At some point or another, we’ve all struggled with weight or health.

At this time of year with summer on the horizon, the pressure is greater than ever to get in tip-top shape. I’ve struggled with feeling confident, healthy, and maintaining my weight since middle school, and I’ve tried many different diets and regimens: vegetarian, paleo, counting macros, counting calories, running, P90x, Insanity, CrossFit, Pilates.

I’ve followed, watched, read, and listened to many YouTube videos, fitness blogs, podcasts, books, and Instagram accounts. The list goes on. Through all of this trial and error, I feel like I’ve really come to know my body, to know what works, and to know what doesn’t. Right now, I think I’ve found a winning formula, that isn’t too painful, to help you on your bikini body journey.

I’ve also got that whole wedding thing coming up, so my fiancé and I came up with a plan to get shedding for the wedding. It’s not particularly novel. It’s something we’d talked about ad nauseam, but we just hadn’t actually gone through with it. It is amazing how effective a wedding can be at motivating a person.

What was the plan? Like I said, it’s nothing that we haven’t all heard before: consistent and varied cardio and weights exercise and eliminating processed food.

The new, big addition? We would avoid added sugar and white flour. Basically, we were going fairly low carb.

I’d seen the documentary Fed Up about the deleterious effects of sugar several years ago. Lately I’d been hearing more about the film’s heavy influencer Dr. Mark Hyman through various Internet trolling and reading. I’m familiar with the low carb thing and a new resurgence of embracing good fats, but I read into it a little more through Mark and his 10-day detox.

I don’t think you need to buy the book to get the gist of Mark’s recommendations. Search the Internet for that. Nor have we adopted all of his suggestions. For instance, I cannot give up fruit, nor do I think one should, even when trying to lose weight. This is where the “knowing yourself;” portion of health is so important.

I know that if I give up fruit, I won’t be able to stay sane. I don’t eat pounds of fruit by any means, but I have a great, big smoothie almost every morning, and I put in as much darn fruit as I like. And, it is delicious.

Also, I don’t recommend nor do I plan to eliminate this amount of carbs from my diet forever. Once I’ve reached a weight and health I’m satisfied with, I’ll definitely be reintroducing rice, oatmeal, white potatoes, and other good stuff on a more regular basis.

I still want to live, people.

But back to the point. Basically, Mark advocates diet as our greatest tool for health. Again, no big surprises there. He is the head of functional medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, and his philosophy focuses on a near paleo-style of eating. The greatest nutritional demon in his opinion? Sugar. Sugar and white flour. So, we would give it up.

In addition, I’ve avoided all dairy aside from goat cheese, butter, and grass-fed yogurt. The reason? Not only does this help with weight loss and the ceaseless siren song of cheese, but dairy messes with my skin. Goat milk products, butter, and plain yogurt, thankfully, don’t negatively affect it.

So, it’s been 30 days, and we’ve both done pretty darn well staying on track! Read on for my main takeaways as we move onto our next 30 days.

The Benefits: First, eliminating sugar and almost all dairy has an amazing effect on my skin. My face clears up almost within two weeks. It’s crazy, and it’s always the case. I was vegetarian for five years, and I loved eating that way. It definitely kept my weight in check. However, my skin hates it. I was on intense acne treatment with retinae and benzoyl peroxide treatments to keep things clear while vegetarian. Now this isn’t the case for everyone, but it’s the case for me.

I’ve tried going vegetarian/vegan since, and the effect on my skin is always the same. I’m thankful through experimenting with my diet that I found a natural way to keep my skin looking great through diet and awesome natural skincare! If you’re having acne trouble, I highly recommend trying to eliminate dairy and sugar.

Next, our energy is consistent. My fiancé especially, a soda addict, commented on how much more energy he has at all times. Weaning off of the caffeine and sugar hit of soda is difficult, but he really likes the way he feels now. I feel better able to get up and go, especially if I’m doing a morning workout.

Oh, and have I mentioned we look better? He has lost 15 pounds, I’ve lost 7, and both of our clothes just fit better (obviously). It’s awesome, and we just feel better.

Favorite Meals: Meal planning and preparation can be a huge hurdle and block to eating better.

