tips for surviving a sugar challenge

Welcome to Day 2!

I started my morning with a banana and 1 T almond butter and coffee (with about 1/2 tsp sugar, my norm) before an epic 8.5 mile run.  I don’t think I’ve run that far all year!  I followed that up with two eggs scrambled with a little goat cheese atop a slice of toasted Ezekiel bread and 1/2 C Kale Blazer on our way to church. Afterward, the family decided to go to Red’s, a local ‘burger and hot-dog’ 50’s joint with WAY too many options on the menu–we were all overwhelmed!  But, I always appreciate variety and opted for a chicken souvlaki salad, water with lemon and passed on the baskets of fries on the table.  So proud of Andrew–he ordered his burger without ketchup and drank water, too.

Before we get too far into this challenge, I thought I’d add some helpful hints gleaned from both my experience with Whole30s and as a dietitian.  I hope they’re helpful!

  1.  Keep it all in perspective.  You decided to give up added sugar for 30 days, not your lifetime.  Nor did you just get diagnosed with a fatal disease, lose a loved one or become a prisoner of war.  It’s 30 days of eating healthier foods, skipping sweets, making a few tweaks to established routines and–hopefully–feeling a lot better in the end.  You will get through this.
  2. Keep your motivation high and the whining low.  Instead of focusing on what you can’t eat, focus on all the delicious things you can.  Surround yourself with others who want to eat well, and try new recipes.
  3. Easter is but a day, and NOT about sugar.  Because Easter falls in April this year, you’ll have to pass on all the candy going around.  But–did you really want to binge on mediocre chocolate eggs and pseudo-stale marshmallow bunnies?  First of all, there are so many things you can put in an Easter basket besides candy (blog post with ideas coming tomorrow!), and Easter isn’t about the bunny or eggs or candy, anyway.  If you still need more convincing about giving up your jelly beans, see number 1, above.
  4. Out of sight, out of mind.  Put those treats away!  Throw them out, give them away or otherwise stash them somewhere other than your pantry.  Hopefully you’ve already relocated all the sugar-containing items (candies, chocolate, baked goods, dressings, etc.) to somewhere you won’t ‘accidentally’ consume them.
  5. Plan ahead.  I can’t say this enough.  Whether you’re watching what you’re eating or simply eating, planning meals ahead of time streamlines your whole week. Check out my Meal-Planning 101 for my method and helpful hints.
  6. Read your labels.  Scour ingredient labels for sugar in all its forms, including honey, molasses, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, agave, etc. Sugar is hiding in sweet and non-sweet things, like condiments and spaghetti sauce. Once you find some go-to brands without sugar (or other additives you should avoid, like soy), it will get a lot easier.
  7. Be prepared. Don’t leave home without an RxBar; I don’t!  RxBars, and other no-added-sugar snacks, like Larabars, compliant beef jerky, nuts and dried fruit come in handy if you’re out running errands later than you thought. Also, don’t be afraid to bring your own meal to gatherings; it may be awkward to bring a salad to your in-laws’ when everyone else is having pizza, but at the end of the day, you’re in charge of your own health.
  8. DON’T substitute sugar for sugar.  If you usually snack on a candy bar or rice krispie treat at your desk in the afternoon, don’t simply replace that with a Larabar. Sure, fruit-and-nut bars like Larabars have more nutritional value than a candy bar, but you aren’t helping yourself overcome that sugar craving.  Instead, eat a larger meal at lunch or bring a non-sweet snack, like veggies and hummus.
  9. DO substitute non-sugar for sugar.  If you’re like me and always want something sweet before bedtime, opt for a fun herbal tea (unsweetened) instead. Or replace your lunchtime soda/sweet tea/diet drink/juice with a seltzer water–they don’t have added sugar or artificial sugar and add a little bubbly and flair to any meal.
  10. Embrace something new. Use these 30 days to not just subtract added sugar, but to also add something healthy to your life. For some of you, that’s eating more fruits and vegetables.  For others (myself included!), it might be something that relieves stress, like meditation or exercise or reading. Make these 30 days the BEST 30 days!

‘No-Added-Sugar’ Challenge: Day 1


sugar-clipart-photo-24785645-clip-art-no-sugarHappy Day 1!  I started my morning with a cup of coffee with less than a teaspoon of sugar (the one exception is no more than 1 tsp in coffee), some food prep, and breakfast: 1/2 C plain greek yogurt, 1/4 C grain-free granola and 1/2 banana. It was delicious and kept me satisfied for a few hours before I snacked on some almonds.

*If you’re just joining us, Andrew and I (and a handful of motivated friends) are avoiding added sugar for the 30 days in April.  It’s not too late to join us!  For the ‘rules’, click here.

