full.

“It makes your brain think you’re starving and now what you have is a vicious cycle of consumption, disease and addiction. Which explains what has happened the world over,” Lustig said.

Americans eat about 90lbs of added sugar per year. This is like a tsunami of sugar hitting the liver, which impacts fat in the blood leading to heart disease as well as fat in the liver, leading to diabetes and chronic diseases.


Why is it that we just can’t seem to get enough sugar? Because it is literally addictive. Sugar takes the brain prisoner by activating the same circuitry that is activated in addictions.

The havoc that processed sugars have wreaked on global health and obesity is now being more widely studied and accepted but this is a recent change. For the last 40 years, accepted wisdom was that we were all getting fatter, quicker because of fat. It was American scientist Ancel Keys who convinced the developed world that dietary fat, particularly animal fat, was the cause of heart disease (interestingly, the more subtle finding in his work that did not get so widely promoted was that animal protein and fat increased heart disease while plant fat decreased it).

One scientist who disagreed with Keys’ anti-fat stance was UK Professor John Yudkin. In 1972, Yudkin wrote a book called Pure, White and Deadly, which outlined how the rise in heart disease correlated to the rise in the consumption of sugar. This was not a popular argument with the influential sugar lobby however and Yudkin was basically black-listed and discredited by powerful sugar-funded opponents. As a result, the case against sugar was forgotten and the low-fat obsession took hold. The result? Obesity rates in the UK are now 10 times what they were in the 1970s and the amount of sugar eaten has increased by
31 per cent since 1990 because of the ‘invisible’ sugar added to products like tomato sauce, soft- drinks, yogurt, baked beans, etc.

When dietary fat became public health enemy number one, the food industry spied an opportunity and before long our supermarket shelves were swamped with low fat products – everything from yogurts to mayonnaise, biscuits and desserts. The low-fat industry boomed. Fat was taken out and sugar was put in. As a result, profits for the food industry have soared and so have obesity rates.

For more information on The Men Who Made Us Fat by BBC Two, go to


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