You’ve got a problem. One that threatens to derail all your efforts, your good intentions and your progress. You’re on intimate terms – you know each other well, it knows your name and calls you whenever it feels like it. Sugar. Your nemesis. The enemy. Brazen in plain sight or lurking in the shadows, it watches your every move. And you know it.
Sugar in all its guises
I often get emails asking for advice on beating the sugar demon and believe me, I’ve struggled with it myself. While I consider myself to still be a sugar addict, and perhaps always will, I have been able to dial in my desire for sugar so that it rarely speaks to me loudly any longer. I also have many strategies to limit the likelihood that I am tempted to get back on the sugar-crazy wheel of life which causes me to eat sugar irrationally and to excess.
Bring it. Own it. Crush it.
Beating sugar cravings can be boiled down to this: commitment. You need to really want this. You need commitment to build:
- self-awareness in your eating habits and triggers;
- strategies for avoiding temptation
- the confidence to say ‘no’ and in your ability to say ‘no.’
If you do this, sugar will go find another victim. The following is my own personal list of the things I have done to get to this point.
1. Track your progress. I track the number of days I go without sugar. I have a spreadsheet I update weekly. My goal is always to go one day longer between each sugar trip than previously and when I do indulge I start over. My goal is then to stay sugar-free for just one day. I give myself permission to eat sugar again at that point should I want to. Next I abstain for two days and so on. For some people, this gentle process may not be helpful or too slow and they can find they never get off the hamster wheel but I find it helps me and rarely do eat the sugar I give myself permission to. I also keep note of my previous record (73 days) so my current goal is 74.
2. Bake before 11am. Sometimes 5am. At this time of day, I am not tempted to eat the batter or sample the results of my efforts. I avoid baking in the afternoon like the plague. I am a sucker for cake batter and will scoop it all up. That will then drive me to taste many of my treats which in turn means I bake more and, ugh, it all starts again. So before 11am it is or not at all.
3. Don’t deal in sugary food. As a mom, I am often asked to organize, contribute to, or hand out food at kiddie events. I’ve learned this is a very, very bad idea. It just stimulates an interest in food I know shouldn’t eat, I start salivating (and secreting insulin) and when the time comes for me to go at it, I go mad, piling forbidden food high on my plate and then eating it. Nowadays, I hold back when these events are being planned, I offer to take water and I don’t get involved in handing food like birthday cake around.
4. Make any sugar in your house difficult to get to. I’ve written about this paleo tip before. It is key. If you can’t throw it away, put it in a low-trafficked place in your house. I’d keep the sugar foods in my bedroom drawer, on the highest shelf in the pantry – one I’d have to climb on a step to get to, or in the freezer in the garage.
5. Hide it from view. For me, a large part of the problem is seeing it. When my family hadn’t joined in and we still had non-paleo foods around, I’d push their food to the back of the pantry and put my food front and center. Their foods went on the high and low shelves of the fridge and freezer while my foods went on the shelves at eye-level. Mentally I’d know the bad stuff was there but not being able to see it helps break the connection between brain stimulation and insulin secretion as explained by Gary Taubes in Good Calories, Bad Calories.
6. Throw the sugar out. I have another blog, Clutter365, where I’ve committed to throwing one item of house clutter away every day for a year. Recently, I decided to do this for non-paleo food items, too. I love sugar and money and loathe waste so throwing this food away has at times been very hard for me. Doing it one day at a time has made it manageable. All the sugar has now gone and I feel more in control than ever. And crucially, if I want some more I’m going to have to drive somewhere to get it.
7. Know your limit. A tiny nibble? A bite? A small slice? It is so important that you are self-aware enough to know at what point you cave into the sugar demons. I can take a teeny-tiny nibble of a cookie and my resolve will stay intact, any more and I’m a gonna to be found later semi-comatose with candy wrappers strewn around me. Know your limit and stop before you get to that point. And if that means no sugar at all must pass your lips, then so be it.
8. Eat good fats. They will fill you up and you’ll resist sugary, bad fat food more easily. It took me a long time to realize that eating a huge bar of chocolate was my body’s way of telling me I needed fat. Nowadays an avocado or shaved coconut does the trick.
