January no-sugar challenge—Week 1 update

January no-sugar challenge—Week 1 update

Avadhut Phatarpekar bio photo By Avadhut Phatarpekar Comment

New year, new challenge

I am fairly active. I like to run and I go bouldering quite often. But I do love my sugar. I can’t help but binge of all sorts of sugary treats every single day. And, with the new year starting, like all ill-fated, makeover-desiring individuals, I decided that I had to kick the habit. So I decided to go cold turkey—for the entire month of January I would not eat anything with added sugar. And it was proving harder than I ever imagined.


This is tougher than it sounds. There was a fundamental problem with my no-sugar challenge. For any diet to work, the key is to never let yourself feel deprived. When this happens, you start getting tempted, and sometimes even overeating the allowed foods. Walk into any major UK supermarket and you will find that a no-sugar criteria eliminates roughly 95% of all available edible items! And that is the problem. It is almost impossible for me to walk into an ASDA, Tesco, or Sainsburys and stock up on healthy alternatives that suite my particular need. If you start reading the ingredients off the back of most food items, you’ll find that most of them contain added sugar. And some of them disguise sugar with one of its many secret names—agave nectar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, or corn syrup solids, dehydrated cane juice, dextrin, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, honey (probably heated and not raw, thereby losing all its nutrients), invert sugar, lactose, maltodextrin, malt syrup, molasses, raw sugar, rice syrup, saccharose, sorghum or sorghum syrop, sucrose, syrup, treacle, turbinado sugar, xylose, etc. Even things you’d not expect to have sugar do have it: almond butter, peanut butter, processed meats, cheeses, savoury snacks, ketchups, cereals, pasta sauces, readymade spicy Indian curries (!!), etc. So I had to be very careful in what I was buying, reading every label twice. I ended up spending thrice as long buying my groceries than I usually would.

In the end, I found that just buying the raw, unprocessed items was easier. And I would then prep them at home for the entire week. So I stocked up on

  1. Whole chicken: Prepped into boiled chicken meat + clear chicken soup. Took me almost 3 hours to do this properly, but well worth it.
  2. Eggs, lots of eggs: Can be boiled, made into fritatas with lots of veggies, etc.
  3. Some processed meats: Very carefully, I selected some Yorkshire ham, which did not have any added sugar. But it is super heavy on salt (thefore, sodium). I need to find an alternative for this next time.
  4. Cheeses: Mozarella and unflavoured cheese strings (all the flavoured ones have sugar).


Question: What can you eat if you can’t eat any form of rice, pasta, or breads? Stumped? So was I. All my years of conditioning told me that these three were the mainstay of any meal. What could possibly be a good enough alternative? I took to the Internet with this one. And it spewed out such abominations as cauliflower rice, zucchini pasta, and spelt bread (bleurgh). I couldn’t accept vegetables to be a servicible substitute for any form or rice, pasta, or bread. But the sad truth is that there is no way out here. I had to stockpile on a lot of veggies.


This was the toughest. Anything pre-made, which you could buy off of supermarket shelves, was not going to be sugar free, as I already found out previously. Even the healthy varities of almond/peanut butter you get in stores in _As nature intended_ or _Wholefoods_, contain glucose. (UPDATE: As Nature Intended does stock several brands of pure almond and peanute butter—no sugar, no salt, no oil. I settled for Carley’s organic whole almond butter.) So I stocked up on a lot of nuts. And I plan to make a lot of my own stuff—pesto, peanut butter, etc. But nuts are high in Selenium and fats, so you need to be careful with these. As I mentioned earlier, the lack of variety could lead me to overeat. That would be harmful, even with the good stuff. I made sure that I did not stockpile things at work. I ended up carrying portion-controlled sizes of these things everyday, just to remove any traces of temptation that might arise.

Withdrawl symptoms

As someone who consumed copious amounts of breads, cookies, hot chocolates on a daily basis, this was bound to happen. It started on Day 7. I was unable to sleep the whole night, with my whole body convulsing periodically. I was sweating, tired, nauseous, and I could do nothing about it. The morning after was even worse. Like a fool, I ran to work and that worsened the condition. By the time I reached office, I collapsed in the shower. I sat down and let the hot water sort of calm me down. I wanted to sleep in the shower, but I managed to dry myself, dress up, and make way to the nearest Tesco. I knew this was going to be tough. I picked up some raw coconut meat, some salted nuts, and cheese strings. I went to work, made myself some green tea, and slowly started eating. It was helping, but not enough. The whole day, I was irritable and could not focus on work.

Things did get better in the evening. And today, as I write this, it is the day after the meltdown. I am feeling normal again. I still have a ton of gas. But nothing like yesterday.

Hopefully, week 2 will be better.