Is a sugar free life sustainable with kids, career & a home to juggle? Let’s find out…

 

Avocado toast with egg and herbs on a rustic table

Photo by Joseph Gonzalez on Unsplash

A few weeks ago I blogged how lunch with one of my oldest friends, and long-term cake buddy, Kuldip, led to a complete overhaul in my health (you can read that post here). Admittedly, I stared longingly at the dessert menu as she shared her inspiring journey into her new life without sugar but her energy and enthusiasm was infectious and she persuaded me to give it a go. After a rough couple of weeks withdrawing, now I’m so grateful she did. There have been many frantic messages (from me) and many calming answers (from her) exchanged over the past few weeks and her straightforward, relatable approach to sugar free living as a working mum I thought worth sharing. Kuldip has now started her own fabulous blog, Life Without Sugar, and it’s a pleasure to chat to her today about the white stuff.

Kuldip, let’s go back a few weeks. What was the catalyst for such a dramatic dietary change?

I just felt rubbish all the time. When you are busy, working, have small kids and a house that’s a fixer-upper, it’s natural and forgivable to blame a general malaise on that, but I just knew that I was on the road to poor health and I that I had to change, but change what?

Exactly! I think sometimes the easier part is knowing we need to change and over the years we’ve tried pretty much everything between us haven’t we?

Yes! There are so many diet plans out there, and they will tell you what to do, and some will tell you what not to do, but none of them explains why? Like properly WHY. Without knowing that I failed at all of them because, it seemed that I depended on willpower alone.

But you’ve always been quite determined when you want to be. Do you feel your willpower is weak?

Not weak exactly. I already use willpower. Not to swear in the car when the kids are in there with me, not scream at frustrating emails at work, not to throw things out the window when they refuse to work properly etc. So, I know I have willpower. But why do I need willpower over food? It’s something that felt so odd to me. Then one day I got a look at myself in a full-length mirror, I hadn’t really looked at myself for nearly two years and I was shocked at how terrible I looked. I felt at the end of my tether, honestly at my wit’s end so when I came across an article about sugar, it all fell into place. The need for willpower is because sugar is addictive and sugar is in a tremendous amount of food that we consume, and we aren’t aware that it’s even there. So we try to abstain, and we fail.

What to do? Get rid of it.

Put like that it sounds so simple but I know from experience it isn’t. What were your first steps?

It usually takes me a while to prepare for a diet or plan, but this hit home straight away. Probably because it isn’t a diet or a plan, its simply saying, ‘Sugar doesn’t agree with me, so I don’t have it.’ I immediately researched books and experts and consumed their knowledge and then that was it, I couldn’t stop talking about it, as you well know.

Yes. I never did get my cake that day! My husband couldn’t believe it when I got home. What does your husband think about it all?

Thanks to my history of constantly pursuing the next thing, my husband assumed that I had started another fad diet and braced himself for what I would insist that we eat for our evening meals. He has been the subject of many a dietary change poor fella. But this one, this one has stuck. He was ok with my ridding the shelves of all things high sugar, but put his foot down over the balsamic vinegar, the Asian sauces, like hoisin, soy, and teriyaki and ketchup – which are positively loaded with sugar. But the rest is gone.

I got exactly the same reaction, for exactly the same reasons but Tim has seen all the positive effects on my health so far and is now trying it himself. 

It makes it easier having that support doesn’t it? Now that I have started the blog and am actively reading sugar-free cookbooks, he is taking me a bit more seriously. Before, you would see me with a cookbook if I were handing it to him so he could cook. He has reduced his sugar because there isn’t so much of it in the house anymore, but he still likes a pudding or a handful of biscuits through the day. Though the other day he did say that he might give it up too – I stopped myself from reeling off a load of facts that would make him instantly regret that he had said it and just nodded and said ‘it’s the easiest health choice you can make.’ He’s a pretty healthy eater, so I don’t worry about him too much anyway.

