Full disclosure: I'm in my thirties, I have spots worse than when I was a teenager, wrinkles around my eyes that could rival my mother's and I have arthritis in my lower back. Don't feel sorry for me though, I'm fairly confident it's all self-inflicted: a heady combination of too much sugar consumed on an all too frequent basis and a hangover from my glory days, when I spent four wonderful years playing soldiers in Afghanistan, squinting into the sun for days on end, believing I was as indestructible as the boys, even though I'm a girl and I was in the RAF. I should have known better.
But I don't begrudge my younger self anything, the same way I don't begrudge my current or future self for the continuing bad decisions I repeatedly make. Instead I take responsibility for my actions, like the grown up I am. I know that I shouldn't consume sugar because it isn't just bad for my waist line but also for my skin, and I know its inflammatory propensity exacerbates my arthritis, but like the millions of other people before me, I choose to ignore this information routinely. Even though research has highlighted the badness of sugar time and time again, I just can't stop eating the stuff.
I've reduced my intake dramatically in recent years, but reading articles about some bird who quit sugar and lost a load of weight and now has glowing skin and sleeps like a baby, makes me want to reach for the nearest bag of sugar and gorge myself silly out of protest. These winning examples aren't aspirational, for me they're the antithesis of that: they make me feel truly awful about myself because when I do slip up (and I do most days) I feel guilty, not a little white lie guilt, but genuine pangs of shame. And I'm bored of it. If I'm taking responsibility for my actions, why can't the food industry, and all that goes along with it, accept their responsibility and stop shaming us for being human and instead start presenting us with some realistic solutions to this escalating obesity crisis?
The Obesity Epidemic
Right now heart disease and diabetes are by far the world's biggest killers, and Britain isn't known as the "fat man of Europe" for nothing. 1 in 16 Brits is living with diabetes, 90% of those have type 2 diabetes (which has been linked to increasing levels of obesity). In England 25.6% of adults are obese, 61.7% merely overweight. By 2035 if we keep on the way we are, 3 in 4 adults will be obese. An epidemic is upon us and scare-mongering isn't working, shaming consumers is going to backfire. In order to change eating habits, sugar needs to be treated like tobacco and publicly vilified.
So What Are the Sugar-free Alternatives?
So why aren't we putting more pressure on manufacturers to produce decent sugar-free options to rival their sugar-laden contemporaries? I don't mean specialist diabetic food or anything made with stevia (unless you're that way inclined) but actual tasty sweet treats that can go toe to toe with even the most expensive bar of raw (sweetened with coconut sugar) chocolate. Why aren't we forcing the supermarkets to stock the bonafide sugar-free alternatives that do exist, and not just hide them away on the 'special diet aisle'? And finally, why aren't we doing more to educate people about the many guises sugar takes? It doesn't matter how many times the dewy-eyed, shiny-haired food blogger declares that you too could look like her, if you just switched out table sugar for some other form of sweetener (dates, maple syrup or coconut sugar being their sweetener of choice). Sugar is sugar is sugar. Dates are sugar. Maple syrup is sugar. Coconut sugar is well, sugar. It is still metabolised by your body and it still adversely affects your body in the exactly same way as regular table sugar does.
So let's collectively pull on our big boy pants and demand more from those who control the food chain and who should know better. Let's not allow ourselves to be blamed for that which is out of our control and let's demand viable alternatives, because let's face it, as much as we want to fight it, craving sweet stuff is in our DNA.