For many of us, sugary foods are some of the most tempting foods available. Humans have an innate love of sugar, which explains why early humans gravitated toward them. Historically, sweeter foods were most likely to be the safest foods found in nature, while bitter foods, could be really good for you, but were also more likely to be toxic. Can you imagine being the first human to try a food, not knowing if it would make you sick, or worse? I always wonder who tried the first artichoke. Talk about a tricky food to navigate.
According to the American Heart Association, these are the major sources of added sugar:
- Soft drinks,
- fruit drinks,
- Dairy desserts (such as ice cream & sweetened yogurt),
- Sugar-laden grains (e.g. waffles and cinnamon rolls).
I will put my two cents in and say that I have observed coffee & energy drinks as being a major sugar source as well, especially true for those in early recovery from drugs and alcohol. Once upon a time, people drank black coffee with zero sugar, compared to the 30 grams of sugar we now add to our morning brew!
Reducing sugar cravings is not that easy. Let’s go back to what I said earlier. Humans crave sweets and will even risk pain to get it. We are hard-wired for the taste of sweetness. Mother’s milk is sweet after all. So how do we win the sugar battle? Some people will need to work on slowly reducing their sugar intake, while others need to go the “cold turkey” route. Regardless, of how you start to tackle your sugar overconsumption, your long term plan needs to be something that will be sustainable over time.
What are we to do? Follow these 5 Tips to Help You Reduce Your Sugar Intake
Before you start to feel overwhelmed, there are several small changes you can make in your diet to reduce your sugar intake.
- Eat Fruit – Fruit is sweet and contains antioxidants and vitamins & minerals. Check out Paleo, Whole 30 and other recipes that include non-sugar-containing desserts.
- Don’t use chemical sweeteners. The sugar alcohols (zero alcohol content) like erythritol, xylitol & sorbitol are often used instead of sugar, which can cause bloating and gas. Beware! Monk fruit & stevia are better options.
- Dark chocolate – Dark chocolate is my personal sweet indulgence of choice. It is wise to get to know how much you can control and how much you can’t. Don’t let anyone tell you that you “should” be able to handle eating a normal amount of a certain food. Maybe you just can’t. Maybe their normal is different than your normal.
- Avoid liquid Calories – Liquid calories have been shown NOT to register fullness in the same way as solid food. So if you drink your favorite high-calorie liquid sugar or caffeine drink, odds are you will probably want more. According to the American Heart Association, women should only consume 100 calories per day, or 6 teaspoons of sugar (24 grams) daily, so keep this in mind next time you reach for a sweetener. Oops!
- Eat Protein! It’s imperative that you get enough protein, especially animal protein, and calories so you are full and satisfied when giving up sugar. And don’t forget the good fats like avocados, nuts, and seeds. Being hungry will only trigger your sugar cravings.
Sugar acts like a drug
Sugar raises dopamine. Dopamine is a motivational or “seeking” neurotransmitter. Depending on what you seek, life can seem very positive or very grim.
Who doesn’t like sweets for dessert? But some people can not stop their sugar drive and binge on it. Sugar doesn’t have many calories by itself, so feeling full from sugar alone is hard to do, so your stomach and brain will still be hungry and will undoubtedly want more sugar. That makes sugar very hard to walk away from!
Many years ago I worked with a client who has highly addicted to sugar, more addicted than anyone I had ever worked with before. This woman consumed about 8 cups of sugar daily. She basically just poured pure sugar in a bowl and ate it with a spoon! I’m always amazed when health care professionals argue that there is no such thing as sugar addiction. It’s a refined white powder after all!
Drug & Alcohol Recovery + Sugar
In early recovery, which may last for many months, sugar and caffeine are especially tempting. As the brain withdraws from drugs and alcohol, cravings become intense. Sugar, caffeine, and nicotine feed those cravings. Although it may seem better to overeat sugar than to relapse on drugs, after the first 30 days of abstinence, it’s important to re-evaluate your sugar consumption and come up with a plan to reduce it.
What happens to your body when you stop eating sugar?
If you decide to not eat any sugar you will likely go into a type of withdrawal. I had a client at a substance abuse treatment program who had relapsed on alcohol several times and couldn’t seem to catch a break. Since alcohol and sugar often go hand and hand, I recommended that she try to cut sugar out of her diet. She reported back to me that giving up sugar was harder than giving up alcohol! But I am happy to say that she has been sober for many years now and to this day she claims that giving up sugar was a contributing factor.
Regardless of whether you decide to totally give up sugar, cut back on it or wait and see, it is smart to make sure you are getting enough protein, water, and fruits & vegetables in your daily diet. Every step forward counts!
If you’re interested in reading more about sugar and it’s impact on your diet or recovery, the books listed here are a great start! If you’ve read any books or articles that you found to be helpful, please leave a comment and share them with our readers!