After Andrew woke up, we both emptied out the fridge and pantry together. (Hadrian, Andrew and Odie made cameos, below.)


What came out included our maple syrups, jams, some condiments and salad dressings, Andrew’s Gatorade mix, my stash of Justin’s goodies, Andrew’s flavored nuts, honey, and–obviously–any sweets. I think it was good for Andrew to read labels, although he wasn’t too surprised since he’s gone through this with me before.

Here’s the fridge after:


I was pleasantly surprised that, despite hauling a TV tray full of food down to our basement storage area and fridge (out of sight, out of mind), we were still left with quite a full fridge.

A few quick notes:

-Alcohol: I’ve gotten a few questions about alcohol, and I failed to address it in my column.  Yes, alcohol is OK in moderation, and only beer and wine.  Mixed drinks are full of sugar and sweeteners, so they’re out.

-Juice: Ordinarily, I’d say juice (at least sweet juice) is out.  Almost all of them, even those that are 100% juice, are super sweet.  I’d always rather someone eat a piece of fruit over a glass of juice.  Andrew loves V8 (low sodium) and I like about a 1/2 C of Naked Juice’s Kale Blazer at breakfast, neither of which has added sugar nor are they sweet. You’ll see we currently have some OJ in the fridge (which NEVER happens, I just had a craving about a week ago).  In the interest of not wasting food, we’ll finish it but I’m not going to replace it.

-Bread: This one is a little tough.  While we don’t tend to have a lot of bread in the house, I do believe whole grains can be part of a healthy diet.  Unfortunately, a lot of breads contain a little sugar yet aren’t what you’d call sweet.  My plan is to scour the grocery shelves and see if I can find sandwich bread without sugar, limit breads in general and rely a little more on Ezekiel bread (no added sugar) anyway. Honestly, I don’t foresee this being a problem at home as much as it might be eating away from home. For the sake of Andrew’s sanity and participation in the challenge, I might have to overlook some of his bread intake.

In a nutshell, Andrew and I are embarking on this journey because we feel like we need to ‘clean up’ our diets a bit.  Yes, we eat a lot of healthy foods (especially me), but we also splurge a lot on ordering pizza, sweets and junk.  In fact, this whole thing was Andrew’s idea!  (Hard to believe, I know.)  Andrew suggested we limit our sweets and bread, then I started talking about avoiding added sugars (I’d been working on my no-added-sugar banana bread at this same time.) and one thing led to another and I laid down some rules and published it in the March nutrition column in the East Aurora Advertiser.  He’s not thrilled with the strictness of the rules, but hopefully he’ll persevere.

He’s more interested in making sustainable changes (i.e. he doesn’t want to really give up ALL sugar) and I like participating in challenges because they motivate me and keep me accountable.  I felt like doing this 30-day challenge would be a way to ‘reset’ our taste-buds to appreciate things less-sweet and introduce some self-control.

For lunch, we grabbed food from the co-op. I paired a salad with s cup of lentil soup and Andrew chose Chipotle Pork with cous-cous (and bread) on the side. He did, however, opt for a bottle of tea without added sugar, despite his initial protests.

For those joining us, good luck!  I’ll be posting no-added-sugar recipes on the blog throughout. For those on the fence, give it a try!  It’s never too late to make changes to your diet for the better!


Buffalo News Refresh – March 2017

by: Holly R. Layer

Say no to added sugar in April and feel better

In order to celebrate National Nutrition Month and ‘Put Our Best Fork Forward,’ this year’s theme, I challenge each and every one of you to GIVE UP ADDED SUGAR.

Seriously, I do. For the—how convenient—thirty days in April. And to keep it interesting, my husband, Andrew, and I will join you. I do realize this means no Easter candy; I sympathize, as I adore Starburst Jellybeans and will miss them. Instead, why not get creative with your Easter Basket this year—the hubby has been known to stuff books, workout gear and healthy snacks in mine!

Added sugars are the additional sugar found in sweetened items, like cookies, cakes, yogurts and even bread and salad dressings. This includes many condiments, like ketchup, and artificial sweeteners, such as Stevia. Giving added sugars the boot—and focusing on whole foods—is the quickest way to weight loss and decreasing your risk for heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Perhaps the biggest benefit of omitting added sugars is decreasing your dependence on added sugars after those 30 days are up.

As a dietitian, I’m always cautious of the various fad diets out there, especially those that omit food groups or promise incredible results. I’ve participated in various ‘eating styles’ over the years, sometimes to test them out for myself, other times because I wanted a challenge or to clean up my own diet. I felt like crap avoiding wheat for Wheat Belly, had a blast trying new recipes with Andrew on a ’21-Day Paleo Challenge’ and felt my absolute best doing a couple Whole30s.   I can say, without a doubt, that my healthiest eating style is to focus on fruits and vegetables and protein sources, while limiting grains and dairy products.

