When I first made the conversion away from processed foods, I didn’t dump my entire kitchen completely but I definitely stuffed it with tons of fruits and vegetables. I remember not being able to believe it at first – that I could eat food and feel full without having had to dive nose-first into 1,300 calories – and, like I wrote before, still tried to eat some processed foods while thinking I could maintain that control. Yeah, needless to say, that was a fail.
In my opinion, if you’re an emotional eater, then your emotional eating and sugar addiction go hand in hand. Sugar addiction exists because of the feeling that ingesting sugar gives you, and the amount that you ingest will increase each time you eat and don’t get the same kind of feeling you were hoping for. The chase of that high comes coupled with a slew of calories, which is why it can become a weight issue, as well. An emotional eater can also be an extremely active person and, therefore, not have any weight issues.
It wasn’t until I failed – several times – that I realized that I simply cannot eat processed foods. Call it – or me – whatever you will, I know my limitations… and they include products created by companies who have millions of dollars invested in creating formulas (because they aren’t recipes) that the public cannot resist. The best thing I could’ve done for myself, in this instance, was making myself aware of my limitations. This is one of them. They simply trigger a part of me that I have no desire to test to determine whether or not I’m truly beyond it.
That being said, when I saw that SparkPeople has an article about beating and defeating a sugar addiction, I was overjoyed. A lot of this outlines what I endured and how I overcame my own addiction, and I think I may even add to this later on in the future. It’s really a dope start.
Week 1: Identify Sugar and Where It’s Hiding
The first step in conquering your sugar habit is to rid your pantry and refrigerator of added sugar. Some things (think ice cream, cookies and candy) are obvious, but most of us need to look closer at where the sugar in our diets is coming from. This will require a bit of label reading in the beginning, but after a while, it will become easier.
In order to cut back on hidden or added sugar, scan the ingredients list of a food label. If you see any of the following terms listed, then sugar has been added to the product in one form or another and it is best left on the shelf at the store—especially if that sugar shows up within the first five ingredients of any food product.
This first week is about awareness. Reading labels before you buy—or bite. How many of your favorite foods contain hidden sugars in the top of their ingredients lists?
Once you have identified the sources of sugar in your diet, clean out your kitchen. Throw out or donate all of the products that contain hidden or added sugars, including any juice, soda, candy, sweets and seemingly healthy snacks like granola bars, fruit and grain bars, instant oatmeal and sports drinks. This may sound drastic, but stay with me!
Remember, you don’t have to throw away everything that is sweet! Natural sugar, like the kind you find in whole fruit, contains vitamins, minerals and fiber, which are lost in the processing of juice. Milk contains naturally occurring sugars, but also provides calcium, vitamin D and protein. So unlike soda, fruit juices and other processed foods, whole fruit and dairy products provide us with essential vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. Be wary of certain fruit- or milk-based products that contain added sugars though: flavored milk, many yogurts, fruits canned or jellied in added sugar or syrups, and the like. Opt for unflavored skim or 1% milk, plain yogurt or Greek yogurt, and whole pieces of fruit. Remember, we are trying to cut out the 151 pounds a year of added sugar, not the naturally occurring sugar found in whole foods.
Week 2: Stock Your Sugar-Free Kitchen
In one week, you’ve probably found lots of sugar in your diet. Some of it may have been obvious, like those frozen waffles or lattes from the local coffee joint. But others might not have been so clear, as sugar tends to lurk in many “diet” foods and lower-fat foods, added by manufacturers to make their low-cal offerings taste better.
Now that you know what to look for (and avoid), it’s time to replace the products you tossed with sugar-free counterparts. For example, replace high-sugar cereals with a whole grain cereal that contains little to no added sugars. Sweeten it naturally with fresh berries or half of a diced banana. Instead of snacking on candy or cookies, reach for a handful of nuts or some raw veggies and hummus. Replace sweetened yogurt with Greek yogurt or plain yogurt. Look back at week one and the foods you used to eat that contained sugar. Can you find no-sugar oatmeal? A healthier snack than a sugar-sweetened smoothie (how about a whole piece of fruit)? A more filling afternoon treat than that sugary “protein bar” (such as peanut butter on whole-grain crackers)?
