Breaking Up With Sugar: Your How-To Guide
I made a confession last week. If you missed it you can check out the post over here, but the long and short of it is that I came out as a sugar addict. It’s an affliction that’s more common than you’d think and yes, on occasion it has even the most health conscious amongst us under its grip.
I believe that addiction to sugar goes well beyond the mere physical ability to resist temptation. When it comes to beating your cravings you need more than just a healthy dose of willpower. You need real nutritional and psychological strategies to combat what is a very real nutritional deficiency and psychological sticking point.
The Science Of Sugar Addiction
The desire to not only eat something sweet but to consume as much as you can get your grubby little hands on is something that harks back many years. Specifically, to a time when survival meant hunting, gathering and occasionally going without or risk being ravaged by a wildebeest. And even when food was readily available it certainly wasn’t available on a choice basis. You got what you were given. Natural sugars such as fruits and even vegetables are very much seasonal foods, meaning that our evolution has not included them on a daily or even weekly or monthly basis. There are two clear implications here when it comes to sweet foods and the effect they have on your physiology.
1. We are designed to eat as much carbohydrate (sugars) as possible when they come into season – which is typically in Summer. Traditionally this is how we would prepare for the cold months ahead, in which food may be limited.
2. The obvious follow-on from this is that our very physiology is such that when we start eating sugar our brain sends a message telling us to keep eating it for as long as it’s available. In the ‘real’ world this is an important way of keeping us alive and providing us a necessary layer of stored body fat.
So we’re programmed to eat sugar for as long as it’s available. Now is it just me, or is that the scariest freakin’ thing you’ve heard all year? I don’t know about you, but in my world sugar is pretty much always available. I’ve got 7-Eleven over the road from home (not to mention my partner’s pretty dubious shopping habits), the city’s best candy store downstairs from my work, packets and packets of the stuff surrounding me whenever I fuel my other big addiction (no prizes for guessing), and let’s not even get started on the David Jones foodhall and its chocolate-bullet-y goodness temptation.
This is really going to freak you out
It gets worse. Not only are you programmed to eat sugar for as long as it’s available – an obvious reason for why even ‘healthy whole-grain’ carb-addicts find it tough to break the cycle – but your brain sends out even more urgent messages for you to keep eating when you choose a form of sugar that is completely unnatural or nutrient-deficient. Real forms of sugar such as fruit and honey contain nutrition, and your body knows that. When you choose to fuel yourself with sweetness but no nutrition follows, your body feels tricked. And responds with an instant demand for more. And I’m talking more more MORE. Not that I really have to tell you that though, do I?
Ending The relationship
Breaking free of sugar could very well be one of the toughest things you ever do. The rewards should be obvious, but I’ll shout ’em out anyway.
- Gaining a sense that you’re in control of your food choices, your body, and your health
- Living longer (insulin, released every-time you eat sugar or carbs, is the aging hormone and being resistant to insulin is directly linked to how long you might live)
- Reducing risk of x-syndrome metabolic disease such as diabetes, as well as obesity and heart disease risk
- Weight loss
- Clearer and brighter skin
- Improved energy and balanced moods
- Creating healthy habits for a healthier life
Personally I tend to be very much an all or nothing kind of gal. I might struggle for the first day or two of going 100% clean, and then it becomes fairly easy to say no. I credit this very much to the foods I choose to put in instead, rather than simply to having iron willpower (I don’t). But it works both ways – give me a cheat meal in which I indulge in cheesecake, chocolate pudding, or anything else sugar-laced and I find it really really tough not to just keep going the next day. On occasions this has led to days if not weeks on end of eating well at my meals but snacking on rubbish in between. Fortunately – and despite the fact that it has taken me the better part of a decade – there are a few solid techniques I now use to keep me on track and also allow me to enjoy the occasional indulgence.
Protein and fat at each meal
Failure to eat adequate protein and fat is a sure-fire way to set yourself up for sugar cravings and a carb rollercoaster. Be sure to start the day with animal protein and smart fats (nuts, avocado, coconut oil), and include the same at each meal.
Never get over-hungry
Unless you’re actually fasting, avoid letting yourself get starving. You know that’s when you’re at your weakest. If a meeting or other appointment is going to mess up your meal-times then be prepared by carrying a portable protein-based snack.
I’m more in favour of mini-meals (small serve of meat and green veg) than actual snacks, but if you do choose to snack always make it protein-based. Eating low-fat yogurt and/or fruit for a snack might sound healthy but really it will just make you crave more sugar. Choose full-fat organic dairy, hard-boiled eggs, nut butters with berries, or coconut oil mixed with raw cacao and I guarantee you’ll last through to dinner easily.
If you really just can’t seem to break the cravings try this. Mix a teaspoon of high-grade glutamine (an amino acid that boosts the immune system and supports fat loss) with a teaspoon of full-fat cream. You can take this up to every hour to combat cravings. I’ve had clients absolutely swear by it. I’d also recommend taking fish oil capsules to combat cravings as well as manage blood sugars (and for a bunch of other health reasons!)
Control the situation
Breaking your sugar habit is as much psychological as it is nutritional. It will take you a few weeks of following new snack and meal habits before it really becomes automatic, so in the meantime you need to control the situation. If that means skipping social events or workplace morning teas for a few weeks, so be it. If it means leaving a room to get away from tempting treats, or jumping in the shower or brushing your teeth to avoid nipping out to 7-Eleven, so be it. It’s worth making the effort to break those old habits as you reach toward your goal of a healthier you who is in control of their food choices.
You may find it helps to enlist the help and accountability of a like-minded friend. I often do a low-carb or no-sugar bootcamp alongside my sister or a friend, and it really makes a difference to know you have to answer to someone. You may also like to consider working with a health coach such as myself, either through group health telecoaching (starts Wed July 14th; one space left!), or by working your way through an appropriate support guide and resource such as my new holistic weight loss book (yes, shameless plug, but I’d also be keen to hear about any other resources that have worked for you!)
Those are my top tips and the ones which work for me time and time again, but I’d love to hear your input. What works for you?