The men are probably the easiest to convince as we’re all getting older with the inevitable aches and pains. The kids though! Yours are so young so it must be easier they can’t source anything you don’t give them. Teenagers are a different matter…

Yes, my two begin so young definitely helps. I started talking to them about it, they have interpreted is as Mummy doesn’t like sugar. Outside and occasionally inside the home, I let them eat cakes because that’s the society we live in, and I don’t want to exclude my family from everyday situations as a result of what I am doing. It has made me want to cook! And find some sugar-free alternatives to those ‘treats.’

Haha – I’m saying nothing about your cooking… Back to the girls, I remember the primary school years so well, the endless birthday party invitations. How do you feel about the food they will likely be served?

I’ll let the girls eat whatever they want at birthday parties. When at parties, I find that they are starting to leave the birthday cake now, so I like to think their taste buds are changing.

My approach is to make the changes at home and hope that they use it as their blueprint for eating elsewhere. For their own birthday party, I requested a reduced sugar cake from the baker, and it went down a storm, nobody noticed. Their party bags didn’t have any sweets or chocolate in them, I just packed them out with little toys which I think are more fun anyway. We only served water – which young children will just accept, especially on a hot day. They had sandwiches and crisps, I obliged a few parents with jam fillings, and my girls had ham. It was pretty easy to party without sugar, and I don’t think anyone noticed the lack of it. It made me realise how much adults impose the idea of ‘children = sugary treats’ when actually, that really doesn’t have to be the case

They have never developed a taste for juices so prefer water and milk because that’s what we have given them at home. They love biscuits, and I’m okay with that as there are some low sugar biscuits about there – plain digestives and shortbread are usually pretty good (about 2.4g per biscuit), and if you make homemade with a sugar alternative, you’re laughing.

Absolutely. I’m baking more now than I was when I ate sugar because it’s so difficult to find treats off the shelf. Perfecting sugar free scones and jam brought tears to my eyes! It’s the one thing I knew I’d really miss. What have you missed the most?

I don’t think I miss anything you know. I thought I would miss ice cream but the need for it has gone. I did accept a Mr. Whippy ice-cream recently – my mother-in-law visited and bought us all one. It was delicious, but I had a headache for the rest of the afternoon, had a terrible night’s sleep and felt ill the next day! So not worth it! 

I felt like that the first time I drank wine after 2 weeks sugar free, I felt as though I’d been poisoned. I’m still having the odd glass though. How about chocolate – I know we’ve both eaten an obscene amount over the years.

I haven’t yet thought ‘ooh I could murder a Snickers’ which was a constant thought during any diets I’ve been on.

I’m eating 80% chocolate now and honestly don’t need more than a couple of squares. I think most of my snacking is emotionally based. I haven’t felt the need as I’ve felt full but I’m still making snacks for my husband and subsequently we’re trying lots of new good. Have you discovered anything new?

My new favourite snack, dessert, breakfast is Greek yoghurt, with a small handful of blueberries and strawberries, chia seeds, macadamia nuts, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Oh my, I just love it. If you said that I would treat that like I did ice-cream, cakes or my favourite sweets, then I would have told you to leave and not politely! It’s amazing. I found out that cinnamon helped with sugar cravings so started adding it in, but now I just love the taste.

I’m less reliant on them now, but Nairn cheese oatcakes were a godsend for snack attacks. I have fewer snack attacks now as I am full at most meals, but now use them in the girls’ lunch boxes instead of crisps or even as well as crisps, it’s all low sugar and will fill them up.

Chai tea – it’s comforting and although it has minimal sugar, is quite sweet and it has cinnamon in it!

 I’m going to try that with Greek yoghurt. I thought snacking would be my biggest challenge but that has proven to be eating out which we do quite regularly. How have you found it?

I thought eating out was going to be tough, but it hasn’t been that bad. Fish dishes are usually safe to go for; salads are surprisingly tricky because of the dressing, so I ask for it without or on the side. Steak and chips are excellent, particularly if you go for sweet potato chips. I had a lovely aubergine and chickpea burger the other day. I took half the bun off, as I couldn’t fit the thing into my mouth anyway! I figure that the remaining burger bun had at most 1g of added sugar, so let it slide. During withdrawal, I tried to keep down to 10g of all sugars, added or natural. I’m a bit more relaxed about tracking it now, because I have an idea of who much sugar is in things, plus if you keep to whole foods then you really don’t have to worry so much.

