One can of Coke contains 39 grams of sugar.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 36 grams of sugar for men and 24 grams of sugar for women per day.
Just one can puts you above that daily recommendation, which is also endorsed by the World Health Organization.
In the last three decades, sugar consumption has increased by 30% in America. Kids are ingesting at least three times more sugar than the daily recommended value.
But why is sugar — unlike most foods — addictive?
Because sugar isn’t just sugar – an inanimate ingredient that enhances flavor.
Sugar is an emotion. Sugar is an expression. Sugar is an experience.
When we are happy, we celebrate with cakes and pies.
When we are stressed, we drive through Starbucks for a vanilla latte.
When we are sad, we gobble chocolate chip cookies.
Sugar is your security blanket, therapist, stress buster, and happiness drug all rolled into one
Unfortunately, excessive sugar consumption results in a host of ugly health conditions, from depression and anxiety to diabetes and heart conditions.
These are pointless “long-term” prices to pay for a short-term spike in energy and, yes, joy.
But you probably know all of this.
What you don’t know is how.
How do you quit added sugar without hating your life?
Well, here are thirteen tips to get you started:
Set Realistic Expectations
Giving up sugar is extremely hard. Don’t make it harder by setting improbable expectations.
The effects of sugar on the brain are often compared to those of drugs. Denying your body its favorite ‘drug of choice’ will lead to withdrawal symptoms, such as depression, tremors, irresistible cravings, anxiety, and headaches.
You might have a really bad day and fall back on your sweet tooth to feel better.
Holding yourself to nonnegotiable standards dumps you into the black hole of black-and-white thinking. One bad day will wrongly convince you that you are not good enough, determined enough, or smart enough to quit sugar.
However, setting realistic expectations will prepare you for unforeseen contingencies.
You won’t be defined by your setbacks.
You won’t waste time pitying and berating yourself.
You will simply start afresh with your next meal.
You will stay on course.
Hopping on the sugar-free bandwagon can feel lonely, especially if you are the only one in your immediate circle to take this step.
Loneliness is an irresistible trigger for unwholesome diets.
The good news? You. Are. Not. Alone.
Far from it.
There are millions like you who want to eat better, live better, think better. Each one of them feels alone — just like you.
Food challenges, like the 30 Days of Sugar-Free challenge, introduce you to a community of like-minded individuals.
You’ll be comforted by — and, even better, understood by — people with similar problems, triggers, and frustrations. Like a roaring tidal wave, you’ll surge as a unit and crash against the shores of health and happiness.
Don’t forget to take your loved ones into confidence either. Being honest about your intentions and motivations will convince others about the seriousness of your passion and commitment.
More than 15% of Americans lead sedentary lives.
A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, depression, and heart problems.
Inactivity also enhances cravings for unhealthy snacks – the kind that you cannot stop at one, the kind you eat by the handful, the kind you can chug.
Popcorn. Chocolate balls. A large soda. M and Ms. Twisters. Chips.
The worst of the worst of the salty-sweet world.
Our bodies were made for moving. They were made for walking and running and jumping and skipping and dancing. They were made for sweating in the heat and shivering in the cold.
Taking frequent short breaks to pace, walk, shake, or do simple exercises improves blood flow, revs up metabolism, and acts as a distraction.
Physical movements engage, empower, and energize from the inside out.
Avoid shopping on an empty stomach
A rumbling stomach is a reckless shopper.
Even if your sweet tooth resists the decadent desserts and colorful candies shelved appealingly along the aisles while shopping, the M&Ms next to the checkout aisle can trip you.
“These should keep me company for the short ride back home. It’s not like I am going to eat them all either,” you reason.
You dump the groceries in the car, tear open the colorful packet, and pop a handful into your mouth.
At the first stop light, you look at the ripped packet on the passenger’s seat, shrug and pop a few more.
“No more,” you vow.
Except, when you park your car at the home, the chewy candies have magically disappeared.
You consumed almost 8 tsp of sugar on your way home. You might as well have eaten eight teaspoons of cane sugar.
Maybe M&Ms aren’t your Achilles Heal – maybe it is a bottle of Coke.
The point is, hungry shoppers rarely make wise nutritional choices.
Always eat a nutritional snack — e.g. a few slices of apple with peanut butter or string cheese sticks — before grocery shopping.
A silent stomach is a sensible shopper.
Refrain from multitasking
The majority of the population cannot multitask productively
The brain constantly switches between tasks while multitasking. This relentless exchange “uses up oxygenated glucose in the brain”, which is the same fuel required for focus.
Consequently, you never get ‘in the flow’ on either task. Despite being busy for hours, you will have little to show for your time.
The result? Split attention, cleaved concentration, unneeded frustration.
And where do you turn to during moments of stress?
Sugar or caffeine – both of which have unseemly side effects.
Avoid the insidious arms of fructose by focusing on one task at a time.
Your productivity, creativity, and health will thank you.
Note: It’s commonplace to handle a demanding and non-demanding task simultaneously. For example, you can do the dishes while watching TV.
Fill up on fats, proteins, and complex carbohydrates
The sugar industry paid scientists in the 1960s to “play down the link between sugar and heart disease”. They choose, instead, to cast aspersions on ‘fat’.
The ruse worked.
For over five decades, fat remained the much-scorned stepchild while sugar strutted like a diva.
Turns out fat is not a fiend at all (and sugar is not as pure as falling snow either).
In fact, fats are essential for the proper functioning of our brain and body and keep you feeling fuller longer. Examples: butter, full-fat cheese, ghee, avocados, olive oil.
