Tag Archives: david gillespie

A Year of No Sugar: Postscript 2

I’ve had a little time to reflect now on the Year of No Sugar and the effect it has had on me, so here it is: It’s made me a sugar junkie.

Well, sort of. This is why: like never before, I now really notice what sugar does after I eat it. When I eat a cookie, or have a piece of chocolate, here is what happens: I enjoy it. Then I realize my mouth feels… funny: cloying and overly sweet like I just drank maple syrup- yuck. A few minutes pass and I feel a small headachey feeling creeping around the base of my brain, followed by a weird energized feeling… a sugar “buzz” if you will. After a while, of course, it passes.

Sometimes I don’t care a bit about whatever dessert option might be around, while other times I find myself wondering if, perhaps, there’s one more piece of that hazelnut bar we bought back at Christmas time… (no, there isn’t.) And then I think, well, maybe just one of those three remaining mini-pastries from the Lebanese shop… Yesterday was a moment when I gave in and had one mini-pastry after lunch (a particularly weak time of day for me) and, yup. there it was again: enjoy, yuck, headache, buzz. All from basically two bites worth of honey, pastry and nuts.

But I’m glad January is over and with it the aftermath of not just all that leftover holiday sugar which came cascading home with us, but also the remains of the many celebrations in our house that also follow Christmas- not just New Years, but my mother’s birthday followed by my younger daughter’s as well. You might recall that last year we skated by the sugar issue by concocting a banana split that had everything- whipped cream, cherries, banana, homemade ice cream- everything except added sugar. Would they hate it? Would Ilsa feel deprived on her birthday of all things? Oh, the parental horror! It wasn’t until the kids exclaimed happily over the first few bites, that I relaxed a bit- we just might make it through this year after all.

2012, however, has already been markedly different. I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what I do and do not actually want to eat, sugar-wise. But if you aren’t not eating sugar, how DO you know when to stop? Do you refuse to have dessert to celebrate your own mother’s birthday at the restaurant that has the best bread pudding you’ve ever had? Do you not have a piece of the special peanut butter and chocolate pie your daughter requested for her seventh birthday, even though that’s your Achilles-heel of desserts? Do you not join in and have a slice of the mint ice cream cake you labored over for all the kids at your daughter’s clown party? Oh, and of course there are all those leftovers… After all my work to make them, do I simply throw the rest away?

I’m not being rhetorical here, I really don’t know. No, not even now.

Although Sweet Poison author David Gillespie had told me that after a while you “just don’t want” the taste of sugar anymore, during our entire Year of No Sugar I found I kept wanting things: the croissants at our favorite bakery, an ice cream cone on a hot day, ketchup on our french fries. Sure, we got used to skipping, substituting, going without, but did we ever stop wanting?

Then the other night my husband and I had a babysitter night, so we went out to try a new restaurant. At the end of a nice meal Steve became convinced I wanted dessert. A year ago I wouldn’t have even considered it a proper meal out without that final sweet component- like fireworks being intrinsic to the fourth of July- but this time I demurred. I was full. I didn’t want any. Still, he kept encouraging me to pick something from the menu. There was no convincing him that I didn’t, in my heart of hearts, want the chocolate chip cookie sundae but- much to my astonishment- I didn’t. I mean, I really didn’t!

All this month I’ve been playing guilty catch-up from a year of denial, with my kids, with my husband, with myself: it’s pretty hard to say “no” now, after my family gave sugar up for a year, on my say-so. Because I thought it was a good idea. Because I thought it would make us healthier. Because I wanted to write about it.

So I don’t say no as much as I want to right now. Selfishly, I don’t want my kids to think I’ve become the Scrooge of the food universe, or my husband to think he’s lost his fun wife who used to get all giddy at the thought of combining chocolate and peanut butter. I still do, after all. I’m still fun. Right?


So did we order the ridiculously sinful chocolate chip cookie in a cast iron pan with ice-cream and whipped cream on top? Sure we did, because I’m still fun, damn it. I was almost embarrassed by the conspicous decadence of the thing when it arrived- I felt as if we had a circus elephant sitting on our table. I had a few bites and of course it was very good- in the way that only a warm cookie with cold ice cream on it can be. Very good. But then I put my fork down. I was happy to see that really, really, I could take it or leave it.

And if that’s the ultimate legacy of our year, I’ll take it.

