How to break free from sugar addiction and quit sugar for good
I’m sure you’ve heard all about how bad sugar is for you. It seems to be all over the news and media these days.
Do we need sugar?
No, the sugar we need to fuel our cells is glucose. Sugar is made from a combination of glucose & fructose.
Glucose is needed by our cells but fructose has to be converted to glucose by the liver in order to access it. There is not one singular chemical process in the body that is needed by sugar.
When we eat lots of calories that are high in fructose our liver stores it as fat.
Excessive fructose is linked to many illnesses such as:
High blood pressure
How does sugar work in the body?
When we eat sugar (in the form of healthy carbohydrates i.e. glucose) our bodies send a signal to release a hormone called insulin. Insulin’s job is to get the sugar that’s floating in our bodies into cells, specifically muscle tissue and the liver for storage.
However, with processed foods and sugars the process is different. Processed foods and artificial sweetness have fructose in them. Fructose reacts very differently in our bodies. When we consume fructose,
Is fruit bad for you?
Fructose in processed foods (sugar, sweeteners, cakes, biscuits, ice cream fizzy drinks) reacts very differently than fructose found in whole fruit.
Whole fruit contains fiber, vitamins, and minerals and is an essential part of our diet.
While some people recommend limiting fruit. In my personal opinion, fruit is an extremely healthful food that can and should be eating in abundance.
What are the benefits of quitting sugar?
Aside from the obvious health reasons, by quitting sugar you can expect to:
No more brain fog
Fewer aches and pains
Reduced anxiety and depression
How much sugar do should we have?
As little as possible!
The world health organisation guidelines have now been halved, recommending that we eat no more than 5-10 teaspoons per day.
What about artificial sweeteners?
Some of you may think that having artificial sweeteners is a good substitution.
The problem with sweeteners is that our bodies have no idea what to do with these chemicals. Sweeteners are usually 100-1000x sweeter than actual sugared so insulin is secreted in large doses, making you feel more hungry, consume more calories and store more fat.
Artificial sweeteners are addictive and make you crave more sweets. It messes with our hormones so we don’t receive the signal telling us we are full.
Studies that show that rats who were fed artificial sweeteners ate more food, increased body fat and had a slower metabolism in just two weeks than rats who were fed sugar-sweetened foods.
It is actually better to eat actual sugar than have artificial sweeteners!
Safe sweeteners include:
These sweeteners don’t spike your blood sugar as much and are very low/contain no fructose.
From a personal point of view, I also use dried fruit (raisins, dates, apricots) and natural sweeteners such as date syrup as they contain valuable minerals, fibre and they taste good. I just don’t go overboard.
Tip – stay away from agave nectar, the vegans alternative to honey. Agave is extremely high in fructose containing 70-90%. This is not a health food!
Does quitting sugar help you lose weight?
Many people have reported losing weight and there is a lot of good evidence that supports weight loss when we quit sugar.
Reason 1: By eliminating sugars we naturally eat better, less processed foods overall. This reduces the consumption of excess calories.
Reason 2: The impact sugar has on our bodies and most importantly our hormones. One of the hormones greatly influenced is insulin. And by reading above you will know how insulin is a fat storing hormone.
What is the best way to quit sugar?
The key to quitting sugar (and feeling ok doing so) is to keep blood sugar levels stable.
You will also need to eat foods that are nutrient dense to avoid cravings and help with detoxification.
The foods must also support your hormones, specifically insulin, cortisol, ghrelin, and Leptin.
These are the hormones responsible for regulating appetite, efficient metabolism, and fat storage.
Can I quit sugar cold turkey?
A lot of people try to quit sugar by going completely cold turkey. However, I think it varies from person to person.
Sugar is an addiction. In fact, It has been shown to be 9 times more addictive than cocaine.
The sugar industry spends A LOT of time, research and money to find the perfect ‘bliss point’ in our brains that will stimulate us to keep eating the sweet stuff.
That’s why going completely sugar-free is the best recommendation. Because you will be withdrawing from an addiction.
However, I feel its important to ‘prep’ ourselves before taking on this challenge. And believe me, its a challenge!
I always like to do things in a more gentle way, especially when it comes to our health and wellbeing.
How to quit sugar plan
1) Decide how long you will quit sugar for.