My fiancé isn’t a big cook, so he’s shied away from the kitchen in the past. However, it doesn’t have to be a production or hassle. I love meals that can be thrown into a Crockpot or the oven. Though some food blogs make exotic or complicated dishes look so simple and mouth-watering, I’m not here for 20-ingredient-long recipes or hours in the kitchen. We’ve learned to keep things simple and delicious, and that’s a big reason why we’ve been able to stick to it.

For lunches, I love baking a week’s work of chicken sausage and pairing it with some roasted sweet potato and salad. For dinners, we’ll have roasted fish, beef, or chicken with some sort of veggie or salad. It’s so easy to find sauce and seasoning ideas online to make things delicious. A favorite dinner when we’re having cravings is burgers topped with goat cheese with sweet potato fries and salad. It’s so good and simple. It doesn’t feel you’re missing out on anything.

For breakfast, I look forward to my smoothie every single day. I switch it up with all kinds of frozen fruit combinations, yogurt, water, and some spinach.

Effective Workouts: You’re probably not going to want to hear this, but I find the tough workouts are the best at helping me lose weight. Thirty minutes of walking a day just isn’t going to cut it. Typically, I try to get in 30 minutes of some type of cardio 5 times a week. The best calorie scorcher for me has always been running. I don’t do it every day, I alternate days, and my goal at the moment is simply to make it two miles in any way possible in 30 minutes. I do intervals of varying speeds and lengths to keep my body guessing. I’m always left sweaty, tired, and invigorated.

There are a literal ton of free, treadmill/running interval workouts online. There are some ridiculously hard ones too, so you’ll be able to find one to challenge you even if you’re a pro. The other cardio I’ve incorporated are the Kayla Itsines Circuits. They are HIIT circuits that are seriously tough. I like to increase difficulty by adding extra weight to exercises for toning benefits. Otherwise, I pepper in abs and P90x/CrossFit inspired weight training for arms, chest, and legs. I love weights! They make me feel strong and adding muscle mass is great for weight loss. I also love the Fitness Blender YouTube channel when I’m in a workout rut.

Overcoming Cravings: Cravings are inevitable, but I feel like we’ve done a good job at managing them. I think it’s because this “diet” doesn’t feel like one because all the food we eat is so darn good. Here is the food we love that doesn’t break the rules and some that sort of push the limits of the rules:

Fresh fruit – my fiancé has replaced his habit of going to the grocery store to get a soda with picking up a fresh fruit bowl. It replaced that bad habit and leaves him just as, if not more, satisfied.

The cheat day – at the end of every 30 days, we get a cheat day. Even if we fantasize about all the disgustingly unhealthy food we’re going to eat and don’t actually eat it on the day, there’s a mental satisfaction to this method. At the end of the 30 days during our indulgence, it felt really good to reflect on the 30 days and having it be enough time to experience a change and switch to new habits. It is a great mental exercise to take a craving and drop it in the “cheat day; ” It makes it tolerable, and one day in 30 days won’t mess up everything up.

“Healthy” treats – I love sweet potato chips, St. Croix sparkling water/tea to add variety to drinking plain water, nuts (even flavored nuts that can be a bit more “processed”), almond butter, and Kind bars. The last three are pushing the health rules a bit. I love Justin’ Vanilla Almond Butter, which has a bit of added sugar. It tastes like marshmallow fluff! A spoonful of this is an amazing after-dinner treat.

Kind bars have always been a favorite of mine and great for a fast snack when you are totally starving. Healthy treats and snacks are a must for staying on track!

Top tips: I’m not counting calories. I’;m aware of portion size, and I try to reserve fruit and starchier stuff for the beginning of the day, but other than that, I’m eating when I’m hungry. What a crazy idea! This has really contributed to not feeling limited or restricted in any way. Also, grab a partner. Keeping each other accountable has made staying on track so much easier. Finally, grab yourself some great music and Instagram inspiration. Even when I feel too exhausted to do anything, a good song pumps me right up. I’ve been loving the artist Sigala lately.

So, we’ll see how the second month goes. This success could just be the result of cleaning up our diet overall and adding consistent exercise, so it will be interesting to see if it stays effective for month two. I know ramping up exercise intensity will be key to continuing to see positive results. Have you guys struggled with fitness and health? Any top tips to share?