My mom, Patti, was always the treat-maker, but the treat habit was brought on by my dad, Tom, who has the ultimate sweet tooth. He loves his treats: For a long time he had a “chocolate drawer” in his desk and he enjoys nothing more than taking his grandkids out for burgers (and by burgers, I really mean shakes).
His treats of choice have created great experiences, and even traditions, in our house: mom’s strawberry birthday cake, seven-layer bars for the holidays, fall day trips for the perfect caramel apple, and the simple pleasure in discovering the famous two-inch chocolate chunks in each scoop of my hometown favorite Graeter’s ice cream.
As I’ve gotten older and have been educating myself more on the importance of understanding how to adjust what I eat as I age and the effects sugar and carbs have on how you feel each day, I’ve casually shared some of that learning with my parents, including how I’m working to adjust my diet to reduce inflammation — and one way I’m doing that is by lowering my sugar intake.
While breaking life-long eating habits can be painful, I’m finding that some, like this one, are essential to change to allow our bodies and brains to feel and function better.
To be fair, my dad has always been pretty disciplined in his vegetable intake and consuming a heart-healthy diet, and even more so recently has been making an added conscious effort to eat better and reduce temptations (for example, he removed his chocolate drawer). However, there was one thing he said when I was talking to him about sweets that stood out: “I’m 73, I just want to enjoy life, and some diet changes (AKA cutting out treats) aren’t going to make me happy.”
I get it, but I also saw this as a great time to challenge that perception. I felt the same way when I greatly reduced the amount of bread in my diet, but now I’m surprisingly OK with that change. The other thing about my dad is that he’s extremely goal-oriented. (In high school, he’d sweeten me up with a trip to Stan the Donut Man, then pull the car over to discuss my goals for the future.) I know if he’s given a goal, he will do whatever he can to achieve it. So, I thought, what would happen if my dad was challenged to cut back on sugar — and truly make it a “treat”?
Taking on the Sugar Challenge
Life Time has several complimentary fitness and nutrition programs available in the Life Time Digital app. One of them is Sugar Fix, a 10-day program designed to help kick sugar habits and curb cravings. I decided that together with my dad, we’d take on the 10-day challenge and share our experience with you.
As we began preparing for our adventure, my mom decided to join in, which was an awesome added layer of support for the two of them since I live 1,000 miles away. Then, when my brother heard about it, he showed interest in joining too. I quickly realized that Sugar Fix (or whatever other Life Time program is your goal) can be something you do for you, or it can be something you do to support someone you love who may need a little push to make a change. Before you begin, I highly suggest considering sharing your plan with someone else — maybe they’ll partner up with you!
What Sugar Fix is: Sugar Fix is a 10-day program that teaches you how to spot tricky added sugars like a pro and helps you reduce your sugar intake by using daily habits and a realistic plan for what to do when cravings do strike. The basis of this challenge is to remove added sugar from your diet for 10 days. All the guidance and resources — including a downloadable program guide, shopping guide, recipes, habit tracker, and more — are available right in the Life Time Digital app (and are all included in memberships).
How we got started: We simply enrolled in the program in our Life Time Digital app and had one week to prep before beginning.
Here’s how it went for each of us:
His preparation mindset going into the challenge: He says, “Change requires giving something up, so I thought about what I needed to give up during those 10 days to allow my body, mind, and soul to benefit the most. After all, who is better to look after yourself than you?”
My dad had a great career in leadership development, so when I asked him about his experience preparing for the challenge, it didn’t surprise me to see the level of accountability and long-term thinking he put on himself. “It’s not a 10-day challenge, it’s a new life-journey,” he said.
Leading up to the challenge, my dad spent a lot of time learning about the impacts of sugar through the program guide, really forming a basis for his commitment to the challenge. He anticipated how he’d feel on his daily walks (e.g., “Will I have more energy?”) and if he’d be more alert in later-day consulting sessions and bible studies. He also became more conscious about what impact he could have on others he’d observed practicing poor sugar habits and previously thought nothing about (e.g., adding sugar to coffee).
How the challenge went for him: Though it was a rough start with temptations of cookies and other snacks still in the pantry, my dad was disciplined and engaged with the challenge. He quickly realized sugar is everywhere, and to avoid it takes mental strength and constant awareness.
He stuck to his plan, eliminating treats and opting for nuts when a craving for a bowl of ice cream would arise. Eating healthier meals with less sugar became easier with effort: His daily menu often looked like cereal with a banana and blueberries for breakfast; cottage cheese with grapes and macaroni salad for lunch; and salmon, corn, and salad for dinner.
