This is something I actually didn’t think about until I ran out of lip balm. (If you’re like me, you might call all kinds of lip balm “ChapStick” and have to work really hard to call it something else, sort of like how all bandages are Band-Aids and all tissues are Kleenex.)
Eddy, being helpful, gave me an extra unopened lip balm that he kept in his bag. Great!
Except, when I got outside, I went to put it on, and it smelled…weird. I tasted it—ugh—it was sweet. And not just sweet like “aw,” sweet. It was like I’d crushed a jolly rancher into a fine powder and dunked my lips in it. It was foul.
I’ve never tossed something in the trash so fast.
We talk a lot about cravings and how people often feel like they’re having cravings “triggered” out of nowhere, but I don’t think it’s “out of nowhere” at all. If anything, I think that we’ve been so desensitized to the presence of sugar everywhere that the more mild hints of it don’t even register on our sugar radar… but they’re there. Ohhh, they’re there.
Like, for instance, salad dressing. Just about every commercially made salad dressing is overrun with sugar.
When do most people (except Texans, y’all are special when it comes to ranch dressing) use salad dressing? When they’re pouring it over a salad, right? What if I told you that part of the reason you were using that salad dressing (and using as much of it as you do in one sitting) was because of how sweet it is? Most commercially made salad dressings start with adding sugar, and then add additional flavors and levels of saltiness on top of that, specifically with the intention of getting you hooked. In modern times, people don’t become attached to flavor profiles—for example, I love the flavors of thyme and onion together, and I use them frequently as a go-to when I need to cook something quickly—they simply become attached to something based on the amount of “sweet” it provides. Food manufacturers know this, and take advantage of it by crafting their recipes sugar first.
I had a client once who loved sandwiches. Loved, loved, loved sandwiches. So, I asked said client what was used to make these magical sandwiches.
Wonder bread. Honey-baked ham. Miracle whip. Cheese. Romaine lettuce.
“I know, I know, but it’s like… comfort food. I grew up eating this!”
I gently suggested to said client that we “clean up” his ingredients, finding ways to use less-processed ingredients that still pack a lot of flavor and still allowed said client to enjoy the experience of eating a sandwich.
The ingredient swap began. Wonder bread was notoriously sweet—wonder bread is so sweet, that recipes for homemade versions of it frequently call for a quarter to a half-cup of sugar for what amounts to one loaf of wonder bread—so we switched that out with something lower in sugar. Honey-baked ham, while I wanted to chide him for choosing the sweetest deli meat there was, I decided to let that slide for now. The Miracle Whip had to go, though. That ain’t even mayonnaise. Swapped it out for an actual mayonnaise that didn’t have sugar in it—because mayonnaise doesn’t have sugar in it, obvi—and, wouldn’t you know, the client took a bite of that sandwich and, all of a sudden, it became clear: it wasn’t sandwiches that he loved… it was the sugar.
Sugar is everywhere. Your breath mints? Literally sugar—often confectioners sugar, which is regular granulated sugar ground down into a fine powder—and peppermint extract. Your chap stick? Literally sugar and wax or cocoa butter or petroleum jelly and artificial flavoring (and alcohols and acids intended to dry your lips out so that you use it more frequently, but I’m sleep.) Things that you use innocently ultimately contribute to triggering your brain to think about “sweet” and, by extension, sugar. There’s a reason you likely prefer “honey mustard” over regular tart mustard, which has flavors of vinegar and black pepper instead of, well, sugar. We have the typical understandings of sugar—table sugar, sodapop, juice, smoothies—but the stuff we don’t think twice about? That’s the stuff that we need to get rid of the most. It’s also the hardest to sniff out. Gotta read those labels. It’s the only way to truly get rid of the sugar habit for good.
Our world is more and more inclined to sell us sugar because, quite honestly, it works. We respond to “sweet”—not just sugar, and not just certain kinds, but the actual taste of “sweet”—on a level so deep that it triggers a reaction from the hormones in our brain. Constantly triggering that hormone to react means that we become desensitized to the presence of “sweet,” eventually require more “sweet” to give us the same original reaction in our brains. To not give ourselves this increasing level of “sweet” is to trigger withdrawal symptoms. Another word for withdrawal symptoms is… “cravings.”
One of the best things we can all do to make our fitness goals a little more attainable is to remove the presence of “sweet” in our lives. That means not just switching from regular sodapop to diet, it means switching from all sodapop to water (or fizzy water, if you’re so inclined.) That means not just going from using sugar in drinks to juice—it means going from sugar-sweetened beverages to water or tea with milk, entirely. It means getting rid of the sweeter versions of things you love—like ketchup or toothpaste or breads or whatever—in favor of something less sweet.
The first step in regaining control of yourself and developing that holy grail of will power is reducing the number of sources of “sweet” in your life, thereby controlling the number of craving triggers you experience, thereby giving you power over your own ability to say no. Once you do that, it all becomes infinitely easier. Your body will thank you for it!