Week 37 — I Tried Living 30 Days Without Refined Sugar.
No sweet drinks. No pastries. No cakes. No ice cream. These are the rules of the game that I set.
When I told my closest friends about my plans to embark on a challenge like that, the bewilderment on their faces was epic!
“Why the hell would you want to do that?” Most of them said.
It was as if I was planning to jump out of a plane with no parachute on…
My answer to them was really simple… Why not?
From a nutritional point of view, refined white sugar provides no long term beneficial value whatsoever, with the exception of an intense short-term energy burst. Quite honestly, one can get more sustainable energy releases from eating rice, bread, noodles or even fruit.
Refined white sugar is a luxury item, it’s not exactly a necessity in daily life for survival. But here in Singapore (and in many other countries) it has turned into a daily staple in all our lives. It’s become almost impossible to fathom a day without sugar in your daily cup of coffee or tea.
It’s fascinating to think about sugar in this light because deep inside most of us, there’s this inner desire, this inner trigger that drives us to want to consume something sweet after a heavy meal.
And so, we quell that desire by indulging in cakes, sweet drinks and company.
The psychological effect of sugar
The effect sugar has on the brain is quite mind-boggling. The state at which it has the ability to alter behaviour is pretty scary!
Just a couple of weeks back, my sister came over with her family and we happened to watch a some survival themed videos in which some of the farmers were digging holes to catch some mud eels in the ground.
So what they did was to pour a bottle of coca cola and a tube of mentos into a hole that they dug, obviously the reaction of coca cola and the mentos was to enhance the ability to catch more mud eels.
The mud eels looked extremely muddy and unsightly but the unusual thing was that my sister and brother-in-law really zoomed into the emotion of having an ice cold bottle of coke and how they would love to have one.
I have to be honest, if I wasn’t on that challenge, I would have been incredibly tempted to drive out to the nearest supermarket to grab a nice bottle of coke.
That was when I realised that many of us truly don’t have a good relationship with sugar, it’s almost like an addiction. How often do people snack while studying for an exam or even go for tea breaks in the middle of a work day?
We tend to use sweet treats as a conduit for relaxation and our emotions tie strongly for that hit of sugar registers on our tongues.
How this challenge came about
This whole challenge came about when I was speaking to my army friend Kelvin during one of our weekly training sessions. He mentioned that he had gone almost 2 years with minimal sugar, cutting out almost all intake of refined sugar and how great he felt doing it.
On top of that, he said that we have turned something good into a drug, many of us have abused our relationship with sugar.
So, for him it wasnt just about the health benefit. It was about wrestling back control of your mind, of your desires and purging out all the ill effects from watching too many coca cola advertisements.
As I listened to him, I realised that I too had given in to the allure of sugar far too many times and it was a subtle transformation over years.
It was time to create a shift in my life.
Our discussion turned towards the mechanism of the challenge. So, the plan was to do 30 days of not consuming refined sugar that included sweet treats, drinks with no sugar (not even coke zero), biscuits and potatoes chips. I was allowed to have regular carbohydrates like white bread, rice and noodles just because it is usually very difficult to stick to a wholegrain diet when you’re eating out.
The only caveat that we placed on the challenge was if I were celebrating someone’s birthday, that I shouldn’t impose my challenge on others or ruin the celebration by not partaking in the cake or food. The point was to not go overboard with the cake or desserts.
Wisdom behind the challenge
I’m just going to put it straight and to the point.
If you can’t live without refined white sugar for just 30 days, I believe that you really need to rethink your diet.
Ask yourself if you are using sugar as a coping mechanism in life, to alleviate stress or to run away from facing difficult situations.
The Pratu team had lunch with Kwai and his daughter a couple of weeks back and She spoke about her research study on the correlation between borderline personality disorder and food (specifically sugar). She spoke about how her professor in charge had observed that many of the patients that underwent treatment for borderline personality disorder were obese and didn’t exactly have a good relationship with food.
Many times people indulge in sugar as a way to patch up unresolved hurts in life or somehow they’ve given up on their health goals somewhere along the way.
When Jesus said that man shall not live on bread alone, I used to think that it was such a pompous airy fairy thing to say. Of course everyone needs food!
But I realised that there is so much wisdom hidden behind that.
Think of it this way, how would your life look like if you only lived for food? Some might actually enjoy that, but consider carefully…
That craving for food or sugar is never satisfied. It only really gets postponed, and every time you feed that craving, you’re basically resetting that counter only for the craving to magically pop right back up the next day.
In short, you’ll never truly be internally satisfied, you may claim that the bubble tea drink you just had was satisfying, but how is that considered satisfactory if you’re right back out there the next day looking for another bubble tea shop?
You will never be truly satisfied with sugar. Not only does it not feed your soul, I would even argue that it’s feeding ON your soul, numbing yourself to the reality of how things are.
How my mind and body felt after the challenge
It definitely wasn’t easy especially in the beginning. The first 7 days felt slow, it felt frustrating that I had to keep saying no to anything sweet.
But after the first 7 days, the diet went along smoother than expected. I had replaced artificial sugary foods with fruits that contain more natural sources of sugar. It kept my energy levels high and helped tremendously with bowel movement.
Apart from that, the most surprising thing was how I felt emotionally balanced! There was no change in how I felt.
Initially, I thought that it would affect my mood and I would get cranky at people. But that wasn’t the case, I was just as happy as I was before the challenge.
That was when I had the epiphany that refined sugar was never really essential in my life!
If I had needed refined sugar in my diet, my body would have reacted very drastically. Instead, I felt normal, my life was normal.
In fact, on the physical front, I performed better during my workout sessions and my weight was starting to increase (from muscle gain I believe).
For those of you who have gotten this far, if you’re struggling with fitness or health, I would strongly recommend that you examine your relationship with food first.
Many times, that is the number one reason for people getting into the poor health situation that they are in (at least from my experience).
Now, obviously I am neither a nutritionist nor a doctor, but it is widely known that if you do want to get better (lose weight, reverse pre-diabetes and other diseases), a balanced diet is essential to your body.
Moving forward, I will continue to stay away from white refined sugar and continue to eat more fruit, but I will however leave 1 day a week to treat myself to certain luxuries.
I don’t see that as a problem and as long as I do not abuse that privilege, it is a solution that I believe can help strike a balance between enjoying the finer things in life and as well as making sure that my body is operating at the highest possible level.
Till next week!