Every day more and more information is coming out about the evils of sugar. Sugar has been linked to everything from diabetes to inflammation, heart disease, compromised immune function, and a whole slew of other chronic diseases. So why on earth do we still eat so much of it even when we know the dangers? Frankly, I think it is because it just tastes so damn good and those cravings are too tough to ignore.
As a sugar junkie for most of my life, I still get excited about the delicious decadent treats popping up on my Instagram feed, but these days I prefer to simply window shop rather than to buy. I have very strong personal reasons that make me want to stay away from sugar and they have nothing to do with the number on the scale. You see, the more sugar I eat, the more sugar I want. The more sugar I eat, the more anxious I get, the angrier I get, the more I let self-doubt and self-criticism creep in, the more I get PMS, and I find myself thinking about food all day long. In other words, I feel horrible and yet all I want to do is eat more and more!
For most of my life, the thought of taking a break from sugar would have thrown me into a complete panic. What was a birthday without buttercream frosted mocha-filled birthday cake? Isn’t Thanksgiving all about the chocolate fudge pecan pie? Now, yes, I indulge from time to time, but it is a conscious choice, not a perceived “weakness” as I used to think of it. I make a decision and I enjoy it without guilt. Sometimes I enjoy ALOT of it! But, then after a day (or a week) of indulgence, I simply take the sugar out again and go back to a craving-free existence.
As a Healthy Living Strategist, I help many people eliminate or reduce the sugar in their diets to help them move from feeling like, “I can’t have it” to “I just don’t want it”. I have learned that different approaches work for different people. Some people like to take a break from sugar and get quick results from my “Ditch Your Sugar Itch” program, but others prefer a slow and steady approach.
For those who prefer the more gradual approach, here is a 6-week plan for reducing your sugar intake and significantly lessening those cravings along the way:
Week One: Choose one treat that you really love like dark chocolate or gummy worms and allow yourself to eat that treat when your sugar cravings are raging. When you want a dessert, only eat that treat and eat it in moderation. Do not, however, eat any of the other available treats like cookies, ice cream, cake, candy, etc. You will continue eating your treat (in moderate amounts) for the next 4 weeks.
Week Two: Remove artificial sweeteners from your diet. Artificial sweeteners trick our brains into thinking we are satisfying our sweet tooth with them but since they are NOT real sugar, our brain (which is expecting real sugar and is NOT getting it) starts craving sugar even more. Even stevia, which is considered “natural” because it is derived from a plant, is so much sweeter than sugar that it keeps our sugar craving engines fired up and looking for more.
Week Three: Remove fruit juice and dried fruit from your diet this week. A glass of apple juice contains the same amount of sugar as a glass of Coke. Eaten whole, with the fiber intact, we get the benefit of a slower, steadier release of sugar and the fullness factor that fiber provides. But, when the fiber is removed, as it is with juice, we’re left with a whole heap of sugar that just gives us that sugar spike and crash. As for dried fruits, most contain double, and sometimes even triple, the sugar content of fresh fruit.
Week Four: Remove natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup from your diet. There are many great attributes to honey and maple, but they will keep you craving sugar in a big way. Don’t worry; you can bring these back later. Be sure to read labels on anything packaged since sugar is snuck into most processed foods.
Week Five: Ok, the time has come, to take a break from your special treat.Simply eat some fruit when you crave the sugar. Since you are no longer eating artificial sweeteners, fruit juice, dried fruit, natural sweeteners, or other sweet treats, this will likely be much easier than you thought. Try not to increase your the number of pieces of fruit right now.
Week Six: Limit your fruit intake to 2 pieces a day. You may start to notice that vegetables are sweeter than you ever imagined and have a new appreciation for food tastes in general. At this point, you will have removed most of the sugar in your diet, and it is time to decide how you want to proceed. You may feel so great that you want to continue to eat this way, or you may decide to use natural sweeteners from time to time – but at this point, they’re much less likely to kick you into those uncontrollable cravings.
Congratulations! By now, you have hopefully moved from the “I can’t have it” mentality to the “I don’t want it” mentality, and that feeling – that freedom is sweeter than sugar:)