Dear Sugar, it's not you, it's me...
It's time to pull on our big boy/girl pants and admit the truth - sugar addiction is not the reason we're overweight or unhealthy, WE ARE THE REASON. There, I've said it and while I know it's not what you want to read, it's time we stopped pussyfooting around with excuses to make ourselves feel better.
Look at the world around us - the obesity epidemic continues to spread despite exchanging our decades of damnation for food containing fat, to those containing sugar. If you're looking for cold, hard facts then this UK NHS report makes for stark reading. Here are a couple of key points:
* In 2014, 58% of women and 65% of men were overweight or obese
* In 2014/15, more than 1 in 5 children in reception, and 1 in 3 children in year six were measured as obese or overweight
Those stats should scare us as a nation yet we're so used to hearing them, they barely make an impact as we dunk another biscuit into our coffee. People seem delighted that there's a new baddie on the block to blame.
"Sugar is just like a drug, it feels like I'm addicted as I can't stop eating foods full of it."
I'm sure we can all identify with the feeling of a 'sugar high' and a craving to eat more. But it's not just the sugar, it's the heady cocktail of chemical additives and preservatives mixed with other highly processed ingredients.
If we were all truly 'addicted to sugar' then we'd buy bags of it every week and eat it with a spoon. I've never met a single person who actually does that (although I'm sure you'll find at least one example in a weekly magazine with headlines such as 'I swallowed my goldfish and it survived!').
We're not addicted to sugar, we're addicted to that intoxicating feeling we get from eating sugar-rich foods, usually teamed up with our old arch enemy, fat. The combination of hyper-palatable taste, mouthfeel and (often), the exhilaration of eating something 'naughty' is a combination that gives us the short-term thrill we're constantly after.
I've dived headlong into this pleasure-seeking behaviour myself as a girl with a permanently sweet tooth, and can eek out a brownie for a good half hour. But the bitter aftertaste is that I'm carrying around an extra stone of weight because I've made this choice over and over again in the past.
Yes, that's right folks, I know it's not on trend to take responsibility for succumbing to temptation and we all love playing the blame game, but I'm doing it anyway. I'm a grown-up who makes conscious decisions to sometimes put sugary foodstuffs into my mouth, just like you do. In the spirit of 80/20, I also choose to follow a lifestyle mostly made up of meals containing fresh fruit and veg, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds as I genuinely love eating these foods for the majority of the time.
However, I am also always tempted to buy a handmade brownie or caramel flapjack when I pass a local market or tea shop. That doesn't mean I always do, but it does mean that I make that conscious choice every single time.
Eating foods high in sugar is a choice, and as I love to live life, sometimes I decide to make that choice - sugar does not make it on my behalf. I also consciously choose to enjoy every single bite instead of eating it with a dreaded guilt building up inside of me.
Life would be much easier if I just gave in and bought something yummy every time, and comforted myself with the thought that my lack of willpower is a sugar addiction that can't be controlled. But I'd be lying to myself and so would you.
Apart from the few extreme cases of people with true sugar addiction, for the majority of us, it's a much more complicated conundrum of factors that establishes our relationship with food. It's something that has grown with us over the years and is often tied up with established habits or rituals around food, whether these be positive or negative.
Let's stop blaming the Government, food manufacturers, low-fat foods, workplace cake, or family and friends for leading us into temptation. Let's stop demonising single ingredients (hello sugar), or macronutrients (begone fat and carbs, this is the year protein finally gets its turn in the spotlight).
Let's all do something radical instead.
Let's make a choice to eat fewer rubbish foods that contain high levels of sugar and many other processed ingredients.
Because deep down we know that these foods don't make our body feel as good as it could. The real addiction we have is taking part in the blame game that shifts responsibility for our poor health to a single nutrient, when we all know that the truth lies much closer to home...