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  • Writer's pictureSandhya Gokal

The year i quit sugar


sugar shaped into a skull with the word QUIT

I walked out of the doctor’s office with my head reeling in shock. How could it be? I had prided myself on being healthy, without even trying. I remembered boasting to my friends, “I can eat whatever I want, and I still stay healthy.” I remembered feeling invincible.


But, like so many before me, my age caught up with my body with a healthy reprimand.


I had pre-diabetes.


The rest of the conversation with the doctor passed by in a blur. Being a pharmacist, I knew the spiel. I had sympathetically patted my patient’s hand as they revealed their diabetec diagnoses to me, all the while secretly heaving a sigh of relief that it wasn’t me.


But now, I had joined their ranks.


That was the single moment I knew it was time to make a serious lifestyle change.


Cue choir angels singing in harmony.


Precursor symptoms:


The symptoms that prompted me to go to the doctor were:


  • Breathless after meals

  • Heart palpitations

  • Extreme fatigue

What happened next.


If you’ve ever been hit with a health diagnosis, no matter how inconsequential, or how significant, you probably know the phenomenon I speak of. The moment your life journey crystallises, your years of experience consolidating, to make a momentous turn and shift into a new identity.


My identity shift was from a chocolate loving foodie who couldn’t resist food in front of me to a healthy person who carefully decided what each morsel of food taken in would do to my body before deciding whether to ingest it. Oddly specific, I know, but we’ll come to that.


Sugar-free, I choose you!


A pikachu toy looking into a mirror
Pikachu, I choose you!

I’m against crash diets. It comes from long years as a pharmacist watching patient’s come in with crazy bouncing weight issues, and a natural rebellious streak that would rear its head anytime someone mentioned that I had to restrict anything food related.


After being told that if I continued down this path, I would have to start on medication, I knew I had to make a lifestyle change, one that would last, one that was NOT short term.


I stumbled upon the sugarless lifestyle after watching a few documentaries and reading about the dangers of high fructose corn syrup, as well as my own research over the years about what foods and nutrients the body needed to function optimally. When I realised the true impact of sugar on the human body, I decided I wanted to cut it out from my diet, and experiment with a sugar-free life.


Thus began the tale of sugar-free Sandhya.


The Experimental Parameters


I knew it wasn't going to be a quick and easy process. I am pretty addicted to sugar: in high school I used to eat a small block of chocolate everyday (I wish I were joking). As I grew to adulthood, I could polish off a pack of Tim-Tams by myself. I had no self-control around food. Once I had a sugary snack I liked, chances are they would make a daily appearance in my food diary. Some of my sugary companions have included:


- Eclairs

- The fujisan bread from breadtop

- Apple turnovers/apple pie

- Cupcakes/muffins


So I knew it wasn't going to be easy, nor would it take only a few moments to break myself of the habits of a lifetime.


My first foray into sugar-free life took me to a grand forest with a wise sage known as Eric Edmeades.


Wildfit

A plate of fruit on a stack of magazines, arranged on red satin

Eric Edmeades, well renowned in the world of evolutionary biology and nutritional anthropology, has a “7 days to breaking up with sugar” program. I'm extremely glad I started with this program.


It’s free, which prompted me to sign up straight away. No risk, no chance of being sucked into a scheme where I had to join and then subscribe and then buy products and then find out that I can’t tolerate the products because of sulphites and then descend into a puddle of despair. (True story. But for another time, perhaps.)


What i learnt from this program:


7 days, each day with its own new insight, led me to learn about the effect of sugar on my body. On MY body, not a generalised human body.


In the 5 years prior to participating in this program, I suffered silently from IBS.


After these 7 days, I finally realised my suffering was of my own making.


No matter what lifestyle change you make, I cannot stress the importance of slowing down enough. Not an easy thing to do, but the benefits are infinite.


Back to sugar, I realised that I was eating way too much sugar, way too fast, and overloading my system to the point that it could no longer handle the amount I was ingesting.


Part of the 7 days involved observing what the sugary food did to your body after specific intervals (30 minutes, 1 hour, 3 hours) and noticing how this affected energy levels.


Another day saw fruit being consumed in the morning, and noticing how that affected your body and energy levels.


Both these actions had the profound impact of lessening the sugar cravings that popped up throughout the day. They silenced the Sugar spirit.


Yes, I like to think there is a sugar monster inside us (similar to the one in the anime film, Spirited away) that pops up in glee anytime we are confronted with sugary substances.



Key Takeaways:


  • To SLOW DOWN and see exactly how I felt after eating sugary foods.

  • To consume fruit in the morning (the time where you have the highest energy requirements after essentially fasting for 7-9 hours)


Hypnosis


A spiral staircase going down

I lied back on the couch, as the hypnotherapist, who looked oddly like the pokemon, Hypno, waved a pocket watch mesmerizingly in front of my face, until all I could see were spirals and I was a cartoon character.


Of course, I’m joking.


Hypnosis is the single best decision I took towards becoming sugar-free Sandhya.


