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Sep 22, 2016 03:36PM

Going sugar free: Small victories yield big results

By Dylan Davis
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Nearly a year ago, Radish magazine contributor Dylan Davis cut excess sugar from his diet. He has noticed many benefits, and says he feels much better than he did before.
Last November, I decided to try cutting sugar from my diet. I didn't cut out all carbohydrates, and I do slip up from time to time, but overall, I have made a huge change to my eating habits, and the results speak for themselves.

The popular diet and exercise website MyFitnessPal states, "In its natural state, sugar is a relatively harmless — even necessary — carbohydrate that our bodies need to function. It's found in fruits, vegetables and dairy as a compound known as fructose or lactose."

The problem, it states, "comes when sugar is added to foods during processing for added flavor, texture or color."

This is the type of stuff I cut out. My friends know that I still eat some breads and chips, and I drink diet soda like it's no big deal, but the things that I've cut out are the desserts, the sugar for sugar's sake. No more cookies, doughnuts or candy bars; no more baked goods brought to the office, and perhaps most regrettably, no more trips to Whitey's Ice Cream or Lagomarcino's.

Also, some forms of alcohol are pretty high in sugar, so it helps that I haven't had a drop in more than two years.

The first couple of weeks after removing excess sugars from my diet were pretty intense. I'd get lightheaded, I had low energy and the cravings were almost unbearable. This is pretty standard, from what I had read online, but I also read that things would get better.

And they did. And it was amazing.

I've never been a big fan of going to the gym. An old ankle injury makes it difficult for me to use machines such as a treadmill for more than 15 minutes, and I'm not a big fan of weightlifting. I much prefer casually walking or riding my bike on the trails by the Mississippi. With that kind of attitude, you'd think it would be difficult for me to lose weight.

According to Prevention.com, the average American consumes about 300 extra calories per day, simply from added sugars, and some exceed an extra 700 calories per day. If you use these numbers and cut excess sugar, you could lose one pound every five to 10 days.

By cutting out the sweets, I lost 30 pounds in just a couple of months. And I barely even tried.

Rock Island Hy-Vee dietitian Chrissy Watters says "most Americans are probably in need of a sugar detox of some kind. The American Heart Association helps put sugar consumption into perspective with clear recommendations on limits for added sugar: nine teaspoons or 36 grams per day for men, six teaspoons or 24 grams per day for women, and anywhere from three to eight teaspoons or 12 to 32 grams per day for kids and teens.

"Take a look at the label on some of your favorite foods, and you might find you easily exceed these recommendations each day."

One benefit that rapidly materialized once I cut added sugar was that I just felt better. I don't feel nauseous or bloated; I don't feel tired or lethargic; and probably most importantly, I don't get depressed about how I feel, physically, because I feel so much better.

My long struggle with insomnia, while not cured, has lessened dramatically. All of this has its own effects as well. It's easier to focus, I'm more productive at work and I get more done at home.

Sarah Wilson, a blogger for Women's Health, says that once she cut excess sugar, her skin improved, she stopped thinking about food all of the time, her moods improved and some of her various physical pains disappeared.

Medically, cutting sugar has obvious benefits, including a reduced risk of various cancers, diabetes, heart attacks and heart disease, and liver disease. Some studies also have found that risks of Alzheimer's and dementia are reduced. Your bad cholesterol levels are lower, your blood is healthier, and your brain is happier. Any basic internet search will pull up a list of benefits that just goes on and on.

When it comes to cutting back on your sugar consumption, Watters suggests identifying the types of sugar you want to cut.

"The good news is you don't need to cut out natural sugars that are found in fruits, vegetables and dairy products," she says. "The bad news is you will need to start looking at product labels for the more than 50 names for added sugar, such as honey, evaporated cane juice, dextrose and high-fructose corn syrup."

Watters adds, "The key to cutting back on sugar is teaching your taste buds a few new tricks. Cut out one sugary item each week from your diet. If you put three teaspoons of sugar in your coffee, reduce it to just two until your taste buds adjust. Instead of eating your morning doughnut, try blueberries and a hard-boiled egg. You still get a sweet taste from the blueberries, but now it comes in a natural form that is also packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting antioxidants."

If you gradually shift your diet, Watters says, "you'll find you don't even care for sugary foods anymore."

If you truly can't go without that piece of chocolate after a stressful day at work, or if you enjoy baking sweet treats for friends, coworkers or family, perhaps this experiment isn't for you. But even though I slip up from time to time, I'm here to tell you, if you want to lose some weight pretty easily, and if you want to feel better physically and mentally, give this a shot. It's made my life a hundred times more enjoyable and comfortable, and I bet it will do the same for you.

Dylan Davis is a regular Radish contributor.

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