Everybody knows sugar is bad for you, but most of us are addicted to it anyway. It's in just about everything these days and most people in the Western world have found themselves on a constant sugar-based energy roller coaster, never really feeling good for very long.
Cutting sugar out of your diet won't be easy but you can do it if you follow these 15 steps:
1. Know your enemy
First thing's first, you need to know what your problem with sugar is. Is it just a matter of practicing better control or do you think you have a serious sugar addiction? If it's a matter of self control there are actually exercises you can do to increase your will power and you probably won't even need to cut sugar completely out of your diet.
If you think you have a serious sugar addiction, will power exercises are great but they won't be enough. You'll have to cut sugar completely out of your life.
2. Watch out for double agents
You've probably always thought of oatmeal and yogurt as healthy foods, but you might want to think again. Instant oatmeal packets typically contain lots of sugar—and have been processed so much they've also lost nutrients—and flavoured yogurt usually has lots of sugar added to make it more palatable.
If you want to indulge in oatmeal and yogurt you're going to have to buy un-processed oats (these will take longer to cook but will be delicious) and un-flavoured yogurt with a minimal amount of sugar. You can still sweeten with honey.
3. Beware of fruit
At this point just about everybody knows fruit juice isn't very good for you—you get all of the sugar and only a fraction of the nutrients—but you also want to watch how much fruit you consume. Watery fruits like oranges will give you less of a sugar hit. Any fruit is great in small doses, but you shouldn't be eating all fruit all the time.
Try eating a couple handfuls of nuts or seeds with your fruit to help lessen the effect of the sugar spike.
4. Stock up on good bacteria
Some bacteria is actually really good for you and certain stomach bacteria can help reduce sugar cravings. Honey is perhaps the greatest example of a food high in probiotics because you can also use it as a sugar replacement in many drinks. Bananas, garlic and asparagus are other examples of probiotic foods.
5. Switch your chocolate—and eat more of it!
Dark chocolate is actually really good for you, and one of the great things about chocolate is that you can get anything from milk chocolate to 85% dark chocolate. Start by getting semi-dark chocolate and once you're accustomed to that progress to a higher percentage of dark chocolate.
Once you've gotten used to the darker chocolate, eating more of this will help prevent you from craving sugary sweets.
6. Eat more healthy fats
Healthy fats have no effect on your insulin and will give you the energy you're looking for without putting you back on the wheel of sugar cravings. You should try to get 2-3 servings of healthy fats in every meal.
Good sources of healthy fats include avocados, fish and olive oil.
7. Examine your emotions
You're supposed to be eating desserts because you enjoy them, but if you find yourself constantly gorging on massive amounts of sweets there's a pretty good chance you're actually overeating for emotional reasons. Some of the most common reasons people overeat are because of stress and loneliness.
Try journaling, meditation, and/or therapy to help get you to the root of the problem.
8. Know what is marketing and what is nutrition
Research has proven that people will eat higher amounts of foods they consider healthy, increasing caloric intake and also conveniently increasing sales for companies. This makes it extremely beneficial for companies to market their products as "healthy", and the nebulous meaning of the term "healthy" means just about anyone can do it.
One big thing to avoid is low-fat products, especially dairy products. Almost every time these products use sugar to replace the flavour of the fat, making these foods even worse for you.
9. Read the ingredients list
Before you buy any packaged food you want to read the ingredients list. You don't have to understand what all the ingredients are, but try to remember to stay away from these ingredients:
- Rice syrup
- Corn syrup
If any of these or any other –ose(except lactose) is included in the first three or four ingredients listed, it's not something you should be eating.
10. Learn to decipher food labels
Unfortunately the food industry is on to you. They know you're looking out for sugar, so they use highly scientific terms and list the different types of sugar in items separately. These sugars might be pretty low on the list, but if you added them together it would often be number one. Take the time to learn about different types of sugar if you really want it out of your life.
11. Establish healthy coping mechanisms
Remember how we talked about the impact your emotions can have on binges? If you find yourself binging on sugar when faced with highly stressful situations or high amounts of external pressure, focus on finding new ways to cope with stress. Buy stress balls. Exercise. Learn deep breathing exercises. Meditate. Focus on developing new coping strategies instead of on avoiding sugar.
12. Boost your serotonin
We love sugar because it makes us happy, however briefly. But the best way to improve your happiness in a lasting way is to boost your serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical in your body that helps regulate mood, cravings, sleep and more. This stuff is ridiculously good for you.
You can boost your serotonin by eating a few handfuls of chia seeds every day. These also have tryptophans, an essential part of healthy fats.
13. Watch your carbohydrates
Unfortunately many of your favourite bread products have quite a bit of sugar in them too. At the beginning of your sugar detox you might want to go without refined carbohydrates altogether, and then add some back in as you get used to a low-sugar diet. A true no-sugar diet will require you to swear almost completely off refined carbohydrates.
14. Get more exercise
You might be tired of hearing this one, but it really is good for everything. When you get more exercise your brain produces more of the chemicals that make you happy and if you exercise regularly you'll also have more energy throughout your day, every day.
15. Change your mindset
Instead of indulging in a chocolate brownie, indulge in a tangerine or an orange. Learn to think of healthy foods as dessert. Learn to look forward to salads with homemade dressing, to enjoy cooking your own foods.
More importantly, when you slip up, forgive yourself and get back on the wagon. Sugar is highly addictive and everybody slips up, but the important thing is that you keep trying to cut sugar out of your life.
If you're not prepared to stop indulging your sweet tooth but you really want to cut out sugar you can try one of these sugar alternatives:
Honey is the best sugar alternative if you're looking purely at health factors. It's a probiotic, so it will reduce physical sugar cravings as well. And as if all that wasn't good enough, it's antibacterial and will bolster your immune system if you consume it regularly.
Maple syrup isn't cheap, but it is delicious and it's far better for you than most types of syrup. It has a strong enough flavour that it isn't as great an addition to everything, but that's probably a good thing because you could spend a fortune trying to replace all your sugar intake with maple syrup.
Stevia is the most commonly used product that was created specifically to replace sugar. It's not as good for you as honey but it's still dramatically better for you than sugar. Still, try not to consume too much of it
Xylitol is actually an alcohol sugar that is commonly found in fruit and has been shown to prevent osteoporosis in women and reduce the amount of cavities you have. If you decide to use xylitol, make sure you keep it away from any animals and clean up what you spill immediately. It's perfectly safe for humans but is bad for many types of pets.
You can beat sugar if you're truly determined and you consciously read labels when you're at the grocery store. Why not start implementing these tips today?