I've never had the biggest sweet tooth, so when I heard that our next challenge for "We Tried It" was to give up added sugar for ten days, I thought it would be a piece of cake (ahem).
Much to my surprise, I was very wrong. I knew that unhealthy foods such as cupcakes, cookies and soda were filled with sugar — but I never realized that hidden sugars were lurking in so many other foods that I consume on a daily basis, until I started this challenge.
I did the challenge with two of my co-workers, Kyle and Geraldine. The rules were simple: avoid added sugar, read all food labels and only eat natural sugar, i.e. the kind you find in fruits and veggies, for 10 days.
Before the challenge started, I stocked up on groceries — I got fresh fruit, produce and protein to tide me over for the 10-day challenge. I knew I had to cook as much as possible, so I'd know what I'd be consuming at all times. I do love cooking, but I have trouble finding time to do it every day. I also eat a lot of foods out of convenience, rather than what is good for me.
Days 1 through 5
The first couple of days weren't that difficult for me. I was scheduled for jury duty on the first day of the challenge, so I knew that I had to figure out my meals. I prepped my breakfast and lunch the night before so I wouldn't have to worry about finding something to eat.
I was running late the morning of jury duty and sprinted out the door — forgetting my breakfast and lunch. Not a great start to Day 1. I was able to hunt down fresh fruit and veggies, which held me over until dinner.
Breakfast was by far the easiest part of this challenge. I sliced up fresh pineapple and strawberries every night before work, put them in a ziploc bag, and I was done.
I made sure to carve out at least an hour to make something healthy for dinner. I got home at a decent time and had groceries already, so I made roasted veggies and chicken, with a salad, most nights. I couldn't put store-bought dressing on my salad, so instead I just put a little olive oil on top, which ended up being really tasty.
Kyle on the other hand, wasn't as fortunate to get home early enough to make dinner every night. He had to work late one night and searched all over for takeout food that would accommodate this no-sugar diet. He came up empty handed and all he had available to eat was a green pepper.
Days 5 through 10
Days 5 through 10 were challenging. I realized that I get a majority of my carbohydrates from foods that have some type of sugar in it. Cutting those foods out of my diet was really difficult for me. For this challenge, I stuck to eating veggies, protein and fruit. They filled me up while I was eating them, but shortly after, you could hear my stomach rumbling from a mile away.
I felt much more productive in the morning. My head felt clearer, I felt more awake and I didn't need to drink as much coffee.
But, by 2 p.m., my clear head was quickly overtaken by hunger and fogginess.
My snacking habits had to change. Before this challenge, my go-to afternoon snack was typically a package of goldfish and a Diet Coke. I figured giving up those two things wouldn't be too hard, since it was only a small snack, but I was wrong. I learned that my go-to snack was actually the cure for my afternoon slump. I replaced my snacks with fresh fruit, but I had headaches in the afternoon from not having Diet Coke.
The most difficult part of this challenge was dinner. The fun of cooking wore off when I had to make something healthy after a long day of work or when I was tired. It would have been much easier to heat up a lean cuisine or order takeout so I could relax.
Takeaways: What We Learned from Giving Up Sugar
This challenge was really eye-opening for all of us. Geraldine says that she's now more conscious of her snacking habits between meals, and it helped her make healthier choices like fruits and nuts. Kyle and I both lost weight from the challenge, since we ate less than we normally would. I found that the hardest part of the challenge was scheduling out every meal and the time it took to prepare it. I realized that before I did this challenge, I was eating a lot of added sugar due to my schedule, not necessarily because I was craving something sweet.
Kyle had similar thoughts about how his schedule impacts his diet. Being a producer and constantly on the move, he said that "being able to eat when I need to eat is important. As long as I'm healthy overall, and I'm eating an overall well-balanced diet, I'll sacrifice the perfect diet for the good diet. I'm a believer that you can't do something just because an expert says it's good for you or medicine says it's 'healthy.' It needs to align with your personal goals."
I'd have to agree with Kyle — I don't think I could ever give up all added-sugars, but I think that there is a healthy balance that I can strive for. I'm now more aware of what foods I'm eating and will check the nutrition labels on the packaged foods I'm buying. I plan on cooking more and making healthy swaps, but the most important thing I can do is strive for balance.