In the early days of my weight loss, there was one 800 lb gorilla in the room that had to be acknowledged, my sugar addiction. My means of addressing and dismantling it was to go cold turkey. How hard could it be, I foolishly thought to myself. Cut the candy & cookies, and you'll be fine - not that simple. Sugar I discovered is EVERYWHERE. It's not only in the obvious, like my beloved Twizzlers, but it also sneaks up on you in condiments, sauces, dressings, the list can go on and on. The packaged food industry in it's efforts to craft a world of processed food convenience, turned many of us into sugar addicts.
There are even some experts out there that believe kicking a sugar habit is harder than quitting cigarettes or even heroine. In my particular case, I was one bona fide addict. If there were sugar addicts anonymous meetings, I'm someone who should be there. Hello. My name is Lisa, and I'm a sugar addict. When sugar enters our bloodstream, it stimulates blood sugar levels to rise, which in turn makes our bodies release insulin to convert that sugar into energy. The sugar rush, or high that you experience is from the conversion of that sugar into energy. But it turns out that insulin also stimulates the storage of fat - so the more sugar you eat, the more insulin you produce and the more likely you are to gain weight. Add to all this the fact that after eating something sugary our brains release natural chemicals called "opioids" which give our bodies a feeling of intense pleasure, it's no wonder we keep coming back to the table for more! It's a vicious cycle when you come down to it.
In my particular situation, there were a few variables to attack. First, I had to get a handle with my own cycle of cravings, binging and crashing. Secondly, I had to deal with the sources of temptation. Cold turkey was the choice I made, some people choose to taper off slowly, which is probably the more reasonable means of ending the addiction. It took roughly two weeks to dismantle my sugar addiction - and it was hard. Behaviorally, I had to stop reaching for sugary foods - this took a lot of conscious effort on my part! And on top of that, I found myself exhibiting symptoms of with drawl (although not to the same severity) you would expect from a drug addict. Moodiness, listlessness at times, and even mild body shakes. Everyone is different, this was how my with drawl manifested itself.
After the two weeks of being everyone's darling while going through sugar with drawl, and I was clean and "sober" from the sugar, it was time to check out what in my environment was enabling my addiction. Sugar was everywhere around me. My kids bring tons of candy home from birthday parties, school events, visits with family members, holidays, etc. At the end of a given school year, I could easily repackage all the candy they collected into about 3 jumbo size bags - the package sizes you'd expect to see in a warehouse store, that big. Work was another obstacle - candy, cookies, sweets are always around. So it was a showdown between me and sugar - kind of like high noon at the OK Corral. I won out in this battle with one single word - no. It was really hard at first, but became progressively easier the more I said it. I would say no as I opened my pantry door. I would say no as I checked through the kid's trick or treat bags at Halloween. When I passed by trays full of cookies at work, I said no to myself there. When co-workers had birthday cakes I said no to that. A new habit was what I established - saying no. At first it was difficult - and I really believe the addiction talked to me - because I couldn't see anything wrong with just one. Just one all the time every day is no longer one. At that point it's a habit that needs to be broken.
As I've canvassed the web looking for information on dealing with sugar addictions, here are ten suggestions on how to kick a sugar habit...
- Eliminate soft drinks - this is a big one, even diet soft drinks can have the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar which is your total daily recommended allowance
- Avoid artificial sweeteners - this can be a tough one, but studies have shown that artificial sweeteners can make you crave sugar.
- Don't bring it home - don't buy it, keep it out of the house and try to rally your family's support to this end - it's the matter of establishing a better lifestyle overall.
- Eat fruit - Eating fruit won't create a spike in your blood sugar, it has a low to medium glycemic index and it's a great way to eat something sweet while managing your calories.
- Exercise - Not only will it make your body run more efficiently, but exercise helps you to metabolize better, rather than storing your energy.
- Break emotional dependence - this can be a tough one because you really need to stop and think about why you're eating sugary foods. For me, eating sugary snacks was a stress crutch.
- Hydrate with water - Even 100% juice is sugar water in disguise. Do your best to reach for water first before any flavored drinks and work to reduce the soft drinks you're consuming.
- Don't fall off the wagon - While it takes time to dismantle a sugar addiction, your body will quickly recoup sugar cravings if you load up on sugary snacks.
- Eliminate the white stuff - White flour, rice, potatoes all have the same effect on blood sugar as pure sugar or sweeteners, ultimately making it even more difficult to kick your sugar habit.
- Limit alcohol - Liquor may be quicker, but it's also made from sugar and acts like such in your body.