When you’re cutting way back on sugar, your sugar cravings can be strong — sweet foods are tempting us at every turn, and for many people, consuming those foods is longtime habit associated with comfort or celebration. Bottom line, kicking sugar to the curb isn’t easy! But here's a scary stat: The average American consumes nearly 152 pounds of sugar each year, and eating too much of it significantly raises your risk of life-shortening obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. In fact, a study by JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who exceeded the recommended daily limit of sugar increased their risk of death due to heart disease by at least 30%
So how to stop those cravings for sugar? In Sugar Free 3— my new and simple 3-week program to eliminate added sugars, refined carbs, and artificial sweeteners that you can find in the book or in the companion series of videos I did on the Openfit app — there is loads of advice for bolstering your willpower and silencing sugar’s obnoxious come-ons.
Below is an except from the book to help you combat sugar cravings once and for all.
How to stop sugar cravings:
Sometimes sugar whispers at you from the grocery store aisle; other times it screams at you from the freezer. Regardless, you can learn to silence those calls. First, it helps to know what a craving is. Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “an intense, urgent, or abnormal desire or longing.” Synonyms include: yearning, hankering, wish, want, lust. Sounds about right when it comes to describing how I feel about chocolate! One of the biggest takeaways I got during my own three weeks of cutting out sugar: Just because you’re having a craving or want something sweet doesn’t mean you have to eat sugar — or even pop a sugar replacement, such as a piece of fruit — on impulse. Fortify your resistance by understanding what’s really going on. Do you…
. . . want chocolate or just something sweet?
. . . feel physical hunger — is your stomach growling?
. . . have a headache?
Then, once answered:
- Drink a glass of water.
- Take a breather — 5 deep breaths — or wait a few minutes.
- Try to do something physical, such as taking a short walk.
- Eat something if you’re truly hungry. Just make sure that it’s satiating. Many of the people in the test group of my program would grab fruit (the most obvious fix), when a craving hit. But fruit alone may not quell the craving — especially if the craving isn’t necessarily for something sweet. Your best bet for stamping out a craving of any kind may be to have a snack that includes protein or a healthy fat.
Snacks keep hunger at bay so you don’t run to the vending machine or grab a doughnut at the office. If you have them on hand every day, you won’t be tempted by sugar-filled packaged foods. Making your own at the beginning of the week helps you be proactive about mindful eating and gives you the goods for healthier snacking.
Foods that can help stop cravings:
Try my Snack Hacks — and get in the habit of reading food labels to make sure that none of the ingredients have added sugars or refined flours.
Craving something sweet? Try:
- Sliced apple with nut butter
- Fresh berries with a handful of nuts
- Whipped ricotta with roasted cherries
- Baked cinnamon apple
- Herbal tea that has a sweet note such as vanilla
Craving something salty? Try:
- Guacamole and cucumber “chips”
- Veggies or crackers (without added sugars or refined flour) and hummus
- Biltong (an air-dried beef jerky) or turkey or salmon jerky
- Handful of nuts or seeds. I go for pistachios in the shell — they take longer to eat.
- Hard-boiled egg with Everything but the Bagel seasoning
6 other ways to bust sugar cravings:
Sometimes the source of cravings can be uncovered if you take a closer look at what you’re eating and when. Try these six strategies:
Balance your meals. Make sure they contain protein, veggies and/or other healthy carbs, and healthy fats.
Have a snack strategy. If you’re experiencing afternoon cravings, work an afternoon snack into your routine.
Adjust your mealtimes. If you feel tired or cravings are hitting, identify times of the day when that happens. For example, after a few days of observation you might conclude that around 3 p.m. every day, your energy is depleted, you crave sugar, and you feel extremely hungry. This might be a signal to add a protein-filled snack at this time of day to power through — maybe a shake or two hard-boiled eggs, or a handful of nuts, or have some apple slices with peanut butter. Not only will this make you feel better instantly, it also sets you up for a better evening with fewer cravings around bedtime.
Spice things up. We sometimes get stuck in an eating rut, sticking to the same simple meals every day because we know they’re “safe.” But as they say, variety is the spice of life—and spice is a savior when you’re swapping out sugar. Some of the most unique flavors are derived from easily accessible spices that don’t contain any added sugar, such as red pepper and cinnamon, to name just two.
Identify your faves. Figure out what you love to eat so that you feel satisfied — not deprived — at the end of a meal. I try to keep it simple and pick two go-to breakfasts, two go-to lunches, and two go-to dinners each week so I can stay consistent.
Get curious. Explore recipes, eat some new fruits and vegetables you’ve never tried before, or combine different ingredients to create new dishes. By switching up what you’re eating from day to day, you might find a new delicious dish that gets you excited about Tuesday night’s dinner.
How to dodge sugar pushers
One of the epiphanies you are bound to have on a sugar-busting quest is that sugary foods are lurking everywhere — at the juice bar, in the ballpark, even your kids’ doctor’s office! Another realization: While most people are going to support your get-healthy mission, there will be a few who try to derail your efforts. I call them the sugar pushers. They are people who tend to make you feel bad when you don’t partake. At a birthday or holiday dinner you might notice your mom is trying to persuade you to eat dessert, or your friends are eye-rolling because you turned down a cocktail. Even your spouse (your in-home support system!) can morph into a sugar pusher because he or she wants to hit that all-you-can-eat pasta joint.
A few tips: I highly recommend that you not only tell your friends, family, co-workers, and significant other what you’re trying to accomplish; you need to go the extra step and actively ask them for their encouragement and cooperation. If they still try to lure you to eat sugary foods, stay strong and know this: It’s not about you, it’s about them not feeling fantastic about their own choices and not wanting to be left behind.
Stick to the plan, and they will likely stop trying to lead you astray. Better yet, your compliance could inspire them to make some positive changes of their own.
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