Many of us have a sugar addiction. Whether it's that you consciously crave sweets and donuts, or just that you feel a slump in the mid afternoon if you haven't had a chocolate bar with your lunch, these are both signs of sugar addiction.
Apparently it's not our fault though; a recent study
from Washington University actually found that we are born with a sweet tooth! According to the results of the study, newborn babies have a distinct preference for sweet flavours, and children in general enjoy sugary foods far more than adults. Obviously many of us don't grow out of having a sweet tooth though; I know I haven't!
According to Susan Moores, a registered dietician and nutrition consultant in St Paul, Minnesota, the taste of sugar releases endorphins, resulting in the same euphoric feeling you get after a workout. This explains why we are so desperate to consume more of it all the time.
If you are desperate to break away from the sugar cravings, don't worry; there are plenty of "tricks" to help you get through the cravings, and come out the other side without having raided the nearest sweet shop.
1. Identify your triggers
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The majority of us don't crave sugar because we are hungry; it's usually due to boredom, stress or anger. Many of us look for the solution to our problems in the bottom of an ice cream tub. Sadly you will never find the solution there though, and accepting that is one step closer to banishing your sugar addiction.
If you can learn to accept your emotions, and fight the need to eat sweets and donuts every time things don't go according to plan, it's a huge step in the right direction. Try to identify what feelings push you towards sugar, and make a plan of action for each time you experience that emotion, to prevent you from burying your feelings in food. For example, if your trigger is boredom, go for a walk; this will keep your mind occupied, and being outdoors will give you a different perception on the situation, allowing you to better assess your feelings.
2. Go "cold turkey"
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I did this with chocolate and it's worked. I haven't eaten it for ages and, unless I see someone else eating it, or really take time to think about it, I don't crave it. This is not an easy option though; cutting out the thing you crave completely is incredibly difficult and you will need to keep yourself occupied both mentally and physically for the first 72 hours, as those first few days are the hardest. It may sound silly; it's only sugar after all...but you would be amazed how much more you crave something when you know you can't have it.
If you are going to do this then you will need to empty your house of sugar because, and I know from experience, if it's there, you will eat it! Removing foods containing high sugar content from your house is a good idea, because it will prevent any enticing moments, like when you accidentally come across a can of Cola at the back of the fridge.
3. Find healthy alternatives
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Quitting one thing is always far easier if you have something else to focus your attention on; a bit like the way a rebound relationship works. It just makes it easier to cope. For the times you are struggling with your cravings, think of alternatives to turn to, and have them stocked in the house so that, at any moment, you can easily reach for the healthy foods, rather than popping to the shop to buy the ingredients, where you will no doubt end up buying a chocolate bar instead!
Find some healthy snacks
that you love, and keep them nearby. Foods high in good fats, like avocado, are great for this, as they fill you up and are packed with nutritional benefits.
4. Swap your fizzy drinks for soda water
Admittedly, soda water isn't quite as exciting as lemonade, but it is far healthier, and having an alternative such as soda water in place will allow you to resort to that in times of need. It's much better than having nothing to turn to that will satisfy your fizz craving. Always ensure that you stay fully hydrated too, as dehydration can cause you to believe you are hungry, when you're in fact just thirsty.
A cold glass of water, or a cup of green tea are great ways to stave off the cravings.
5. Eat a well-balanced diet
If you are the sort of person who binges on sugary foods because you missed lunch, then ensure that you make and pack your lunch the night before work/school/college, so it's ready to take in the morning. Doing this will mean that you don't have to wake up earlier in the morning to make it, and you won't have to miss lunch anymore. That way you will feel full and you will be far less likely to run to the vending machine mid afternoon. Keeping yourself satiated with healthy food will prevent your insulin levels from spiking, which is what causes sugar cravings.
By following a clean, healthy lifestyle you will be avoiding processed foods; most of which contain hidden sugars. So before you eat anything, check that you recognise all of the ingredients listed.
6. Don't just eat bland food
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A common misconception is that, just because you are eating healthily, it means that you have to eat boring tasteless food. This is ridiculously wrong! I can't think of the last time that I ate a meal I found bland; healthy food doesn't mean boring food. Some easy, and very tasty healthy recipes I often eat are chicken stir fry
and cashew coated chicken
By eating deliciously flavoured meals you are less likely to crave sugary treats, because your taste buds will be satisfied by your meals.
