It’s easy to lose sight of your daily nutrition — a few bites of your kid’s lunch, a little too much dressing, a couple of work doughnuts. Before you know it, your physique progress has come to a halt.
This 10-Day Elimination Challenge shifts you away from winter comfort foods and slacking eating habits and reroutes you toward your get-lean goals. With just a few simple dietary changes, you could be summer-ready and full of energy in less than two weeks.
Take the Challenge
This program challenges you to eliminate certain items from your diet for 10 days: sugar, artificial sweeteners, alcohol and processed grains. Eliminating these things will help break your bad habits, crush your cravings, reduce bloating, improve mood and increase energy. What’s more, you may even lose a couple of pounds! By Day 11, you’ll probably feel so good that you’ll want to adopt this new style of eating for the long term.
That being said, continual and severe dietary restriction only leads to cravings, binges and an unhealthy relationship with food, so do this challenge for 10 days — no more. There is nothing wrong with having an occasional treat or a social cocktail with friends; it’s when these things become habitual that you run into trouble. So after the 10 days is up, you can reintroduce these items into your diet now and then, just not on the reg.
Before beginning, purge your pantry to thwart temptation. Toss out all processed foods and grains as well as foods with added sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Read through the meal plan at the bottom of the page and create a grocery list based on those recipes. Prepare as many meals as you can ahead of time, and store leftovers for future lunches and dinners to save time and money.
Carry meals and snacks with you to work and in the car to avoid cravings and set yourself up for success.
4 "Foods" to Eliminate
Just what is it about these four foodstuffs that make them public enemy No. 1? Read on to find out the research-backed reasons why.
According to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, sugar activates your opiate receptors and has the same effect on your brain and body as cocaine — and is equally as addictive. Excessive sugar consumption is linked to a myriad of health conditions, including obesity, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, inflammation and fatty liver disease.
The good news is that after only a few days without sugar, you’ll be able to resist its lure. Your hormones will begin to regulate themselves, and your hunger signals will normalize. Unfortunately, cutting out sugar is not that simple, since it is added to many foods and drinks that are generally thought of as healthy such as yogurt, condiments and granola. More often than not, it hides behind an alias such as sucrose, dextrose, corn syrup or barley malt, making it harder to detect.
However, not all sugars are evil, and the sugar you’re going to eliminate is “added sugar” — that which is not found naturally in a food source — such as table sugar (and its aliases), honey, agave and syrup. Naturally occurring sugars are found in plenty of healthy and nutritious foods such as fruit, dairy, carrots and even tomatoes. These foods are fair game during this challenge and beyond because they contain vitamins, minerals and lots of healthy fiber.
Cutting sugar might very well be the hardest part of this plan because of the sheer nature of its addictive qualities. But stick with it — read food labels carefully, and choose real fruit when you need a dose of the sweet stuff.
While they sound enticing, “diet” foods and drinks made with artificial sweeteners may actually be worse for you than things made with real sugar. Since they are more potent than table sugar, artificial sweeteners retrain your taste buds to crave sweeter and sweeter foods. And since they provide no nutritive value or sense of satisfaction, they can lead to overeating — causing weight gain, not weight loss. A study published in Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism also found that consumption of foods with artificial sweeteners interfered with metabolic function, and more research links them to insulin resistance, increased body mass index and even Type 2 diabetes.
Even sugar alcohols such as xylitol, sorbitol and maltitol are nefarious, having the same kind of effect as artificial sweeteners, with the added ailments of possible bloating, gas, cramping and diarrhea.
A processed or refined grain is one that has been stripped of its nutritive components such as fiber, vitamins and minerals, leaving behind a basic starch, which is then milled into flour. This flour acts like a simple sugar in your body: It is digested quickly, causing a spike in blood sugar and a rise in insulin, followed by a crash a couple of hours later. Consumpiton of refined grains has been linked to cravings, overeating, obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
Refined products such as bread, cereal, pasta and crackers should be avoided during this challenge. Replace them with complex carbohydrates that provide tons of energy and nutrients such as sweet potatoes, fruit, vegetables and beans. These kinds of carbs reduce cholesterol, improve insulin response, decrease body fat and ultimately reduce your risk of disease.
Your body sees alcohol as a poison and literally stops all other metabolic processes in order to remediate and eliminate that alcohol — including fat metabolism, which is one of the liver’s primary functions. And because it is a depressant, once alcohol reaches your brain, all other bodily functions slow down, as well. Alcohol consumption has been linked to fatty liver disease, breast cancer, inflammation, high blood pressure, heart disease and depression, and since it contains a lot of empty calories — 7 calories per gram — regular intake can thwart your physique goals.
