I used to be a sugar addict.
I could never turn down a dessert. It was like I had an automatic hand that accepted anything offered to me.
I felt like I was forever doomed to feeling out of control. I would never be able to lose the last 5 lbs I desperately wanted to drop–not when I couldn’t control my eating habits.
My will power was non-existent, and I could not foresee the day that would change.
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Guess what. I overcame that addiction, and I learned that it’s not all about will power, like I thought.
Guess what else. Sugar addiction is way more powerful than you think. Nicole M. Avena, PhD, a neuroscientist and addiction expert said the following:
“There are these pathways in the brain that are known to be activated by substance abuse and they happen to be the same pathways that can be activated by food,” Avena says. “This might explain in part why so many people have a hard time controlling their intake even though you know you’re only supposed to have one or two cookies.”
Sugar affects the brain in a similar way to nicotine and cocaine. Sugar stimulates the pleasure centers of your brain, releasing dopamine and opioids into your body. This creates the happy buzz, or feeling of relief you experience after consuming sugar. It’s a real thing!
And there’s more.
Some people really are more pre-disposed to addictions than others. According to recent studies, we all have different capacities for experiencing pleasure. Some people need more stimulation than others in order to experience the same amount of pleasure.
If you have had a hard time with you sugar intake, there’s a good reason for it! If it seems like everyone else can magically recover from their sugar addictions, and you can’t, there’s a reason!
Everyone who deals with sugar addictions will have their own stories to tell. Don’t despair if what works for your friend does not work for you. Keep trying and experimenting with ways that will help you individually. Maybe the best you can do is simply lower your sugar threshold, so you don’t need as much to satisfy you.
This whole journey is a processes about learning about how your brain and body work. Be open minded. Be willing to try new ideas. Your best tip may end up being the one you created on your own.
Most of my clients come to me with a sugar addiction and we have figured out ways to beat it.
Here’s my list of 9 ways to overcome a sugar addiction. See if there’s something here you haven’t tried yet, or something you could be a little more committed to. Hope this helps!
Afterwards check out Now, I eat sugar whenever I want…and that's my secret for how I live my life post-addict!
1. Find out why you personally eat sugar
Do an experiment for a few days. Every time you eat sugar, ask yourself why you want it at that moment.
Are you hungry? Are you stressed? Are you bored? Are you lonely? Is this just out of habit? Is this how you deal with your emotions? Are you missing an emotional connection?
What deep need are you trying to fill with sugar?
Once you get to the root of your sugar addiction, you will find more personalized ways to overcome your own sugar addiction. The solution to overcoming your sugar addiction may be more simple than you think.
2. Create a meaningful reason to break away from sugar
If your reason to break your sugar addiction is problem oriented, it most likely won’t last. Reasons such as, “I am overweight,” or “I don’t have enough energy,” are problem oriented. Once the stress of your problem begins to go away, (or once you lose a few pounds) that inner conflict and drive will be gone. You will return to your old habits until you gain enough stress to motivate you to fix the problem again. And the cycle will repeat itself, on and on.
Try to find a more long term, meaningful reason to break away from sugar. You may want to enjoy optimal health for life, or have enough energy to play with your kids, or live long enough to spend active time with your grandkids. Whatever your reason, make sure you really want it, so that when you are faced with a decision between sugar or your kids, it will be an easy choice.
3. Make it official
Many of us have said, “Next Monday I’ll start eating healthier,” but that Monday never came. If you don’t have an official plan, with someone to hold you accountable, you will always be half-heartedly aiming towards your goals, but never quite reaching them.
Decide if you want to go off sugar completely, or else just eliminate a few sources of sugar each week.Everyone is different (this is where experimentation comes in to play). If you consume extremely high amounts of sugar, it may be safer to reduce sugar sources slowly in order to reduce withdrawal symptoms. Most people do best when they go off sugar ‘cold turkey.’
