We Tried It: The No-Sugar-for-a-Week Diet

08/15/2013 at 04:33 PM ET

What is it: Giving up sweets in every form for one very long week

Who tried it: Zoë Ruderman, Senior Style Editor

Why she did it: It was around 8:30 in the morning while shoveling a palm-sized chocolate-covered pretzel into my mouth when it became clear I needed to break up with sweets. At least temporarily. I realized my tolerance for sugary snacks was so crazy-high that I had to reset my baseline. Plus, I had a suspicion that all that sugar was zapping my energy. Also, you know, like health and stuff.

How crazy is it on a scale from one to Kim Kardashian’s blood facial?: 11. Sugar is probably my favorite food group. I eat ice cream in the winter. I have dessert after lunch. I once made my boyfriend raise his right hand promise me that when I’m pregnant someday, he’ll go out at any hour of the night and buy me candy. I don’t have a sweet tooth, I have 28 sweet teeth.

As soon as I finished the aforementioned chocolate-covered pretzel, I decided to go cold turkey. No weaning myself off the juice, no slow fade. I do best with clear guidelines so I told myself that I wouldn’t eat any sugar for an entire week. Then I said it out loud to my boyfriend because some experts believe that it’s easier to stick with a goal if you’ve told someone else about it.

It was smooth sailing for the first few … hours. And then an email with this subject line arrived in my in box: Cupcakes! (This is a normal occurrence at the PEOPLE offices and I had steeled myself for it.) I deleted the email, shut my office door so as not to hear the squeals of “This one’s carrot cake!” and “Ohhh, the frosting has brownie bits in it!” and “This tastes like everything Zoë wants in life!”

And then I reached for my consolation chewable kids vitamins.

The rest of the day was easier to get through. I had pitched all of the sweets in our apartment to avoid temptation. I brushed my teeth as soon as I’d finished dinner (it helps signal to your brain that you’re done eating for the night) and went to bed early.

The next couple days followed a similar pattern: Avoid temptation at all costs and power through, chewable kids vitamins in hand. And by day three, I started to realize something: I was snacking less in general. I had assumed that during the sugar-free week I’d replace my sugary treats with other snacks. But it turns out that by taking sweets out of the equation, I ended the vicious savory-sweet-savory-sweet cycle! Did I want a bag of pretzels immediately after eating salad and soup? No, I wanted candy! And without candy, I was left with a revolutionary idea: eat only meals. I know, I know, I’m a visionary, my nutrition book deal’s in the works.

Read about the other over-the-top, kinda crazy challenges editors have completed!

On day five, I went out to dinner with a few friends visiting from out of town, including one who is working on opening up her own cheesecake shop in Barcelona and made it her mission to eat as much dessert as possible while in New York City.

I know what you’re thinking: that I caved. Even I assumed I’d cave. But I held strong and when the server brought five spoons for the dessert my friend ordered, I pushed mine away and sucked down my water as if it were the nectar of the gods, humming quietly to myself to drown out the sounds of them mmming and awwing over the blueberry tart.

The week ended with me hanging out with a bunch of friends and watching the Breaking Bad mid-season premiere. One of the guys had gone out and picked up dinner and snacks for our viewing party. Just before Walter White came on-screen, the friend handed each of us a Klondike Bar.

And I can’t tell a lie: With fewer than 12 hours left in my no-sugar week, I ate that Klondike Bar. And it was delicious. I felt guilty for a few minutes, but I justified that it could be worse. It’s not like it was crystal meth.

The verdict: I’m so glad I successfully completed my no-sugar-for-a-week-minus-11-hours challenge. I think I felt more energetic those seven days and I definitely found it easier to fall asleep at night. Plus, like I said, it led to me grazing less in general and getting my sustenance from meals alone.

And perhaps most importantly, I’ve lowered my sweets tolerance. The Klondike Bar and every sweet I’ve had since (fewer than usual!) have tasted richer and more satisfying. Will I ever be the kind of person who can eat a tiny square of dark chocolate after dinner and say, “Oh, I couldn’t possibly have more! That was just so decadent!”? No. But I also don’t need to polish off dinner with half a tub of ice cream. Which, for the record, I’ve never done.

Have you ever tried to give up sugar or another type of food or food group you’re addicted to? Any tricks to share?

–Zoë Ruderman

Follow Zoë on Twitter @zoemarianna

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Showing 7 comments

Mel on

I underwent an unexpected sugar detox when I had surgery and was on a clear liquid diet. On day 5 I was able to eat a blueberry muffin but could only take a few nibbles because it just tasted overly sweet. I’ve taken advantage of it and am making a sugar change!

isabelle on

I had a heart attack at 38 on january 23rd. I had to stop salt, any type of grease and whatever sugar (added bonus of finding out I have diabetes!!!) ON THE SPOT! Oh, also quit smoking ALL ON THE SAME DAY! So anybody who says you can’t quit cold turkey is a liar. I’m not saying it’s not hard cause IT IS!!! But I’m proof that it can be done! (smoke free for 207 days today!!) :)

Jennifer on

Good for you, Zoe! I’m trying to give up sugar and I’m worried what will happen when I get near my period – I could eat cookie dough for breakfast, lunch, and dinner then! Mother of perpetual cardio, pray for me!!

Angila on

I stopped eating sugar 5 months ago and I lost 27lb so far!! It was hard at first but now I don’t think about sweets and I use to eat a bag of M&M a night at 480 calories.

Claudia on

OMG you are so brave! I am the exact same sweet-a-holic as you, nice to have company. I periodically try to cut back on sweets but it seems to be in my blood/heritage, I used to eat a cannoli and wash it down with a Pepsi! Sweet overload? Not for me! I’ve read all the stuff that it’s so bad for you but like you I say, at least I’m not addicted to something much worse. I sure love those Milkyway Simply Caramel bars….but I do try to cut back on sugar now and then—it’s better than nothing!

Liz on

I had food poisoning once and could keep anything down except black weak tea without sugar which I found very soothing although to begin with I longed to be able to add a good slosh of milk and my then usual 3 spoons of sugar. A few days after, when I was better, I decided to try a cup of the old stuff and was violently sick. The moral of this story is that it only takes a few days to change your eating patterns – try it and see the difference in your skin!

nate on

It’s not easy to quit sugar when your body is under 35 and your pancreas runs like a steam engine. It’s the post 35 year-olds that start to really feel the bad effects of sugar. Lethargy and brain fog being the most common symptoms.

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