30 Days of No Added Sugar

Snickers Cupcake  6

Before I explain today’s post title, and just what I’m getting myself into, I want to take a moment to thank you for all of your kind words and prayers for our family the past couple of weeks. Reading your sweet comments, emails, and personal stories continue to give us strength, and hope that my dad will have years of good health ahead of him. I’m happy to report he is recovering well from surgery, which left him with a 10-inch incision from ear to shoulder as well as some (hopefully temporary) numbness and hearing loss. My dad now faces an aggressive course of radiation–5 days per week for the next 7 weeks. Having cared for a patient receiving head & neck radiation during my dietetic internship, I know the toll this can take on the body (particularly when it comes to one’s diet), but that experience will certainly help me help him. The doctors are optimistic that, by the end of this treatment, the cancer will be gone–and I’m hopeful that in two months time I’ll be able to give you that news. Until then, thanks again for your kindness and support–it means a lot to all of us!

Now, let me explain this 30 days of no added sugar business.

A few weeks ago, we had the incredible experience of having Dr. Robert Lustig (whose name you might recognize from the New York Times bestseller, Fat Chance, or from Katie Couric’s 2014 food documentary, Fed Up) give a talk at MyFitnessPal headquarters here in San Francisco. If you don’t know him, Dr. Lustig is a pediatric endocrinologist at UCSF that has devoted his career to researching and treating obesity, mostly in children. Lustig’s popularity is largely attributed to his message that obesity is not the result of individual laziness or gluttony. Rather, the obesity pandemic is really the result of a broken food system–a food system that produces very cheap but highly processed foods, full of added sugar (in addition to sodium and trans fats), that have all sorts of undesirable consequences on our bodies.

After hearing Dr. Lustig speak, my friend Glennis (MyFitnessPal’s coaching lead) and I were inspired to do a little self-experiment. Starting today, we’re cutting out all sources of added sugar from our diet for 30 days, and documenting our experience. We’re interested to see the impact it has on our bodies, how we feel, and just how hard it is to avoid. We’ve been diligently tracking our food intake in MyFitnessPal the past few weeks so Glennis and I will even be able to compare our overall sugar intake from before and after.

Now, I’m not much of a soda drinker and I generally steer clear of highly processed and fast foods. I wouldn’t even consider myself much a sweet freak (though the Snickers cupcakes I baked the other week nearly changed that)–but even still, I know this is going to be a challenge. As I write this post, I’m already missing the homemade vanilla syrup in my morning latte. Sigh.

Want to join? I know you do. (Kidding!) But seriously, if you do, here are the rules we’re playing by for the next month:

No added sugars. This includes everything from soda and sweets to fast food french fries, ketchup and most store-bought bread–as well as any and all natural sweeteners including honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup and molasses.

No fruit juice. That’s right! Only whole fruits. Even 100% fruit juice is more similar to soda than it is fruit.

No artificial sweeteners. Part of the challenge is to reset those sweet-loving tastebuds which means diet soda and Stevia are out, too.

Alcohol is optional. Sugar-sweetened mixers are obviously a no-no, but beer, wine and spirits (like vodka, gin, rum etc…) don’t typically contain added sugars, so these are fair game if you choose to enjoy them. To add to the fun challenge, Glennis and I have decided to try and avoid alcohol, as well. Yowza.

If you want to join but can’t commit to 30 days, try it for just a week! It will give you a new awareness of just how much sugar is in our food supply. I think, for me, one of the biggest takeaways will be seeing just how difficult it is simply avoiding added sugars. After this, when I speak to individuals trying to put this into practice in their own lives, I’ll know what the experience is like and hopefully be a better dietitian for it!

Have you ever tried a sugar challenge like this before? 

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  • I hope your dad recovers quickly! And good luck with the challenge. It sounds amazing! I’ll be doing a couple weeks just before my marathon training begins to help flush my body out so can’t wait to read about your experience.

  • Great challenge. I have never tried to do anything like this (e.g. skip carbohydrates for 30 days) but I started to eat less and exercise more and I really feel much better. Also, I try not drinking any diet cokes or similar stuff, because of aspartame (artificial sweetener suspected of being a cause of various disorders).

    In my opinion just one most importing rule we should follow is “do everything with moderation”. This applies to diet as well as work and any other aspect of our live. Please let us know how your experiment go and whether you feel any better once finished.

  • Good for you! I would love to do something like this soon! Since I work in confectionery food science lab, sugar is everywhere-and I have been really successful in cutting out all the crap, however, still have a firm love for dark chocolate! Best wishes to your fam, too.

