I grew up sugar-free

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The sugar-free diet has gained popularity in recent years, but it was a bit of an anomaly for CHRISTINE DORE who grew up on this diet more than 20-years-ago. Essentially sugar-free well into her teenage years, she shares the challenges and lessons she faced along the way.

My mum’s diet was, and still is, sugar-free. She’s also gluten-free and dairy-free, and she recently transitioned to vegan. When I presented with some health symptoms at two-years-old – mainly ear infections, my mum took me to get some allergy tests done. The results showed dairy could be a big contributor, as well as sugar and wheat.

She changed my whole family’s diet at once. Well, except my dad’s, but she changed mine and my sisters’ diets. It helped that she already had all these sugar-free and wheat-free recipe books so had a lot of home-cooked meals and she had special flour which she used to make food.

My mum did a lot of research into sugar alternatives. Back then, there weren’t as many readily-available options in the supermarket so we spent a lot of time at health food stores. Instead of having chocolate frogs, we had carob frogs. Honey was the biggest replacement for anything sweet. I remember our favourite dish was a homemade sugar-free upside-down pineapple cake. The fruit gave it enough sweetness – that was our birthday tradition.

I don’t feel like I went without, but I still wanted a taste of sugar. In primary school, I started noticing what other kids were eating. My best friend was absolutely not sugar-free, and I used to try and sneak sugar or orange cordial at her house. I used to get sick of my wheat-free bread, sugar-free jam and Nuttelex sandwiches. She would give me the crusts of her Nutella sandwiches once she’d finished, so I could have just a bit of what I considered the ‘naughty’ stuff.

I definitely had severe reactions when I tried sugar. It was around Grade Three or Four when I started eating it more. I would throw up from it because I wasn’t used to it. When my dad was looking after us on weekends without mum, he would let us have Fruit Loops. He had his own stash of lollies and he started letting us have some.

It wasn’t hard fighting the temptation at a young age. But when we all became teenagers, mum realised she couldn’t control what we were eating. The temptation was real, and we definitely went off the diet around that time. All of us have pretty much circled back for the most part. I’m not all that strict now, but my mum and youngest sister have both been very committed to leading a sugar-free lifestyle.

In high school, people thought I was a bit weird. It was the late ‘90s, early 2000s so it wasn’t as commonplace to not eat sugar. I didn’t really talk about it or draw too much attention to it for that reason. If I told certain people, there would be a massive reaction. They felt sorry for me, which I think is one of the things that people don’t understand. I never really missed out, because I had alternatives.

I am raising my daughter in a similar way. I am not planning to be too strict ongoing, but so far she hasn’t really had sugar We plan to give her alternatives as much as possible for as long as possible. Her child-care is sugar-free, and they consider special diets for different children, making sure nice alternatives are readily available. She’s only 14 months so she hasn’t noticed that she doesn’t eat sugar.

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