I've never really embraced fad diets and strongly believe in the idea that moderation is key when making food and lifestyle choices. There's just one catch: I've always had stomach concerns, and in an attempt to find a solution, doctors have often suggested that I try eliminating certain foods from my diet by going dairy-free or sugar-free. That's why I willingly spent six months on a dairy-free diet, and spent yet another six months on a sugar-free diet.

There were times when I hated both diets, was ready to jump over the dinner table to steal dessert off of other plates, or wanted to eat ice cream straight out of the container. Then, there were other times when I loved both diets, and felt like I could survive for the rest of my life being dairy-free or sugar-free. But which diet is better? When weighing the diets against each other, for me, there was a clear winner.

Dairy-Free: What I gave up

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Josi Miller

Going dairy-free meant no more cheese, no more butter, and worst of all, no more ice cream. When I went on this diet several years ago, there were not nearly as many dairy-free ice cream substitutes available as there are today, and I was not a fan of the popular SoDelicious non-dairy options. Basically, no dairy meant not even a good ice cream substitute—dessert lovers be wary of this diet.

At restaurants, I first felt uncomfortable asking whether or not there was butter in the mashed potatoes, or if there was cream in the pasta sauce. After about a month though, I began to feel like a pro. I was no longer uncomfortable asking questions and requesting substitutes. Restaurants were accommodating, and there were almost always plenty of dairy-free options to choose from.

Sugar-Free: What I gave up

tea, coffee
Katie Walsh

The sugar-free diet was much, much more difficult than the dairy-free diet. Being sugar-free was like trying to ascend Mount Everest, and it made me feel like being dairy-free was just like climbing a small hill.

Despite the struggles, I really committed. I had to give up dessert, which was definitely not easy for me as a fully-functioning chocoholic. I also had to give up fruit. Saying good-bye to all of the berries that I love felt like I was parting with a—berry—big part of myself.

There were plenty of foods that I didn't anticipate I'd have to avoid. I couldn't eat any carbohydrates that would turn into sugar in the body, which meant that bread, pasta, and rice were high on my "do not eat" list. For that same reason, I could not have starchy vegetables such as potatoes. 

Even my favorite condiments like ketchup and barbecue sauce contain added sugar, which crossed them off the short list of foods that I could eat. I started to wonder, what would I actually be able to eat for the next six months?

Dairy-Free: The changes I experienced

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Yasmeen Aboulhawa

When I went dairy-free, I realized that I did not have to alter my diet too drastically. I wasn't eating a lot of cheese or drinking a lot of milk to begin with, so I didn't feel like I was missing out on much of anything. The only thing that I craved besides ice cream was the mouth-watering  flavors of my grandma's baked goods.

As the months passed, I felt myself craving each scoop of ice cream less and less, to the point where the diet began to feel routine. Where recipes called for butter, margarine became a viable, albeit less tasty, option. The occasional cravings for pizza didn't make me hate being dairy-free. I had actually accepted my losses. Instead, I hated being dairy-free because I didn't feel a difference.

After six months, I was no less bloated than I had been when I started the diet, my energy levels were the same, and my stomach concerns hadn't improved. Everything was quite literally the same, so I felt like I was on the diet for absolutely no reason. When the six month mark passed, I was happy to get off of the dairy-free diet, not so that I could enjoy the occasional ice cream again, but so that I could feel less constrained by a non-effective diet.

In hindsight, I have to wonder if the dairy-free diet didn't work because I don't eat a lot of dairy to begin with, but I'm certainly not upset by the fact that I may never know the answer to that question.

Sugar-Free: The changes I experienced

candy, jelly beans, sweet, gelatin
Christin Urso

When I first went on the sugar-free diet, I constantly felt irritable and cranky because I simply wanted sugar. It was a craving that I couldn't shake, and the inability to satisfy that craving was even worse. I was still determined to conquer the diet and I refused to give up.

It took approximately a month for the cravings to start to subside. I started to feel less irritable, and when the cravings did appear with a vengeance, they didn't linger for too long. Eventually, I learned that sugar-free chocolate could sometimes make the craving go away entirely. At other times, I allowed myself to eat a thin slice of a frozen banana or a few berries so as to satisfy my fruit craving. This prevented me from completely breaking the diet by raiding our fridge and pantry.

While sugar-free, my diet consisted primarily of meat, fish, and vegetables, and I'd never felt healthier. By the six month mark, although my stomach concerns had endured, I was still pleased with the diet because my energy-levels had improved immensely—feeling like I was super healthy made me very happy. 

Which diet won?

cream, chocolate, ice, milk, dairy product, sweet, coffee, caramel, wafer
Rachel Kalichman

Neither diet actually served its purpose of banishing my stomach of its problems. But only one diet actually made a difference for me, and that was being sugar-free. While dairy-free, I felt and saw no changes, whereas, while I was sugar-free, my energy levels increased.

After the six months, my sugar-free diet had ended and I slowly incorporated a bit more sugar into my diet so as to satisfy the occasional cravings that I hadn't been able to shake during the previous months. I noticed that incorporating natural sugar such as fruit back into my routine actually helped me eat less. If anything, the sugar-free diet's drawback was the fact that I ate more food overall to compensate for the lack of sugar, causing me to gain some weight. Bringing some sugar back into my diet helped me satisfy my cravings so that I no longer had to compensate for them with unnecessary snacking. 

I don't regret going dairy-free or sugar-free. From the diets, I learned that what you eat can make a difference, and learning to control how much dairy and sugar you eat can actually alter how you feel. So if your doctor recommends that you give the dairy-free or sugar-free diets a chance, don't be afraid to give it a shot. Who knows? Maybe you'll love it.