As someone who is health-conscious, active, and a former fitness professional, I like to stay in the know on the latest news in the wellness world. So when I learned Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez were doing a 10-day, no-carb, no-sugar challenge, I had a few thoughts. Although I know most people were supporting this challenge, it was unnerving to see celebrities promoting a diet without being qualified experts in the field. After all, social media is already infiltrated with enough influencers posing as experts and misleading their followers. Fyre Fest anyone?
First off, I’m tired of carbohydrates being demonized as a food group. This message gets misconstrued all the time. We should aim to eat more complex carbs and less refined carbs; instead of eliminating them altogether. And although carb content varies per fruit and vegetable, I think we can agree that they should be part of a well-balanced diet. Realistically, you need carbs for energy, fiber, nutrients, vitamins, and optimal brain function. I agree that limiting processed sugars is something most of us should do, but I couldn’t see how two weeks would be enough time to create a healthy or sustainable change with such an extreme approach.
Not to mention, it seemed like the majority of people doing the challenge were just looking for a quick weight loss fix and were talking about all the carbs they planned on binging once it was over. Which perplexed me, because shouldn’t the end goal be to maintain these newly earned healthy habits?
As a result of J.Lo’s challenge, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and conduct this experiment on myself because I was skeptical from the beginning. But if I was going to do it, I knew I wanted to do it right with the help of an expert. Vice President of Nutrition & Education at Atkins Nutritionals, Colette Heimowitz was my go-to nutrition expert for this challenge. During my consultation, she explained that there was a healthier approach to doing this that wasn’t a two week, no-carb or sugar diet. Instead of eliminating carbs altogether, I went low-carb.
“It’s important to include lots of colorful veggies in any low-carb approach that are rich in phytochemicals, plant compounds, which help reduce disease risk,” she said. Heimowitz expressed that these are the kind of carbs you want to have in your diet because they are rich in fiber, which is important for bowel health.
“So, if you have the right kind of carbs, coupled with moderate protein and healthy fats, you can feel satiated all day and less deprived,” she added. Once we established that I was going to do a low-carb and no sugar diet, she suggested I follow Atkins 40.
“People on Atkins 40 eat 40 net carbs from a wide selection of carbohydrates including, but not limited to, lots of vegetables, low-glycemic fruits, nuts, and full-fat Greek Yogurt,” Heimowitz said. “This approach is more sustainable for the long run and can easily become a lifestyle because it allows for a slow introduction of more food variety so that an individual can determine their carbohydrate tolerance.” She also points out that those on this diet would also be able to meet fiber requirements along with optimal protein and healthy fats.
Once I was given my new eating plan, I made sure to adhere to the diet, but I swapped out some foods to fit my grocery budget and my meal prep schedule. I tend to be a creature of habit, which means I like eating a lot of the same foods on a daily basis. There was no processed sugar allowed, and the little I did have came from the Atkins proteins bars provided for me as snacks.
A standard day would consist of three meals and two snacks. What I quickly found was that a lot of the meals I was making were not that much different from what I would eat regularly. My breakfasts consisted of omelets, with a side of chicken sausage, and sometimes avocado. There was an occasion or two when I chose to have a half cup of oatmeal for breakfast, but I found the eggs to be more filling. My snacks were usually an Atkins protein bar mid-morning, full-fat Greek yogurt and berries for my afternoon snack, or an apple paired with light cheddar cheese or unsweetened almond butter. Dinners consisted of a lean protein and veggies, which sometimes felt off for me because I was used to always incorporating grains in my dinner meals. My lunches were leftovers from dinner, which made it easier to keep track of what I ate daily.
I was warned by Heimowitz that I would feel withdrawals from not having sugar or as many carbs in the beginning stages of the diet. Surprisingly I was fine and didn’t experience any serious withdrawal symptoms despite the shift in my diet. My theory is that my meals were filling enough and my protein and fat-heavy snacks left me satiated to the point that I didn’t have a chance to feel those cravings.
On at least a few days during the challenge, my office had bagels, pizza, and other treats which I was surprisingly okay with turning down. However, there were a few instances where I found it to be a struggle. I usually get a workout in after work which leaves me pretty hungry before dinner time. My usual response is to munch on whatever snacks I have at home while I prepare dinner. This aspect of the diet was helpful because I learned how to practice some self-control and focus on understanding what my body needs at the moment. I found that the best way to curb that post-workout, pre-dinner hunger was to have a small snack that kept me full enough in the interim and to eat it mindfully.
The other aspect I found challenging was realizing that if I didn’t prepare meals ahead of time, I’d feel super hangry and inclined to break the diet. For example, I normally don’t cook on the weekends because I like to order in. I had an instance or two when I was forced to whip up a diet-friendly meal with random ingredients I had in the fridge. I was normally used to eating whatever I was craving on-the-go and this time I had to be aware of what I was munching on.
One of the things I was worried about with going low-carb was how it would impact my energy to exercise. Luckily it didn’t affect it at all, but I wish I could say the same about my digestive system. For the first week, I was able to successfully follow the diet without any stomach issues. During the middle of the second week, I started to notice I was a bit constipated and even had an IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) flare-up. I was diagnosed with IBS many years ago, and usually, have it under control, but the shift in my diet probably threw my system off. It also didn’t help that I was expecting my period that week. After doing some research I learned that some people on low-carb diets tend to experience constipation due to the lack of fiber and the increase in fats in their meals. After consulting with Heimowitz about the issue, I increased my veggie intake and slightly added more whole grains to my diet. I found that this helped along with drinking tea and more water daily.
Towards the end of my experiment, I realized a few things. Going low-carb and no sugar was a lot easier than I imagined (this may not be the case for others), but ultimately I like having a diet that has more carbs and variety. My eating style is not much different than the plan I was following, and even though I didn’t lose a lot of weight (only a few pounds), I was okay with it because rapid weight loss isn’t always a good thing. Another thing to keep in mind is even if you do lose a significant amount of weight on this diet, you can very easily gain it all back after reintroducing carbs into your diet again. That’s why a lot of these diets aren’t necessarily successful for people.
Another positive outcome was that because I didn’t feel deprived during the challenge, I was able to transition more carbs into my diet without overindulging. I’ve also continued to practice mindful eating and to do my best to remain present during my meals. All in all, if you’re looking to lose some weight or establish healthier eating habits, you should always consult with a registered dietitian or nutritionist first. They’re experts in their field who will be able to determine what type of diet you should follow based on your lifestyle and goals. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of amazing experts on social media — there are! It’s just that we live in a time where social media makes it easy to blur the line between an influencer, and an expert (sometimes they’re both). That’s why all we can do is try our best to use common sense, educate ourselves through reliable sources (ie. reputable studies, research, experts, etc.) to avoid being duped by fad diets, detoxes, or any other rapid-weight loss fixes thrown at us.