Dessert whilst eating out is still a challenge, just because I have had them my whole life – it’s been a habit for so long. I remember eating the main just to get to the dessert! So, I will either kill the urge and have a peppermint tea or go for the cheese board avoiding the pickles.

Oh after over 20 years on weight watchers I’m eating so much full fat cheese and loving it! Lastly, what has been the biggest challenge?

Firstly, withdrawal is not pretty. It’s different for all of us, but I used to binge on sweets daily, so I got hit quite hard when withdrawing. If I could, I would have taken a week off from life to get through it.

I don’t cook – I never enjoyed cooking. I felt nothing for it. I now have to cook and that started off as a challenge. In fact, it’s taking me until nearly day 60 of being sugar-free to purchase a sugar-free cookbook! Most of our evening meals were healthy anyway as I drew upon the many of the books that I have bought with all the diet plans that I’ve tried. Each of them has produced some favourites. But now the mission is to have the odd sweetened treat, but a healthier less harmful version. Watch this space.

BIG thanks to Kuldip for joining me today and for her encouragement. Please do check out and sign up to her blog here and follow her sugar free journey. 

 

 

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The Gift is optioned!

“What first charmed us in Louise Jensen’s novel is the new angle with which the author approaches the subject of organ donation. If one is often interested in what precedes the transplant (anxious waiting of the patient or pain of the family of the donor), what follows the operation is often passed over in silence. Yet, we discovered with The Gift, the path of healing is often long and difficult for the transplanted person.”

I’m absolutely delighted to share my second psychological thriller, The Gift, has been optioned by Lagardere Studios who have produced some fabulous TV\Film.

“The intimate angle chosen by Louise Jensen is particularly strong as it allows us to understand the inner changes that the young woman is experiencing. The empathy the reader feels is natural and strong. What we want above all to keep while adapting to the screen, it is this intimate tone that attaches us to Jenna, and makes us experience the transplant from the inside, through the prism of the daily life of a young woman just after the surgery.”

The production company have a very clear vision for the project and I’m so pleased the scriptwriter working on the adaptation is remaining sensitive to the characters and the plot and most importantly, she loves my story.

“This breathtaking thriller that puts his heroine in front of an unknown but always more tangible danger, is ideal for a adaptation. We wish to be faithful to the novel, and would like to keep the main articulations and characters.”

More details to follow.

The valuable lesson I learned on my writing retreat

In 2015 I nervously went on a ‘How to create a submission package’ retreat at Wentworth Castle. I’d finished my first novel and although I didn’t feel quite brave enough to send it out into the world, I wanted to explore my options if I one day I drank enough wine to actually sum up the courage to share it.

Ali Harper and Anna Chilvers were the tutors and after reading the opening for The Sister, felt it would glean much interest and after running through the pros and cons of agents, publishers and self-publishing, encouraged me to craft a query letter and gave me tips on writing the dreaded synopsis. I went home believing, not that I could, but that I might, and I held tightly onto that kernel of hope until the day came when I did drink enough wine to press send on the submission emails that had been languishing in my draft Hotmail folder.

Fast forward three years, four books published, nineteen translation deals and a million sales later I was delighted to be invited back to Wentworth Castle to talk to Anna and Ali’s new students on their ‘Writing Fearlessly’ retreat about my bumpy journey to publication. I spoke about the group I was part of in 2015. How the 15 other students and I were passionate about writing but never believed it would happen for us. How being an author always seemed too far out of reach.  I shared my experience  – how extraordinary things can happen to ordinary people if you can pick yourself up after the inevitable knock backs, always be willing to listen to constructive criticism and never, ever stop writing.

It was in the bar afterwards (where else would you find a bunch of writers) a lovely lady shared with me that she never wanted to be published and had no intention of ever trying to be. ‘I write for myself’ she said ‘for the love of it, because it brings me so much happiness.’

