Why I’m Anti-Anti-Sugar


In my notes to you I usually take a positive approach. Sharing what I want you to include more of in your eating habits. But I had an experience recently that’s caused something to be stuck in my craw. So I’m giving you fair warning that this is a rant. A rant about sugar. What was this experience? News was spreading around me about a person newly launching into the anti-sugar movement. On that same day, a message went around my office space about mini cupcakes being shared for everyone in the kitchen. Unfortunately (fortunately?), I was sitting at a desk, working away, just around the corner from the kitchen. I couldn’t avoid eavesdropping on the conversation that was being had by the small crowd who had gathered to eat cupcakes. What was this conversation? Things like…

“I shouldn’t be eating this.”

“I tried giving up on sugar before. I felt really great. But I’m too weak.”

“I eat way too much sugar.”

I wanted to run into the kitchen screaming. However, I didn’t because I learned long ago not to give unsolicited nutrition advice. But the experience has been playing over and over in my head. My desire to scream at the top of my lungs hasn’t dissipated. So consider this my scream.

We don’t eat cupcakes for their nutrition value!!! Cupcakes are about celebration. Joy. Pleasure. Eating cupcakes while feeling guilty, feeling shame, feeling disgust with yourself, now that’s a total waste of time (and calories). STOP IT!

Sugar: I give you permission to enjoy the pleasure of food

Between the 12+ years of practicing as a dietitian and the 8 years I took studying at University, I have 20 years of experience in nutrition. I’ve seen movements come and go. I’ve seen the anti-fat movement. I’ve seen the “soy is a miracle food” movement, followed by the “soy is the devil” movement. Now we’re firmly in the anti-sugar movement.

Like all the rest of the movements before them, the anti-sugar movement is only partially supported by scientific evidence. Science finds a suggestion of something and people run with it whole-hog, exaggerating the science way out of proportion and out of context. For example, the recent World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations on limiting sugar consumption are often cited as evidence for the anti-sugar movement. But if you read the actual WHO document, you’ll see that there is evidence that the more sugar a population eats, the more health concerns they experience. But there isn’t evidence that sugar needs to be zero. That’s why they recommended limiting added sugar to 10% of your calories. There just wasn’t evidence that there is harm in consuming less than that.

What I’ve learned is that while people, like the new anti-sugar woman who sparked this message to you, may have only the best of intentions, they do more harm than good.

These movements treat food like it’s just fuel for our bodies. But food is so much more than that. Food is a source of pleasure and it’s a connection to our family, history, and culture. Treating food like it’s just fuel for our bodies asks us to deny an instrumental part of who we are as human beings. It’s virtually impossible to deny those fundamental parts of ourselves. But wanting to be “good”, wanting to be “healthy”, people try. And, inevitably they fail. When you do fail, it brings feelings of failure, guilt, shame. And as Brene Brown teaches us, none of those feelings are healthy. In fact, she teaches us that shame in particular gets in the way of creating change and health. When I work with people, these feelings are the barrier that we need to first get over before we can start the process of adopting healthy habits.

Now before you go accusing me of recommending that we all should eat tons of sugar, let me be really clear. I believe that healthy eating is finding the balance of eating in a way that supports our body, mind, and soul. Eating nothing but sugar isn’t healthy for the body. The key word here is BALANCE. To truly understand nutrition, you need to get yourself out of the dichotomous way of thinking. Food is neither “good” nor “bad”, “healthy” nor “unhealthy”. Eating too much or too little of anything is what’s unhealthy. Denying yourself the pleasure of food is unhealthy. Eating mindlessly is unhealthy.

I would way rather you fully engage in the pleasure of eating a piece of chocolate cake, then mindlessly crunch some carrot sticks which you chose out of self-hate and deprivation.

Give yourself permission to enjoy the pleasure of food. It’s the first step in healthy eating.

Curious about how I can help you achieve your health and nutrition goals? Schedule a (free) call to find out.