Cutting out, or cutting down on your refined sugar intake can be one of the best things you can do for your health, but it can be hard! It’s not just because you lack the willpower (although some of us definitely need to strengthen our willpower muscles), but it’s also biochemical. Eating too much sugar literally changes your brain; it reduces the amount of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF; the stuff our brain uses to form new memories, learn and remember) – bad news for our brain!
It gets worse, lower levels BDNF can contribute to insulin resistance, which leads to type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome and, following that, a host of other health problems. In other words, too much sugar is bad news. In fact, people are beginning to ask if we should regulate sugar like we do alcohol and tobacco.
Not only that, but we all know too much sugar is bad for your weight, and research has shown that chronic consumption of sugar dulls the mechanism in your brain which tells you to stop eating.
What makes it challenging is that sugar is the most socially acceptable drug we have, unlike alcohol and tobacco there are absolutely no restrictions on it. Sugar consumption actually produces an opioid release in your brain in a similar way to heroin or morphine. And when you’re aiming to cut down or cut it out, you’ll be faced with sugary temptations wherever you look.
So if you want to kick the sugar habit, or even just cut down on sugar you need a plan. Read on, because that’s what we’re just about to give you, and it’s just 5 steps.
5 Step Plan to Cut Down on Sugar
Don’t minimize it.
First things first: don’t minimize your sugar addiction. Since you’re reading this, you probably already know that cutting down on sugar is going to be one of the best things you can do for your health, your energy and your waist-line, but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s going to be a walk in the park.
It ain’t that easy! But you can make it easier by following a plan, and using some sugar-busting tips. The first thing to realize is that you will go through a sugar withdrawal.
Days 1-3 are the worst. Days 4-5 start to get better and beyond that you will have an even energy, calmness and clarity that you have probably not experienced for years. That’s the time to enjoy freedom from sugar addiction and vow never to go back. –Zoe Harcombe, Obesity researcher
Decide and motivate yourself.
The first step to doing anything is to decide to do it, make it non-negotiable and commit to it. Are you going to cut it out completely, or are you going to just cut down? Decide which one you’re going to do, but be aware that it’s often easier to cut it out completely than it is to just cut down. Next, to see you through the sugar withdrawal and cravings, you’re going to need a big enough ‘why’. In other words, what are the reasons which are important enough to you which will see you through the tough times? It doesn’t matter if it’s health, weight, energy or a combination of these, just make sure it’s compelling enough to you that the thought of giving in to that chocolate brownie or ice-cream sundae pales in comparison. If you need more motivation, try these: 60 Minutes Piece – “Is Sugar Toxic?”, Suicide by Sugar.
Cut out big offenders.
Get rid of the main sources of refined sugar: sodas and sweet beverages (including fruit juices), fast food, processed food, candies, cereals, ready meals and convenience foods, canned products, breads and baked products and cereals. That’s a big list, so it may be easier for you to pick one thing each week to cut down on until you’ve cut down on them all (or cut them out completely if your goal is to live refined sugar-free).
Identify secret sugars.
You may already read food labels, but manufacturers can sneakily get sugar into your food in other forms, so remember these hidden sugars and avoid them: fructose (including high-fructose corn syrup), corn sweetener, maltose, glucose, molasses, dextrose, sucrose and honey. Rule of thumb: if it has the word sugar (duh, right?), syrup or sweetener (unless it’s natural) in it, then avoid it.
Find sweet alternatives.
We know about our fruits, those are a good alternative to refined sugar, but they still can be high in natural sugars, so you still need to use moderation. Stevia is a natural sweetener which has been used for centuries in South America. Other alternative are: agave syrup, dates and mesquite. Finding natural alternatives to sugar isn’t a license to go crazy, you still need to use moderation.
Every day, take 5 minutes to review how successfully you were able cut down on your sugar that day. If you caved in that day, don’t beat yourself up but use it as an opportunity to do better tomorrow: remember why you’re doing this and what the consequences will be if you don’t.
If you stick to the plan above, you should have a much better chance of kicking the sugar habit. Remember the first 3 days are the worst, so here are some tips to get you over the hump.
20 Tips to Kick a Sugar Addiction
Don’t treat yourself with sugar.
Many people use sugary treats as a reward. Break the cycle by not using sugary foods to reward yourself (this is also a great tip to help you lose weight).
Sodas are one of the worst offenders for getting too much sugar in your diet, so cut them out. When in doubt, drink water, it’s one of the healthiest things you can drink. You can also drink water when you feel a sugar-craving: when it hits, drink a glass of water and then distract yourself with some other activity which takes your complete attention.
