We Tried It: A Completely Sugar-Free Diet

Megan Segura

We went a whole week without our favorite foods.

I’m forever on the hunt for perfect skin. I’ve bought way too many products and tried far too many treatments that all promised to transform my acne-prone skin into a porcelain complexion, not unlike that of Michelle Williams. While some things work as a temporary fix, nothing has actually forever changed my skin, so I turned to drastic measures: trying a sugar-free diet.

I don’t use the term lightly when I say that I’m a sugar addict. From the chocolate creamer I pour into my morning coffee to the bowl of ice cream I like to enjoy at the end of the night, my days are chock-full of sugar-laden foods. I always try to fit a salad into my afternoon, but it’s dripping with preservative and sugar-filled dressing. It’s actually no wonder my skin is a wreck.

While there’s no evidence that directly links a bad diet to acne, sugar has been shown to age the skin. I figured it would be worth it to test out a sugar-free diet for a week and see what kind of difference it made. I decided I would still eat fruit which has natural sugars, but take out any other foods that contained sugar. Since sugar is in almost everything, I needed some sort of meal guide to follow, so I chose to follow Dr. Frank Lipman‘s Be Well Cleanse. While it is technically a cleanse, it’s also a full meal plan that eliminates sugar, so it seemed like the perfect solution.

The Meal Plan
When you go on a no-sugar diet, you realize very quickly just how hard it is to find food without sugar in it. Even cow’s milk is a no no. A typical day on my sugar-free diet included the following:

Breakfast: 2 eggs (Eggs actually aren’t allowed on the Be Well cleanse, but for my purposes, Dr. Lipman said it was fine.)
Mid-morning snack: An apple with 1 tbsp almond butter
Lunch: Roasted salmon and a salad with homemade lemon vinaigrette
Mid-afternoon snack: Carrots and hummus
Dinner: Confetti rice and beans
After Dinner: Half of a Sustain Shake ($109, bewellbydrfranklipman.com) mixed with rice milk

The Temptations
At first, the diet wasn’t so bad. The apple slices and the Sustain shake helped to curb my sugar cravings, but that was the first couple of days. By the third day, I was ready to kill someone for the chocolate underneath their fingernails. The temptation was especially hard at work, where we have canisters of candy sitting next to the water cooler, Hershey’s Kisses spread out over the conference table and people bringing in baked goods. I was miserable watching everyone else indulge.

Aside from the sweets, I was missing the more basic things like bread and condiments like ketchup. One night I ordered out, making sure to stick to my sugar-free guidelines. I got shrimp with a side of spinach—a rather sensible choice, I thought. Once I started eating it, though, I realized it was—deliciously—soaked in butter. Butter comes from milk. Milk has sugar. No more ordering out for me.

At the end of the week, I made the horrible decision to have a couple glasses of wine at an after-work outing. I knew it was technically cheating, since we all know alcohol breaks down to sugar, but I also knew I didn’t want to be at a bar sipping water. I paid for it the next day with a raging hangover. It seems my sugar-free diet did not soak up the alcohol like my normal diet would. And when you’re hungover, the last thing you want is to not be able to eat the comfort foods that make you feel better. I ended my diet a day early in favor of a box of white donuts. Shameful, I know.

The Benefits
During the one week I was on the diet, I did see major differences. Not only did I lose three pounds, but my skin looked noticeably clearer. At the time, I chalked it up to the fact that I had recently started a prescription topical acne medication. But as soon as I went back to my unhealthy eating habits, the blemishes started popping up again. Whether or not science has declared it, I saw for myself the direct link between diet and acne.

Is It Worth It?
Now onto the bigger question that we all face when forced to make healthy (or not healthy) decisions: Is it really worth it? Is having my clothes fit a little looser and having perfect skin worth the agony of never having a bite of birthday cake or indulging in a platter of cheese fries? I’m still mulling that one over. For now, I’m still pouring chocolate creamer into my coffee every morning.

Read more: 10 Surprising Diet Myths Debunked