I GOT fat, okay?
Sugar found me and ruined me last year.
Not an 'obese' fat. Or a ‘call the hot doctor from Channel 4’s Supersize Vs Superskinny’ fat.
But it was a significant enough weight gain that my friends and family felt forced to initiate an intervention. My legs rubbed together when I walked – a chaffing friction so painful I could have started a fire. My leg fat, or ‘leg burgers’ as my mum affectionately christened them, burst through my frayed jeans and left gaping holes. Nearly two stone and two dress sizes bigger than I’ve ever been, I couldn’t fit…and this is hard for me to admit…I couldn’t fit into my knickers (no, not even the thongs).
Sugar found me and ruined me last year.
It wormed itself into my life in the way I’m guessing drugs do: with a little taste and then a little more in small increments until you’re hooked.
Almost ten pounds down I’m getting back to my fitter self, but it’s not been without a hell of a lot of trying; I’m exercising like an Olympian, I have a diet plan and, importantly, I’ve been addressing my sugar-fixes head on (two or three sugars in my tea, a chocolate biscuit dependency and a bag of Haribo a week. Don't judge me...).
In a city that loves its food, it would seem I’m not alone. Sugar seems to have gripped the rest of Mancunia too.
In research commissioned by Ricola sugar-free confectionary, 64% of Mancunians are supposedly careless with their sugar intake. To exercise their point, Ricola held a sugar amnesty at the Manchester Arndale centre. Guilt-ridden Mancunians were urged to empty their purses and back pockets with the wrappers from all their hidden gluttonous deeds into a large perspex sugar bin. It quickly filled up.
Of course, it’s very convenient for a sugar-free confectionary company to find a sugar problem in Manchester and in every other city they are set to visit. And, tasty as the Ricola sugar-free sweets are, eating more than ten in an hour can cause laxative effects – that certainly doesn’t happen after eating ten Haribo back-to-back.
Yet, if the research is correct, with 10% of adults admitting to enjoying at least one sugary treat every day - and, worryingly, 40% of those surveyed not monitoring their weekly sugar intake - it seems like the right time to address our sweet tooths.
But how easy is it to put blinkers on to sugar in day-to-day life?
“To avoid sugar completely is difficult and you don’t have to avoid it completely. It’s about being aware of foods that contain sugar so you reduce the amount of sugar you’re eating," explained local dietician and nutritionist Kirsten Crothers.
"Sugar is hidden in a lot of foods and people may not be aware," adds Crothers. "Your sweets and cakes are your obvious ones, but sugar can be found in shop-bought sauces, for example. While it’s hard to avoid, if you read the nutrition labels, under carbohydrates it should say how much sugar is in your food."
So how much sugar should we be eating? (Can I still drink my sugary builder’s brew tea? - was my real question).
“According to government guidelines, an adult should consume less than 30g of added sugar in one day -the equivalent of less than a single can of Coca-Cola. If you consume a lot more than that try and reduce your intake by 10g a day,” says Crothers. “And it’s foods with additional sugars you should be wary of, like pasta sauces and ready meals; unlike a piece of fruit, full of natural sugars already.”
For a person who is sugar dependent, skipping sugar altogether could seem like a high hurdle to jump over in the pursuit of a healthier life. Even simple everyday items such as a packet of extra strong mints can contain up to 95% sugar. But, as waistlines still get bigger the more chance we put ourselves at risk of life altering, and life endangering, ailments:
"People should be wary of sugar because it’s very high in calories, that’s the main problem with it," says Crothers. "When you intake more calories than your body needs you can gain weight, then retain weight and become obese. That’s when you become more at risk of heart disease, diabetes, joint problems… there’s a long list of things that could prevent you from enjoying your life and put you at risk of death."
It's no surprise then that in recent years sugar became food enemy number one (we addressed Britain’s problem with sugar in an article during 2014). Britain has responded to damning sugar research by changing the name of sugary cereals like Sugar Puffs to moving confectionary away from tempting displays near supermarket tills. Yet, we're still struggling to shake off the sweet stuff.
For me, my weight gain and sugar dependency was due to a stubborn willingness to ignore the negative effects junk food and sugar could have on my body – until it was too late and my knickers sprung off me like a snapped elastic band. Cutting back, understanding what goes into my food and enjoying sugar - but not allowing myself to be dominated it - has changed me for the better.
A nationwide sugar amnesty is a great idea, in that respect. Seeing the bin fill up with discarded wrappers, if a little embarassing, allowed the people of Manchester to confront sugar habits head on. Hopefully, with such a visual intervention, Manchester can really cut back the sugar one pinch at a time.
Find Manchester registered dietician Kirsten Crothers on her website and Ricola sugar-free sweets in stores.
Follow @LOreal_B on Twitter