10 ways to kick your sugar cravings to the curb (before it kills you)
Here’s a frightening statistic: The average American consumes 57 pounds of added sugar per year (1). When divided over 365 days, this means the average person consumes an average of 17 teaspoons’ worth of added sugars – every single day. This far exceeds the daily recommendations set by the American Heart Association at six teaspoons for women and nine teaspoons for men per day.
Eating this much-added sugar can lead to severe health concerns. Weight gain is the least of your worries, especially when you put yourself at a higher risk of developing certain life-threatening and chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and even cancer (2).
Too much added sugar can also be addicting. As you consume more and more added sugar, it puts you at a greater risk of developing deadly health complications. Fortunately, there are things that you can do to cut yourself loose from this vicious cycle.
Here are 10 steps for removing most added sugars from your diet, all of which you can do in combination, alongside each other.
Quit cold turkey
Be warned: It isn’t easy to wean yourself off of added sugar. Sugar is an addictive substance, and it plays a significant role in our bodies. Those who try to stop consuming it, cold turkey, often get stuck in a repeating pattern: craving more sugar, overconsuming it, feeling guilty and ashamed for eating too much of it and then craving it more due to the exacerbated stress (3). A better course of action is to cut back on eating foods with added sugar – not all sugar – immediately. At first, this reduction will stress your body out, which can be challenging but not impossible. You can ease your cravings with fruit (natural sugar) for a couple of days while your gut microbiota accept this change.
This all-or-nothing approach to added sugar is easier for your body to handle than moderation. According to habit research, black-and-white rules such as this are easier for your brain to handle and to follow (4). “Moderation” is a much less definitive concept that allows your cravings to help you make excuses or attempt to rationalize consuming just a little bit of added sugar. This usually leads to a prolonged suffering that often ends in failure of your goal to break free from sugar.
When quitting cold turkey, clearly laying out your goals is necessary: NO added sugars or artificial sweeteners and at most, a modest selection of fruits, which are natural sources of sugar. Pick apart your house and look at every single food item you have. If the ingredients list has ANY added sugars or artificial sweeteners in it, throw it out!
After three days of being off sugar, the stress will begin to dissipate. Headaches and feelings of fatigue you may have had will lift and your cravings will feel less powerful. You just need to survive three days, and then it’ll get easier from there (5).
Manage your stress without resorting to sweets
Your body has probably grown accustomed to the added sugar in your system. As you’re getting rid of it, you’re going to feel the temptation to eat more of it. This desire will be strong and likely cause you a lot of stress. You may find yourself feeling depressed and anxious. You may even have a difficult time focusing on simple tasks. It can even cause drastic changes in your sleep patterns.
Feeling tired and stressed tends to increase cravings. Anything with sugar will be extremely tempting, and even just foods loaded with carbohydrates will seem more appealing to you, like pasta or potato chips (6).
Fortunately, there are things you can do to reduce your cravings. Aromatherapy – specifically with lavender or vanilla essential oils – has been known to be effective. Breathing in these scents can help rebalance your mood (7).
Reaching out to friends, family and loved ones can also be beneficial. This will be a stressful time for you, especially during the first 72 hours, while your body is still adjusting to the lack of sugar in your system. Find someone who can empathize with the situation, but at the same time be firm enough to push you further when you’re about to cave into your cravings. Other ways to combat stress brought about by cravings include taking a warm bath, meditation, exercise, or even an emotional support pet.
Exercise can take your mind off your cravings
When you eat sugar, it enters your bloodstream as glucose, which your body uses for energy. Exercise makes cells use glucose (or blood sugar), thereby reducing the amount in your blood, which helps reduce your cravings for sugar (8). The leaner your body is, the better it is at absorbing blood glucose out of your bloodstream and into your active muscles.
Physical activity also helps keep your mind off your cravings not only because your mind is focused on a difficult task, but also because it will help purge your body of sugar (9). A study published in the journal Diabetologia in 2014 found that a combination of aerobic exercises and resistance training is the best way to maintain blood sugar levels that’s already within the normal range (10). Additionally, the endorphins released during exercise help to combat the increased stress and exhaustion you may be feeling from this change.
Spend some time exercising and not only will you be keeping your cravings at bay, but you’ll also be working towards your ideal body shape. It’s a win-win!
Dump the sugary drinks – stick to water and other unsweetened beverages
Sodas, energy and sports drinks, iced teas and other sweetened beverages like many locally sold coffees and teas are chock full of sugar and calories. Regular consumption of these drinks contributes to an unhealthy diet.
Pay attention to what you’re drinking. Look at the ingredients list. If it has any form of sugar (anything ending in ‘-ose’ is a clue), don’t buy it. Just 20 ounces of regular soda contains approximately 15 teaspoons of added sugar, six to nine teaspoons more than the recommended amount for your entire day (11).
It isn’t just regular sweetened beverages you should stay away from. Drinks that have been sweetened with artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin and sucralose can also reignite your sugar cravings.
For starters, even so-called sugar-free drinks aren’t entirely free of added sugar. Instead, a lot of drinks sneakily use a combination of artificial sweeteners with lower amounts of sugar (12). This can be harmful to your diet because it will still activate and feed into your sugar cravings, ruining your whole plan to kick your sugar addiction altogether and keeping you hooked.
