3-Step Action Plan To Kick Sugar Cravings

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sugar cravings, habits, paleo, paleo dietNora wrote to me: 

Sugar addiction has always been an issue for me. I can go for days
without sugar, only to submit to cravings which turn into days of
bingeing. I don’t have any health problems but if I continue down this road I think my luck will run out. Please advise.

Her message got me thinking. What could I say to her?

I have a long and sordid relationship history with sugar. Damaging and, at times, abusive it has been. I still work at resisting every day. And because it is so hard for me to look upon sugary foods with indifference (my ultimate goal), I’ve learned many things that have helped me. I consider myself to be something of a sugar management expert.

Fail to plan, plan to fail

This maxim is very true with sugar. This devilish substance pops up everywhere and our resistance muscle varies in strength from person to person and from instance to instance. We need to have a plan with a variety of strategies to hand to put it in its place. 

The good news

You are in control. No-one is holding you down and forcing sugar down your throats. And that means you are in control of kicking it to the curb, if you choose. Know that it may not be easy. We may have to white knuckle it for a while so anticipate that and have activities in place to distract you or food you can nosh on when you just need to satisfy yourself orally.

Slippery slope?

When I asked how many visitors to this site were abstainers (could not control their consumption of a particular food), 75% said they were. 34% of respondents to another poll said chocolate was the food they had most trouble controlling. If we eat a little sugar, are we setting ourselves up for a full blown binge later on? Is it an all-or-nothing thing?

These were the kinds of thoughts I had when I got Nora’s email. But that didn’t go far enough, and after thinking about it for a while, I decided on my extending my advice to Nora. Every person is different. Every person has a different environment in which they live. Many of us need guidance. Here’s mine.

Know Yourself

Observe your own behavior. You can journal it if you like. You can buy specific health journal or use a simple notebook. Or keep index cards or your phone with you and jot pointers and ideas on them as they occur to you. Ask yourself these questions:

What triggers my sugar eating? What happens in the hours leading up to and immediately before I eat it?

Is there a certain time of day or, for women, certain time of the month, when my need for sugar is high and my resistance low?

Are there certain sugar delivery vehicles that I’m more susceptible to, e.g. doughnuts, cupcakes or chocolate, while others have less effect?

Is there a threshold for eating sugar beyond which I lose control but if I keep within that limit, I can remain on top. What is that limit? 

Can I have sugar in the house or does it sit there calling my name until I captitulate barely inhaling as I do so? 

Is an opened packet concomitant to an empty packet, or can I stop at a small amount and leave the rest?

Are there certain people or situations that trigger me?

Do I/can I go cold turkey? Or does a gradual approach work for me best?

Can I allow an occasional lapse, like on a birthday, or do I need to be strong even on these occasions?

Why am I worried about my sugar intake? What will happen if nothing changes?

Get Practical

Once you know yourself, you can set up a plan for action. There are some ideas below, and more at these posts on sugar cravings here and here.

Clear the environments you have control over of sugar. Throw it away. If you find yourself rummaging through the garbage late at night for cookies still intact, take it out of the packaging before you toss it. If you still find yourself retrieving it, see a therapist. 🙂

If you don’t have total control over your environment, ask those who share it with you to refrain from bringing in sugar or put it out of sight and in hard to get to places. You can ask them to hide it, or lock it away, and not tell you where it is.

Remember that most of the decisions over what to eat are taken in the grocery store so take extra care when shopping. Make a list and stick to it.

Plan your meals ahead of time, have snacks prepared.

When eating out, check out the menu before you go and determine what you’re going to eat. Refuse the bread basket to avoid temptation and stop the snowball from getting started on its way down the hill.

Be extra vigilant around the triggers you identified in the “Know Yourself” section.

Consider a sugar detox plan and/or support. Or cut down/make substitutions until you feel you are in control and not the other way around.

Buy a blood sugar monitor and see for yourself how hard your body is working to cope with your sugar intake.

Strategic Thinking

There may be other, deeper issues that are driving you to soothe yourself with sugar. It is important to take steps to address them, both as a way to tame the sugar devil and because you deserve spending effort and time on yourself every single day.

Ask yourself these questions and seek to plug any holes that you identify.

Do I enjoy how I spend my days? Am I excited to fall asleep in anticipation of the next day?

Do I ever get time for myself or am I always supporting other people?

Do any of my major relationships need addressing in some way?

Am I bored? Do I need to move around?

Do I have time to play and have fun?

Do I get enough sleep?

Am I eating enough?

What positive habits can I introduce and perform consistently to crowd out the negative ones?

In the final assessment

Being observant, understanding what ambushes you, creating defensive moves to protect yourself and putting boundaries around your behavior is ultimately the only way to beat the sugar cravings. It is a game, not a fun one, but a game nonetheless. You have a sugar demon sitting on your shoulder calling your name, tempting you to action and the pressure can be intense. By answering the above questions and taking action, that pressure is weakened until it is mild to non-existent.

But, there’s a but…

You may have to take drastic action. That job you worked so hard to get might need to change. That abusive relationship might need to be given up. You might need to wait until your children are a little older. Sometimes, sugar isn’t the real enemy. The true problem is something deeper, more personal.

Other’s may need to tweak. Perhaps you need to work a little differently (I am struggling right now with a craving at 3 PM after sitting at my desk for two hours). You may need to have an awkward conversation with your significant other to negotiate a change. Or you can arrange a “mommy and me” playdate and eat fresh fruit for snack while you relax, chat and watch the kids, instead of going it alone.

Always, always, pay attention to the antecedents

Problems and solutions are nearly always upstream to the presenting issue. It is key to identify what they are that set off a chain reaction resulting in your eating your body weight in sugar and a health problem appearing. It is like many other health problems in that sense. That is why thinking outside the box is important when attempting to fix an intractable problem like sugar addiction.

Diabetes may result from regular ingestion of sugar, but ask yourself why you’re eating so much sugar, when did you not do so and what has changed. That’s where you are likely to find the answer to your problem.

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amazon, modern no nonsense guide to paleoAre you struggling to sustain a paleo lifestyle change? Or not sure how to start? Or perhaps those around you are resistant and you're feeling undermined and unsure. The Modern, No-Nonsense Guide to Paleo provides practical tools to ease the transition to a full-on paleo life. Each chapter includes strategies, tips and checklists to identify the actions to power you on your paleo journey and create sustainable change. Buy it at Amazon.com.

Written by 

Alison Golden writes on the topic of paleo over at Paleo/NonPaleo. She aims to share ideas, inspire and motivate readers by teaching them how to live paleo in a non-paleo world. She is also the author of the bestselling book, The Modern, No-Nonsense Guide to Paleo, a unique tool that gives the reader hundreds of strategies to navigate the learning process to successful paleo living.

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