I get asked about quitting sugar more than any other thing (aside from musculoskeletal health, of course). Tricky business that sugar situation. Perhaps coming off the holidays you’re looking to commit to a life with less of the white stuff? Here are my thoughts having experimented with it from top to bottom.
First you need to be clear on what ‘sugar’ is. Actually, before that you need to be clear that I am neither a physician nor a dietician, so these meanderings are simply based my own personal experience as well as reading the research and a few nutrition courses over the years. When I say sugar I am referring to any substance that turns to sugar in your body. Many things you’re eating may not appear to be ‘sugar’ but as soon as they are broken down by the enzymes in your saliva that’s what they become, at least in part. A few examples would be bread, pasta, rice, most everything in a package, many beverages including all alcohol. Sugar, all of it.Also heads up that switching to ‘sugar free’ is rarely a good plan as most sweeteners are nasty chemicals that may be bad news for your overall health. I’m not going to get into that here but encourage you to research it for yourself.
Secondly, it may help you to know that white sugar has been shown to more addictive to humans than cocaine so please stop flogging yourself when you find it difficult to stop. It’s addictive because of what it does to our brain chemistry and many other body systems – totally messes with them.
This sugar/brain connection makes it very hard (impossible perhaps) to quit using willpower. It’s the reason we can stay strong until 9pm, then cave to the chocolate mousse we resisted all day. Or we resist until we are tired,hungry or stressed. In those situations, our unconscious mind takes over and we do the thing we said we would not do.
To beat this cycle we need to have a plan which involves using our conscious, thinking mind to circumnavigate the unconscious thought process. Begin by clarifying WHY you want to stop eating sugar. Dig deep Gorgeous. Because ‘it’s bad for you’ is probably not a good enough reason to pull you through at the end of a stressful day.
I finally kicked the habit when I became unwilling to live feeling so exhausted. Coupled with chronic bloating, a yucky feeling gut and occasional constipation (all of which will make one very tired and run down) I was willing to do anything to make it go away. As you may know I had already walked away from alcohol, in part to regain my energy. Ditching the booze was very helpful but I wanted to feel even better, and I still had these nagging symptoms with my gut and a constantly runny nose. Yuck! It’s just no way to live.
Figuring out YOUR why may require peeling away the layers to get to the bottom of it. Buckle up Baby, this may not be easy and it may hurt a little as you shed some layers but it will be worth it. For example, ‘I want to give up sugar to lose weight’…not good enough. WHY do you want to lose weight? Why? You need a compelling incentive.
Once you have a CAUSE solid enough to withstand the cravings I would suggest you get a plan. You WILL do better with less sugar in your life but how you go about it is up to you. Be intentional so you can figure out what works the best for your body and your life. Here are a few steps that worked for me:
- Journal about why you want to do this and how you feel when you get a craving. No one will read it so write whatever you want. This may seem like a ridiculous step to change the way you eat or drinkbut it is very powerful.
- Make sure you are drinking a lot of water and eating great sources of fiber like leafy green veggies, other veggies, more veggies of a different kind and then top it all off with one more veggie.
- Healthy fats (avocado, fish oil, good quality olive oil etc) are very good for the brain and an important part to helping manage cravings.
- I chose to cut out all sugar of every kind for the first few days (except for a handful of berries in my breakfast smoothie) and then gradually added stuff back in as my gut healed. I started with adding in apples because they have a low glycemic index.
- Know that if you have a craving it will pass. True story! After a few daysyou will no longer have a craving. But it’s good to plan ahead for what you will do if you feel like you are losing your mind at first! Go for a walk, do yoga, distract yourself with a movie, write in your journal. The cravings will be worse if you are hungry so make sure you’re eating enough good healthy food, drinking water and getting some movement. I promise you that cravings of any kind lose their impact over time because you are changing the way your brain is firing. Stay the course.
How has my sugar free life looked? My Dear Friend it has been a complete gamechanger. It was fascinating for me to watch what happened to my mental well being over the Christmas week. Yikes! It began with just one small oatmeal cookie and within a few days progressed to full on eating of anything sugary that I could get my hands on. Once the sugar path in your brain is reactivated it can become hard to want anything else, right?! My mental cheerfulness became harder to access day by day and I gradually felt more tired even though I was getting a lot of sleep. I was my own little science experiment and have re-committed to my sugar free life because I feel much better without it.
You have done many hard things in your life Sweetie and you can do this.