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The Dangers of Sugar

2 years ago / by Sweta Vikram
Image courtesy of Sweta Vikram

The pandemic might have started in 2020, but it continues to derail us even today. People are exhausted and feeling broken. A cold January 2022 along with the spread of Omicron didn’t help either. People are coping and not always making the wisest choices because the burnout is real.

Ayurveda teaches us that our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being are intertwined. One impacts the other, but most of us forget this simple fact. I have shared this before: My 2021 literally started with the news of one of my best friends losing her son in an accident. A month or two later, I saw one of my dearest friends devolve. In the summer of 2021, another dear friend died of a heart attack. He was healthy, fit, and much loved. He died all alone. All young people with such an untimely ending. The grief from the losses made me lose a part of my childhood and sense of safety. Between all other hospitalizations and deaths because of the Delta Variant in India, I felt nothing was under control.

Yoga teaches us that we must show up to our mat and daily practices, no matter the external circumstances or inner commotion. Those days when we don’t feel like it or can’t find the motivation is when we need our grounding practices the most. I showed up to life daily. I worked out every day (between gym, weight training, and hiking) to keep my mental health strong. I did asanas, meditation, and pranayama to heal from the losses. I did karma yoga to help others and make an impact in the world. I connected deeply with my loved ones. I continued teaching, speaking, and learning all things Ayurveda, mindfulness, and yoga. Despite all the self-care, I cheated on my wellness.

Refined sugar and I found each other.

Now, I don’t drink sodas and my wine consumption isn’t worth mentioning. Breads, cereal, granola, fruit drinks, cookies, candy, baked goods, fruit yoghurt, tea with sugar aren’t part of my diet. We don’t keep frozen foods or canned goods in our home because Ayurveda teaches us that foods with long shelf lives are tamasic and have no nutritional value.

When I was least expecting, white sugar became my confidante in the form of desserts. I didn’t realize how much damage a mix of gluten and sugar can do, even if you eat it just twice a week. Every time a friend or a family member died, I was there for them. Then dessert was there for me. My body got inflamed. Science has shown that chronic, low-grade inflammation can turn into a silent killer that contributes to cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and other conditions.

I would often wake up to stabbing, persistent pain in the body. My face often looked puffy, and there was definitely water retention in the body. The Energizer Bunny in me felt perpetually drained out. My sleep got messy. I had a parched throat at night and disrupted slumber. Did I mention that my brain started to feel foggy? Sometimes, even though I was happy and content, a part of me felt low.

What we eat will impact how we think and feel. When you eat clean, live mindfully, and move daily, any toxins (nicer word for “dietary crap”) you include in your diet, the body will rebel against it. I work in wellness, coach my clients about Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle, teach Ayurveda, conduct mindfulness workshops, and live yoga even off the mat. Despite living inside a world of awareness, I fell prey to the dangers of sugar. I am grateful that I was able to quickly identify the negative effects of sugar before more damage was done. I AM OK NOW. I hiked a volcano in Costa Rica in December and went for a 20-mile hike in the rain forests, so I feel like my old self again.

But this process took time and help even though I didn’t consume refined sugar in any other form. It mostly took a deep look at myself and accepted that I was skimping on my self-care practices and not pausing sufficiently. I had compassion fatigue but felt guilty turning people away. Sugar held a “sweet spot” for me. I started to build better boundaries around other people’s suffering, so I can continue to support them without personalizing their pain. I created boundaries around myself and stopped making excuses for certain detrimental choices. I couldn’t blame COVID, remote working, unable to see friends and family as regularly as I would have liked for my mindlessness around desserts. To paraphrase Buddha, suffering is inevitable. It’s how we respond to it that matters most.

For about 2-3 months, I completely cut white sugar out of my diet, which meant NO mithai on Diwali, pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, cake on our anniversary, or champagne on New Year’s Eve. In the beginning, there was temptation. But all it took was a little shift in the mindset. Instead of feeling deprived, I reminded myself that I could eat any dessert in the world whenever I wanted. But that wouldn’t bring back deceased loved ones. Eating dessert would certainly make me sick. All I had to do was make the choice that benefited me. Self-care is revolutionary!

Cutting down dessert from my life has been well worth it. The inflammation is way down, and my energy levels are back up. Now when I want dessert, I pay attention to the signals: is it a coping mechanism or do I truly want a few bites of something decadent? My Pitta-mind is happy to have taken back the remote control from white sugar.

Desserts bring us joy! I am the first one to admit. But if you want to lead a balanced life, you might want to pay attention to your relationship with sugar. Understand how it can affect your health and well-being. Studies have shown that sugar can interfere with the way your body fights disease. During the pandemic, especially, the last thing you need is a compromised immunity. Not to forget sugar can mess up your metabolism, lead to cardiovascular issues, create tooth decay, and add to weight gain, which can create a host of other illnesses. Excessive sugar intake also puts adults and children at a risk for developing high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and elevated cholesterol levels.

Your wellness is your responsibility even if you are feeling emotionally burnt out and physically wiped out. Ask for help. You don’t have to do it alone. Eat healthy, stay active, and take less stress.

Your diet is a bank account. Good food choices are good investments.” ~ Bethenny Frankel

For more of The Balanced Life, check out Stop Parenting Your Partner