A Year Of No Sugar: Post 79

“Crap!” I banged the steering wheel with my palm. “Rats!” I was driving back to Vermont after meeting, last week, with one of the sources of great inspiration for this project: David Gillespie.

In fact, everything had gone great. Despite my unpredictable health as of late, I’d managed to sufficiently finagle my schedule (and that of my family) soon after I found out the author of Sweet Poison was going to be in New York City for a few days and had offered to meet up with me.

Of course, getting anywhere from rural Vermont is a bit of a task, but since I wasn’t planning on being in his stomping grounds (Australia) anytime very soon, it seemed like a unique opportunity. So, dressed up and bleary-eyed, I left home at 6:45AM, drove to the suburb of White Plains, hopped on the commuter train and was dumped out in Grand Central in time to meet him for lunch at 1PM. Phew!

In fact, I was early. Really early. And nervous. I started to have “What if…?” thoughts. What if he thinks I’m a moron? What if this lunch will necessitate an involved conversation about GLUT proteins and the role of the hypothalmus? What if my writing is waaaay more interesting than I am in person?

I know, I know. But these are the things one worries about when you get to the restaurant where you’re supposed to be meeting one of your big inspirations and you have a full hour to get anxious. I was just deeply grateful that my car hadn’t failed me, the train hadn’t been late, I hadn’t gotten lost, I didn’t feel nauseous and it wasn’t a bad hair day.

And of course, I needn’t have worried. David Gillespie, I am happy to report, is about as easy-going a guy as you’re going to encounter. He’s reserved, witty, and quietly passionate about his work. Like me, he’s the kind of person who prefers to state his case in print, and let others make of it what they will, and who isn’t especially fond of having to “sell” people on his ideas in person.

In fact, he didn’t start out to make a No Sugar movement. Rather, he says, when folks were curious how he had managed to lose such a tremendous amount of weight, he would reply “I stopped eating sugar.”

“Well, of course, that wasn’t good enough!” Gillespie laughed over lunch. “So I decided to write the book. And then I could tell them to read that!”

It worked so well that Gillespie has sold over 200,000 copies of Sweet Poison in Australia, and many more of the follow-up companion book The Sweet Poison Quit Plan. Gillespie told me that was the motivation for his twenty-some-odd hour flight to America: to find a publisher to distribute these volumes in the U.S. (Currently, purchasing these books in the U.S. requires they be sent from Australia at a premium.)

And the book’s power to convince has worked well. I was amazed to hear that in Gillespie’s children’s school, in addition to making provisions for children with allergies and food sensitivities, they also make provisions for kids who aren’t eating sugar. Let me say that again: they make provisions for the children who aren’t eating sugar. As many as ten different children in a single grade level.


Greta’s Testing Treats

By way of contrast, I related the story of my older daughter’s recent standardized testing, which went on for three days, the by-product of which was a tiny mountain of treat wrappers which she dutifully carried home for me to see. “And this doesn’t include the ice cream every day!” she added, helpfully. I know the teachers are simply rewarding the kids for their hard work and that their intentions are entirely well-meaning. I know not everyone sees candy as a bad thing, but rather a harmless, inexpensive way of bestowing a little innocent affection on children.

However. At what point will we begin to realize our goodwill has run amuck? Your honor, I present Exhibit B: yesterday, at the Farmer’s Market of all places- where we buy much of our organic produce and hormone-free meat- there was candy bloody everywhere in anticipation of impending Halloween festivities. At this point, despite telling myself everyone’s intentions were kind, I was starting to get a little peeved. “What, do they not think they’ll be getting enough candy tomorrow?” I muttered. “Is an entire pillow-case-full not enough??” After demurring the bowl of cheap treats that was proffered, at nearly every single table, one fellow held out to us a bowl of brightly colored hot peppers, causing us to double-take. He laughed and assured us that the next table had candy.

“Yes,” I said, grimly. “There’s always candy!”

Lucky for Gillespie (who is father to six children, all of whom are subsisting un-deprived on No Sugar) they don’t have Halloween in Australia. They also don’t have High Fructose Corn Syrup. But they do have all the same sugar-related health problems as Americans (diabetes, heart disease, obesity, etc.), which surely negates the argument that HFCS is any worse than plain old familiar sugar.

