Part 2 of 2 -Start here if you missed Part 1.
Another song stuck in your head, right? GREAT! As long as it helps you remember the truth! And what a truth it is- ending your relationship with sugar is a flat out battle! But this battle is for your health, so take courage and read on! First, let's address what's NOT going to work, given experience, statistics, and science.
Will power ain't gonna cut it!
If you think you need will power to defeat this temptress, you're mistaken. I know the food industry would love for you to think it's your fault that you eat too much and don't get enough exercise, but it's a biological war being waged, way too difficult for you to simply fight with will power, my friend! Let's be honest, how many times have you tried to "quit sugar" and failed? So while we may feel bound and determined to kick it to the curb once and for all, that feeling of determination and resolve is not enough. For us to use our will power, we must use our brain. As you probably know all too well from experience, your brain doesn't work too well when you're tired or upset, especially after a long day of making decisions. Because your brain is like a muscle, it gets exhausted too and finds its end to making decisions. Now you understand why you cave in at the end of the day, the week, or even first thing in the morning!
What about going cold turkey?
Have you tried it yet? And did it work? For most of us the answer is yes, I've tried it and NO, it didn't work! So let's not go there again! Did you know that you're fighting a biological response to the sugar in your body? It could be any of the following:
drop in blood sugar
The addiction is caused by the production of dopamine (a feel good hormone) in the brain.
This video is a great example of your brain on sugar.
Video from TEDEd by Nicole Avena
The cravings can be caused by many things, but one of the toughest to fight is the overgrowth of yeast and bad bacteria in the gut. These "bad bugs" tend to take over when the power is overturned in the gut, and they demand to be fed sugar since that's what they thrive on!
Who wants to Be Fake?
So if you're thinking about using the fake stuff, you might want to think again! While it doesn't impact your blood sugar levels like sugar does, studies show they still cause sugar cravings, often causing more weight gain for people on diet sodas than non-diet soda drinkers. In addition, multiple studies have shown their negative impact on our health in causing neurological damage, tumors, and even cancer. The only non-sugar substitute I would suggest you consider is stevia, as it is natural, derived from the stevia leaf. Just be sure it's only stevia you're buying, with no added ingredients!
Keys to a Successful Breakup
1) Start replacing the bad stuff before taking it all away!
Finding healthy swaps is key to maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle. Here are a few to consider:
Raw, natural sweeteners like coconut sugar, coconut syrup, yacon syrup, black strap molasses, honey, agave nectar, dates, and other dried fruits are all very sweet and do still impact your blood sugar; however, they contain many more nutrients than processed, white sugar. While they should be consumed in moderation, they are still a healthier alternative to the white stuff. Of the sweeteners listed above, those with a lower glycemic load (that won't impact your blood sugar levels as much) are black strap molasses, yacon syrup, and coconut syrup.
Swap fruit juices for the real fruit, fresh or frozen. You'll get a lot more fiber, which helps to stabilize your blood sugar levels by slowing digestion and helps you to stay regular too!
Swap cow's milk (very high in sugar!) for coconut or any nut milk, like almond milk made without sugar. You can also make your own!
Simply soak 1 cup of nuts or seeds for a couple of hours or overnight.
Rinse and drain them.
Add 4 parts water to nuts and blend in a high powered blender for about a minute.
Place a nut bag in a bowl, then pour the liquid into the bag, squeezing the liquid out, as you "milk" the contents.
You can add a pinch of salt, a little sweetener like coconut sugar or stevia and even cinnamon, vanilla, or cacao powder, then blend again to mix the flavors.
Keeps in the refrigerator, stored in a mason jar or glass milk jug for up to 5 days.
Check labels for added sugar in the ingredients (high fructose corn syrup or words ending in "ose", like glucose, fructose, dextrose, etc.) and stay away from them, especially if they contain more than 10 grams of sugar per serving. Staying below 5 grams is best.
Instead of soda that is loaded with sugar, sodium, and citric acid, consider unsweetened soda water (made with carbonic acid, which is not bad for you) with fruit. I like the brands La Croix and Polar.
2) Don't let your blood sugar get too low.