I paused. Lowered my glass and remembered how it felt to write The Sister, with no hopes or expectations, just the pure joy of spending time with my characters. How writing lifted me out of clinical depression and gave me a purpose. I still love writing, of course I do or I’d choose another career but sometimes caught up with the deadlines, the marketing, the accounts, everything else that comes with the job sometimes, just sometimes, it’s possible to lose sight of what drove me to write to start with. The passion, the drive, the possibilities.

The desire to tell a story.

I do hope the retreat participants got something out of my visit, I know I took something valuable away too.

In 2015 I was unable to stand unaided so it was super special that this time I was up to having a little mooch around the grounds, checking out Stainborough Castle and the beautiful countryside. As gorgeous as it was, alone at the castle I was seeing crime everywhere, plots spinning around my mind, picking out potential hiding places for someone to spring out, bodies to be buried. Can we ever entirely switch off the writer side of us?

Transitioning to full-time author & creating a space to write

When I began writing The Sister, I would perch on the end of my bed, iPad balanced on knee, for the half an hour each night when my son had independent reading time. Writing was my way to unwind, the way I fought clinical depression after suddenly acquiring a disability and chronic pain. As time marched on and my short story grew and grew I hesitantly invested in a second hand laptop, feeling horribly guilty, in the way most mother’s do, for spending money on myself rather than the kids.

It became clear, when I wrapped up the tale of Grace and Charlie at 90k words that it was a book but it was only after many weeks, and truth be told, many glasses of wine, I felt brave enough to send it out and luckily it got picked up quite quickly.

It was then the whirlwind started.

With The Sister scheduled for publication only six months after I signed my deal, and my editor waiting for book two life became really hectic. Still teaching mindfulness through the business I had spent years building up I wrote The Gift during breaks while simultaneously editing The Sister. I wrote in my car waiting for the kids to come out of school. My ancient laptop was propped open on the breakfast bar while I cooked meals. It came into the utility with me while I squeezed in a few words waiting for the iron to heat (okay I took artistic license with the last one – I NEVER actually iron but you get the picture. I wrote everywhere.) Still, I didn’t have a space in my home to write.

Juggling too many things, my health began to slide and my husband took over the business while I focused on writing The Gift, immediately followed by The Surrogate and then The Date. I wrote on the sofa, at the dining table, in the bedroom, at my son’s desk in his room. Anywhere I could carve out space in our busy house. My ancient laptop took longer and longer to boot up. I found it harder and harder to focus. My notes were scattered all over the house. I had no structure. Rooms were cluttered and so was my mind. Work was everywhere and it was increasingly difficult to switch off. Almost impossible to think of beginning a new book.

Something had to change.

And then an email dropped into my inbox from my publisher ‘Huge congratulations, you’ve surpassed a million English language sales.’ Stunned I shared this with my husband who was thrilled but had a very important question to ask.

‘Is this it now? You’re a full-time writer?’

I hesitated. I’d slipped further and further away from the business but we’d never sat down and talked properly about what I want. What he wants. What it would mean for our family if I could say ‘yes I’m an author’ rather than staring at my shoes and mumbling whenever anyone asks what I do for a living. My career has got off to a flying start with No.1 placements in various charts, in various countries and nineteen translation deals. Time wise I have been writing full-time but I’d still not made that mental shift. I felt a pang of sadness admitting aloud ‘I don’t think I’ll be coming back to the business.’ As much as I hoped one day to find a balance, writing is all consuming and honestly there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.

‘Then we need to find you the space to do that,’ he said.

Last weekend I was away at a literary festival and when I returned home he’d cleared the small study that’s always been his and we spent the week decorating and choosing furniture. For the last few days, I’ve sat at my new desk, in a clutter free room that is mine and mine alone, a blank wall in front of me and I’ve felt more creative than I have in months. Ideas are flowing and I’m genuinely excited at the prospect of writing more books because finally, my name is Louise and I’m a full-time author.

I’m slightly ashamed to say this sideboard is crammed full of notebooks…

LOVE my floating bookshelves & so proud to know many of these authors.

A cosy corner to read the proofs I’m sent.

My desk will NEVER be this tidy again.

