By Kate Harveston
As much as I have always tried to take decent care of my body, I must admit, for a long time I never met a Hershey’s Kiss I didn’t inhale like a starving kitten given a bowl of tuna. My sweet tooth constantly undermined my diet goals, and worse, the blood sugar roller coaster I rode daily perpetuated a vicious cycle of cravings. If I wasn’t actively eating, I was mentally prepping my next meal.
Breaking my sugar addiction allowed me to finally lose weight and increase my energy. But the journey was far from easy, and it boggles my mind to this day how much sweet stuff people scarf down on the daily. Here’s how I finally managed to wave goodbye to the 3 p.m. pick-me-up candy bar and how you can, too.
1. Binge on Protein
When it comes to feeling full, protein does the trick efficiently. In retrospect, a large part of the struggles I encountered in trying to kick my sugar addiction stemmed at least in part from the way I started out with vegetarianism. Not that anyone needs to consume meat to get adequate protein intake, but failing to eat the right mix of other foods to get the proper blend of amino acids set me up for diet failure time and again. Many young vegetarians are not aware that they can’t just eat pasta every day and get adequate nutrition! So, I had to learn up.
Prior to kicking the sugar habit, my go-to weeknight staple was pasta. I always bought the whole grain kind, which tricked me into believing I was benefiting my health. Little did I know that many commercial pasta sauces contain as much sugar as kids’ cereals laden with mini marshmallows.
Nor do the words “whole grain” necessarily mean healthy, either. Grain consists of three parts, the bran, the kernel, and the germ. The term “whole grain” simply means that all three parts exist in more or less equal proportions. It doesn’t mean that the grain hasn’t undergone refinement leading to sharp rises and falls in blood glucose levels.
Once I stopped using commercial sauces in favor of tossing noodles with olive oil, herbs, and veggies, I noticed my energy levels increasing. Opting for pasta made from ancient grains such as quinoa and amaranth boosted my protein intake and energy levels even further.
2. Drink Up
Many times people think they’re hungry when in actuality, they’re dehydrated. Sipping on water throughout the day staves off hunger pangs the way a quality synthetic motor oil protects the engine life of vehicles. Maybe that’s a bit of a crude analogy, but water keeps all the systems of the body functioning as they should.
Nor do diet beverages cut it. I was a diet cola junkie, which seems compatible with a sugar-free lifestyle, right? Not exactly. In one study, participants who drank three or more diet sodas per day were more likely to become overweight over eight years. Scientists don’t completely understand why or even that a causal link exists, but they theorize that diet drinks prompt our bodies to produce insulin which causes blood sugar levels to fluctuate and cravings to form.
3. But Ditch the Booze
If the thought of hitting the beach without a bucket of beers in tow seems depressing, you’re not alone. I enjoy tipping back the occasional nip of the strong stuff myself, but drinking alcohol can wreak havoc on blood sugar levels.
Even though hard liquors such as tequila and vodka naturally contain no carbs, the sugary mixer in that strawberry marg can make blood sugar levels soar. Worse, those who overindulge the night before often experience hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, the next day, hence the reason iHop feeds so many bleary-eyed customers on Saturday morning desperately trying to undo the previous nights’ damage.
Additionally, alcohol lowers inhibitions, making any healthy eating plan more difficult to stick to. Noshing on bar peanuts may help to stabilize blood sugar levels, but the siren song of Buffalo wing sauce can mean consuming a lot of sugar (not to mention a ton of calories, especially if you’re a total Ranch-o-holic like me).
4. Heal Your Gut
The term “microbiome” has become a buzzword of late for good reason. While we may prefer not to think about it, we share our bodies with a LOT of other tiny organisms, and these microscopic critters can influence anything from body weight to cancer risk. Researchers even link our individual gut microbiome to both our hormones and mental health.
Tummy bacteria fed on a steady stream of simple sugar actually take longer to process food and digest it than more complex carbohydrates. The longer time food remains in the digestive tract, the more bile the body releases. Bile aids in the digestive process and impacts how the body processes nutrients, meaning that those who continually consume a high-sugar diet may experience malnutrition even when adequate daily calorie intake remains high.