Enter my own ‘No Added-Sugar Challenge.’ A quick Google search will yield multiple hits for ‘no sugar challenges,’ many of them 30 days in duration and with varying rules, some are legitimately ‘sanctioned’ and require participants to pay a fee, while others are simply someone’s rules for anyone to attempt. What I like about these ‘challenges’ is that they’re short yet sustainable, generate excitement and motivation and are goal-oriented. I encourage you to come up with a (non-food) reward for completing the challenge, like a new yoga mat.

I’ll keep it simple with just ONE rule: NO ADDED SUGAR/SWEETENER. (*With one caveat, below.)

Here are some helpful hints and clarification:

  1. Thirty days: It’s long enough to break bad habits, form new ones and see results. You may lose weight and/or inches off various parts of your body, as well as other changes, such as better sleep, increased energy, etc.
  2. Other names for sugar: Sugar is sugar is sugar. This includes agave nectar, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, coconut sugar, molasses, etc. If it serves to sweeten the item—even if it’s natural—it’s out. This also includes artificial sweeteners, like sucralose, saccharin, aspartame, xylitol, acesulfame K and monk fruit.
  3. Read those labels: You’ll be shocked at how many items have added sugar that aren’t sweet, like salsas, spaghetti sauce and salad dressings. Be wary of all the sneaky names for sugar, some of which are mentioned above. If it has sugar, don’t even bring it into the house. If you already own it and aren’t getting rid of it, keep it out of sight for those 30 days.
  4. Whole Grains: Bread often has added sugars. Choose unsweetened loaves, like Ezekiel Bread and 100% whole grain items. Jellies and jams contain sugar, so they’re out—try spreading peanut or almond butter on toast instead.
  5. Dairy: Plain yogurt is OK; fruit-on-the-bottom is not. Milk and cheese are allowed as well.
  6. Meat and Eggs: No sugar here! But, bacon, deli meats and sausages tend to have added sugars, so read those labels.
  7. Produce: Natural sugars are OK, so eat as many fruits and veggies as you can. White (and sweet) potatoes are allowed; so don’t shy away from an old standby. Frozen canned and fresh are all allowed, as long as the fruit isn’t sweetened.
  8. ‘Junk’ food: If it comes in a box or bag with bright colors and you can’t pronounce most of the ingredients, it’s out. First, it probably has sugar. Second, it shouldn’t be in your diet, anyway. Exceptions include healthy, no-added sugar snacks, like freeze-dried fruit or compliant beef jerky.
  9. Fried food: Avoid fried foods, not because of sugar, but because they’re not good food you. As we’re in Lent, it might be sacrilege to ask you to give up your fish fry, so I won’t. I’ll simply strongly encourage you to choose the broiled option with baked potato, instead.
  10. Eating Out: Ask questions, order wisely and skip dessert or have fresh fruit.

Lastly, let these 30 days address any sugar cravings you have. I’m going to borrow a guideline from the Whole30 here. Using an allowed item to feed your sweet tooth IS NOT ALLOWED. Don’t trade your afternoon candy bar for a Larabar (allowed, made with fruit and nuts). Instead, first evaluate whether you’re hungry or not. If so, eat a snack low in natural sugar (like a few almonds or veggies and hummus) and consider eating a bigger lunch the next day to quell that mid-afternoon hunger pang. If not, distract yourself and the craving will go away.

*Coffee: Most—it not all—of the challenges online are 100% no added sugar. I get it—that’s why it’s a challenge. However, I’m going to allow you to put a little sugar (as in, ONE teaspoon or less—none of those uber-sweetened ‘coffee’ drinks) in your coffee for a couple reasons. First, some of you won’t participate if you have to give up your morning coffee, and I want EVERYONE. Second, I want this to be a sustainable eating style beyond the thirty days. I’ve done Whole30s and choked down black coffee, finally switched to tea, only to go right back to the coffee with sugar on Day 31. I’m not here to disrupt your morning coffee routine; I’m here to get you to re-think what you’re eating every day, all day.

What happens when you finish successfully? First, you’ll have accomplished something amazing with lasting results—congratulations! Second, you’ll probably be down a few pounds and feeling pretty good—hold onto those wins! Third, take a hard look at what—if anything—you want to reintroduce into your diet. You’ll probably have missed some sweets and it’s OK to enjoy treats in moderation; if you didn’t miss it, don’t bother!

Feel free to email me and let me know if you’re taking on the No Added-Sugar Challenge. Be sure to check out my recipe for no-added-sugar banana bread here.