When choosing a refreshing beverage to quench your thirst, keep in mind that you want to eat your calories, not drink them. Choose ice cold water flavored with a squeeze of fresh lemon or an orange slice. Or flavor unsweetened iced tea with fresh mint, crushed raspberries, or a squeeze of citrus.
One tip to help you avoid added sugar at the supermarket is to shop the perimeter of the grocery store as much as possible. Think about the general layout of a grocery store: The outside is home to fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, dairy products, and whole grain breads and the inside aisles are stocked with cookies, chips, soda, fruit juice, cake mixes, and other processed foods. Spend most of your time on the outside and only go down the inner aisles for specific products, like whole-grain pasta.
Never shop on an empty stomach and always shop with a list. Shopping while hungry can lead you to adding all kinds of snacks and impulse buys to your cart. Meal planning can be a tricky task at first, but following a meal plan is an important part of breaking the sugar addiction. It will help to keep you on track and help prevent stopping for fast food when you don’t have a game plan for dinner. Spend a little time on Sunday afternoons jotting down some meal ideas for throughout the week. Make a list of the food items you will need to make the meals you wrote down and stick to it!
Week 3: Stop the Cravings
Now you really start to put your plan into action. You’ve identified the sources of added sugar in your diet and replaced those foods with healthier and more wholesome alternatives. Your kitchen is now set up for success!
This week’s focus should be on making a conscious effort to avoid sugary foods. When a craving strikes, try going for a walk or simply drinking a glass of water. Take a hot bath or get lost in a good book. Typically any craving will pass if you wait it out long enough. But it’s important to begin understanding the difference between true hunger and food cravings. If you are truly hungry, a handful of nuts or some raw veggies dipped in hummus will sound appetizing, so go ahead and eat one of your healthy snacks. But if you’re craving something sweet or a specific sugary food, use a distraction technique.
The first week of saying no to sugar will be the hardest, but the more diligently you stick to your plan, the better you’ll fare in the end. Even a tiny taste of sugar during this time period can lead to setbacks.
After a couple sugar-free weeks, your sugar threshold will start to decrease and you will find that you no longer crave sugar or sweets as you once did. As with any lifestyle change, the first couple of weeks are the hardest. Eventually, it will become habit to reach for a mint tea or piece of fruit instead of juice and candy.
Week 4: Game Plan for Life
Now that you have yanked that sweet tooth, it’s time to devise a plan to prevent a sugar relapse. Although sugar isn’t necessary for health and it’s perfectly fine if you want to continue avoiding it, it probably isn’t realistic for most people to avoid all forms of sugar forever.
So if you want to allow a little sweetness back into your life, that’s OK. Moderation is key. Don’t let sugar and sweets become a daily habit. Instead, consider them to be special occasion treats only. With your lowered threshold for sweetness, that shouldn’t be too hard. But if you begin to indulge too often or overindulge over a short period of time (such as a weeklong vacation), you could find yourself back in trouble with sugar all over again.
If you slip up, don’t beat yourself up over it. Accept your action and decide to make a better decision next time and move on. Continue to experiment with your new, healthy foods and recipes. You’d be surprised at how many ways you can make treats healthier and use far less sugar than a recipe suggests.
And remember: It generally takes about 3-4 weeks for a new behavior to become habit, the most important thing is to stick with it.
While there are a few parts of this that I don’t agree with – “moderation” being one of them, ignoring what makes people turn to sugar in the first place being another – there are large chunks of this that I believe parallel what I’ve experienced in my own journey. And while I, also, don’t think it’s only a “four week” affair, I think that taking a long, hard look at the steps it takes to defeat a sugar addiction can give many people the leg-up they require to be successful.