Keen to build her fitness, health and confidence, mum-of-three Jennifer Ellison, decided to enter the Sugar Free Farm for a new three-part series that assesses the real damage it can cause. The actress and Dance Mums presenter tells Susan Griffin about the surprising experience it proved to be
WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO TAKE PART IN SUGAR FREE FARM?
I was in a rut. I had two babies quite close together and then straight away I opened my dance studio. It was only two weeks before I gave birth to my youngest son, Charlie, that I got the keys to the building, and there was so much work to be done. So straight after having my caesarean, it was all systems go. I really neglected myself and took no time for myself at all, and I didn’t look after my fitness or my health. So Sugar Free Farm came along, and I just thought to myself, I’ve actually got a really bad problem. My family and husband had been telling me for years and I suddenly thought I really needed to do this for me.
WHAT WAS YOUR SUGAR INTAKE LIKE BEFORE THE SERIES?
I consumed a lot of sugar with sweets and chocolates. It just kept me going through the day when I’m really busy. But the worst thing for me was cans of Coke. I’d have six to eight cans a day, which is terrible. You think it’s not that bad because it’s liquid, but it’s actually worse. It was just really shocking and quite disturbing when you’re confronted with it and the consequences.
WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST CONCERN GOING IN?
Being away from home and not being able to cheat. When you’re stripped away of everything and living on a farm, it’s going to be really hard. Obviously, being away from my boys worried me. It was strange and scary. I burst into tears the first night at the dinner table because it was really daunting. Plus, I’d never had a day without sugar before. I was terrified of what was going to happen to my body and the withdrawal symptoms I’d have.
HOW BAD WERE THE WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS?
I got hit the hardest with withdrawal, as my sugar intake was the highest. I was picking carrots with Jane (McDonald) on the farm and every time I bent down, I felt like someone was standing on my eyeballs. I felt physically sick. I had the worst headache I’ve ever, ever felt. If you’ve ever detoxed, take that feeling and times it by 10. We were detoxing from processed food, sugar, alcohol, everything. It was literally like someone had put my head in a vice and was just twisting it and twisting it. I went straight to bed when I got in and when I woke up the next morning, I still felt a bit groggy, but I started to turn a corner.
WHAT WAS THE MOST SURPRISING THING YOU LEARNT ABOUT SUGAR?
It was the tricks that companies use to get us to buy things that have sugar in them. Angelique (the nutritionist) gave us a test where we were given about 13 drinks, which we had to line up in order of the amount of sugar in them. There was Coke, vitamin drinks, water, coconut water, flavoured drinks and a pint of cider. I was so shocked that the vitamin water came out top for sugar, even more than a can of Coke - and it’s supposed to be healthy.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE SUGAR-FREE MEAL COOKED ON THE FARM?
The pizza was lovely actually, and the chicken nuggets and chips. We made sweet potato fries and proper breaded chicken nuggets with organic chicken. And we made a tomato sauce with tomatoes and onions, it was absolutely gorgeous. It was great to know you can make healthy versions of things, which are still tasty, especially being a mum.
HAVE YOU TRIED OUT ANY OF THE RECIPES ON YOUR HUSBAND AND SONS?
There are no fizzy drinks in our house at all now and I haven’t touched a can of Coke since I left the farm. It’s been a massive change for me. Now we try and have water and you couldn’t really get me to drink water before. My intake of sugar has dropped by 90 per cent. I haven’t eliminated it altogether, but I’ve made massive changes.
HAS YOUR CONFIDENCE IMPROVED SINCE TAKING PART?
It’s definitely changing. When you lose a stone and a half, you feel better health-wise but I’m feeling better about myself physically now too. I’ve still got a way to go, but I can feel my confidence coming back. I’ve just been in panto and the confidence I felt on stage was so much more than last year.
:: Sugar Free Farm begins on ITV on Tuesday, January 26