Secondly, artificial sweeteners don’t stop you from wanting to consume sugar. In fact, they may make you crave even more. Because artificial sweeteners are oftentimes hundreds or thousands of times sweeter than regular sugar, your taste buds are altered and this makes you want sweeter foods and drinks (13).
The plan is clear: Don’t forget to read product labels. Many of those drinks at the grocery will have either sugar or artificial sweeteners. Learn what their names are. It would be best if you just stick to water. However, if you desperately need to drink something other than water, perhaps because your cravings are becoming too strong to withstand, then choose unsweetened herbal teas, natural fruit drinks or even veggie smoothies.
Start your day with a high-protein breakfast
Protein is important and should be consumed at every meal. This is especially important for your breakfast, which should have a ton of it. Eating protein-rich meals will help you keep those hunger pangs, and cravings, at bay.
Eating protein also makes you feel full longer. If you’re worried about managing your weight, protein is a good substitute to eating foods filled with calories. Once you’re full of protein, you’re less likely to reach for those sugary snacks (14).
A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirms this, stating that diets with higher amounts of protein can lead to feelings of satiety (15). It can also support your energy levels and help maintain healthy blood sugar levels that’s already within the normal range (16). Keep your cravings at bay; eat more protein.
Consume more complex carbohydrates
Complex carbs, like sweet potato and butternut squash, contain virtually no sugar save perhaps for trace amounts of natural sugars that won’t adversely affect your diet when consumed in small doses. These kinds of carbs won’t intensify your cravings as much as consuming heavily processed and refined carbs like bread and pasta (17).
You should also consume greener vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus and cauliflowers that won’t trigger your sugar cravings, especially in the first 10 days since you stopped consuming added sugar (18).
Say goodbye to those refined carbs that also come with terrible health complications (19). Complex carbohydrates are the way to go.
Consume the three Fs: Fruit, fiber and (healthy) fat
Naturally occurring sugars, such as those found in fruits and milk, are okay to consume in moderation. The American Heart Association doesn’t even count them when recommending how much sugar people should consume daily (20).
Most fruits have natural sugars. Pay attention to what fruits you eat and how much of it you consume. Two to three servings of fresh fruit per day should be good enough (21).
High fiber meals are also a great way to keep yourself far from added sugar. Food items that are rich in fiber, such as whole grains, will leave you feeling fuller for longer, stopping you from getting so hungry that you end up reaching for that sugary snack.
A fiber-rich diet consisting of whole grains and vegetables will also be beneficial for your gut microbiome. This means that swapping out your sugary meals for ones rich in fiber can support healthy digestive functions (22).
If you truly want to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, then consider eating high amounts of healthy fats. This includes coconut butter and MCT oil, as well as the healthy fats found in nuts, avocados and certain kinds of fish such as salmon and sardines. This diet makes you feel full and promotes optimal metabolic function (23).
Plan your meals ahead of time
This is crucial. As much as possible, consider and plan for what you’re going to eat as far ahead as you can. Making a proper plan removes any chances of temptation, and it stops you from feeling overwhelmed and confused as to what you should consume when you’re already hungry (24). If you’ve planned out that you’re going to be eating lunch at a specific salad place, it makes it less likely for you to stop by the donut shop for a sugary snack and you’ll feel less stressed out about figuring out where to eat.
Take the necessary steps ahead of time. Before you even put your plan into action, head over to the grocery to buy natural ingredients for sugar-free meals that you can cook and bring with you to work. If you’re planning on eating out, scout out areas where you can have a full, healthy meal.
Always have a healthy (and sugar-free) snack on hand
You won’t be able to plan for every situation. That’s why it’s important you plan for the unexpected, then you’re prepared for what to do when it happens. Otherwise you might find yourself, in desperation, buying fast food loaded with added sugar and refined carbs.
There are many food items that you can eat as snacks: dried apricots, a bowl full of almonds, a scoop of Greek yogurt, one whole apple, a cup of fresh berries, hummus and many kinds of raw veggies. These are only a few of the many healthy snacks you can munch on when you can feel your stomach grumbling (25).
There are many more possible snacks out there that don’t have any added sugars or artificial sweeteners in them. Other kinds of nuts; steel-cut oatmeal; dates; scrambled, poached or hard-boiled eggs; and certain kinds of healthy veggie- or fruit-based smoothies, to name a few (26). You have many possible options. The only thing you need to do is plan it out properly and remember to consume your snacks only in strict moderation.
According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, consuming large amounts of sugar can lead to lighter, less restorative (27).
Now that you’re getting rid of added sugar, you’re going to be free from many meals and sweets that could negatively affect your sleep. You need to take advantage of this immediately. Develop and maintain a healthy sleeping schedule and stick to it. If you don’t sleep, your body’s going to want to replace this lack of sleep with increased consumption, especially with easily absorbed sugars. Getting less sleep will drive up your sugar cravings.
Sleeping is your best weapon against this increased drive to eat something sugary. You can literally sleep your cravings away.
Do you know any other way to put a stop to sugar cravings other than the 10 listed above? Let us know in the comments below.
Share the article with your friends and tell us about how you managed to finally kick your sugar addiction!