Testing The Sugar-Free Diet: Does It Work?

Here at Mochi, we constantly talk about how to improve our health and ways to treat our bodies better. It was during such a discussion that I volunteered to tackle a two-week sugar-free challenge.

The day before I started, I told myself: “Alright, Kelly. Mind over matter. No refined sugars or carbs. No free work snacks. Just healthy stuff.” (That’s what I like to call dark, leafy greens, crunchy carrots, lean meats, a lot of water, and fruits—all of which took over my typical meals and snacks.)

Braised beef over romaine, grape tomatos, red cabbage

Braised beef over romaine, grape tomatos, red cabbage

But first things first: What does a sugar-free diet actually look like?

For breakfast, I had plain Greek yogurt with a handful of almonds. For lunch, I alternated between a combination of lean meats and mixed vegetables, and a meal of one steamed beef or pork bun, carrots, and one boiled egg with a side of fruit. For dinner, I stayed away from anything too glutinous or starchy, keeping it small and simple with eye-of-round beef and a side of mixed vegetables.

Sticking to this plan was easier on some days and more difficult on others. There were instances when I was tempted to grab a free slice of pizza or a chocolate chip cookie at work. Seven days into the challenge, I caved about two times—not bad, I think, for a first try. On a particularly beautiful day, I couldn’t help but find myself in the Sprinkles cupcake shop. I bought two cupcakes for a friend of mine who really needed a pick-me-up, and we ended up eating some of both. I blame late nights and girl talk, but mostly myself.

Edamame, spinach, grapefruit & avocado salad

Edamame, spinach, grapefruit & avocado salad

After nine days, though, I lost 2 pounds. And when I visited my boyfriend with just a few days left on the diet, he stared at me and said, “Wow! You lost weight.” I realized that the trick to maintaining my self-control was to focus on my goal—after which I could usually convince myself to snack on a grapefruit or a handful of nuts instead of something less healthy. Keeping a food diary and logging my eating habits also helped me stay on track.

When the challenge finally ended, I lost a total of 4 pounds. (Note: I also worked out four times a week as part of a healthy lifestyle.) But it’s not just about the numbers on a scale. Being on a sugar-free, exercise-filled routine gave me so much more energy. I’ve been waking up earlier, working out harder, and going into work earlier, too.

It has to be said, though: I don’t think a sugar-free diet is sustainable in the long run, because it’s extremely restrictive. Avoiding sugar in every meal likely means you won’t eat at a restaurant ever again. But I was really pleased that I’d reset my palate. Now, I can’t even stomach anything with excess sugar in it.

So rather than cutting out sugar forever, I’ve decided to continue being healthy in a different way. (One tip I learned from Jillian Michaels’ Slim for Life book really resonated with me: If it doesn’t have a mother or grow from the ground, don’t eat it.) I now stay away from processed foods Monday through Friday and try to eat as cleanly as possible during the week. During the weekends, I let myself indulge a little. After all, you only live once.

For any of you considering a sugar-free diet, here are some additional tips I’ve learned firsthand on how to stay sane and healthy while you’re doing it.

Homemade lettuce wraps with tofu, beef, scallion, and chestnut filling

Homemade lettuce wraps with tofu, beef, scallion, and chestnut filling

1. Change “I can’t” to “I can, but I don’t want it.”
A positive attitude makes all the difference. Instead of thinking about what you can’t eat, focus on what you’ll get out of the diet. Look at junk food and say, “I can have it, but I don’t want it as much as I want to be healthy.”

2. Don’t miss a meal.
Many dieters think that missing a meal or two is an easy way to lose weight quickly—but they couldn’t be more wrong. If you skip meals, you’ll gain the weight back (and then some) and you’ll end up binge eating later. Stick to three main meals a day, or a smaller meal every four hours, to ensure that your blood sugar levels don’t spike too high or dip too low.

3. Plan out your meals.
If you’re going to tackle this challenge, don’t wait until the last minute to decide what you’re eating for dinner. After a long day at work, school, internship, or other obligations, you’ll be more inclined to pick the quickest thing to eat—which will likely be unhealthy. Instead, buy all of your ingredients on Sunday and plan out all three meals for every day of the upcoming week.

4. Diversify your plate.
Did you know you can actually trick your brain into thinking you’ve eaten more than you have? Nip overeating in the bud simply by diversifying what’s on your plate. Take five to six different foods (say, chicken, egg, sweet peppers, walnuts, and cantaloupe) and spread it out on a plate in small portions over a bed of mixed greens. You’ll be able to eat a little bit of a lot—which makes you think you’ve eaten more than you have—without overeating.

5. It’s OK if you cave.
Don’t expect to be perfect the first time. If you end up grabbing a chocolate bar on the third day of your sugar-free diet, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, re-orient yourself and remind yourself why you’re on the diet in the first place. Then just keep going. Once you start seeing results, you’ll feel empowered and find that self-discipline isn’t so hard after all.

Photos courtesy of Kelly Fong