We all know the feeling: that crazy, uncontrollable urge to eat anything sugar-laden. The cravings that turn us into the Cookie Monster in the worst ways. I used to feel like I was addicted to sugar sometimes. This really isn’t far fetched: some research indicates that ingesting sugar can cause chemical response in the brain similar to taking cocaine! I LOVE sweets, and baking is one of my favorite pastimes. But fitness is also something I love and has become more than a hobby: it has become my job. Being healthy and fit has taken on new meaning for me. I have always had a raging sweet tooth, and never could seem to keep it my love of sugar under control, especially when I bake! How could I enjoy my love of baking and good food, and still embrace my love of fitness without going nuts? I have finally managed to strike a balance over the last few months in this respect. Here are a few things I have tried recently that have helped me break away from my sugar dependence.
- The less sugar I eat, the less I crave. Eating less sugar does not trigger “withdrawals” like it used to. The longer you stay away from sugar, the less you will want it. My appetite and blood sugar have been more steady lately. I also watch my intake of dried fruits, fruit juices, and natural sugars like honey. These are natural and healthy, but they are still a concentrated source of sugar. If you are cutting back on sugar, stick to whole fruit the majority of the time.
- Just because it is free (or on sale) doesn’t make it healthy! This one seems like a no-brainer, but admittedly I am one of those people who used to hit up the free candy and cookies wherever I could find them. This started adding up to quite a bit of sugar each day, and it became a bad habit that took a while to break. I am a frugal person and love sales and discounts, but I have to keep reminding myself that free/cheap food still has calories and sugar (and allergens!).
- I changed the way I cook. I took some good advice from the newsletter of another gluten-free blogger, Mary Frances (Gluten-Free Cooking School). In one of her newsletters, she said that her family ate healthy food all week, with very little baked goods and meals revolving mostly around proteins and veggies. But weekends were the times they could have some fun and make cookies or pancakes. So, I decided to try this approach. This has been working out pretty well for us so far. Not only does this keep me from falling back into my old Cookie Monster ways, but it saves my family money and time. I don’t feel deprived of my baked treats because I know that I can try a new dessert recipe on the weekend. Even when I bake on the weekends, I still keep all my baking healthy and allergy-friendly so we don’t have a sugar hangover or a stomach ache when we do indulge.
- I look for hidden sources of sugar. I switched to unsweetened non-dairy milk (usually almond milk) recently. Some brands of non-dairy milk have quite a bit of sugar in them: Rice Dream has 12 grams of sugar per 1 cup serving, most of which (if not all) is added sugar. That can add up in a day! Watch out for sauces, broths, breads, crackers, trail mix, and even jerky. In reality, anything packaged can have unnecessary added sugars. Always check the ingredient and nutrition label!
- I don’t leave the table hungry. Eat until you are satisfied. Both not eating enough or over-eating can trigger sugar cravings in me. Don’t starve and don’t stuff!
- I have been listening to my body more. When I do find myself with sugar cravings, I really pay attention to what my body is telling me. Am I craving sweets because I am hungry, dehydrated, bored, upset, or tired? Identify the source of the cravings and take care of them first. Eat a good meal, drink more water, take a nap, read a book, or work on a hobby. I try not to let myself get too hungry or I will eat just about anything, and that can be a slippery slope. If I still have cravings for sweets, I try to reach for dried fruit instead of candy. Sometimes I have sugary treats, but this can trigger more cravings so I have to be careful.
- I have been breaking my emotional ties with food. After I developed food intolerances and had my dietary options reduced, I went into panic mode for a while and felt like there was nothing I could eat and I became a little paranoid about food. It may sound a bit silly, but this type of fear can be very real to people with multiple food allergies, especially when they are first diagnosed. Foods can be seen as a comfort, or as a dangerous landmine. We need to detach our emotions from food and see it as nourishment, pure and simple. I refuse to let my life be dictated by my limitations and the food I can or cannot eat. Period.
- Stay accountable. Accountability is a great tool in any aspect of life. Use any method that works for you, whether it is telling friends what your goals are, writing down your food in a journal, or tracking calories on your smart phone. Each person is different and needs to approach things in a way that works best for them.
- Go easy on the calorie-free sweeteners. I don’t use Splenda, aspartame, or other chemical sweeteners, but I like to use Stevia or Truvia. Still, studies have shown that some “calorie-free” sweeteners can make you crave more sugar, so it is best to exercise moderation with these too.
- Chill Out! It is not the end of the world if you slip up and have a sugar binge. Dust yourself off, learn from your mistakes, and keep moving forward.
If you have any tried and true tips for cutting your sugar intake, please share!