Hypnosis works by influencing your subconscious by changing states of awareness to that of the inner experience, and enacting mental change in that space. It is a well studied branch of psychotherapy, influencing the behaviour of thousands of individuals across the globe. Hypnosis uses imagery to influence the right brain (the emotional side), or our “unconscious.” Hypnosis is so powerful it is used readily in the medical industry, with astonishing results - for example studies showing that it can even reduce the chance of side-effects in patients using breast cancer medication!


The program I embarked on this time was by another Mindvalley expert, Marisa Peer. Marisa Peer is a world-famous hypnotherapist who has developed a unique technique called Rapid Transformational Therapy (or RTT). She has several digital products around weight-loss, sleep and money mindset amongst others.


How I decided to use this program


I like doing my research before I join any program or purchase any product, as I know many of you would do, given that we live in the age of information. Before purchasing this product, I watched all of Marisa Peer’s talks, found on Youtube. Her message, “You are enough” echoed in the 2023 Barbie movie by Ken (I am Kenough hehehe) came at a time when I was struggling with self-love and not understanding why I could never be satisfied and content with the progress I was making.


I was intrigued, and decided to go ahead with the hypnosis program. Turns out it was definitely the right decision.


It’s a 6 week implementation period followed by ongoing hypnosis. The appeal was the self-application - you get pre-recorded hypnosis tracks, as well as an audiobook that details how to use the hypnosis tapes.


Two things to watch out for. Personally, I found going into hypnotic states tough on my muscles, but this also happens with breathwork and any activity where I have to stay extremely still.. Additionally, there were several occasions where being in the hypnotic state made my mind feel as if I were expanding, and I had to bring myself out of hypnosis for a short while before resuming. These went away as I kept going through the 6 weeks.


As an added bonus, the hypnosis tapes helped me sleep super well!


Psychotherapists and hypnotherapists are not the only practitioners of hypnosis. Coaches are beginning to use hypnosis as a tool in their coaching knapsacks to improve goal success. Next time you are reviewing the skills of a coach you are interested in, be sure to add this to your checklist! (Hypnosis is definitely one of the tools I keep sharp and clean in my toolkit!)


Key Takeaways:


  • Hypnosis, despite having a bad name, is an amazing tool to influence the subconscious to enact real, lasting change.

  • Self-Hypnosis is time-consuming, requiring at least 30 minutes per day for a decent period of time, but well-worth experiencing as the results can be long-lasting and carry forward with you throughout your lifespan

  • Hypnosis, like any practice, cannot be used on it’s own; rather, it should be used as part of a series of lifestyle changes!*

  • Before making any change through hypnosis, it is extremely important to be crystal clear on what you want the change to look like! Define your rules.


THE PURGE

a medieval kitchen pantry

My dream pantry. *sighs dreamily* so much burlap!


Before this point, I focused on improving my relationship with these products by neutralising any negative feelings that came up on consumption, like pouring basic solution on acid. This involved observing when I felt guilty over eating certain products, examining why that was happening and changing my relationship with said products. (For the purposes of this experiment, I used homemade double chocolate ice cream, deliciously decadent to the extreme.)



I started this section of the experiment 1 week into the hypnosis program. The Grand Purge is the part where all foods I considered outside the scope of sugar-free Sandhya were extracted and eliminated from my pantry.


The Research

To do this, armed with my knowledge as a pharmacist as well as the information I gleaned from the programs above, I did a deep dive on the different INGREDIENTS that can be classified as sugar. My requirements for something to be considered a sugar alternative but not make the cut for consumption were:


  • Negative effects on blood sugar levels

  • Immflamatory effects

  • Effect on weight


Over 3 weeks, I went through my entire kitchen and removed any food that had any ingredient that I classified as sugar. This included hidden sugars like mannitol, sugar substitutes like coconut sugar and agave, and honey. Some of the foods that surprised me were the condiments - almost ALL pre-packaged condiments contain some form of sugar, and canned goods, which often contain sugar as part of the preservatives. Peanut butter was another devastating realisation, but luckily natural, no additive peanut butter is on the rise!



Key Takeaways:


  • This is not an easy task. If this is something you are undertaking, take some time.

  • Being super clear on what I wanted my sugar intake to be (none, as I know if I give myself an inch, my mind will take over a small chocolate country)

  • Getting your household members on board will aid this process SO MUCH! I am forever grateful that my husband, the main chef in our house, agreed to this change and was so supportive. If you are in a situation where others in the house would like to eat things you wish to avoid, have a section in the pantry and fridge which is specific to those foods, preferably out of sight and reach.

  • In order to prevent too much food wastage, I had to find ways to offload the foods to others! I gave a lot of my condiments to family members and friends. For anything unopened like cans and dry goods, I donated them to food drives.



THE DIETARY TURNABOUT


healthy foods

I decided to cut out all carbohydrates that were not naturally occurring, in their raw form or had to be produced in a factory. The foods that didn’t make the cut included rice, pasta, chocolate, bread and flour. My research also led me to cut out some dairy products, as lactose is also a form of sugar, and as you age, it becomes harder to process.