(Note: Eating the REAL stuff in moderation is healthier than indulging on fake butter made out of hydrogenated vegetable oil (I am looking at you, margarine.))
Protein and complex carbohydrates are your other best friends.
From muscular health and immune system management to fluid balance and energy production, proteins are crucial to the healthy functioning of every aspect of our body. E.g., eggs, lean meat, and legumes
Complex carbs are good sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. They take longer to convert into blood sugar, which prevents the “spike followed by crash” cycle that typically accompanies simple carbs.
Taken together, fats, proteins, and complex carbs are versatile, fulfilling, and wholesome food groups.
Ready to explore?
Reap the benefits of sleep
Sleep deprivation increases the chances of cognitive decline, immune system impairment, diabetes, obesity, productivity, stress, depression, anxiety, irritability, attention deficit, and, yes, even death.
Insufficient sleep also hurts eating habits by elevating the appetite-enhancing ghrelin hormone levels while suppressing the appetite-curbing leptin hormone levels.
Meaning, you are hungrier. Meaning, you are wearier and moodier. Meaning, you reach for the easiest – and most prevalent – foods. Meaning, you consume something high in sugar for immediate energy.
Stop taking pride in sleeping less. When the mind is rested and the body is rejuvenated, you’ll make healthier dietary choices.
Get your zzzs.
The more decisions you make in a day, the less willpower you have to make more.
Do you want to expend precious willpower trying to resist sugar-laden foods in your refrigerator or pantry? Or would you rather utilize that willpower to bring your other dreams to fruition?
When you erase temptations from your life, the chances of erasing your addictions skyrockets.
If you live alone, “de-sugar” your kitchen and donate the items to your library or a soup kitchen.
If you live with others, seek their help in minimizing temptation. Ask your friends/family members to reorganize the pantry in a way that benefits you. (Maybe have a locked ‘sugar’ closet without giving you a key!).
Out of sight is out of mind. Out of mind is out of tummy.
Eat all your meals
Skipping meals increases the probability of unhealthy snacking later in the day. It also lowers blood sugar, elevates stress, hurts metabolism, and results in mood swings.
And you know what that means? You fall down the rabbit hole of toxic foods.
Why set yourself up for failure?
Nourish your body by eating every meal. If you are not accustomed to having huge portions in one sitting, spread out your consumption through the day. Nosh on nutritious delights every couple of hours.
Pro Tip: Set aside a few hours every Sunday to create a weekly meal plan. Buy and prep the ingredients beforehand to reduce cooking time during the week. A planned kitchen is a healthy kitchen.
What makes up 90% of the brain and over 50% of the body? Water.
Water is free and available at the turn of a tap. When consumed in moderation, it also has zero side effects and numerous benefits, including toxins removal, nutrient absorption, weight loss, and elevated mood and energy levels.
Yet, water is largely ignored in favor of aerated and caffeinated drinks that kill sleep, cause tremors, increase headaches, and promote diabetes.
It’s time we step away from the Red Bulls and lattes and sodas to rekindle our relationship with water. Drink at least a glass of water:
- Immediately after waking up
- 15-20 minutes before a meal
- Immediately after a meal to reset your taste buds
- Whenever the urge to eat sugar hits. We often mistake thirst for hunger, so drinking a glass or two of water and waiting a few minutes is a good way to find out what your body really wants.
- An hour before going to bed (drinking too close to bedtime can hurt your quality of sleep).
Disclaimer: The required amount of water per day varies according to many factors, including age, physical activity, and geographic location. However, the above recommendations are a good start.
Identify triggers and coping skills
Hunger is hardly the only reason we eat.
More often than not, our cravings are driven by an emotional trigger:
- Feelings of emptiness and worthlessness
Unfortunately, the quicksand of emotional eating doesn’t honor your body’s natural signals.
In order to re-trust your body signals, you have to first identify your unique triggers.
Keep a journal and a pen with you at all times. Make a note whenever the urge to eat sugar hits. Then ask yourself these questions:
- What am I feeling?
- What is it about this moment that has ignited this craving?
- Do I really want sugar or am I seeking something else?
But it is not enough to simply identify triggers. You need to have a predetermined set of coping skills. For instance, print out a list of your favorite hobbies, such as coloring, singing, taking a bath, or reading, that you can turn to whenever the cravings strike.
Taking a step back (from your emotions) gives you the chance to make objective decisions and take restorative actions.
Ignorance is not bliss when you are committed to making a life-altering change, like going sugar-free.
The more you know, the better you will feel about your decision.
Check out books from the library. Subscribe to popular health blogs. Watch expert videos. Participate in challenges. Interact with others who are traveling on the same path – ask questions, offer suggestions, provide encouragement.
Knowledge is the most potent weapon in your arsenal against your doubts and limiting beliefs. So explore this (sugar-free) world with the curiosity and open-mindedness of a child.
Try new flavors
One of the best ways to form habits that stick is to treat the process like a game – an adventure.
Experiment with various flavors. Try something new every week (one flavor per week is a good pace). Find out which ones you love and which ones you can do without.
The culinary world is your oyster. Leap into it and play with abandon.
Note: Watch out for the list of yummy sugar-free recipes in the next article.
Move Ahead with Purpose
Committing to a sugar-free lifestyle is not for the weak of mind and the faint of the heart. Unfortunately, quitting something that has comforted you for so long is also terrifying.
You are going to feel scared.
You are going to feel alone.
You are going to feel desperate.
And that’s okay. All these emotions are valid, even expected.
Just remember that you are not alone, that fear is normal, and that desperation is just another stop on this healthful adventure to transform your life for the better.