Overcoming A Sugar Addiction – Part 2
In Overcoming A Sugar Addiction – Part 1 we recognized that while there is no clinical diagnosis for sugar addiction, there is evidence that highly palatable foods can influence the reward center of the brain. People can struggle with addictive behaviours like craving, binges, loss of control, and withdrawal over sweet, highly palatable foods.
We recognized that people “use” sugar for various emotional reasons, such as stress, anger, boredom, reward, and fatigue.
Consuming too much sugar can lead to problems such as insulin resistance, increased fat mass, difficulty of weight loss, metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
The solution is not necessarily to cut out all sugar entirely. Trying to do a “sugar detox” or going cold turkey may lead to the continued cycle of withdrawal, craving and binges. The long-term solution lies in retraining the taste buds to enjoy real foods that are less sweet.
Retrain Your Taste Buds
When you retrain your taste buds to enjoy natural foods, the highly processed, high-sugar foods will begin to taste too sweet. This will not happen overnight. It is a process. The process begins by gradually reducing the sweetness of your foods. For example, gradually reduce the sugar in your coffee, or replace sugar with milk only. The natural sugars in milk acts like a natural sweetener in coffee.
Gradually switch over from sweetened yogurt to plain yogurt by mixing some plain yogurt into the sweetened yogurt. Then do it the other way around. Have mostly plain yogurt, and mix in a little sweetened yogurt. Then have plain yogurt only and mix in some blueberries.
I had a client who looked at me like I was crazy when I asked her to eat plain Greek yogurt with blueberries. She thought it tasted like sour cream. She told me it was disgusting.
A few months later, the same client told me that her favourite go-to snack is now you guessed it: plain Greek yogurt with blueberries!
Choose “Good For You” Sweet Foods
Next, substitute your sweets with “good for you” sweet foods. I remember a Sunkist ad that showed a juicy orange along with the text “… before candy was candy”.
How true that is! Fruit has natural sweetness. Reserve eating fruit for when you want something sweet. Fruit can be dessert. I often cut up cantaloupe, pineapple, watermelon or strawberries as my family’s dessert. I put it out on the table to munch on after supper. Whatever is leftover gets put in the fridge for a healthy snack. Fruit is a treat.
Eat Protein, Fibre and Healthy Fat
Before I ask anyone to avoid junk food, I want to make sure they are eating enough nutrient-dense, good food. Sometimes what the body craves is not what it really needs. Do a mental check: Have I had enough protein today? Have I filled up with healthy fats and healthy carbs containing fibre?
- Fibrous vegetables and fruits
- Lean protein such as fish, meat, poultry, eggs, tofu, beans, yogurt, cottage cheese
- Healthy fat such as nuts, seeds, avocado, extra virgin olive oil
- Complex carbohydrates and grains such as rice, quinoa, oats, and barley
Protein, fibre and healthy fat are important for satiety. They take longer to digest. They keep you going longer without feeling hungry. If you have only toast and jam for breakfast, you will be starving in an hour. Hunger leads to cravings, and cravings may lead to the sweet stuff. Be sure to eat foods with protein at every meal of the day.
The reason why fruit is an acceptable sweet food, in addition to being packed with vitamins and nutrients, is because fruit has the benefit of having all-important fibre. Fibre is key for slowing down the digestion of carbohydrates. This will improve blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity. When carbohydrates are absorbed more slowly, you won’t get a sugar “high” followed by a sugar crash”.
Eat fruit with all its fibre, and not just the juice from it. You can also eat some healthy fat and fibre along with some fruit. Have a handful of nuts with your apple. The nuts balance out the sweetness of the apple. The fibre and fat in the nuts slow down the absorption of the apple’s sugars.
Sometimes we think we are hungry or are having a craving for something, when actually we are just thirsty. Have a large glass of water. See if that hits the spot. It will fill your belly. Water is so important for healthy functioning of our systems. Canada’s Food Guide recommends water as our drink of choice.
Exercise releases feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters called endorphins in much the same way that eating palatable food is associated with states of pleasure. The choice, therefore, is obvious. If your brain is craving that hit of pleasure, get some exercise instead! A workout is an excellent option for dealing with stress instead of turning to food. Exercise is a reminder to your heart and your brain that you want to be fit. You want to fuel your body with healthy food.
Read Nutrition Labels
Check the nutrition labels for the grams of sugar when you are grocery shopping. Does a serving contain 15 grams, 10 grams, less than 5 grams? Obviously, lower is better. If it is high in sugar, don’t bring it home. If it is not in the house, it is not an option.
One time I went shopping without my reading glasses. In a moment of weakness I decided to buy a dessert for my family: Lemon meringue pie. My family was pleased, but I remarked that I bought it only because I didn’t have my glasses with me. In all honesty, if I had I been able to read the amount of sugar on the label, I almost certainly could not have brought myself to buy it.
