Updates from a No Sugar Month Challenge

Today is August 13, which means I’ve gone 13 days without added sugar! In my last post, when I recapped my Uber Frugal Month Challenge, I mentioned I would be embarking on a new challenge for August. This month, I am doing my very best not to eat anything with added sugar. So far, I have made it through and wanted to share my reflections on this month. Looking ahead, I am hoping to complete the challenge to see what it’s really like to go a whole month without added sugars and to see how I feel.

Reasons for Doing a No Sugar Month Challenge

Now, why would someone do this? Don’t you love food, you might ask? Well, I have a few reasons for embarking on this challenge:

  • To reset my sugar-happy palate and perhaps get healthier in the process.
  • To try to live better NOW, as diabetes and other health conditions run in my family, so as to prevent any onset and to set better eating habits.
  • To see positive changes in my body – clearer skin, attaining a healthier weight, and perhaps reduce bloating – and maybe more I didn’t think about.
  • To find better or more even levels of energy as I go through the days.
  • To learn about the food I’m putting into my body by reading ingredient listings on all packaging, and making better choices at the supermarket.

Rules for the Month

When I say no sugar, I mean sugar or sweetener by any name: no sugar, honey, agave, syrup of any variety, things ending with -ose, all kinds of artificial goodies like stevia, sweet and low etc. I haven’t restricted anything else, so this means I eat when I am hungry. I am still eating fruit, since the natural fiber, vitamins and minerals are essential, but I’m trying to stick to 4 servings or less per day, and I am allowing myself dried fruit in small quantities (I have a sugar-added free muesli with dried raisins and dates) from time to time.

I am allowed to eat out but I am doing this with hesitation. So mostly I am cooking at home, packing my lunches as usual, and avoiding my friends (just kidding!).

As you may know, or have guessed from previous food posts, I am a pescatarian, which means I adhere to a vegetarian diet – and I also eat fish. So for protein, I eat fish, eggs, soy, nuts, beans, and dairy. I try to eat one of these types of proteins with each meal so that I can be full and have enough energy to get through the day.

And remember: This month is not about deprivation. It is about health, creativity, learning, and looking forward to a better me.

Preparing for a Healthier Me

I’ve enlisted the help of a few friends who are also participating in the challenge, and we have a little group chat to keep each other encouraged and to share our thoughts throughout the month. It has been very helpful for me to know that I am accountable and for us to share recipes and ideas! It seems like we are all eating well and learning throughout the process.

Last month, while doing the Uber Frugal Month Challenge, I ate my way through the pantry including all of the sugary goodies I had – granola, flan (way too much flan from Costco, never again), mango gelato, and even the chocolate protein powder! Everything I didn’t finish, I hid up on a shelf that I can’t reach so I could forget about it… until next month!

I went to Target, Costco and Whole Foods to find items that were sugar free. I had the best luck at Whole Foods, but still got some bulk produce and eggs from Costco.

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A few goodies for the week ahead – sugar free cereal (the muesli has dried fruit giving it natural sugar – to be eaten in moderation), fruit, vegetables, unsweetened almond milk, and plain greek yogurt. Also seen on the table – olive oil!

For specialty items like bread, crackers and snacks, Whole Foods was the place to be. Target and Costco both had plain greek yogurt, and Target had unsweetened almond milk (although, I got the last one on the day I went there).

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Some snacks and wheaty things from Whole Foods. I realized after I opened the pizza crust that I missed the ingredient of ‘maple syrup’ so that went into the freezer for later… You may notice no produce or eggs here because I had already stocked up on this earlier.

Slow but steady…

I got off to a slow start by just eating basic things I had in the fridge, but eventually started cooking more ‘complex’ dishes.

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Day one… some of the food I brought to work. This is what happens when I didn’t meal prep and just threw things into containers. Clockwise from top left: cherries and mangoes, edamame and broccoli, plain greek yogurt with half a banana and frozen berries, carrots, two boiled eggs.

I was pleasantly surprised to note how many snack options I had, while still doing my best incorporating some form of protein… cheese and crackers, almond butter and crackers, applesauce, baby carrots, nuts… usually a piece of fruit would suffice but sometimes I wanted something with a certain texture.

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A sugar free snack at work – cheddar cheese with sesame rice crackers.

And on a semi-related note, I’ve also been bringing my food scraps every Wednesday to the local compost drop-off. It’s surprising how much adds up each week!

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These folks collecting compost and I are going to be best friends – every week I have a full bag of fruit and vegetable scraps for them (and egg shells, tea bags, etc).

Tweaking Recipes to Make it Work

Before I decided to do this challenge, a friend sent me a free box of Blue Apron food (thank you!!!). For those who don’t know it is a subscription based cooking box, which you can order weekly or as infrequently as you’d like. When I looked closer at the ingredients, I saw that some of them had sugar and thus decided to store them in the freezer for next month and that I would make substitutions in order to stick to the challenge.

I ordered two meals – a miso-butter salmon with ramen, and an eggplant tomato flatbread. When the box arrived, I had all the ingredients for the flatbreads, but the salmon/ramen recipe was mixed up – I received the salmon, ramen, and scallions, but then the rest of the ingredients were for a pesto chicken – but no chicken to be found. This ended up working in my favor as the miso-butter ingredients had sugar, and the pesto chicken ingredients were mostly vegetables, so it ended up working out.

The pita breads for the flatbread had sugar, so I substituted for Ezekiel pita breads. The pitas from the order are in the freezer for now.

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I got five meals from this one flatbread recipe. I cooked the salmon separately, and then made a ramen soup with eggs, frozen vegetables, and soy sauce (fun fact – the original Kikkoman doesn’t have sugar).

This morning I looked in the fridge and made a crustless quiche out of all the random odds and ends that were to be found. I had some leftover cheese, basil, zucchini and pesto, so I sauteed the zucchini with garlic, and mixed everything all up with 4 eggs and put it in the oven. This could be made with probably any vegetable you have sitting around, and doesn’t even need cheese. Tomatoes, broccoli, onion, pepper, and really any green vegetable. I baked this at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes. It was delicious and now I have breakfast for the next few days.

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My ‘garbage’ quiche I made with zucchini, cheddar and mozzarella cheese, garlic, pesto, basil and eggs.
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A semi-acceptable food photo of a quiche slice on my little plates. I ate two of these slices for breakfast.

My other favorite snack is my ‘chocolate shake’ with a banana, unsweetened almond milk or soy milk, ice cubes, and cacao powder. It’s naturally sweet and gives me the taste of chocolate. It’s a great replacement for ice cream, milkshakes, and chocolate bars. Obviously ice cream tastes better but this is not bad, I definitely would continue to make these after the challenge is over.

Results After Two Weeks

While I have really really wanted a cookie, cake and ice cream, I have been able to push through and stick to my plan. I even took a picture of an ices cart because I wouldn’t buy one…

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Since it’s summer, there are very few things I’d like more than one of these ices. I took a picture and walked away sadly.

So far, I feel more even keeled in terms of energy, and I feel more in-control of my eating – I don’t reach for the pastries left on the share table at work, and I can say no to treats offered to me. I used to NEED to chew gum every day in the afternoon; now I’ll have an apple or some carrots and some water and I can get through. I have been appreciating my sugarless tea… I even ordered an iced coffee with just milk and it was actually good!

My skin is definitely clearer than when I started, and I feel less bloated. I am curious how the next two weeks will go and just hoping for an easy time during the next two weeks!

Feel free to share your suggestions and tips if you’ve done something like this before!

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