Eliminating alcohol can improve metabolism and liver function and reduce your risk of a host of chronic diseases and cancers. When dining out, try a mocktail or ask for a seltzer in a champagne glass to stay festive while being healthy.
Cajun Shrimp Boil Foil Packet Dinner
Makes 4 Servings
- 20-30 uncooked shrimp, fresh or frozen, peeled
- 2 cups red or new potatoes, cleaned and quartered
- 4 fresh ears of corn, cut into thirds or quarters
- ½ cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- 2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
Preheat oven or grill to 400 F. Tear off 4 large pieces of aluminum foil and fold up edges to make a shallow box. Evenly distribute shrimp, potatoes, corn and broth between packets. Season each with ½ teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning. Seal packets by folding up the sides to cover contents, then tightly folding the ends over the seams. Grill or bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until potatoes are fork-tender, gently flipping packets halfway through. Be careful when opening because the steam is very hot!
Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 335, fat 4 g, protein 35 g, sodium 622 mg, carbs 44 g, fiber 5 g, sugar 5 g
Coconut Mint Cucumber Spritzer
Makes 4 Servings
- 4 cups unsweetened coconut water
- ½ cup fresh lime juice
- 1 English cucumber, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
- 1 cup coconut seltzer water
In a large pitcher, combine coconut water, lime juice, cucumber and mint leaves. Chill 1 to 2 hours. When ready to serve, divide evenly between 4 glasses and top each with ¼ cup seltzer.
Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 99, fat 1 g, protein 2 g, sodium 257 mg, carbs 20 g, fiber 3 g, sugar 16 g
Makes 1 Serving
- 1 hard-boiled egg, halved
- 1 mozzarella cheese stick
- 4 slices turkey pepperoni
- ¼ cup berries of choice
- 1 oz cinnamon-roasted almonds (such as Blue Diamond)
- ½ cucumber, sliced
Cut cheese stick in half. Wrap each half in 2 slices pepperoni. Lay all ingredients on a plate like a charcuterie platter.
Nutrition Facts: calories 366, fat 24 g, protein 21 g, sodium 482 mg, carbs 20 g, fiber 5 g, sugar 13 g
Protein Peanut Butter Cookies
Makes 12 Cookies
- ¾ cup coconut flour
- ½ cup vanilla protein powder
- 1 cup all-natural peanut butter
- 2 large eggs
Preheat oven to 350 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a spoon, combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Use a tablespoon to scoop batter and arrange on prepared sheet. Use a fork to flatten balls and make a crisscross pattern. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until edges are slightly browned. Allow to cool 10 minutes, then move to a wire rack to cool completely.
Nutrition Facts (per cookie): calories 221, fat 13 g, protein 13 g, sodium 115 mg, carbs 11 g, fiber 4 g, sugar 1 g
Here are some foods you should and should not eat during this 10-day challenge.
Foods to Eat
- Vegetables, including leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, bell peppers, zucchini, celery, spinach, carrots and root vegetables
- Complex carbs such as potatoes, beans, legumes, quinoa, freekeh, hummus and oatmeal
- Fresh fruit such as berries, apples, peaches, pears, grapes, plums, bananas and citrus
- Nuts, seeds and nut/seed butters
- Lean meats such as pork, beef and bison
- Eggs and poultry with the skin removed
- Fish such as tilapia, salmon, cod and tuna
- Low-fat, low-sugar dairy and cheese, such as Greek yogurt, cottage cheese and string cheese
- Healthy fats such as olive oil and avocados
- No-calorie beverages such as iced tea, coffee and seltzer
Foods to Avoid
- Processed/refined grain products such as cereal, crackers, pasta, white rice and bread
- Commercially baked goods and sweets such as packaged cookies, cakes and candy
- Fast food such as fried chicken, french fries and frozen dinners
- Natural sweeteners such as table sugar, honey, agave and syrup added to any food or drink
- Artificial sweeteners added to any food or drink
- Alcoholic beverages, especially those high in sugar (sparkling wine) or mixed cocktails with juice or soda
- Condiments, salad dressings and sauces with added sugar and excessive sodium
- High-fat foods such as whole milk and ground beef
- Both sugary and diet beverages such as soda, juices and cocktail mixers
- Canned fruit in heavy syrup