We have all heard that sugar can affect our waistlines, but recent research also provides evidence to support what many have been saying for years – that sugar can cause addiction-like symptoms such as craving, withdrawal and tolerance. So what can we do if we find ourselves experiencing these symptoms? Below are five steps to help you break out of the cycle of sugar highs and lows and get control of your sugar intake.
Know the enemy
The key to curbing your sugar addiction is to curb your sugar intake. In order to do this, it is important to know where sugar is located – and often hiding – in your diet. Thus, the first step of this plan is to learn how to properly interpret nutrition labels so that you can see the amount of sugar you are eating and identify exactly where it is coming from (see example and steps below). Using this knowledge, I encourage people to keep track of their sugar intake for one week with a notepad, smartphone or whatever works best for you.
Step 1: Each gram of sugar is equivalent to approximately 4 calories so you can multiply the grams of sugars listed by 4 (26 X 4). In this case, roughly 104 calories per serving come from sugar.
Step 2: After step 1, check the serving size. If there is more than 1 serving, multiply the number found in step 1 by the number of serving sizes (104 X 2). In this case, the entire drink or food item contains about 208 calories from sugar alone.
Cease and desist
At the end of the week, look over your list and identify which type of food or beverage is contributing the most to your sugar intake; does most of your sugar come from 3 p.m. soda trips to the vending machine or is it hidden in your normal breakfast of yogurt and a protein bar? Then, focus on eliminating the main contributor to your sugar intake.
When you begin to cut this food or drink out of your diet, you might find yourself experiencing symptoms of withdrawal such as irritability, tiredness or headaches. At first, you may interpret these symptoms as signs of hunger and be tempted to reach for a quick sugar fix, but remember, this is just your body adjusting to life without this source of sugar. Remain steadfast and stick to your goal – within a matter of days, you should feel like your normal self again.
Even after withdrawal symptoms subside, you may experience cravings for that food or drink. These cravings do not have to derail your efforts; if you anticipate them, you can have strategies prepared to confront them effectively. For example, try to identify what exactly it is that you are craving about the food or drink. If you are craving the crunchiness of the food that you are trying to cut down on, for instance, try carrots or celery when you sit down to watch a movie instead of chips. Maybe you are craving the bubbly taste of the soda? Try some flavored seltzer water instead. If it’s the sweet taste, try to eat more fruit. Although certain fruits do contain high amounts of sugar, especially dried fruits, they can be a good source of nutrients and thus, are healthier alternatives to soda, cake, cookies or candy.
Set a new goal
Once you feel like you’ve made a real change with the largest source of sugar in your diet, move on to the next major source. You don’t necessarily have to record your weekly sugar intake again; you can simply refer back to your original list. Continue this cycle to free yourself from sugar-centered eating habits.
For more detailed information about sugar addiction and how to overcome it, pick up a copy of my recent book, Why Diets Fail (Because You’re Addicted to Sugar). You can also find information on my website.