  • I’m on my second week of this and I can already feel a difference! I have more energy and I’ve noticed that I’m not craving terrible sugary foods like I used to. Best of luck! Keep at it :)



  • Would love to hear how this is going, Elle! I did 2 weeks of no “sweets” about 2 weeks ago. I didn’t cut out all added sugars like you are but I will say, my out-of-control sweet tooth started to wane toward the end of week 1! I was pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately it wasn’t permanent but it did help me realize I don’t NEED something sweet after my lunch/dinner.

  • I am really really interested in trying this! I want to I am just unsure if I could actually do it or not as stupid as that sounds. What kind of things are you going to fill your belly with? I am just curious. Especially since I cannot have fruit!

    • Hi Marci,
      I don’t know if I’d be able to survive without fruit! ;) It’s my saving grace at breakfast, and when I get a craving for something sweet. In addition to that, I’ve been cooking a lot–eating a lot of veggie dishes (curry/lentil stew/falafel), whole grains and some meat. I’ll be writing a more detailed post about what I’ve been eating sometime this week, so stay tuned!

  • I won’t be joining, but definitely very interested in following along and seeing what you’re eating!
    I have a question regarding juice being closer to soda – I’m pregnant and (newly) have very little interest in water, but really want something flavoured and have been drinking oj like it’s my job. Is there anything healthier you could suggest? Thanks! :)

    • Hey Lisa! I totally understand. Instead of drinking just juice, you can try adding 1-2 ounces of juice to a glass of water for a little bit of flavor. Also, try infusing a pitcher of water with fresh fruit (like melon or berries), cucumbers or fresh mint and keep it in the fridge. It makes water so much more appealing. :)

  • As soon as I am home from university and have access to a kitchen again, I will most definitely be trying this! I have never craved sweets the way I do when I’m surrounded by processed foods. It will be SO nice to hit the reset button and truly appreciate natural sweetness again. Good luck to you!

  • I’m inspired to try and cut-out all sugars. I am normally a very healthy eater, but I’m sure there are surprising places that I will miss the sweetness, though I usually am more of a salty snacker.

    • Hi Rachelle,
      We won’t be since it’s just a couple of us but 1) check out the forums and groups within MyFitnessPal–there are lots of sugar challenges going on within our community; 2) we’ve talked about doing a similar challenge for our MyFitnessPal community, so stay tuned for that!

  • Best of luck! I cut out sugar for only a week and I was most affected by how different things tasted without any added flavors. Normally a huge fan of coffee, dealing with the un-enhanced taste of Starbucks has prevented me from ever going there again.

  • Wishing your dad a speedy recovery! I cover a head and neck floor at my hospital from time to time (as an RD, as well). Your dad is lucky he has a dietitian looking out for him! =) Sending positive vibes and good luck with your challenge!

  • So I imagine “wine” counts as both fruit juice (IT IS) and alcohol right? ;-) I did a Whole30 too and I actually have kept it mostly going on the sugar-front since. I actually can’t believe I prefer Cacao to other types of chocolate now and my added sugar consumption has seriously decreased. I even find myself asking places to omit the agave or honey in my smoothies. WEIRD. Anyway – glad to hear your dad’s surgery went well – sending him positive healing vibes! Looking forward to following along on this challenge!

  • I did Whole 30 for 30+ days beginning February 2, and have continued to be very limited on sugar since then. It really is hard to find store bought foods without some kind of sugar. Virtually all kinds of cooked meats (including roasted chickens, all deli meats, bacon etc) have sugar and preservatives. The only prepared protein I could buy for lunch was cooked shrimp. (Although I think there could be some tuna, sardines, etc that would have been okay). I have found grilled chicken breast strips in large bags at Costco and that works well for lunch time salads. Even though I’ve lightened up on Whole 30, I still plan to avoid sugar as much as I can.

  • i think i will! I wont cut out alcohol as we are off to Tuscany for easter and doing some wine tours. Actually though I rarely drink alcohol, but i drink a lot of diet soda, so im going to give it a go!

  • Hi Elle! I’m wishing your dad a speedy recovery. And I think it’s awesome you are doing this challenge. I’ve NEVER done anything like this and would love to try one day. But am I committing right now? Nope! Next time? :) Can’t wait to hear what your experience is like!

  • very nice to hear that your dad is doing well..hoping for a speedy recovery.
    About the whole no sugar added thing, i did whole30 last year and it was quite an experience..i did not feel much difference but yes sugar cravings were bad. I dont think i will be able to participate but im curious to see how you guys do.

  • Good luck, Elle! I did the 10 day no sugar challenge after watching Fed Up and I was surprised how many products have added sugars. Even for someone who sticks to a mostly whole foods diet, I found it was difficult if I didn’t do a lot of food prep. It was an eye-opening experience that’s for sure. I’m looking forward to hearing about your experience.