My super creative sister has made me a piece of artwork for every book I’ve released (Admittedly I’m TERRIFIED of masks so I sit with my back to this).

A Million Sales & a HUGE Thank You

 

As many of you know writing The Sister was a way for me to cope with losing my mobility, to attempt to take my mind off my chronic pain. To try to claw my way out of clinical depression. Grace and Charlie, along with the other characters in the book transported me to a different world. A joyful world. And little by little I began to feel better.

When Bookouture offered to publish my debut I felt a mixture of excitement and terror. Before I accepted the deal they were proposing I had a long and frank conversation with my prospective editor. I told her I wasn’t really a writer. Shared the reasons I had started writing and admitted that to me the story was real and all I had to do was to type it up. I wasn’t sure I could ever write another novel again. She reassured me that she thought I could but before I would sign I sat and made a list of everyone I thought might buy the book, I really didn’t want them to invest time into me if no-one would ever read it. I told her I was confident of seventeen sales. She told me Bookouture would try to get me a ‘few more than that.’

This week it’s been exactly two years since The Sister was published and thanks to my editor having more faith in me than I had in myself I’ve since written The Gift, The Surrogate and The Date. Today, I’ve learned that I’ve surpassed the million sales mark in English language books (my nineteen translation deals aren’t included in that figure). You can read the official announcement here. Although I should have the words to express how I feel, I just can’t. As much as I try, I can’t envisage a million anything, even chocolate hob nobs. I’m happy, tearful, and incredibly grateful that at a time in my life when I’d really hit rock bottom I decided to tell a story.

This achievement is very much a team effort so a huge thanks all at my digital and audio publishers, Bookouture, my paperback publishers, Sphere and to my agent Rory Scarfe. I’m also very grateful to my family for their continued support.

But most of all, thanks to the readers who have read, reviewed, shared and brighten up my day with emails and messages, not to mention hanging out with me daily on social media. None of it would have been possible without you.

Louise X

Bookouture Publishing Director Jenny Geras said ‘What Louise has achieved in just two years is incredible. What Louise’s readers constantly tell us is that in a crowded genre, her novels stand out as being the most gripping, the hardest to put down, with the best twists and the most standout hooks. We congratulate her on this amazing sales milestone, which couldn’t be more deserved.’

 

Day 14 of my sugar free challenge

It’s been 14 days now since I began my sugar free journey. You can read about why I started it here, and find out how my first week went here. As I stated previously this is not a ‘this is what you should do’ blog but more a ‘this what I’m doing and what works for me’ post. 

Last week I raved about the Sarah Flower’s Sugar Free cookbook which I’m still using. This week I bought her slow cooker book as there’s nothing quite as simple as throwing things in a pot but I was disappointed to find a large proportion of the recipes are in the other book, although admittedly this one is beautifully laid out with photos of the food. 

Speaking of food this experiment has really reignited my passion for cooking. Since landing a book deal meals have been hurriedly thrown together, too often courtesy of M & S. It’s been, while perhaps not a joy to cook from scratch every night, it’s certainly be a joy to eat different meals. The colours are vibrant. The flavours pop. 

Day eight – Yesterday, I thought I was over the withdrawal effects but today I have an incessant, raging thirst that just won’t go. I down bottle after bottle of water. By the evening I’ve drunk so much I’m worried. I turn to Dr. Google (as you do) thoughts of diabetes flashing through my mind and am relieved to find it’s a common side effect from quitting sugar. Phew. I get up about six million times in the night needing a wee. Roll on tomorrow. I have a chuck fridge contents in a pan for lunch (vague recipe below) and roasted chicken, cauliflower and chorizo for dinner. 

 

Day nine – STILL thirsty. Still drinking. Chicken and lentil bake with broccoli rice. Drink more water.

Day ten – This is my lowest day. My what on earth I am doing this when sugar tastes SO good day. I’m tired (barely slept from all the weeing) and I just want someone to cook me dinner. My husband is quite scared to get in the kitchen at the moment, even though he could just bung a chicken in the oven and some veg on. I’m so close to the end and can’t wait until it’s over. I make sausages and cauliflower and butterbean mash. Covered in lashings of onion gravy nobody even realised it wasn’t potato.

