Sugar Free: “No sugar” challenges and their dramatic effects

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Sugar. It’s sweet, seductive and quite possibly destroying your waistline, as well as your health.

New research is tying sugar to a greater number of health risks than ever before, which may be one reason for the rise in “no sugar” challenges and diets. There are lots of variations involved but all advocate the same thing: saying goodbye to the sweet stuff.

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Pamela Sparks did just that and, after one year of clean eating, without hitting the gym, she's lost a whopping 68 pounds!

Showing us around her kitchen, the Madison resident noted the lack of breakfast cereals, pastries and other processed foods.

She guided us instead to the fridge, enthusiastically showcasing the fresh vegetables, lean proteins and whole milk dairy products inside.

"I eat a lot of [rainbow carrots] with hummus, as a snack!" Sparks laughed, "That's my snack."

It wasn't always her snack though.

Sparks used to be seriously overweight; a knee problem kept her from exercising and she eventually reached a point where she felt pretty awful.

"I got embarrassed and there were times that I wouldn't go places," Sparks admitted with a sigh.

She knew it was time for a change, especially with a family trip to New Zealand coming up. She wanted to be able to hike and climb and not miss out.

That's when Sparks stumbled on a Facebook post touting a program called "Beyond Diet." It called for cutting out all sugar: no bread, no cookies, no crackers and no processed foods.

The weight began to melt away.

As Anna Key, a registered dietitian & nutritionist with Huntsville Hospital explained, Sparks' story should be a wake-up call to all of us.

Key told WHNT News 19 sugar is now being linked to a wider range of health issues than first thought; not just diabetes and weight gain, but also high cholesterol and heart disease.

"I think people are pretty aware that they shouldn't eat it but it's just so good!" Key said.

Sugar acts as a drug in the body, making it hard to say no.

Lots of people though, are trying. Just like Sparks, they're trying variations of a "no sugar" challenge; drastically cutting sugar and carbohydrates for weeks or months, depending on the plan involved.

It's not an easy task.

"It's crazy how much is hidden in the foods that we eat," Key explained, adding that middle-of-the-grocery-store choices (think crackers, breads, snacks and other processed foods) are often loaded with it.

Soda, in particular, can be really bad for us. Our bodies don't recognize liquid calories as well as they do solids, so "drinking" a bunch of sugary calories is like a double whammy for weight gain.

It's always a good idea to check with a doctor or nutritionist before starting any lifestyle change. Key also doesn't recommend trying to cut sugar from your life all at once... forever. Mostly, she feels that's just too difficult.

She wholeheartedly agrees with using a "no sugar" challenge like "reset" though. So, if you're thinking of giving one a shot, here's some advice: Plan on lots of meal planning, lots of lean protein and lots of time in the produce aisle.

Specific plans like Beyond Diet or Whole 30 can easily be found online, but you can also go it alone, creating goals that work for you. Addicted to soda or sweet tea? Try cutting back a bit during the week? Can't put down those Girl Scout cookies? Maybe pass on picking up an extra box next time.

For Sparks, a "no sugar" challenge was really so much more. She completely changed her approach to food and couldn't be happier with the results.

If you're interested in following her lead, here's what she recommends, in her own words:

  1. ) Eat healthy, organic, wholesome foods along with filtered water
  2. ) Cut out all processed sugar
  3. ) Use local unfiltered honey, pure maple syrup and occasional organic Stevia
  4. ) Keep fresh fruit around to fight cravings
  5. ) Enjoy moderate exercise, like 30 minutes of walking whenever possible
  6. ) Substitute for healthier oils, like coconut
  7. ) Spend time preparing your meals and packing lunches to take to work
  8. ) Incorporate eggs, fresh spinach, grass-fed beef, bison and pork into meals
  9. ) Try organic grass-fed whole milk, cheese & butter products

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