SUGAR – HOW to lick the habit

A past article on this website entitled “SUGAR – time to lick the habit” discussed the detrimental effects of sugar on the body. So by now you should be aware of how bad sugar is for you, but of course the next question is – How do I quit?

As mentioned in the previous article, sugar triggers the same reward centres in the brain as cocaine, alcohol and nicotine, so quitting is often quite difficult. The fact that sugar is hidden in so many foods makes it even more difficult.

The great thing about quitting sugar is that it really doesn’t take all that long to stop the cravings and once you have quit, the health benefits will ensure that you stay on track.

Follow these strategies to help you finally kick the sugar habit:

Choose your time …..

            Easter is just around the corner, your birthday is coming up, you’re going to a party, life is particularly stressful – not very good times to decide to quit sugar. So, choose your time. Plan ahead and make sure there are as few distractions and temptations as possible to begin your journey. Enlist the support of friends and family – better still, encourage them to quit sugar as well. Set a date and stick to it!

Mentally prepare yourself …..

In the week leading up to your first day of quitting sugar and during those crucial first 2-3 weeks, think about all the positive changes you will see. You will lose weight, your skin will become clearer, you will no longer have those see-saw blood sugar levels that leave you tired, your immune system will improve, your mood and memory will improve and you will be setting yourself up for a healthy future.

Then talk to yourself constantly about these positive changes and how much better life will be.

Identify the “crisis” times …..

Sugar addiction is a habit. It can be a habit to help relieve stress or a habit of reward. Identify the times that you are most likely to crave sugar and change your environment accordingly. For example, if sitting watching television at the end of the day is your time to get stuck into the sugary treats, do something different for the first few weeks. Go for a walk, read a book, play board games – anything that breaks that habit. If you are feeling strong, just replace the sugar treat with a savoury one. If stress is a factor in eating sugar, dedicate at least 10 minutes, twice a day to relax with deep breathing. If you are feeling stressed, go for a brisk walk. The walk will lower your stress levels by releasing all those wonderful feel good endorphins and you won’t be tempted to reach for the sweets.

Eliminate the sugar foods …..

Read, read, read those labels!!! Eliminate all foods with hidden sugar in them. Throw out the chocolate, cakes, biscuits, ice cream, breakfast cereals, sauces etc. Eat whole, fresh food – it is the best and easiest way to make sure you don’t eat any hidden sugar. It can only have hidden sugar in it if it comes in a packet. Remember, that for the first 2-3 weeks, fruit and fruit juice and of course sweeteners like honey are also to be eliminated.

Getting prepared …..

You’ve set a date, you’ve been talking to yourself about all the wonderful health benefits of quitting sugar, you have put a plan of action in place to do something different during those times when you crave sugar, you have emptied the pantry of any foods with sugar in them, so the time has come!

Now is the time to think about what foods you are going to eat. If breakfast cereal or toast is your normal breakfast, try eating eggs – fried, scrambled, omelettes, add some avocado and wilted spinach. Or make you own savoury vegetable muffins or pikelets spread with avocado. The important thing is to plan ahead and make sure there is always sugar free food to eat. Have some hard boiled eggs in the fridge for a snack, or some sliced vegetables with home made hummus (store bought hummus has sugar), guacamole or nut butter.

What can I do when I get cravings …..

If you are feeling like something sweet to eat, the first thing you need to remember is that sugar cravings usually only last for a few minutes. So start by distracting yourself as much as possible. If you can, go for a walk, do some chores, phone someone, anything to distract yourself. Drink a big glass of water and if you are still craving the sugar, eat a small amount of raw nuts.

Although it is important to go totally sugar free for at least the first 2-3 weeks, if you are still craving something sweet and you really don’t think you can last, have a small piece of fruit – preferably a couple of strawberries or some blueberries which are lower in sugar – but only as a desperate last resort. It is important to not be too hard on yourself so if you do need to eat some fruit, or if you fall off the wagon, don’t berate yourself – just hop back on and start again!

What happens if I can’t resist …..

The whole idea of eliminating sugar “cold turkey” is to stop that physical addiction (remember, sugar triggers the same reward centres in the brain as cocaine, alcohol and nicotine) and also to stop the habit. It is for this second reason that it is important to not just replace sugar treats with herbal sweeteners such as stevia. The idea is to not crave the sugar in the first place.

In saying this though, if you are finding that you are not able to resist the temptation and are “falling off the wagon” make yourself some healthy sweet treats using stevia, the herbal sweetener. Remember, don’t be too hard on yourself. If you are finding it too difficult, use the stevia as an “emergency”. Any of the healthy sweet recipes on my website, like the Chia Seed Pudding, the Almond Meal and Coconut Cake or the Avocado Chocolate Mousse can all be made using stevia instead of honey.

When can I introduce sugar back into my diet …..

            The best answer to this question is ….. never! But in reality, that is not at all practical. Now that you have stopped those cravings, try your hardest to remain sugar free forever. The reason I say “try” is that it really is very difficult to permanently remain sugar free – unless you are completely dedicated. Eating out for example, you will always come across hidden sugars.

In saying this though, you can certainly start to introduce 1-2 pieces of fruit daily into your diet and the occasional treat sweetened with stevia or honey. But now that you have proven to yourself that you don’t need sugar in your life, just continue to treat yourself with savoury foods, knowing that your body will thank you for it!

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