Although you don’t ever need to eat sugar again, there is an initial ‘detox’ period that will happen when you stop eating sugar.
Many experts believe it will take about 8-12 weeks for your blood sugar to stabilise and to go through the detox period.
What to expect: headaches, pain flares ups, acne, lethargy, and irritability!
Usually, detox symptoms last up to a week but it greatly depends on how ‘clean’ your diet is to start with.
2) Clean up your diet.
Remove obvious sources of sugar (added sugar in coffee, sugary cereals, chocolate, fizzy drinks, jams, and spreads).
Remove all processed foods, artificial chemicals, preservatives, and sweeteners.
This involves correctly reading food labels and basically not eating anything in a box, can, packet or anything ready made.
You will also need to be vigilant when eating out and choosing low/no sugar options.
Start to remove hidden sources of sugar.
Sugar is lurking in so many places including crackers, pre-made smoothies, and juices, packaged health foods, dried fruit, granola bars, even dairy-free milk.
(if you’re still eating a small amount of meat in your diet, sugar can be found in meat slices, processed animal products and added to some cheese)
By allowing this transition time your body will be able to adapt better and have much fewer detoxification symptoms.
3) Sleep more
Sleeping more, especially through the ‘detox’ period can greatly improve your chances of sticking to a sugar-free diet.
When we don’t sleep enough we affect our hormones that control our appetite. Studies show that when we sleep less we turn on the hormone that makes us hungry and turns off the hormone that makes us feel full. That’s why we tend to crave more sweet foods when we’re tired.
Get at least 8 hours of sleep per night, particularly in the first week of eliminating sugar.
4) Load up on vegetables (Especially non-starchy)
Veggies are rich in fiber which helps slow absorption of sugar in the bloodstream. Adding non-starchy veg to eat with every meal can stabilise blood sugar and help keep your energy balanced. Veggies are rich in antioxidants which can combat detox symptoms helping you cope more easily.
5) Read labels
How to read labels for sugar:
Choose foods with less than 5g of sugar per 100g. This equates to one teaspoon
Liquids shouldn’t contain any sugar so don’t buy any juices or smoothies that have any sugar.
Be careful with “sugar-free” labelling. This may mean that table sugar is removed but artificial sweeteners have been added.
6) Habits and the 3-day rule
One of the most common issues that people have is trying to stay sugar free. As with any addiction, the physical craving only lasts a few days in our bodies. This means that the craving thereafter is more habitual than anything.
That’s why the first few days are the hardest. However, once you get past those first 3 days you will find your willpower much stronger.
This video is an interesting watch for habits and breaking unhealthy habits (LINK)
7) Don’t have it in the house
Our environment is the most difficult to control. When we go out we might be tempted by cookies, cakes, and pastries. But our home is somewhere we can have full control.
It goes without saying that when we have something in the house we are far more likely to eat it.
If this is not accessible to you and something that a partner or kids have in either
Get them onboard and eliminate sugar together as a family.
Make the food less visible to you. Hiding it away so you won’t have to see it will keep it at bay.
8 ) Eat fat and protein – (particularly for breakfast)
When we quit eating sugar we often feel like we are “missing” something. That something should be replaced with protein and fat.
Fat and protein (good types) are very satiating and fat particularly gives us a “mouth feel” that we can feel is lacking when we stop eating sugar.
What’s more is that protein and fat stabilise our hormones and switches on the hormone that tells us were full.
Breakfast is particularly important as our insulin is most sensitive in the morning after a night of fasting.
If you start the day with something sugary you will more likely crave sugar for the rest of the day.
You don’t need to have excess here but aim to add a portion of healthy fat & protein to each meal.
Swap porridge for porridge and maple syrup for porridge with almond butter and hemp seeds.
Swap a salad and vegetable soup for a hearty salad with roasted chickpeas, avocado, and a tahini dressing. Serve with a lentil soup if still hungry.
Swap veggie fried rice dish for brown rice, edamame, tofu, loads of veggies and cashews.
9) Eat enough at meal times
I ALWAYS see this with women who want to lose weight and have sugar cravings. I know it seems backward but the less you eat doesn’t mean the more you will lose weight.
Calories aren’t created equal. The nutrition density of food and how our bodies process them is what matters.
