I’m not quite sure what motivated me to quit eating sugar. I think it was a break-up.
It’s always breakups or other life events that cause you to really reassess your life. It’s a fresh start to look at the bad routines you got into – like eating too much takeout – and it’s a chance to live life ‘like you want to’. Really, we could have this epiphany any day of the week. But a break up was mine. And I decided that I didn’t want to be the person who is a sugar addict.
I used to eat a lot of refined sugar. Like, sugar for every meal. Banana bread for breakfast. A million coffees with sugar a day. Cookies and muffins for snacks. Dessert. And, of course, let’s not forget the sneaky sugar in bread and cereals.
Sugar contributes to obesity, which kills like 7% of the world’s population, which is nuts considering it’s totally preventable! Sugar increases your risk of depression and anxiety. Sugar makes it harder to learn and form new memories. And it contributes to bad skin. And boy, was I over all that.
So I just decided to stop.
I wanted to cut out refined sugar. So, I will still have orange juice – but cookies are seriously just a ‘sometimes’ food for me now.
But, sugar is, quite literally, an addiction. It is claimed to be more addictive than cocaine. So I needed to get serious and change a few things in my life to help me kick sugar.
I’m going to share a few of the things that helped.
1. Get a new outlet
Sugar is an addictive substance, yes. But your body is only physically addicted for a couple of days. Beyond that, your body isn’t craving it any more. It’s all about your mental reliance on sugar.
Many people eat sugar as part of emotional eating. Like, ‘I’m feeling bad and ice-cream has made me feel better in the past, so I’m going to rely on this to get me through this break up’. Some people get so used to using sugar as a crutch that it becomes a thing they rely on not just through a break-up. But through a bad day at work. Or an awkward conversation. And for some people, it can become a legitimate addiction.
But this means that dealing with emotional stuff is key. This means developing new habits to deal with stress that doesn’t involve food – perhaps exercise, journaling, meditation, art, seeing a therapist – find what works for you.
Having these alternatives to help you manage stress means that when you’ve had a tough day, you’ve got something else to turn to to get you through that isn’t sugar.
2. Make an alternative snack easier than sugar
Okay, you love a 3pm snack. Cool. It has been ages since lunch.
You need to make it easier to get sugar-free alternatives than it is to get sugar. If you need to walk down the hall to get something from a vending machine, make it easier to get healthy snacks. Leave nuts on your desk. Or always have a bunch of carrots in your fridge ready for snacking. Don’t even bring sugar in the house if that’s what you need.
This also means shopping every week for the good stuff, having it in your house or office, especially in visible locations.
I found keeping a food journal before I started my attack on sugar really helpful, so I knew my weak points before I started making switches. I knew in advance that a 3pm snack and a sweet treat night were my weak points, so I planned especially to have delicious sugar-free alternatives around those times.
3. Get inspired
A big challenge for me was that I simply didn’t know what my options were for snacks unless they had sugar. A lifetime of advertising from snack-food giants meant that I actually had very little idea of what I could eat that wasn’t loaded with sugar. So I started researching. And I tried to make it fun. If I had a life ahead of me without sugar, it was going to be filled with delicious flavours, textures and foods I’ve never tried.
Search Pinterest for sugar-free snacks. Subscribe to the sugar-free subreddit. Subscribe to recipe sites that specialise in sugarfree options. Follow Instagrammers sharing sugarfree ideas.
Automate inspiration so you get excited by new flavours. Change the media you consume from junk-food ads to creative things you can do with chickpeas.
The thing is, your palate will adapt to craving less sugar, and suddenly you’ll discover how awesome snacking on raw foods like capsicum or carrot is.
Make it super easy for you to discover the options out there and learn over time. Learning to prepare sugarfree foods is a new skill you’re learning. It takes time.
4. Self-compassion is essential
If you slip up, it’s okay. You’re learning a new thing. Tomorrow is a new day. People are much more successful at trying a new thing if they act with self-compassion.
If you eat one cookie – or a packet – forgive yourself, and move on with your day. Learn what you can from the experience and try again tomorrow. What triggered you? Was it an event or a situation? Reflect, and plan so that if it happened again tomorrow, you’ve got other options.
And, focus on what you have achieved, and remember your long term goals of where you want to be and how far you’ve come.
5. Tie it in with your values
It can also help to think about why you’re quitting sugar and tie it to your own personal values. This can make it easier to stick with because you’ve got a stronger reason to avoid the cookies than just your weight (which, if you’re like me when I started, can feel like something impossible to change!).
For example, a few things that kept me inspired:
- Packing my own healthy snacks saves me loads of money so I can meet my savings goals
- Eating raw veggies reduces my plastic consumption, so I help the environment
- I can eat healthier, to help educate my young niece and nephew through my example
- I want to be someone who is at their creative and mental peak and sugar slows down your brain.
Find what drives you to motivate you to quit sugar which isn’t just about health or weight. Tie it to something bigger in the world that through quitting sugar, you can contribute to.
Change is possible. Just take it one step at a time.
Keep a food diary for a week. Then, identify what you’re eating that contains sugar.
From there, each week, pick one sugary thing you eat and switch it with a sugar-free option.
The documentary That Sugar Film was great to give me the motivation I needed to dump sugar from my life. It’s available at my local library – it might be at yours too!
Also, if you think you might need additional help with food addiction, help exists. Talk to your GP, a therapist or look into food addiction treatment centres.