Read the ingredients list
In addition to reading the nutrition label, read the ingredients. There are many ingredients that you may not even know are sugar. Be aware of “healthy” sugars too, such as maple syrup, molasses and honey. Even though it may be a natural sugar, it is still sugar. It affects your insulin levels and it makes the product sweet. We want to retrain our taste buds.
Manufacturers used to be allowed to “hide” sugars by listing them individually throughout the contents. Canada’s labeling guidelines require that by 2022, all the sugars will have to be listed together. Here are some ingredients that all count as “sugar”:
- Agave nectar
- Barley malt
- Brown rice syrup
- Corn syrup
- Evaporated cane juice
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Malt syrup
- Maple syrup
Avoid Artificial Sweeteners
Watch out for artificial sweeteners! If the nutrition label says “0 grams of sugar”, you may think that you are getting away with a great cheat. But what is making it sweet? You have to read the ingredient list. See if it lists any of the following artificial sweeteners:
- Sugar alcohols such as sorbitol, isolmalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol and xylitol
The problem is, even though artificial sweeteners may provide 0 grams of sugar, they are still very sweet! Remember, the goal is to break your taste for sweets. If you eat something sweetened with artificial sweeteners, it can lead to sweet cravings again. The long-term solution is to appreciate eating healthy, natural food. Stay away from artificial sweeteners.
Scout Out the Hidden Sugar
Do know which condiments and packaged foods have added sugar? Here are some:
- Barbecue sauce
- Sweet and sour sauce
- Plum sauce
- Tomato soup
- Baked beans
- Pasta sauce
- Flavoured coffee
- Granola bars
- Flavoured yogurt
- Instant flavoured oatmeal
- Salad dressing
- Breakfast cereal
- Energy drinks and pop
- Iced tea
You can make your own soups and sauces and condiments without sugar. You can make your own salad dressings using lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. Instead of drinking pop, drink soda water or sparkling water with a splash of fruit juice. Drink tea over ice without any sugar. Put lemon juice in your water. Put pieces of fruit in your water. Add cinnamon, nutmeg or fruit to plain oatmeal or yogurt. Look for bread without added sugar. I have switched to sprouted grain breads with no added sugar.
Eat Dark Chocolate
Choose dark chocolate that has at least 70% cacao. I prefer 90% dark chocolate! I find that because it is bitter rather than sweet, having just one square can satisfy a chocolate craving. You will benefit from the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of cacao without the addictive properties of sugar.
Here is the list of ingredients of 90% dark chocolate. Ingredients: cocoa mass, cocoa butter, cocoa powder, sugar, bourbon vanilla beans.
Do you see where sugar is on the list? It is fourth. That is excellent. Many “dark” chocolate products have sugar or chocolate liqueur as the first ingredient. When you are choosing chocolate, look for cocoa to be the first ingredient.
Practice Healthy Eating Behaviour
Lastly, be intentional and mindful when you eat. Here are some do’s and don’ts for healthy eating behaviour:
- Don’t eat straight out of the container or bag.
- Do choose your portion and put it in a bowl or on a plate.
- Don’t eat while driving, or working at your desk, or standing up in the kitchen, or sitting watching TV.
- Do sit down at the kitchen table to eat and enjoy it.
- Don’t give in to a craving for dessert right away.
- Do wait 20 minutes. Allow time for a healthy meal to reach your brain. Usually by then, the craving will pass.
For most people, the goal is moderation. It is not to say that we can never have lemon meringue pie. But if you do, you can limit your sugar intake and maintain properly-functioning insulin sensitivity by having a very small slice. And that is plenty. Discipline yourself to not have a second helping. Better yet, take your first helping and eat only half of it. Practice putting the other half away for another day. Some people are more at ease about being self-disciplined when they know they can look forward to having a little something rather than none at all.
The rats in the rodent study were more likely to overeat when there was uncertainty about the availability of the sweet food. I wonder if, when presented with the opportunity to eat something decadent, people are more likely to binge because “this is their chance”, as tomorrow it may be gone. Others simply feel compelled to finish all of it today and leave none until tomorrow.
For some people who truly struggle with moderation, a small piece will always be too much because it will never be enough. If even a taste of something sweet is going to cause you to binge, then going cold turkey may be the best approach. Do not have sweet food in the house. Do not buy it. If people bring dessert over, send the leftovers away.
By retraining your taste buds, I believe that you can learn to not want it at all. If you can learn to not want it, then you will be able to practice moderation.
In summary, the key to healthy eating is to always have good choices available. Have protein with every meal to keep you full and satisfied. Eat nutritious carbohydrates such as vegetables, fruit, grains, and beans. Have healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocado, and eggs. Always be armed with nutrient-dense, real food options so there is no room for sweet food on your menu.
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