If you reduce calories you will simply feel more hungry, slow your metabolism and signal the stress hormone cortisol (linked to increased inflammation and belly fat).
I promise that your body will thank you if you start eating until your actually full (not how much you think you should eat).
10) Be careful with caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant and while some people can tolerate small amounts others cannot. For some (including myself) When I have caffeine I lean on to a more anxious state, I get a high followed by a crashing low. The crashing low is what makes us need sugar (or caffeine) to lift us back up again.
If you find you’re sensitive to caffeine, avoid altogether or stick to one per day to keep blood sugar levels stable.
Exercise greatly improves insulin sensitivity. It helps to use the glucose in our bodies, reducing the need for excess insulin production.
Exercise releases endorphins too that make it easier to make better food choices When we feel good, energetic and already started a good habit we are more likely to follow through on making better decisions.
For tips on how to start exercising, watch this video here
There are definitely supplements that can help with reducing sugar cravings. Two of the best are
Chromium – fat metabolism and stabilises blood sugar
L-Glutamine – Assists with gut health and sugar cravings
5HTP – an amino acid that helps curb cravings
The spice cinnamon is also very helpful for reducing sugar cravings. Sprinkle of oats, soups, and roasted veggies or stir into an unsweetened plant-based yogurt
Take these supplement throughout your sugar detox (8-12) weeks until the need for sugar has been reduced.
13) Drink water – not juice
Hydration is particularly important during detox stages as it helps promote the elimination of waste and naturally reduces cravings.
Just one can of fizzy soda contains 6-8 teaspoons of sugar!!
But juice isn’t a healthy option either.
Juice has been shown to be a healthy addition to our diet but pure fruit juice reacts in the same way in our bodies than drinking a can of soda.
If you want something other than water to drink to try a green juice (or even better a green smoothie, loaded with veggies, non-sweetened herbal and fruit teas and fruit infused water)
How do I stop myself from eating sugar
14) Plan for emergencies
It’s going to happen at some point. The craving is too unbearable or maybe you have got through the detox but still want to live a little and enjoy occasional dessert but you don’t want to fall down the sugar hole.
Have healthy treats on hand.
This can be things such as low sugar:
Banana oat cookies
Healthy baked muffins
Get a few recipes and try them out! Make it an enjoyable process! If you don’t do this, at some point you will want something and not have anything healthy available. This could backtrack your progress a lot.
You can get lots of inspiration for healthy dessert recipes and snacks here.
15) Eat more fruit
Contrary to what some others may suggest. I’ve found that eating whole fruit can help reduce sweet cravings.
We can naturally satisfy our sweet tooth by eating “sweet” foods such as whole fruit and sweet vegetables (squash, carrots, sweet potatoes).
If you eat fruit, try to eat it with protein and fat (or with/after meals) to keep you fuller and your blood sugar levels more stable.
Do you have to be sugar-free forever?
Personally, I believe in eating a low sugar diet most of the time. I probably eat more sugar than recommended because I eat plenty of fruits and have healthy desserts and dark chocolate a few times per week.
I also eat out quite a bit on weekends so I can’t measure how much I consume then but I generally eat low sugar foods (I rarely order a dessert).
This isn’t because I feel like I have to but when you eat a low sugar diet, in general, you tend to find sugary foods overly sweet.
Being plant-based obviously helps a heap too. It naturally restricts what I eat when I go out.
No animal containing desserts and treats for me!
I also don’t believe in 100% compliance with anything. I genuinely prefer to have healthy low sugar foods because I crave them and love them and fried processed foods make me feel unwell now.
However, it’s not always available to have healthy foods and I would rather go out and enjoy myself with good company and have added sugar on my foods than never go out at all.
If you find you have an uncontrollable need to eat sugar all the time then I suggest you try a low sugar diet and see how much it affects you.
If you relapse and consume sugar then go without any sweet treats for 3 days. Add extra protein, fat, and veggies and let your body recalibrate.
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
That’s very difficult to maintain and very unlikely to achieve.
However, following a low sugar diet and taking a little reset every now again when your cravings get the better of you will greatly improve your health, skin, and mood.
What’s the best tip you’ve tried that helped with sugar cravings? Leave them in the comments be sure to share this post with anyone you know who struggles with sugar!
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