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I Cut Way Back on Sugar—Here's What Happened

ELLE logo ELLE 20/03/2019 Kristina Rodulfo
a close up of a doughnut: Hello, clear skin. © Getty Images Hello, clear skin.

If you know me, you know I love sugar: I'm addicted to the point where I don't go a day meal without munching on something sweet. As a beauty editor whose work often crosses into the fitness space, I knew it'd be good to cut back. Inspired (and a little scared), I decided to challenge myself to eat less sugar over a two-week span.

With quitting cold-turkey a recipe for disaster (and unnecessary-a little natural sugar won't hurt anybody!), I set ground rules: I'd only eat one semi-sweet thing a day and avoid candy, pastries, and chocolate.

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Spoiler alert: I felt a thousand times better. 

I figured I'd notice an uptick in energy, but there were other benefits I wasn't expecting. Here's what happened during my challenging-but rewarding-experiment.

1. I experienced a tough withdrawal period.

Chobani Less Sugar Greek Yogurt © . Chobani Less Sugar Greek Yogurt As someone who ate sugary food up to three times a day, going down to a single hit definitely did a number on me the first three days. I'd get headache'y, lethargic, and sluggish in the afternoon without my regular boost from sweets.

I swear I nearly nodded off in the middle of the work day (a brisk, cold walk around the block helped me out, and was probably better than a sugary frappucino). 

The good news is that my body adjusted-I got through the withdrawal symptoms!

2. I ate something sweet at the same time everyday, and it was the best hack.

I wanted to make sure that my one "sweet" treat would also be nutritious, so I opted for eating a protein-rich Greek yogurt first thing in the morning.

Eating it at the same time everyday got me into a routine and feeling disciplined. It was easier to skip my usual habits, like biting into a bar of chocolate, because I knew I'd get my kick the following morning.

Kristina Rodulfo sitting on a table: I got into the habit of eating yogurt for breakfast after my morning workout. © Kristina Rodulfo I got into the habit of eating yogurt for breakfast after my morning workout. My go-to was Chobani® Less Sugar Greek Yogurt line. [Editor's note: Chobani® Less Sugar Greek Yogurt has half the sugar than other yogurts. Chobani® Less Sugar Greek Yogurt: avg. 9g sugar; other yogurts: avg. 18g sugar per 5.3oz serving.]

I'd usually eat one after my AM workout or while working from home in the mornings. The fruity flavors, like Clingstone Peach and Monterey Strawberry, are sweet without being too syrupy or dessert-like (my complaint with other yogurts I've tried).

I started looking forward to breakfast each day and savored the whole experience much more than I would've if I was still eating sugar 24/7. Which brings me to my next observation...

3. My tastebuds changed.

Over the two weeks, my tastebuds adjusted and I craved sugary snacks less. That give-me-a-sweet-treat-now thing wasn't as excruciating as it used to be, and I gradually stopped looking for cookies, cupcakes, and the other treats that you can always find in an office.

a box filled with different types of food: This cookie delivery showed up for my coworkers mid-experiment and I had the toughest time not devouring all of them. © Alyssa Bailey This cookie delivery showed up for my coworkers mid-experiment and I had the toughest time not devouring all of them. Even when I slipped up and had a bite of a cookie that was sent to my coworker, I felt like it was almost too sweet. I couldn't imagine eating the full thing-something I never thought I'd say.

4. Temptation was everywhere, but I survived.

I kid you not, it's as if the sugar gods decided to bless me right at the moment I decided to do the less-sugar challenge. Cake, cupcakes, cookies, and candy seemed to be dropped off at my desk nearly every single day.

I got through it by physically removing the problem-bringing everything to the communal kitchen table instead of leaving them on my desk-and taking a deep breath to let the craving pass. Miraculously, it worked.

5. I gained more focus and energy.

Another delightful effect of eating less sugar? Once I got past the withdrawal hump, I felt more alert throughout the day.

My WFH set-up: Healthy fuel, to-do lists, and beauty products to test. © Kristina Rodulfo My WFH set-up: Healthy fuel, to-do lists, and beauty products to test. Old Kristina would gorge on a handful of sour gummies or eat a slice of pie that a coworker baked and then feel an inevitable energy crash an hour or so after.

Not so when I was New Kristina. As a smarter snacker, I felt extra focused when writing and editing stories throughout the day and sailed through a packed calendar of meetings and events. 

6. I saw better results from working out.

Not going to lie, this was one of my favorite parts of the experiment. Time and time again dietitians I've interviewed for stories have told me that sugar is inflammatory and eating it in excess can lead to bloating and puffiness.

I weight train and run regularly during the week, but had been feeling like my body was hitting a plateau. The moment I started eating less sugar, I started seeing more results from all the hard work I put in at the gym.

I don't have a six pack (yet!) but I definitely think I look more toned.

a woman standing in front of a mirror posing for the camera: Feeling myself, and my results, at the gym. © Kristina Rodulfo Feeling myself, and my results, at the gym.

7. My skin improved tremendously.

As a beauty editor, my skincare routine is the most important part of my day. I'm diligent about using prescription topicals and never straying from products approved by my dermatologist. But no matter how dedicated I am, nothing affects my skin more than what I'm eating.

I've always noticed a connection between lots of sugar and zits; it was a part of my skin life I just accepted. When I cut back over these two weeks, my skin looked the best it ever has: clear, plump, and glowing.

a girl posing in front of a brick wall: No makeup (just lash extensions). Really! © Kristina Rodulfo No makeup (just lash extensions). Really!

Now that I know I'm capable of cutting down my sugar intake-and just how beneficial it can be for my all-around well being-I plan to stick to this new regimen. Better focus at work, clearer skin, and less bloating? It makes me wonder why I was ever addicted in the first place.

*Chobani® Less Sugar Greek Yogurt: avg. 9g sugar; other yogurts: avg. 18g sugar per 5.3oz serving.

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