6 Strategies to Kick Your Sugar Habit
By Carolyn Suerth Hudson, RDN, LD
April 11, 2022
Donuts, muffins, cakes and bars, pizza, breads and the list goes on. Is the sugar in your food causing you problems? Are you having cravings for sweets or breads? Do you have difficulty losing weight or notice a drop in energy mid to late afternoon? Or perhaps you are insulin resistant, have metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease or nerve damage?
All of these have a common denominator: SUGAR. The problem is the massive amounts and types of carbohydrates we are consuming. In the past 200 years, we have gone from eating only 2 pounds of sugar each year to eating 160 pounds of sugar per person each year. That’s a huge increase from what our great-great-great-great grandparents used to eat!
It is believed that we as humans are hardwired to have an inborn taste preference for sweet foods. But unlike the days of our ancestors, our modern lifestyle makes sugar readily available anytime and anyplace we want. The American Heart Association recommends that we eat only 6 teaspoons of sugar per day, for women, and 9 tsp for men. On average, we eat 42½ teaspoons of sugar per person, per day!
Why is sugar so bad for us? The simplified explanation is that eating too many simple sugars and refined carbohydrates, like many of the items listed above, creates inflammation in our bodies and results in many of our current health problems.
Carbohydrates are the source of the sugar in food, but not all carbohydrates are created equal. Many vegetable carbohydrates are absorbed slowly (broccoli, green beans, spinach) and don’t raise blood sugar. On the other hand, sugary foods like candy and processed carbs (bagels, cereal, pasta, muffins) spike blood sugar and lead to inflammation. Not only is there a quick spike in blood sugar with these sugary foods, but there’s the inevitable drop in blood sugar, which leaves us feeling anxious, tired, low energy, and craving more sugar.
So how do we stop eating sugar?
At Nutritional Weight & Wellness, we recommend eating real food and limiting or eliminating refined and man-made carbohydrates. These 6 strategies have helped my clients kick their sugar habits:
1. Start with protein
Every meal and snack should have some protein to keep your energy up and give your body the fuel it needs for the day. One place to start with this habit is to begin the day with protein at breakfast. Be sure to include a good fat and a few veggies! This will keep you satisfied and keep the sugar cravings away while laying the foundation for a healthy habit at the start of the day.
Try my favorite breakfast, two eggs scrambled with spinach or kale sautéed in butter or olive oil along with bacon and mushrooms. There’s also a fantastic fast frittata recipe or turkey sausage on our website if you need some more breakfast ideas.
2. Eat good fats
Instead of a cookie, grab a handful of almonds or mash up an avocado and serve with some fresh veggies. Cook with coconut oil, add butter to your vegetables and add olive oil to your salads. Healthy fats like these keep your blood sugar balanced and reduce sugar cravings. It’s especially important to have healthy fats in your snacks and before bed so you can sleep soundly through the night.
3. Stay ahead of hunger
Eat regularly to keep your blood sugar balanced; don’t skip meals or snacks. Stay ahead of your hunger by keeping a protein bar or a meat stick in your purse (check the label to make sure it has quality ingredients!) or fill a small tin with almonds or other nuts to help stave off your hunger. Make a batch of protein shakes to have on hand for the week when you need something quick. It depends on the individual, but on average, most folks need to eat every 3 to 4 hours, so experiment with where your sweet spot is to avoid getting “hangry”.
4. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
You've heard it before, but truly, drink water! Staying hydrated is often key to kicking a sugar habit. Sometimes we feel hunger pangs and reach for food when what our body really craves is water. To add variety, flavor your water with cucumbers, lemon, or lime. Try an unsweetened herbal tea or beverages without sugar, like a fun sparkling water.
5. Plan & celebrate
Set an attainable weekly goal, make a plan, and celebrate your success! Repeat the following week. Try sharing your goal with a close friend or spouse and support one another as you kick the sugar habit together.
Here's an example: plan to eat a healthy afternoon snack next week such as a beef stick and some celery sticks with peanut butter (any healthy protein, fat and carb will do). Put a reminder in your phone so you don’t forget to eat it! The following week, check in to see how you felt. How was your energy level? How were your cravings? Keep it up for a few weeks and then add a new goal when you’re ready. Just focus on what is working and don't be hard on yourself for what didn't go well. Use it as an experiment! Keep what works and tweak what doesn’t.
6. Be a detective
Read labels and be aware of hidden sugars in foods. Commit to not having highly processed, high carbohydrate foods in your house. See if you can get your household on board. If it’s not around, you’re less likely to eat it!
Avoid white foods, like white flour, white sugar, white potatoes, white rice and white pasta. Start today by going through your cupboards and fill a garbage bag with all the items you don’t want and throw them away.
Get Support With These 6 Steps
With our clinical experience, we have seen many people find success in cutting out sugar by focusing on protein at meals and snacks, eating healthy fat, staying ahead of hunger by eating enough and frequently, hydrating with plenty of water, making a plan, celebrating the wins, and being a detective with label reading. I hope these strategies will help you kick your sugar habit and improve your health. Do you have a strategy that works for you we haven’t mentioned here? If so, please share in the comments section below so we all can benefit!
For a more personal approach that customizes these tips to fit your lifestyle and specific health history, consider making an appointment with me or my fellow nutritionists. We can be that cheerleader and problem-solver to help make these sugar busting habits stick.
For more help in quitting sugar, check out these resources:
- Listen: Break Your Sugar Addiction
- Read: Covid, Stress, Sweets, and Steps To Make Habit Changes
- Try: Top Three Supplements To Suppress Cravings
- Success: Erin conquered her sugar cravings eating the Weight & Wellness Way!