5. Gaining Healthy Energy Through Exercise
Sugar provides an instant energy boost, but the problem with this comes when the blood glucose levels crash and exhaustion hits, leading many to reach for yet-another snack. Lasting energy comes through a combination of proper nutrition and exercise.
It seems ironic that activities designed to tire out our physical bodies can actually energize them more efficiently than heading to the office vending machine. But exercise provides energy in several ways. One way exercise boosts energy levels is by increasing blood flow, meaning more oxygen reaching the brain.
Additionally, exercise releases endorphins, the feel-good chemicals in our bodies. Endorphins fight fatigue by boosting our moods, making every activity feel less burdensome.
6. Learn Sneaky Sugar Nicknames
Nearly three-quarters of all prepackaged foods contain added sugar. And the typical American diet is all about convenience, which means grabbing and going much of the time. It would be nice, wouldn’t it, if food manufacturers clearly stated exactly how much sugar any given food contains based on an easy-to-read label.
Alas, this is not the case. Food manufacturers make it tricky to decipher labels by using fancy-sounding scientific names. As a result, while we may instinctively take a hard pass on a Kit-Kat bar, we may opt instead for a healthier-sounding granola treat that can cause just as severe a spike and crash in blood sugar levels.
Be wary of any ingredient ending in -ose. This suffix generally refers to sugar. Additionally, be on the lookout for ingredients such as corn syrup, rice syrup or malt syrup. Exercise particular caution with foods that don’t appear intrinsically sweet such as crackers or plain yogurt.
7. Fill Up on Fiber
Along with protein, increasing my fiber consumption probably did the most to help me kick my sugar addiction. Why? Fiber creates a feeling of fullness that lasts the whole day through when consumed as part of a healthy breakfast.
Two types of fiber exist: soluble and non-soluble. Non-soluble fiber keeps your poop nice and solid. Soluble fiber helps to regulate blood sugar levels as well as lower cholesterol. Although neither type of fiber adds any calories to your diet, it can help keep your weight stable.
At first, I used a fiber supplement to make sure I was getting enough daily, but severe gastrointestinal distress put an end to that particular experiment of mine in only a few short days. Pro tip: if you’re not accustomed to getting a lot of fiber in your diet now, start small and gradually increase your intake. This gives your body all the benefits without the associated tummy trouble.
Personally, I ended up finding it far easier to increase my fiber intake through food rather than through supplementation. As a bonus, some foods high in fiber also contain a hint of sweetness that makes them taste like a treat. For example, carrots contain high fiber levels and also crush cravings for a crunchy snack (plus they don’t leave your fingers coated with unsightly orange “cheese” as some other snacks do).
Choice Is Key to Change
I saved this tip for last because it probably did more to help me kick my sugar addiction than anything else. Without going into detail, let’s just say I once accompanied an ex to an AA meeting and ended up learning a principle that helps in breaking addiction to any substance — the word “never” psychologically sets you up to fail.
I’m not some kind of superhuman who exists on nothing but bean sprouts and kale. I’m just your typical American working hard to survive and thrive in our crazy society, which means I’m not willing to say to myself, “Hey, you can NEVER enjoy another Oreo in your life!”
Kicking the sugar habit proved far easier once I stopped thinking of it as self-flagellation and started thinking of healthier eating as an act of self-love. Think about it: what’s the first birthday you can remember? If your childhood was anything like most, your folks probably celebrated the special day with a cake, right?
Our society pushes a lot of “this or that” messaging, but that is not a sustainable mindset or lifestyle. Moderation is key, and if we want to continue considering ourselves the most intelligent species on the planet, we can do so best by cheering on healthy habits like learning how to eat (and do lots of other things, for that matter!) in moderation.
Breaking sugar addiction can be tough at first, but so is anything worth doing. And I know for a fact that if I can kick the habit, you can, too. Start loving yourself today by kicking saccharine-sweet junk food to the curb!
About the Author
Kate Harveston is a health and wellness writer from Pennsylvania. She is passionate about teaching people how to live more all-natural and sustainable lives. You can find more of her work at sites like Greatist, Care2 and the Environmental News Network, as well as at her blog, So Well, So Woman.