9. Eat protein. Paul Jaminet thinks that sugar cravings are the body’s way of telling you you need to eat more meat. It is certainly nutritionally dense and will keep your energy levels up, again helping you resist the sugar. Try it.
10. Monitor your caffeine intake. Caffeine makes me impulsive around food. I eat things I shouldn’t and start the crazy blood-sugar tsunami. I avoid it totally.
11. Swap the worst kind of treat food for healthier alternatives. When I started eating paleo I swapped cupcakes for chocolate-covered almonds. When I found myself obsessing over nuts and overeating them, I swapped them for yogurt. Then I learned that I couldn’t control yogurt either when I found myself eating three full-fat Brown Cow cartons back-to-back so I cut those out too. By then I had toned down my taste-buds and built up my confidence levels so I could cut sugar out completely. I now don’t eat anything sweet except on very rare, usually planned occasions.
12. Use progesterone cream. The jury is out on this one but I am trying it as I tend towards low progesterone in the second half of my cycle: that is when half of the 40-50% of women who get sugar and chocolate cravings get them. While I don’t suffer classic PMS symptoms – I tend to be fairly even mood-wise – I do get days late in my cycle where I can’t. stop. eating. I’m checking out whether raising my progesterone via the cream will help.
13. Visualization. When I got the urge to eat sugar, I imagined it was the yeast bacteria talking to me. Yes, I know, weird. But it’s what I did. When I got sugar cravings I reminded myself it was the yeastie-beasties yelling for the sugar they thrive on and somehow that imagery worked. Hey, it’s cool.
14. Get some exercise. I found this helped me – it distracted me, made me feel better. A strenuous workout wasn’t helpful, that just made me wilt in the face of the cravings and I was more likely to give in to them than get up a sweat but a gentle 7-minute walk around my block in the sunshine worked wonders.
15. Take a nap. My ‘go to’ sweet alternative. You know the HALT acronym, Weight-Watchers counsel their members on? (If you are feeling like something to eat check to see if what you are really feeling is hunger, or instead, anger, loneliness or tiredness.) I nearly always feel tired when I want something sweet so I do my darnedest to get 15 minutes or more.
16. Know your sugar traps. So many things set me off – the chocolate and cookie aisle at Trader Joes, ‘just a look’ at the dessert menu, food ads on TV. I have identified them all and have strategies to avoid them. I rarely shop at Trader Joes these days, I refuse to even look at the dessert menu, I record all my shows and fast-forward through the ads. It is a constant process, there are new baits set all the time but it is worth it and the feeling of control is magnificent!
17. Take different routes to avoid your nemesis. Don’t go down the candy aisle in the store. Walk around the office to avoid the candy bowl. Go the long way round to avoid the dessert buffet. Walk on the other side of the mall from the cookie store. Constantly be looking out for sugar dangers and give them a wide berth.
18. Speak up! Ask others for their support. Request that ice cream not be brought home. Ask your co-worker to put her candy bowl in the drawer. Tell your kids you want paleo breakfast treats for Mother’s Day instead of cinnamon buns and offer up a menu, maybe even give them a paleo recipe.
19. Be the change you want to see. Bring fruit to balance out or replace the morning doughnuts. Take a paleo dessert to a family potluck. Invite your friend over for breakfast and cook her bacon and eggs (she will love you forever!) You’d be surprised how many people are secretly wishing that someone would offer them healthier options and thank you.
20. Drink water. Dehydration can make you feel crappy which can drive the urge for a quick pick-me-up so chug first to make sure you’re not getting the wrong message.
21. Start a blog or a Facebook page to publicly hold yourself accountable. Public accountability is a huge motivator. I write my blog to share my journey, to build relationships, to ‘help people.’ But I’m pretty sure the person most helped is me! When the sugar is calling, I think of my blog readers and it stops me. When I’m writing a post like this I’m reinforcing all my strategies to myself. And then I think up new ideas! And so the virtuous circle goes on and on. Don’t be frightened of starting a blog. It’s easy! Contact me at alison at alisongolden dot com and I’ll point you in the easiest direction.
22. What’s your #1 tip for beating the sugar devil? How do you stop him calling your name. I want to know. Please share and tell us in the comments!
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