Halloween Hot Peppers

I learned this, and so many other interesting things at our lunch. I learned that balsamic vinegar isn’t really vinegar and is fortified with sugar. I learned that Crisco was invented in 1911. I learned that Gillespie’s next two books will detail what he feels is the other great dietary scourge of our time: seed oils. (Canola, vegetable, corn, hydrogenated oils etc.) According to Gillespie, these are even harder to ferret out than sugar, and are the other piece of our health puzzle, namely: cancer. Whoa.

I learned that Gillespie and I read all the same books and that his first book was tentatively titled “Raisin Hell” because somebody, somewhere, got confused and thought the book was about the dangers of “Fruit Toast.” (Get it? Fructose? Ha ha!!)

And I thoroughly enjoyed having lunch with perhaps one of the only people on the planet who would nod knowingly when I blurt out “And what’s the deal with agave!?!”

So why was I so annoyed on the drive home? I realized, way-belatedly, that I had completely forgotten the bloggers code: Always. Take. Pictures. Did I take a picture of me and him? Did I take a picture of what we ate? The restaurant? The bum outside? Anything??? Nope. You know, sometimes it’s a wonder I manage to leave the house with my head still attached. Oh well.

But I know what you’re wondering: where do two No Sugar proponents eat for lunch in New York City? We ate at Les Halles (fittingly, the restaurant of another of my favorite writers, Anthony Bourdain.) We had some very nice steaks and french fries. And a side salad… with no dressing.

A Year Of No Sugar: Post 75

I was sick last week. Not the kind of sick where you can stagger around and take the kids to school in your pajamas and sort-of, kind-of get stuff done even though you’re miserable every minute. No. This was more the kind of sick where a bullhorn could be announcing imminent, catastrophic nuclear attack and you wouldn’t even bother to raise your head to say “good.”

So needless to say, I wasn’t getting much done besides an alarming amount of sleeping. When I wasn’t busy winning the academy award for “Most Pathetically Miserable,” I was reading. Which was good, because in the beginning few weeks of our Year of No Sugar, I did an Amazon search for books related to “sugar-as-toxin.” A few clicks later I was the proud owner of a small stack of tomes with such cheerful names as Suicide by Sugar. Well! If that doesn’t sound like a fun summer beach read, I don’t know what does.

Now that I’ve plowed my way through most of those paperbacks I have a few thoughts. Firstly, you can skip Suicide by Sugar: Why Our Sweet Tooth May be Killing Us, by Nancy Appleton PhD. Honestly, I couldn’t finish this one, I found it so annoying. Call me petty, but in a book that addresses a topic of health and human biology, I find back-cover references to “Dr. Appleton” misleading: this is not an author who attended medical school. Additionally, her prose is rambling and uncompelling.

What exasperated me the most, however, was chapters like “140 Reasons Why Sugar is Ruining Your Health.” Appleton says she’s been collecting these reasons “for about twenty years,” and they range from the just plain obvious (“5. Sugar in soda, when consumed by children, results in children drinking less milk.”) to the truly strange (“25. Sugar can lead to alcoholism”) Huh? I mean, I believe sugar to be the root of many modern evils, but even I balk at the assertions that it leads to polio, appendicitis, epileptic seizures and cancer of the rectum. No citations are given to lend credence to any of the “reasons,” and no explanations are offered. If sugar really does cause these maladies, we need a little more support for these assertions than just Appleton’s assurance that she read it somewhere, at some point. By the time you reach number 140 you half expect sugar to be found responsible for global warming and that weird fungus that’s killing all the bats.

Like many books that try to change our thinking about what we eat, Suicide contains a wrapping-up, “what to do now” chapter and an appendix of recipes. I’m definitely planning on trying Appleton’s Coconut Rice Pudding… however, if I work up the nerve to present my family with her “Beet Root Dessert” there might be a mutiny.

A much better book is The Sugar Fix: the High-Fructose Fallout That Is Making You Fat and Sick, by Richard J. Johnson M.D. The only book on the subject I found by an actual physician, Johnson is way better at telling his story in logical order, while peppering it with key compelling facts such as the Harvard study “of more than 90,000 female nurses (which) found that women whose daily diets included one or more beverages sweetened with sugar or HFCS… had an 83 percent higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.” (p. 44) I’m sorry, did he say eighty-three percent?? Now, that’s a statistic that makes you sit up and take notice.