Choose low sugar products.
Read the labels and choose the product which has the lowest sugar content (remember those hidden sugars too).
Add chromium to your diet.
Chromium plays an important role in controlling blood sugar levels, so making sure you’ve got enough in your diet is thought to help with sugar cravings. However, too much of it is also toxic; the best way to get it is naturally through healthy food sources: onions, tomatoes, whole grains, bran cereals and potatoes.
1 change at a time.
For some people, rather than trying to go cold turkey, it works better to phase sugar gradually out of your life. If this is you, pick 1 source of refined sugars and work on cutting only that out for the week. The following week pick the next source and so on until you’ve got your sugar intake to where you want it. Try the cold turkey approach if this doesn’t work for you.
Opt for unsweetened products and you’ll be able to add as little sugar as you want and reduce the amount over time.
Use a natural sweetener.
Try out stevia, agave syrup, dates or replace treats with fresh fruit.
Avoid artificial sweeteners.
Even though artificial sweeteners are widely used, many people are concerned about the negative health impacts they could potentially have. In addition, there is evidence that artificial sweeteners may also be addictive: in one study rats chose saccharin over cocaine as a reward. If that isn’t enough to scare you, think about the results of another study: people who drank more than 21 diet drinks per week were twice as likely to become overweight or obese than those who didn’t drink diet soda.
Eat healthy snacks.
If you fill up with healthy snacks, then you will be much less likely to want refined sugars because your belly will be full of those yummy, healthy foods.
Skip packaged foods.
Packaged foods are often loaded with sugars, do a little pre-planning and cook your own healthy meals.
Skip the sodas.
Skip the sodas, they are one of the biggest sources of sugar intake. Drink naturally sweetened water instead.
Eat healthy every 2-3 hours.
Getting enough nutrients through the day will help to keep your blood-sugar level even; opt for low-glycemic foods.
Go easy on fruit.
Fruit is packed with natural sugars, so you need to eat it in moderation. Yes, there is such a thing as eating too much fruit! Use fruit as a daily treat.
Do a sugar detox.
Sometimes the best plan is to go cold turkey. Cutting down requires more planning, when you cut things out of your life, you can simply get rid of them and just say no, rather than deciding in the moment. Try a 3-day sugar detox; no sugar in any form (including fruit); just say no. After 3 days it gets easier, so you can make it a 5 day detox if you want, and who knows, you may never go back!
Try the Half-and-Half rule.
Dr. Oz recommends the half-and-half rule: if most of your sugar comes from sugary drinks, dilute them with half a cup of seltzer and immediately you cut your sugar intake by half.
Get a good nights’ sleep.
People can crave sugar when they’re low on energy, so that they can get that energy kick. A better solution is to use our tips to sleep better and then get a good nights’ sleep, every night.
In the beginning of this article we said that kicking a sugar addiction is not just about willpower. That doesn’t mean willpower has no role to play. Studies have shown that willpower does work in a similar way to a muscle – it can get fatigued and you can strengthen it. One of the best ways to strengthen your willpower is to meditate or do some other activity (such as yoga) which increases your mindfulness.
Reduce sugar in cooking & baking.
We love those delicious brownies and other baked goods we see on Pinterest, but they are terrible if you want to cut sugar out of your life. If you love baking goodies, aim to cut down the sugar in your recipes (or try a natural sweetener instead).
Start the day right.
You’ve heard it before, we’ll say it again: don’t skip breakfast. Start the day with a healthy breakfast, you’re blood-sugar will be in a good place, and it will guide your food choices for the rest of the day. Exercising in the morning is also a great tip to steer clear of those sugar binges!
Eliminate white stuff.
Purge your pantry of white: refined sugars, flour, white bread, white rice. If it’s in your house you will eat it.
Before you check out our other articles, here are some shocking statistics about sugar consumption:
Source: Online Nursing
Kicking the sugar habit isn’t the easiest thing you’ll ever do, but it’s so worth it: your mood, energy, waistline and health will all improve as a result. Remember, the first 3 days are the toughest, so once you’re over the hump it just gets easier and easier. Just follow the plan and use the tips and you’ll have kicked that sugar habit in no time.
Need more? We’ve got more! Read this for more tips on how to break bad habits.
Your turn: Have you tried cutting out sugar before? How did it go? Why do you want to cut down on sugar this time? Any more tips for us?