 

Day eleven – Today I was feeling marginally more human. I found out my newly published fourth psychological thriller, The Date, had reached No.1 in the charts on both Apple’s iBookstore and Kobo. I decided to celebrate. The wine didn’t quite slip down the way it used and I admit it was a bit of a slog to finish my second glass but I persevered. Once the alcohol haze hit, a LOT quicker than it used to – I wanted to eat. Somehow, and I’m not quite sure how. I managed to refrain from my usual favoured cheese balls and dairy milk and I blitzed some Parmesan in the microwave to make crisps instead. Went to bed feeling very smug.

Day twelve – Woke up feeling like I was going to die! Honestly, it was as though I’d been poisoned. Those two glasses of wine I wouldn’t have given a second thought to drinking two weeks ago have ruined me! I spend the day under a blanket nursing the worst hangover I’ve had since I was a teenager. Not quite so smug now Jensen! I vow NEVER to drink again. I need comforting so whip up a chicken and lentil curry.

Day thirteen – Still, there’s a lingering headache but I feel so much better than yesterday. The Date has now reached the Top 10 on Amazon UK and the Top 20 in the US and although I put a bottle in the fridge I can’t face opening it later. I’m craving something sweet so I adapt a recipe I use for blueberry muffins, using coconut and almond flour and xylitol instead of sugar and I add some lemon zest and juice. We eat them warm with fresh, extra thick cream. 

 

Day fourteen – I’m at the end of my experiment and find that this week I’ve lost 3lbs. This was never about weight, always about health but still…. I do a happy little weight loss dance all the same. I thought I’d be devouring the bar of fruit and nut in the bottom of the fridge for breakfast. Instead I find myself planing a sugar free dinner. My energy levels are higher today than they have been in a long time and I want to sustain, if not improve on that. I think there’s a balance to be found. Eating out has proved tricky, undressed salad and mainly steak. Food should be enjoyed. Life should be enjoyed. Nevertheless I think somewhere along the past two weeks this has morphed from experiment to lifestyle choice. I’m excited to see the continued health benefits. 

Recipes I’ve loved this week

This made a quick and filling lunch and I creatively call it ‘using the festering (ok not quite) veg in the bottom of the fridge.’

I blitzed broccoli in my Magimix until it resembled the size and shape of rice and stir fried it in coconut oil with half a red onion, peppers, diced courgette, and garlic. I topped with tuna and sushi ginger. It took less than 10 minutes and that was with the prep. The same time it would take to make a sandwich but far more nutritious.

Another lunch was feta hash which took the same amount of time as above but I found more filling.

Heat coconut oil and fry half a red onion for a couple of minutes. 

Throw in feta cubes, a tsp of oregano and some cherry tomatoes (Halved).

After a minute or two add three seasoned, beaten eggs and keep stirring until they are at your preferred consistency. Serve on a bed of spinach (which will wilt).

Granted, this doesn’t look hugely (or even marginally) appetising but I promise you it’s good. 

 

 

 

 

 

#Exclusive #Extract #TheDate by Louise Jensen @Fab_Fiction @Bookouture #CrimeThriller #Books #BloggersBlast

Read the first chapter of my new psychological thriller, The Date. Once you’ve met Face Blind Ali, you won’t forget her…

Emma The Little Bookworm

As promised, I am over the bloody moon to have this exclusive extract from The Date to share with you! Eeekkk!

First, here’s the blurb …

Bookouture (21 Jun. 2018)

One night can change everything.

‘I know it as soon as I wake up and open my eyes… Something is wrong.’

Her Saturday night started normally. Recently separated from her husband, Ali has been persuaded by her friends to go on a date with a new man. She is ready, she is nervous, she is excited. She is about to take a step into her new future. By Sunday morning, Ali’s life is unrecognisable. She wakes, and she knows that something is wrong. She is home, she is alone, she is hurt and she has no memory of what happened to her.

Worse still, when she looks in the mirror, Ali doesn’t recognise the face staring back at her…

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