I Did the 7-Day Sugar Challenge and It Taught Me Some Surprising Things

The word sugar scares just about every health professional out there, and for good reason. It's been linked to premature skin aging, diabetes, heart disease and more, and much more of it is consumed by Americans each year than those in other countries. Despite all the destruction it can cause, I can't deny my raging sweet tooth. I often find myself eating something sweet every night before bed—a cookie, a piece of candy, etc—and I'm never one to turn down dessert after dinner. If there's a sampler with a little bit of everything, even better. 

So a few weeks ago when one of my friends (a nutritionist and health coach) told me she was doing the 7-Day Sugar Challenge, my gut reaction was, wow, I could NEVER do that. But I will admit, part of me was intrigued. Could I actually attempt to pull it off? I asked my friend about 50 questions—could I eat this? What about that? How am I supposed to give up bread? But one day it hit me: I would never know if I didn't try.  

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So I looked at my calendar and picked a weeklong stretch that wouldn't fall during a holiday or party where I'd practically be forced to cheat. What I didn't factor in was the fact that I'm currently in the throes of wedding planning (just over two weeks 'til the big day), so all my late nights in the front of the computer would be tough without some sugary support. 

If you Google "7-day sugar challenge," you'll be flooded with different versions from bloggers and experts alike, but here's the one I followed from Further Food, which was passed to me by my health- and food-savvy friend. (I did it independently using the below infographic as my guide, but if you're looking for some guidance and recipe ideas, etc, Further Food runs a free 7-day Sugar Detox Challenge every other month—you can sign up here.)

And here's how it went:

Day 1 (Wednesday): I thought, I've got this. I typically eat a healthy breakfast and lunch anyway, so it wouldn't be too difficult until dinner. I was right. I had my normal smoothie for breakfast (spinach, half a banana, strawberries, almond milk, flax seed, chia seeds, collagen peptides and water) and my standard lunch (avocado and feta on organic whole grain brown rice cakes). By dinnertime, I was craving bread. Maybe it was because I knew I couldn't have it, but I really wanted pizza. However, I settled for grilled chicken breast and Brussels sprouts (I did miss the balsamic vinegar on them though!). I also kept raw almonds in my desk at work and ate a handful each day as a snack.

Day 2: Pretty similar to Day 1, but for dinner I had a Greek salad that I made the same way I always did before, but without the yummy bottled dressing. Instead, I mixed up olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper. To be honest, the taste wasn't too different. (I realized that small tweaks like this can make a big impact in your overall diet if you stick with them, especially because pre-packaged salad dressings can contain a ton of unhealthy ingredients).

Day 3: This was a Friday, which was definitely a challenge because it's bagel day in the office and my fiancé and I like to eat out for dinner. Luckily, we were tired after a long week, so we stayed in and I whipped up a smorgasbord of things I had in the fridge that didn't contain sugar, like leftover chicken and vegetables.

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Day 4: Saturday was the most difficult day for me. I found that being at work made the challenge easier because I was in a routine and had everything down like clockwork. At home, I had free reign, so I had to get creative. Breakfast: steel cut oats with cinnamon and half a banana. Lunch: a hardboiled egg and hummus with carrots. Snack: an apple with natural flaxseed peanut butter. Dinner: seaweed salad and sashimi from my favorite sushi spot (not ordering my usual roll with extra spicy mayo on the side was a true test of my willpower). Sidenote: You're not supposed to order anything takeout, even if it's "healthy," because you can't see what they put in it, so I may have technically broken the rules, but if that's my only offense, I'll take it!

The three days that followed weren't too bad—more of the same. I was looking forward to the light at the end of the tunnel, but I didn't feel starved or deprived in any way, like I have in the past after doing a juice cleanse

My challenge ended last night, and I can honestly say that it taught me some great lessons. I don't need sugar to get me through a stressful situation; I don't have to eat a cookie if someone brings them to work. I also learned how to enjoy certain flavors without the sugary additives (the Greek salad dressing and the Brussels without balsamic, for starters). I also gave myself a pat on the back because it made me realize that my day-to-day diet isn't actually that bad, and I can continue making tiny tweaks as I go along. There are also so many great (and free!) resources online to help guide you in the right direction.

So, are you up for the challenge? You might be surprised!

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