My diet's making me miserable

It's been a week since I said goodbye to Sugar.

Sugar is not a person or a pet. It's that sweet-tasting carbohydrate we all know intimately and love so fearlessly. And it deserves a capitalisation, like the term Prime Minister, or God, because, much like that higher being, it is omnipresent and, in many ways, omnipotent.

Because it is everywhere, and because I've been ordered to avoid it pretty much at all cost, my faith - that at the end of this arduous 30-day journey lies, ahem, sweet salvation - is put to the test every day at every meal.

It is in our favourite desserts, in our coffee, in our soda, in our fruit and vegetables. It's in our bread, rice and noodles. And it is omnipotent because it has as much power to make us feel indescribable bliss at first bite of that warm Valrhona chocolate cake, as it can wreak havoc on our health.

I've been made to part ways with Sugar because my new personal trainer believes it to be the devil and it causes my energy levels to see-saw throughout the day. Don't you want to be able to maintain a consistent energy form, instead of hitting a repetitive sugar high and a crash, he asked me.

Er... yes, of course.

The commandment: Eat plants and animals. Fat is good, so eat that too. But no carbs, so none of those things above; and forget the cocktail.

That night, for my last supper, I hit the town with some friends and ate like I was on death row - ordering just about everything on the tapas menu, washed down with wines, then finished off with three different kinds of desserts.

The next day - a Sunday - started out promising enough: a capsicum omelette with tuna for breakfast and a grilled salmon with salad for lunch.

Then, as if a cruel divine comedy was unfolding before my eyes, my brother and the family came to visit, carrying two bags of my favourite durians. I sat and watched as they ate, seed after seed, the scent of that wondrous fruit wafting through the afternoon air.

It was almost too much to bear. I have never, ever, said no to durians in my life.

They weren't the only temptations that stood in my way to a healthier me over the course of the past week.

On Tuesday, at a business lunch, the waiter brought over a tray of five different types of bread. How often do you get served five different kinds of bread at a restaurant? If you're lucky, maybe three.

I sucked my breath before mustering an almost painful, reluctant no, thank you. I almost never say no to good bread either. This joke is getting to be too much.

Highly restrictive diets are not new to me. I've spent a large part of the past decade being a vegetarian, then a pescetarian and recently, a chicken-eater too.

In the past one year, I've tried to cut down on wheat and dairy, choosing to bake my own gluten-free breads and cakes with coconut, quinoa or almond flour, and sweetening them with agave nectar instead of sugar.

You would think it doesn't get any more restrictive or healthier than that. Until this paleo diet came along. You must have heard or read about it by now, because it's been all the rage for the past few years.

I used to turn up my nose at it, dismissing it as a fad diet with a premise - that we should eat like our hunter-gatherer ancestors - that has been ripped apart by doctors and dietitians.

But who is right?

I don't know anymore because I'm confounded by all the information out there about what is good and what is bad for you. Does coffee protect you from Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's disease and liver cancer, or is it bad news? Is organic produce really so much more beneficial to your health, or is it part-hype?

I was dismayed to read recently that flax seed and soya, which figured big in my diet, are high in phytoestrogens which have been linked to increased cases of cancer, infertility and leukaemia.

And after decades of being told fat is the enemy, scientists now say some fat, the good ones, can help prevent heart disease and is a good source of energy.

How do you make sensible choices when the goalposts keep shifting with every new study?

Maybe the key to happiness - and good health - is to just eat and enjoy what you love, instead of worrying whether that double bacon cheeseburger that's been calling your name is going to kill you.

But me, I'm not about to give up my 30-day challenge just yet. After all, I've only just started.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on May 25, 2014

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