7. Never go shopping hungry
How many times have you been food shopping hungry and brought home tons of things that you don't even like, just because you felt peckish when you saw them? We've all done it, and the first thing many of us go for is the exact thing we are trying to avoid; sugar! Either go shopping just after a main meal, or have a small (healthy) snack before leaving the house to prevent the "munchies" attacking part way around the shop.
8. Avoid artificial sweeteners
Although sweeteners are supposedly the healthier alternative to sugar, researchers have found that they can actually make you crave sugar even more. I mentioned earlier that sugar releases endorphins; this is the result of a chemical called dopamine, which is released in the brain when sugar is consumed. Artificial sweeteners don't cause the same reaction, so research suggests that they may be preventing us from associating sweetness with calorific intake. This means that we could shun healthy, nutritious food in favour of artificially flavoured foods with less nutritional value.
Participants in the San Antonio Heart Study
who drank more than 21 diet drinks per week were found to be twice as likely to become overweight (or obese) as the people who didn't drink artificially sweetened drinks.
9. Make sure you are taking enough vitamins
We often crave certain foods because of a nutritional imbalance; our body is asking us to eat the foods containing the vitamins and minerals it needs. Take a multivitamin every day to maintain the correct vitamin levels. This could actually reduce your cravings, not just for sugar, but also for salt and other foods, because your body will be getting what it needs.
I find that after I have done a workout, I have no cravings at all for anything other than healthy food. Not only will exercise help to keep you fit and healthy (obviously), but it will also take your mind off your cravings. Working out reminds me of all of the hard work I've done lately, and the last thing I feel like doing when I think about that is ruining it with sugar. When your mind is focused on keeping your body fit and healthy, you will be less likely to indulge in sugary treats.
11. Have some "me time"
When anyone is trying to remove something they depend on from their lives it's a difficult thing to do. You will start to feel disheartened about what you have lost (even when it's something bad); so it's important to look after yourself and take some time to love yourself. This could be anything; maybe you've always wanted to take up a certain hobby, or you've had a book waiting to be read for months...find anything that will give you some much-needed "me time". This will make you feel happy and reassure you that, during the difficult times of removing something as addictive as sugar from your diet, you are able to be happy without the buzz that sugar gives you.
12. Don't be too hard on yourself
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The path to excluding something from your diet is never an easy one to follow; there will undoubtedly be slip ups along the way. This doesn't mean that you have failed, and you shouldn't be too hard on yourself; just get straight back on track as soon as you realise you've slipped up. There's no need to let a mishap ruin your hard work. Nobody's perfect after all.
13. Wait for it
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Any time I am craving something bad, I make myself a cup of green tea and wait ten minutes to see if I still crave the food. Often the craving will pass as it was only fleeting; in which case it's great because I've fought it off and had a very healthy green tea in the process. However, if it hasn't gone away, then I consider whether to indulge the craving. Only you will be able to answer this question when the time comes.
14. Take the item out of the packaging
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When you do indulge your craving it's a good idea to decide before you start, how much you will eat. Take the portion you want out of the packaging and place it into a bowl or on a plate; this will ensure that you stick to that amount and don't just keep going until the pack is empty. We all eat "bad" foods from time to time, but the portion size does matter.
15. Be realistic
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There are certain types of sugars that you don't need to cut out, such as fruit. Obviously eating too much fruit is not advisable because of the high sugar content; but it's not processed sugar, like you find in sweets, so you don't need to cut this out completely. Set yourself a realistic target each week, and track your progress. If you write down your progress on a piece of paper, then looking at how well you've done for that week will give you a boost of confidence and you will be more likely to keep going.
Find new ways to reward yourself for your progress; ways that don't involve food. Many people reward themselves (or their children) with sugary treats for achievements, but this develops an unhealthy relationship with food. Find rewards that don't involve cake and sweets, and don't expect miracles. It takes time to see the improvements in your body, but you are making a difference.
Having some sugar every now and then isn't bad (although I'm sure many nutritionists would disagree), but, in my opinion, allowing yourself the occasional sugary treat is acceptable, providing you don't let the addiction creep back in. If you have control over it, then you're doing brilliantly. It's when you can't stop at just one or two that it would be best to avoid sugary treats completely...at least until you are able to step away and realise when you've had enough.
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