Sugar is clearly a bad guy and one that we are all susceptible to, even when we know exactly how harmful it is. But how do we break the addiction?
There are a few ways to approach this hurdle, but they all begin with awareness. Go into your pantry and your fridge and start reading labels. You’ll find sugar hiding out in your salad dressings, condiments, bread, all baked goods, canned foods, sauces, etc. Also, be aware of the many pseudonyms that sugar has. If you don’t recognize an ingredient, Google it. You’ll be surprised at the many different names sugar has. (If you need a refresher on the effects of sugar, re-visit Part 1 of this article.)
Once you are aware of the proliferation of sugar, you’ll begin to understand where your addiction stems from. It’s not all our fault. It’s not just because we reach for a 2nd or 3rd cookie or another piece of cake (though that doesn’t help). The food industry has set us up to fail, to keep us as sugar junkies because it increases their bottom line. It’s in their best interest, not ours. It sounds cynical, but it’s still true.
So now that you have an idea of the different places sugar can hide, little by little, begin to clear them out. Choose 1-2 items every other week and replace them with better options. Actually write it down so you don’t forget your goal for those 2 weeks.
For example, instead of buying salad dressing, buy good quality extra-virgin olive oil, Dijon mustard and your favorite vinegar (balsamic, apple cider, champagne, etc.) and you’ve got the makings of a delicious dressing. Try taking ½ teaspoon less sugar in your coffee or tea until you can graduate to yet another 1/2 teaspoon less. Eat fruit or a piece of good quality dark chocolate for dessert instead of cookies, ice cream, cake or anything that came out of a bag or box.
These are small and manageable changes. I emphasize “little by little” because change is hard and if you want that change to stick, it’s best to do it slowly but consistently. By replacing “it” with other routines/behavior/products, you get used to the new (and much improved) version of you and are building a solid foundation to spring you forward to success. It is as much a physical process as it is a mental one. You will have to get used to a lot, but it’s your health we’re talking about. You’re in charge.
It’s important to not get frustrated and to not try to reach some state of perfection. There is none. Sugar wreaks havoc on your body so it’s best to minimize your exposure to it as much as possible. It doesn’t mean you will never eat anything sweet again. It means you will begin to appreciate new flavors and levels of sweetness. Our taste buds have been hijacked to sell more convenient and packaged and longer shelf-life foods. These steps will help you reclaim your taste buds and you will be grateful to have them back. There are a lot of amazingly delicious flavors whose essences are found in subtle undertones. You need your taste buds in tip-top shape to experience them.
After several weeks and months of these small steps, you may begin to notice something strange. You’ll realize that your hard work and dedication to a healthier you has also created a change in your palate. It has somehow gotten used to the flavor of less sweet. Your taste buds have adjusted to the taste of real food. The ultimate test is when you eat something from your past addiction and notice just how artificially sweet it tastes and it doesn’t taste good to you anymore. It’s OK to mourn the loss of frivolous eating. You’ll likely visit this scenario several times. I just did! Just remember to let it go and embrace the whole new horizon of food and experiences that are to be had.
When you do, you will hardly believe who you are. You will hardly believe that you ate and drank such artificially sweet things. You will be grateful for the new, happier and trimmer you. And, you will have officially broken your sugar addiction. Well done!
*A special note for my artificial sweetener addicts. Sweet-n-Low, Splenda, Equal, diet drinks that contain these, sugar free products, these are all chemically altered sweet “substances”. They are in no way any kind of food. They are a chemical invention that our bodies just don’t know what to do with. Unfortunately, cold turkey is the only way to deal with these. It will suck at first, but you’ll get over it quickly. If you’re tackling this, do this first and don’t change anything else in your diet, fridge or pantry. Once you’ve succeeded, you can move on to the awareness step and go from there.