Johnson correlates over-consumption of fructose to all the usual suspects: cancer, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, liver and kidney disease, etc. He recommends a “Low Fructose Diet,” by which he means between 25 and 35 grams of fructose per day. And although I’m not a big fan of counting-while-eating, it is fun to consult Johnson’s handy reference guide and compare the differing amounts of fructose present in, say, an apple (9.5g), a 12 oz soda (20.2g), and a McDonald’s M&M McFlurry (30.1g). Gout sufferers will be particularly interested to read what Johnson has to say about the connection between sugar, purines, and the over-production of uric acid. Also intriguing is his argument for increased dairy consumption, which he says acts to counter-balance the impact of fructose.

One thing I don’t understand is why Johnson feels compelled to include instructions for things like “Grilled New York Strip Steak with Portobello Mushrooms and Garlic Butter.” Now, sure, if you’re ordering steak in a restaurant you might want to check to be sure they aren’t marinating it in maple syrup or using pre-packaged ingredients for the sauce which inevitably have sugar, MSG and a host of other hidden baddies … but at home? If you need to be told how to prepare a steak at home without adding sugar to it, then you have my condolences. You need more help than just this book.

Another bone I have to pick with Johnson’s recipes is that he loves Splenda: all four dessert recipes he includes use it. I’m sorry, but if it’s taken us over a hundred years to figure out what’s wrong with sugar…? I don’t really want to replace it with the next thing that will turn out to have been poisoning us a few decades from now. I’m just saying.

Now, if you’ve read this blog much at all you’ll know that the first one of these books that I read is far and away my favorite: Sweet Poison: Why Sugar Makes Us Fat by Australian author David Gillespie. (Be sure not to confuse this with the American title Sweet Poison which discusses the adverse effects of aspartame.) This- along with the YouTube video by Dr. Robert Lustig- is the resource I keep coming back to again and again. Gillespie isn’t a PhD, or an MD, but rather trained as a lawyer. Perhaps because of this, he assembles the case against sugar convincingly, persuasively and even entertainingly.

Gillespie has a flair for the simple statement that resonates: “Fructose was killing me and everyone else as surely as if arsenic were being poured into the water supply.” (p. 148) He has a great sense of humor that illuminates his material, which could easily be too dry or too darn scary to be enjoyable: “If obesity was a disease like bird flu, we’d be bunkered down with a shotgun and three years’ supply of baked beans in the garage.” (p.101) This author makes reading about fructokinase and GLUT proteins as easily comprehensible and pleasant as I imagine it can possibly be. It is Gillespie, too, who conceives of using dextrose powder as an alternative sweetener… truly an “aha!” moment if there ever was one. Of all the non-fructose sweetening alternatives we’ve tried this year (from using bananas and dates to ogliofructose) dextrose has, for us, been by far the most successful.

Although he doesn’t include a recipe section in the book itself, the recipes Gillespie includes on his website are excellent. No messing around with useless topics (“How to Make Sugar Free Salsa!”)- these are real no-added-sugar desserts, with no Splenda in sight. Admittedly, you do have to pony up an annual membership fee to join the section of the site where the best recipes are, but honestly? It’s worth it. The Coconut Cake recipe alone is worth it.

From Gillespie’s own initial moment of realization, to his research into the history and biochemistry of sugar, to the scientific data that exists and that which he extrapolates to draw disturbing parallels between our consumption of sugar and our incidence of disease, Sweet Poison is by far the best told story of the bunch and therefore the most likely to actually change your behavior in a way that matters.

In the book’s final chapter, Gillespie distills his take-away message down to some very simple “rules”: “Don’t drink sugar. Don’t snack on sugar. Party food are for parties. Be careful at breakfast. And- there is no such thing as good sugar.” (You hear that, all you Agave-heads?)

Instead of counting calories or grams or servings of fish oil or whatever other improbable fussiness some health experts would have us commit to in the pursuit of health, happiness and next year’s swimsuit fashions, it is “Gillespie’s Rules” that seem to me to make the most logical sense. Isn’t that the Occam’s Razor maxim: the simplest solution is usually the correct one? So when people ask me “What will you do when the No Sugar Year is over?” I think the most likely answer is that we will follow these deceptively simple sounding rules.

Because of the culture we live in, and our collective unwillingness to examine what is really making our society explode with disease… I’m pretty sure it will still be very, very hard.