The foods that remained were


  • All vegetables - including potato but I limited my intake to once a week,

  • All fruits - with no restriction on intake. I figured since I was cutting out all other sugary snacks, restricting my fruit intake was not a sacrifice I was willing to make. There is some research that shows that increasing your fruit intake actually aids in weight loss, because the benefits of eating whole fruit are extensive, including nutritional value, fibre and satiety

  • Any ancient grain - quinoa, amaranth, farro and freekah included

  • Meat and eggs

  • Nuts and seeds


I never subscribed to any one dietary guide, so I took my inspiration from the mediterranean diet, the keto diet, the whole foods diet and the raw diet. I also have an intense aversion to restricting my food intake, because I know it makes me overeat like crazy to compensate, so my dietary guidelines erred on the side of foods that I didn’t have to limit.


I will add here that I lived my whole life in a household where it was necessary to experiment with recipes catering to food requirements (vegetarian, vegan, no egg etc), so cooking was not a huge problem as I was very used to recipe substitutions and being able to find good alternatives. So that was an advantage I started with.


GREAT RESOURCES


To become sugar-free we had to really search for sugar alternatives, the benefits and pitfalls and recipes we could use to still create delicious food


Some of the greatest discoveries I made are below:


  • Xylitol and erythriol are amazing sugar substitutes. Xylitol, made from tree saps such as birch trees, is a 1:1 sugar substitute that is a bit sweeter than sugar but DOES NOT increase blood sugar levels. It is extremely versatile in baking and cooking, and easy to add to coffee and tea. It has great benefits to dental hygiene and you will often find it in chewing gum. The one big downside is that it is toxic to dogs. Erythriol comes from the stevia leaf and is also a great sugar substitute, often preferred by the main sugar-free bakers. It is also a 1:1 substitution and comes in many forms, including drops, powder and tablets. It has a bit of a different aftertaste though, so be aware of that when baking.


  • Sugar free londoner and Wholesome yum have amazing sugar-free recipes. If you are really struggling to find sugar-free recipes, remember that Keto recipes focus on low carb, so this is a great place to start. Keto recipes generally contain a lot of dairy, so this is something to consider when cooking.


  • In Australia, the sugar-free movement has started gaining traction. If you really love your sweet treats, brands like Noshu and Denada make amazing low-sugar products which taste almost as good as the real thing! Keep an eye out, but always remember to check the ingredients lists. Remember, the less ingredients a product has, the better. Sugarless is a brand that has been around for ages that also makes great sugar-free chocolate. Check out their crunchy balls - just like Maltesers, but no sugar!


MOVING FORWARD


The results of my sugar-free Sandhya experiment


Sugar is much more pervasive than I had imagined in the beginning. The production of high fructose corn syrup was so easy and cheap that it has crept into almost all foods produced in America. Sugar makes things delicious and easy to consume.


The downside of sugar is that it is addictive. In fact, studies show that sugar is as addictive as drugs like heroin and cocaine. It produces the same effect on dopamine as these substances! How crazy is that?


Cutting sugar out of my diet meant I had more energy. My breathlessness disappeared. I lost weight (8kgs in 6 weeks) and maintained that weight loss! I became a lot more food savvy and chose my foods wisely. My husband and I came up with snacks and recipes that we still enjoyed, but that used whole foods. Better still, I started making a lot of things from scratch because I couldn’t find any pre-made substitutes that were readily available and didn’t contain sugar. I still, to this day, make my own mayonnaise and it is a therapeutic process for me!


I became a stronger person because I was forced to create boundaries around what I ate, and enforce them with family and friends. It was so hard, but now I feel like I have complete freedom to choose what I put into my body, without societal pressure to eat what is situationally “appropriate” (eg. cake for birthdays).


The thing about making changes like this is that once you change your identity and reinforce that daily with yourself, it starts becoming an effortless part of who you are. I thought that when I made this change, it would be impossible to stick to it, but eventually, the people around me just accept this as a normal dietary restriction, like eating no eggs, or having a food allergy.


And thus ends the story of Sugar-Free Sandhya.


A few years later, I had to relax my rules around being sugar-free due to gestational diabetes (you have to consume some forms of carbs there to check how your body is processing sugars) but it was so easy to come back to my normal sugar-free lifestyle after having the baby.


If you are thinking of making the jump into a sugar-free life, I hope my story has helped you, inspired you or just given you a bit of a headstart into it! Good luck, and let me know in the comments if you have any other strategies that you use!



*As a pharmacist and health coach, I cannot stress this point enough. If you are going to the gym and doing only spot exercises to develop one particular muscle, you may see results but your results will be far grander if you concentrate on a well-rounded exercise regimen including weight training, flexibility, cardio and rest days. Similarly, making changes to one part of your health habits without changing any others will prove slow and unwieldy. Make sure you are holistic in your view of your health habits and lifestyle changes!


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