The short term effects on mind (alertness, better sleep, engagement, attentiveness) and body (weight reduction, energy, stamina) is quite incredible, says Kunal Bahl...
Most people who know me, know that I am into food in a big way. I don't miss the opportunity to try out a new place that opens in my city.
When I travel, I make it a point to try out the most interesting foods of that place. In summary, I am one of those people who consider food as one of the greatest joys of life, and don't mind indulging myself.
Within food, I simply love desserts. If I could, I would give up eating normal, savoury food and only eat desserts for all meals.
Very few days of the week would go by without my having a post dinner dessert fix - chocolate, ice-cream, or pretty much anything sweet I could get my hands on. To say that I have a sweet tooth is an understatement.
While still being on the right side of my 30s, post my daughter's birth I had a growing desire to start living healthier, with the simple goal of living longer and maximising the time I spend with her in her lifetime.
While I exercise quite regularly, my food habits have tended to neutralize much of that effort. Hence, a few weeks before she turned 2 years old on Dec 31, 2017, I decided that I will give up sugar - hold on - not forever, but only for a month to begin with.
Even then, it would be tough to articulate how much mental preparation went into strengthening my mind about giving up all the yum desserts, chocolates and ice-creams that have been an integral part of my life since childhood.
So, I went cold turkey with my sugar abstained diet - which meant I would not eat or drink anything that had sugar (white/brown) in it for a month. Fruits were ok.
A month has passed, and I wanted to share my experience, as I believe there may be many others out there who are constantly thinking about leading a longer, healthier life, but don't know where to start or what to expect once they do.
The first few days were a bit challenging, mostly because of muscle memory of reaching for the refrigerator after dinner. Somehow it seemed like the meal was incomplete and there was a particular taste (sweet one!) that was missing in the meal.
It did help that I had ensured that there were no sweet goodies stocked in the fridge. As they say in Hindi "Na rahegi baans, na bajeygi baansuri" (roughly: If there is no bamboo available, there will be no music from the flute)
For years, I have been drinking only one cup of coffee a day (no tea). But drinking coffee without sugar seemed like a punishment for the first few days.
Why would someone drink something so bitter early in the morning? But I decided to suffer through it given I felt I needed a caffeine fix to break free the cobwebs in my head early in the morning.
Going out for dinners became harder, because everyone around me was ordering their desserts, and here I am, the person who loves desserts the most, sitting and watching everyone chomp through their mountains of ice cream towering in a bed of chocolate sauce, cheesecakes with strawberries, lemon tarts, tiramisu and the list goes on.
The first time I said no to ordering a dessert after a meal, it seemed like I was doing something wrong, just because it was an act so unfamiliar and unexperienced before.
Everyone around me paused for a second in disbelief. But, I held my ground despite the generous and well-intentioned encouragement with words like "it's ok, you can have it today - don't have it after today." or the extremely dangerous "just have a bite". But, I sipped my green tea while everyone ate their desserts. Some signs of resolve and success started showing.
Two weeks passed, and now the urges started going down. The coffee started tasting less bitter even though there was still no sugar in it.
I realised that Starbucks has ONLY 3 options of coffee without sugar pre-mixed in some form of syrup or sauce - Americano (am not a black coffee person), Cappuccino and Latte. But it was fine. The bitterness was no longer bothering me.
The other thing I started noticing was that my stamina started increasing while exercising.
Maybe it had to do with the fact that I lost a few kilos quite rapidly - or maybe because my metabolism increased - or maybe it was all in my mind given I was self aware of the sugar free diet.
But the difference was quite noticeable. I could run more, do more push-ups, lift more weights and not be panting endlessly after a workout.
Fruits. Suddenly, most fruits seem sweeter. We get our fruits from the same fruit seller every day, and while they don't look any different, they certainly have started tasting better.
I would keep telling my wife for a few days, that we must be getting some special variety of fruit which just tasted sweeter. But in fact, there was no change in the fruit seller or the variety of the fruits.
My taste buds just starting appreciating natural sugars a lot more. Strawberries that seemed sour and undesirable now starting tasting (sugary!) sweet.
Finally, towards the end of the month of sugar abstinence, I could visibly tell that my mind was much more alert.
I was able to pay a lot more attention, especially in long meetings or calls. I was less distracted in general and very focused.
Everyone's work requires them to be alert and focused, and if just one month of sugar abstinence could lead to this, then that's quite incredible.
I sort of empathise with what Bradley Cooper may have felt in the movie Limitless, but a more realistic and toned down version of that.
Now my one month is up. With the results I have seen, it is clear to me that human bodies and minds are not meant to intake the kind of sugar our diets usually have.
The short term effects I have seen on mind (alertness, better sleep, engagement, attentiveness) and body (weight reduction, energy, stamina) is quite incredible.
While building the mental strength of saying no to sweet goodies is getting easier with time, it is going to be tough to continue with this into perpetuity.
Nonetheless, with the original motivation of life extension for the sake of my daughter, I am planning on extending my sugar abstinence for another month.
Let's see how it goes! Wish me luck!(The author is cofounder and CEO of Snapdeal. Views expressed are personal. The article was first published here on LinkedIn.)