I was just alerted to this post by journalist and self-proclaimed health advocate, Sarah Wilson, via a friend on Facebook. Whilst I understand Wilson has gone sugar-free for her own personal health reasons, I believe the way she distributes and promotes her message and ‘diet’ of a life without sugar as a lifestyle change is very troubling. The I Quit Sugar program advises followers to cut out all sugar, including fresh, dried and juiced fruit for at least the first six weeks. However, dried and juiced fruits are ‘to be eliminated for good’.
At the conclusion of this piece, Wilson writes:
I wanted to share this today because I know so many of you who follow this blog are starting the 8-Week Program today. And I don’t think it’s helpful embarking on the journey thinking that it’s about perfection. Or rigidity. And I am not a guru. I’m working through it (sugar-free living, life, acts of self-sabotage) just as hard as you. I say this often – quitting sugar is an experiment. You see what it does, what it brings up, where it takes you. And I say this just as often – life is practice. It’s the practice, not some rigid finality that is what it’s all about.
But, I’d encourage you to read the whole post. I really don’t think it sends the the right kind of messages to anyone, particularly to a whole new bunch of potential sugar-quitters. The diet sounds incredibly ‘rigid’ to me and as someone who’s been stuck in many rigid patterns and routines for many years now, I can say that anything so strict and extreme cannot be considered ‘healthy’.
I commented on the blog post, sadly underneath many women who’d claimed the piece to be ‘inspirational’, calling Wilson their ‘hero’. One commenter says:
I was having some tension in a relationship, so I told myself I deserved a box of TV snacks. And they don’t satiate like they once did when junk was my bestie. Groan. Back on the bike.
Yet, another, Rebecca, had this to say:
Hi Sarah, thank you for this post. It is endearingly honest of you to admit to the occasional slip-up. However, I think it would be useful for you to discuss in one of your posts the concept of denial and how it can lead to bingeing in some people. I am – in principle – very much in favour of your IQS tenets. But, having myself gone through an anorexic adolescence, and having remained very entrenched in abstinence behaviour all the way through my twenties (I am now in my early forties), I had to learn to allow myself to eat EVERYTHING in order to get well. I had to completely re-set my mindset and tell myself no food was ‘bad’. I had to free myself of food-guilt! And now, when I try completely abstaining from sugar, I find that it triggers memories of my old, bad anorexic times, which I never want to go back to. Then, as if in sub-conscious protest at those memories, as if in refusal ever to return to abstinence-land, I find myself rebelling by bingeing on either sugary things, or on fatty non-sugary things like cheese and coconut butter. I don’t think I am alone on this, and I don’t think you have ever really addressed these issues, though I have seen them brought up by readers and critics before. What do you think, Sarah? I think your readers would welcome this discussion.
Funnily enough, Wilson is yet to reply. Many commenters talk about ‘balance’ and ‘vulnerability’. But is cutting out a whole food group really leading you to a life of ‘balance’? We are fed so many lies and conflicting arguments about health and food these days, it’s just a shame that a woman with such a presence in Australian culture is promoting these extreme measures as a pathway to better physical and mental health, when the consequences – particularly mentally – could be severely traumatic and disordered.
Here’s what I had to say to Wilson:
I concur with the words of Paula Kotowicz, who responded to Wilson with the following:
Hi Sarah. The response you describe must have been quite frightening for you. I have to admit though that as a therapist who specialises in eating disorders, disordered eating and body image issues, I really do question the helpfulness of completely avoiding an entire food group, without medical necessity. Obviously medical necessity is a whole other thing…
To some vulnerable people in our society, it simply provides an excuse to restrict and control and can trigger these people into disordered eating or even into bona fide eating disorders. My other concern are the notions of ‘failing’ or ‘slip-ups’ as described by many of the readers in their comments. A great deal of my work is focusing on helping people to develop self-compassion and a greater sense of self overall – including self-worth, self-value. Self-kindness in a nutshell. While you may wonder what this has to do with anything, imagine being able to say to yourself: “So I ate the croissants… Did I enjoy them? No. Will I do this again? Almost definitely. But for some reason, I needed to eat them and that’s ok. I am human after all…” Being harsh on ourselves, not only does not help, but makes us feel so much worse in the long run because it deconstructs our sense of self and causes us to beat up on ourselves.
Isn’t it possible that there is a happy medium in there somewhere? It’s not crack. Just food.
Thanks for sharing and opening up the discussion.
Already this post has sparked controversy across the media sphere with Mia Freedman sharing it and questioning Wilson’s message via Facebook. I particularly like these first two comments on Freedman’s post:
Basically, I’m fed up (no pun intended). We need role models that promote a truly balanced wellbeing without restrictions, stress and inflexible rules. Our culture needs a healthy overhaul but for now the onus is on us to take in the good and reject the disordered behaviour we are so often presented with. If only it were that easy.