Eating too much sugar in a day is unhealthy. But sugar can be addictive and become a bad habit. It wasn’t easy, but I kicked the sugar habit. And by using a few techniques and determination, you can too.
In the past decade, research has focused on health issues related to added sugars in our diets. Whole foods that contain natural sugars and carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables and grains, are okay to eat. But adding sugar, such as refined sugar, brown and raw sugar, syrups, honey and fruit juices, has been linked to many healthy issues, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancers.
Daily sugar recommendations are just 6 teaspoons
In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) lowered its recommendation for sugar consumption to 5 to 10% of daily caloric intake. That translates to about 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons, for the average adult person. To put this in perspective, one can of regular soda contains 10 teaspoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains 1 teaspoon of sugar. Daily sugar intake can quickly add up to much more than 10% of caloric intake, and increase our risk for health problems. It was very important for me to limit added sugars as it has been linked to a higher risk of breast cancer
Studies of glycemic index and cancer risk are mixed, but do suggest a high gylcemic index diet may increase cancer risk, particularly in individuals who are overweight and/or sedentary (inactive).
My decision to limit my sugar intake was relatively easy to make, as I wanted to fight my cancer with everything I could. However, actually kicking my sugar habit was anything but easy. Sugar addiction has been compared to drug addiction. Sugar stimulates the same area of our brains that drugs, like cocaine, trigger. However, it is possible to end a sugar habit. I would like to share with you how I did it.
Focus on the “why”
I had a very good reason for not eating added sugars. I was diagnosed with breast cancer and sugar feeds cancer cells. I held onto this thought when things got rough. When the cravings hit, I asked myself what was more important; my health and, ultimately, my life or the short-term pleasure of eating that piece of fudge. I repeated this to myself over and over again.
Use negative imagery
When I was faced with cakes, cookies or donuts, I imagined these foods going directly to a tumor. In my mind I animated a cancerous tumor and I imagined it devouring these sweet treats. It kind of resembled a greasy, slobbery version of Cookie Monster eating a plate of cookies with little bits flying everywhere. Others have told me that they imagine the sweet treat smeared with various gross things…that milk chocolate frosting can start looking like something else entirely.
Make refusal a habit
After a while, turning down desserts and goodies became a habit. Saying “no” became my first reaction. It took multiple weeks to get to this point, but I eventually got there.
Refusal of sweets became a habit, yes, but the cravings were still there. When I was stressed or tired, I would find myself in the kitchen wanting to dive into the junk food. It was there within reach. It was easy to open up a box of chocolate covered granola bars or fruit gummies that I had bought for my kids lunches. I stopped buying these things. I replaced them with easy to reach vegetables and fruits, washed and cut into ready-to-go snack portions. If it was good for me, it was good for my family.
Avoid being hungry
I wanted to make sure I was eating enough, so I calculated out my daily calories. There are many websites and apps that can do this. I used Spark People and My Fitness Pal. This gave me a range and I stayed in the higher end of this healthy range. I made sure I ate enough healthy protein so that I felt full. Eating 3 main meals, I set some calories aside for 2 snack breaks per day. I was essentially eating 5 times per day, which didn’t leave long stretches between eating.
When the cravings hit, I would try to distract myself. I would go for a walk. I did puzzles, crafts or wrote in my journal. My house benefited because I cleaned or tidied. I did something on my long to-do list. The cravings would not usually last long.
When distraction didn’t help, I turned to dark chocolate. Dark chocolate can be an appetite suppressant, and help with sugar cravings. One small square of dark chocolate that was 70% or higher in cocoa content helped to suppress my cravings. It didn’t work immediately. I still had to distract myself for about 10 to 15 minutes until it started working. But, it did work. The difficult part was only eating one square.
It took several months, but the cravings did eventually subside. A surprising thing happened. My body started craving healthy foods. It no longer wanted the junk. Natural whole foods started to taste sweeter. After a while, I tried a square of milk chocolate that someone offered me. It was so exceptionally sweet tasting to me that I didn’t like it. As time passed, it has became easier to follow a healthy diet.
Have you successfully kicked the sugar habit? Comment below if you have any helpful suggestion.