While he missed having treats — eating them just one special night when they hosted dinner and my mom served pie — he looked at the positives: he was enjoying more protein, he discovered a newfound love of beets, and he realized the benefits of having more energy, such as choosing to mulch his yard himself rather than hiring it out.
What was surprisingly the biggest challenge for him was sticking to how much he should be hydrating (that was something on the program’s habit tracker). However, that change in habit likely contributed to him feeling better overall.
What was most surprising to him: He said he found that the longer you stay the course, the easier it gets, and that it really is about discipline.
What’s next for him: My dad is committed to staying the course, lowering his sugar intake and being very conscious of products containing sugar, and is prepared to continue making efforts to improve his physical and mental health. “I’m not going to be angry or upset if I occasionally miss the mark,” he says, “because this is life. But it is my goal to lower my sugar intake and maintain this healthy life path. The light has been turned on.”
Her preparation mindset going into the challenge: She says, “I told myself I would try to not feel guilty if I was not perfect, and that I would rejoice in any behaviors that were changed for the better.”
Since my mom’s entry to the challenge was last-minute, she began it with her usual positivity, but also with uncertainty around what she’d be able to withstand. She’s a retired school teacher and really dug into the preparation guide in advance of the first day, educating herself on key ingredients, supplements, and daily expectations.
She opted to purchase electrolyte supplements to maximize her hydration and magnesium to help support healthy blood-sugar levels (and reduce cravings). Rather than purging what was in their pantry that contained added sugar, she chose just to not add anything else with it. She grocery shopped for more fruits and veggies and leaned on self-control to avoid what could be found in the cupboards.
How the challenge went for her: When the challenge began, she focused on avoiding sugar and exercising more, but found a little discomfort in not being told what exactly to do. Sugar Fix does not give you daily defined menus and exercises, rather it gives you guidance in the choices you’ll make.
For my mom, this was a little overwhelming at the start, but she had protein shakes to lean on while she thought through meal planning for the forthcoming days. By day two, she had hit her stride enjoying turkey burgers with homemade guac on top; red pepper, pita crackers, and hard-boiled eggs; and chocolate popsicles with no sugar added. She kept her meal plan simple and stuck to a similar lineup each day.
She found herself making different choices, both when going out to eat as well as when they hosted friends. She still served a dessert and wine, but didn’t view this as a failure — she knew going into the challenge she’d make improvements, but allow herself some grace.
Through the tracking process, she found areas she needs to give more focus to, those being her water intake and daily sleep. She’s looking to adjust her water consumption at home and find ways to capture more quiet time.
What was most surprising to her: The increase in water intake was a big struggle for her, most often during the times of the day when she was away from home. She wants to continue to get the water she needs, but is going to try to lean more on drinking it when she’s at home.
What’s next for her: My mom always exercises (she’s an avid aqua class attendee) but is really excited about the overall health guidance she can get from Life Time. Her biggest takeaway from this challenge is the extra focus on reading labels that will lead to bringing home better food choices.
My preparation mindset going into the challenge: I wasn’t too concerned with having to remove sugar from my diet because of the nutrition changes I’d made recently. I felt I would be more of a support and accountability partner to my dad as well as an additional resource for questions — though the program has experts on stand-by for any questions you have.
How the challenge went for me: What I discovered was that there were many hidden sugars I didn’t recognize, and that I needed to address choices with dressings and marinades and with wine. Even though “no sugar added” limits your options more, I found grocery shopping fun — it was like a treasure hunt. I enjoyed experimenting with creative substitutions (which the program guide helped me identify) to create flavorful dishes.
I eliminated wine, reducing my alcohol consumption, substituting at times with a no-sugar-added seltzer. I found that, all-in-all, I was getting more sleep and waking up earlier with more energy, and far exceeding my step goals. The simple habit tracker has made me more conscious of my health strengths and inconsistencies that I need to focus on as the challenge ended so I can continue to reap the results.
What was most surprising to me: I used to think that eating healthy was really limiting, but I’m quickly learning that it’s the opposite, and gives me new ways to use my creativity in the kitchen.
What’s next for me: I know I won’t fully give up sugar, but thanks to this exercise, I will be a more aware and smarter grocery shopper — making better decisions around what I feed myself, my family, and my friends. I’m excited to continue to be more adventurous in the kitchen.
My next challenge is convincing my kids that with the right attention, we can discover a whole new way to make eating healthy a daily treat.