We all have different needs, and for those of us who might have abused our bodies with too much sugar over the years, we often have to deal with hypoglycemia, diabetes, or even pre-diabetes. I remember dealing with this myself, and until I was able to get rid of sugar completely, I had to be sure I didn't find myself in a situation where I became "hangry" (you know, hunger that turns into anger if you don't get food!). That meant I had to keep snacks nearby and eat every 2-4 hours, at the time. The goal is to move away from this necessity, as it never gives our body a chance to truly stabilize our blood sugar levels, but while you're making the transition, start eating foods with more protein, fiber, and fat:
hummus and crunchy veggies
bean dips with veggies
nuts and seeds
3) Sustain your energy levels.
When we are tired, we naturally reach for something sweet as an immediate source of energy. To avoid this reaction:
get a good night's sleep.
stay hydrated with plenty of water.
move often, throughout the day.
4) Avoid cravings.
If you're thinking, "Well that would be nice, if only I could figure out that one!", I've got you covered. While there are many ways to avoid cravings altogether, we need to understand what causes cravings in the first place.
lack of nutrition
lack of primary food
So how do we deal with these cravings?
Focus on nourishment. Eat not only for satisfying taste but also for what the food does for your body. Eating more real food will usually solve this problem. Look for something that can only be found in nature and that doesn't have a label and you're safe. Stay away from the processed and packaged junk out there. It might be "easy" and "tasty," but if it causes more problems in the end, how easy is it?
Balance your diet. Because our body naturally tries to maintain a balance, when it isn't balanced, it will seek balance, sometimes through cravings. Sugar cravings, especially can be caused by eating too many "contracting" foods like meat and salt, for example. When we eat a high amount of these types of foods, our body feels the need to expand, and sugar fits that bill. Try eating more sweet vegetables like sweet potatoes, non-GMO corn, beets, red and yellow bell peppers (can taste sweet), or any other vegetables you think are sweet. Try replacing meat with other forms of protein like beans, nuts, seeds, and organic tempeh (fermented soybeans). You might be surprised how many vegetables also contain protein (broccoli -who knew?!). Bottom line, the more vegetables and fruits you eat, the better you are in avoiding sugar cravings.
Keep your hormones balanced. This can be a challenge at first but so important, as they run the show! They give out the orders in the body and if they're out of whack, everything else will be too! Stay tuned for more on this in a later blog, but for now, watch out for these common offenders: birth control; hormone replacements; food additives and preservatives; GMO soy products; non-organic meat, dairy, poultry, fish, seafood, and eggs; anything with fragrance (perfume, body lotion, beauty and hair care, household cleaning products); BPA found in most plastics. Managing your stress levels is also key here, as too much cortisol production can wreak havoc on all the other hormones.
Deal with your emotions. Unresolved emotional issues can be a major cause for emotional eating, especially when dealing with sadness and loneliness. If you find that you're reaching for sugar after an emotional upset, pause, take a deep breath and ask yourself why you really want the sugar. Can you get yourself through the situation by handling your emotions? Can you do something else that would be similarly satisfying to you? Sometimes you just need to call a friend. Whatever it takes, consider an alternative so you don't always fall for this trap.
Nourish your WHOLE self. Primary food is that which feeds something other than our physical hunger. It encompasses all of our basic needs to stay fulfilled and balanced. Consider your career, education, social life, finances, spirituality, relationships, creativity, joy, love, home environment, physical activity, health, and home cooking. Is there a balance? Life in this culture can be hard, not because we don't have enough but because we have too much. We have access to too many things, too much information, too many opportunities, too much stimulation, so much so that we become overwhelmed, thinking we can do it all! In this highly productive environment, we pride ourselves on multi-tasking, but our brains weren't meant to do so many things at once. Take a moment to consider where you might be out of balance so you can realign your priorities, shifting more of your energy in areas that need more of your attention. If you're missing something "sweet" in your life, like a loving relationship, you'll often find you crave something sweet to eat. It's usually the simple things we lack, so don't look too far or you'll miss what's missing!
While this list is certainly not exhaustive, I hope it has been of help to you in your quest for better health. What has worked for you in the past? Which of these ideas would you like to try? Share your comments below.
To your health,