Know where your sugar intake is coming from, so you know what to avoid. Obvious sources of sugar are soda, fruit juices, and refined sugar. Some breads have high amounts of sugar as well, which is a surprise to some. As you become more aware of where sugar is hiding, you can eliminate those sources as well. Did you know, for example, that mayonnaise has sugar, as well as salad dressings??
Keep in mind that your body craves what is in your blood. The goal is too reduce the amount of sugar in your blood, and replace it with healthy nutrients, so that your body start to crave something new.
Choose a starting date, and a friend to be accountable to. Better yet, find someone who wants to make healthy goals with you, so you can do it together and find motivation through each other. If you are competitive, find a way to make your sugar-free challenge a competition.
4. Keep your blood levels stable
Research shows that when you are hungry, you are more likely to crave and eat sugary foods. This is simple to avoid if you just take a little time to plan ahead.
Plan to be hungry about every 2-3 hours. Plan out your meals and snacks ahead of time, or at least have convenient options of healthy food nearby.
If you know you will be gone for more than 2-3 hours, plan ahead and bring healthy snacks with you. Add healthy sources of protein to your meals and snacks, to keep you more satiated for longer.
You may enjoy reading 33 Ideal Snacks for Weight Loss.
5. Keep your immediate environment sugar free
Why tempt yourself? Don’t allow any sweets in your home or on your work desk as you begin overcoming your addiction. Once you have more control over your cravings, and have lowered your sugar threshold, you can decide if you can handle having sugar in your home.
Creating a temptation-free environment allows you to make healthy choices without the fight of will-power. As you may have experienced, will-power is a frequent loser, so don’t rely on it to get you through your addiction.
6. Plan to fill the void
Sugar is a big part of your life and you can bet that there will be a void when you remove it.
Chose activities that you will do in order to fill that empty void. You may choose to go on a walk, call a friend, write in your journal, drink water, listen to music, dance, or finally face those emotions you have been running from (that’s a tough one!). If you must eat when you are sad or lonely, then substitute that ice cream with a sugar-free, healthier option.
Write down your ideas, and when those cravings come, quickly look at your handy list and follow one of your ideas. This is a great way to break away from emotional eating. Soon, free time won’t mean eat time.
7. Don’t be afraid of sugar
Sugar isn’t good for you, but it sure can contribute to good memories when used in control and moderation.
If you find yourself afraid of sugar and it’s ‘evil’ affects, or if you have labeled sugar as ‘bad,’ then you may be adding to the lure that sugar has over you.
What do kids do when their parents tell them not to do something? Most often they want to do it more, because suddenly it’s alluring, mysterious and tempting.
Try to let go of any labels you have created for sugar, and simply see it as an equal to all other foods. Once it’s as boring as a carrot (not that they are boring…I just haven’t heard of anyone having a carrot addiction), and just like everything else, your brain may relax and just let it be for awhile.
8. Turn to a higher power
Sometimes you just need to let someone other than yourself help you.
Finding faith and hope that you can overcome your addiction is extremely empowering. You may just find the strength that you need through pleading for help, and trusting that you can do hard things with the aid of a higher power.
9. Truly love yourself
I know, it sounds cheesy, but really consider this one.
When has self-loathing ever worked? When has lasting change ever been inspired by hate or guilt?
Stop being so hard on yourself. View yourself as the incredible being that you are. You are amazing!
You are not a sugar addict. You are not hopeless. You do not lack will-power. In fact, if you have labeled yourself in any negative way, let it go. Replace your self-loathing with positive and powerful images and words. Love and accept yourself, and you will find yourself eager to properly care for you body.
Once I found reverence and respect for my incredible body (the most amazing creation on earth), making healthy choices came naturally and easily. It was no longer about forcing myself to be healthy. It was about a sacred responsibility I now had to care for a treasured gift that was irreplaceable.
Caring for my body is now a joy, instead of a chore.
Check out Now, I eat sugar whenever I want…and that's my secret as part of my Sugar Leash Series for more info on what it took for me to get off sugar.