Sugar, the forbidden fruit. The one thing we know is bad for us but just can’t seem to stop eating it. Sugar sure is one of the biggest diet challenges for most of us (including me). Unfortunately there is no way around it – it IS unhealthy and it WILL significantly impact your weight loss efforts if you don’t control your cravings.
The problem is that since we were tiny little babies, we were given sugar. Sweet treats have always been some form of reward, whether it was because you are a baby and it is just so cute if you have a face covered with chocolate or cookies or chips. If you fell and cried you would be given a sweet to calm you down and make you feel better. Now that you’re an adult the case might be a little different – you hit an afternoon slump and need something to boost you or you have had the most stressful day so you deserve to indulge in whatever will make you feel better that night. We have been programmed to see treats as a form of reward or comfort.
“Sweet is the first taste humans prefer from birth,” says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a dietitian and American Dietetic Association (ADA) spokeswoman1. If this isn’t bad enough, sugar (which is a form of carbohydrate) releases the feel-good hormone serotonin2 and gives us a natural “high”. So yes, it does seem like the universe is against us NOT eating sugar. And let’s face it, sugary treats are simply amazing. If there was one wish I could make was that I could eat all things chocolate and it will not have any effect on my body (inside and out). But this is never going to be an option so I am left having to face reality – if I want a healthy life I need to control my sugar intake. Simple.
Ok, it might be simple – but easy, hell no.
In my opinion you can choose one of two routes:
Option 1: Go cold turkey
This approach is not for everyone. Some people find it easier to quit any habit by just cutting it out of their lives completely and push through the hard days. Others can’t. If you are one of those people who wouldn’t be able to just have a bite and move on, this is the option you’ll go for.
Now you will need to fight through some very difficult days (especially the first 48 – 72 hours) but it will get better. The longer you go without sugar the less intense your cravings will get. You will also notice that you need less sugar to satisfy your taste buds and other foods will taste much sweeter than they used to when your taste buds were over stimulated with sugar. That dark chocolate you couldn’t stand will suddenly become just as satisfying as milk chocolate was back when you ate too much sugar. Normal foods will taste better as your palette adjusted to your new lifestyle.
A downfall of this option is that it will take great will power, you cannot give in to your cravings especially those first few weeks. But if you can just push through this, you’ll be ok. You will feel crappy, you will feel irritated and like “you can’t eat anything”, but that is just a phase and your mind playing tricks on you to try and convince you to give in. Don’t. It will be worth it and these feelings won’t last long.
A few things that helped me when I went cold turkey on sugar:
- I ate a lot of sugar free gum. No one likes to eat after they’ve just brushed their teeth because everything just tastes awful. This is what the gum helped with. Before I went to a meeting where I knew there would be snacks I would put some gum in my mouth and took a bottle of water with. I knew the minty taste in my mouth would ruin the taste of anything else so it made me not want to eat the snacks available.
- I removed myself from the situation temporarily. When the cravings came, I would get up and take a walk around the office, go make some tea, go talk to a friend, make a phone call or go to the bathroom. Anything to take your mind off the temptation at that very moment.
- I made people around me aware that I am avoiding sugar. This way no one would buy me a chocolate “just because” or ask me to walk with them to the canteen to go buy something. They wouldn’t offer me cupcakes and sweets and pass me by if treats were handed out (it sucked sometimes, but it’s easier not to have to say no). And when I had a big presentation or something that came up, they would give me a sugar free energy drink to say good luck for example. It’s very sweet to see how people start supporting you and it becomes easier to keep going.
- I kept focusing on the reason why I’m doing it. If you keep your eye on the reason why you do anything, many obstacles you need to face becomes easier to deal with. What is most important to you? Because if it is not your end goal, you won’t be able to stay focused on how to get there. Decide what you want most, junk food or your goal.
One of the most difficult things to do is not giving in to a sugar craving. It consumes your every thought and you struggle to move on from the possibility of having that treat. It’s hard for everyone. Will you give in to short term temptation or adjust your focus to long term goals? The decision you make at that moment will determine how long it will take you to reach your end goal – so weigh up the importance and do what needs to be done.
Option 2: Limit your intake
This is a different approach and will ask a great deal of self control. You will need to be strong. With this approach you don’t cut sugar out but rather answer your craving with a taste of sugar. This is more or less what I am doing currently, I switch strategies every now and then depending on my goals.
How this option works:
- Always share. You never eat a treat by yourself. You buy one small chocolate bar and share it with someone. You take one cupcake or small piece of cake at a party and share it. You share everything. And not the party packs ;), you share the small portion between two or more people. Only one custard filled croissant will be bought and cut up into smaller pieces so you only have one little piece but still feel like you could enjoy the taste.
- Switch to healthier versions. Everything these days have a healthier option, take it (just make sure it really is healthier). Dark chocolate over milk chocolate, brown low GI bread over white, whole wheat pasta over white, baked potato over fried, fruit over sweets, homemade smoothie over store bought snack, plain yoghurt over cream, homemade hot chocolate over instant, sugar free peanut butter over normal peanut butter etc. Always choose the better option and nothing store bought with more than 5g of sugar per 100g.
- Negotiate with (and trick) yourself. I would eat a Bar One every day if I could, and I tell myself that I can – I just don’t want to. See how you can trick yourself? I tell myself I can eat whatever I want when I want it, but I also know what I want to achieve so I weigh up the situation and decide when will be the best time to do it. Fact – eat a chocolate everyday and you will not see progress. So this is the other side of the argument in my head when faced with the question of whether I’m going to eat unhealthy or not. Most times you let the good side win, otherwise you won’t see results. And sometimes you decide to go with it and take a little longer to get to your goal – it’s a negotiation with yourself daily. As long as you make the better choice more often than the unhealthy choice and you accept the consequences of the decision you will be fine. This helps a lot with cravings for me, thinking I can eat anything I want I just choose not to.
- Don’t waste the little sugar you are allowed to have. Soda for me personally is a waste, I don’t need it and if I need to choose whether I’m going to have a chocolate later or a soda now (juice included), I would always rather opt for the chocolate later and have water. Choose what you are willing to give up and stick to it. Rather save your sugar for the treats you really want, don’t say yes to everything. Once you get used to living without the options you are willing to give up, you won’t miss it and would appreciate the ones you do allow more. You need to make some sacrifices, make peace with it.
- Plan your meals. It’s much easier to stick to your plan if you have a plan! Often bad food choices are the result of not knowing what else you can eat so you grab the most convenient option which almost never is the right one. Get into the habit of planning your meals for the week and doing some prepping, it might seem like effort the first few times but once you see how easy and convenient it is to have a healthy plate of food ready when you need it you’ll never go back to the old way of doing things.
Too much sugar is not healthy and you will not make progress with your weight loss and toning efforts if you don’t make some adjustments to your diet. Remember sugar is a form of carbohydrates so when I refer to sugar it is not only the obvious ones in sweets but also refined carbs we eat like pastries, pasta, white bread, etc.
Find what strategy works for you and just always try to do a little better each week. Don’t be too hard on yourself, it’s not easy and just for trying you are a super star. Give yourself some credit. We are in this struggle together. Just keep going long enough for you to see and feel the difference – it will be much easier once you see how sugar affects your body, mood and long term energy.
Don’t give up before you reap the rewards of your efforts. Take it day by day and make each decision based on what’s most important to you. Keep your eye on the prize.
(Sorry for all the reference to chocolate, it’s my weak point so easy for me to make examples using it)