This week, I Quit Sugar author Sarah Wilson announced that she has returned to sugar. The wellness guru and founder of the I Quit Sugar program, and the I Quit Sugar online community, is no longer taking her own advice.
Wilson, who is promoting her latest book First We Make the Beast Beautiful, told the Daily Mail website that she now loves "freaking people out by eating cake", and that she eats chocolate and drinks wine "every day".
Off again, on again sugar commentator, Sarah Wilson.Credit:James Brickwood
Now, I applaud anyone who forgoes restrictive eating and moves on to a more sensible, inclusive diet. There are innumerable articles about the dangers of restrictive diets , and plenty of research about the toxicity of diet culture. A diet heavy in sugar is certainly bad for you, but there is no evidence that quitting all sugar – even fructose, as required by the I Quit Sugar program – is medically necessary for health and well-being.
We shouldn’t criticise Wilson for changing paths. There is traditionally a backlash on wellness influencers who renege on their diets, and this is unjustified and unfair. We are all allowed to revise our philosophies and our eating habits depending on our health and our circumstances.
Human beings grow and change, physical and emotional needs change, and we all lose and gain new beliefs. This is okay.
Sarah Wilson’s return to sugar isn’t an indictment on her, but it is certainly an indictment on us, the consumer, for blindly following her advice. At it’s peak, the I Quit Sugar community had over 2.3 million members, and her business made over $2.7 million dollars annually.
And yet Sarah Wilson is not a medical professional. She is an ex-magazine editor and ex-television presenter who decided to write a book. Wilson claims to have worked with medical professionals, but never published any findings about the validity of her program. And yet we took her word as gospel, buying her books, making her recipes, and following her diet plan.
Wilson falls into the same category as Paleo guru Pete Evans, an un-medically qualified, interested party who wrote a diet that became a religion. And all credit to both Wilson and Evans for building their respective empires. We are all entitled to write books about whatever we fancy. And Wilson claims that she now donates much of her profits to charity, for reasons she outlines on her blog.
But there are problems with both Sarah Wilson and Pete Evans as wellness influencers. Evans is a notorious anti-vaxxer, famous for recommending an environmentally unfriendly meat-heavy diet, and potentially dangerous "bone broth" in lieu of formula for young babies.
And Sarah Wilson is a recovered bulimic who has promoted an exceptionally restricted eating plan, which includes giving up all fruit for the first eight weeks. Though she claims to have beaten bulimia in her twenties, Wilson wrote a highly emotive, and, frankly, disturbing account of "lapsing" and eating two chocolate croissants in a (now revised) post back in 2013. She wrote about "panic" after eating the two croissants, about feeling "prickly and anxious and unsettled", and of needing to go "sit under a tree" to recover.
But we, the consumers, didn’t care. We didn’t care that someone with no scientific backing, and a clearly disordered relationship with food, was telling us how to eat. We lapped it up. And we continue to lap up the advice of unqualified people all over the internet, whether we are buying magic slimming tea from fashion influencers, or refusing to vaccinate our babies because a chef told us not to.
We all need to smarten up. We all need to use our powers of critical analysis and start examining the messenger, as well as the message. We need to distinguish between valid and invalid sources of information, and turn to actual health professionals about matters of health. We need to reject our influencer gurus, and embrace empirical research from medicine and science.
Sarah Wilson has ultimately rejected her own advice. Perhaps this is the one lesson from her we should learn.
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