Sugar can doom our weight loss or sane eating plans. Even as diet trends rapidly zig-zag and change, “avoid sugar” remains a constant. Our craving for sugar remains constant, too. And it continues to flavor more and more of our nation’s foods.
Why avoid sugar? Well, its “empty”, non-nutritious, calories leave us hungry and easily fatten us. It decays our teeth. It can interfere with mood and energy. Now, more and more evidence links sugar with inflammation, and inflammation with nearly any and every health problem. Yet who can stop eating it?
We are biologically wired to love sugar. Genetic research suggests that some of us are wired to love it even more than others. Sugar was not as easily available decades ago as it is now. It was a treat. It’s become a mainstay, and that’s where problems worsen.
Food marketers know we crave sugar, and so sugar hides in ketchup, spaghetti sauce, bread, soup, and hundreds of other items that don’t seem sweet. Sweet things sell in quantity because we eat more of them than we need—it’s hard to stop.
If your ultimate goal is to eat sanely for life, or even if you just want to get a grip on your weight for now, deciding how to deal with sugar is essential. Otherwise, it can trip you up. How many diets are foiled by that candy in the cupboard, those brownies by the coffee machine, the cookies calling from the bakery case?
Some decide they need to quit sugar for good. Indeed, I have worked with clients over the years who have made complete “abstinence” their goal. It’s definitely a worthy and healthy goal, but not often a realistic one. Few can maintain total abstinence in our culture without a lot of support—such as through Overeaters Anonymous or another group of abstinence-minded people. This decision often follows years of struggle—and possibly the conclusion, “I’m addicted to sugar; once I start, I can’t stop.”
Far more often, people want to keep sweets in their life to some degree—they just want to be able to live with less. And while difficult, especially at first, learning to eat sweets in small amounts does offer advantages. The habits and skills acquired in the effort can benefit health and peace of mind in many ways, well beyond weight control. I call particular attention to the “difficult, especially at first,” part, though. Because you’re more likely to succeed once you acknowledge and respect that this isn’t a simple or straightforward task.
Learning how to eat sweets in limited amounts can be a complicated process. I offer guidance and skills training for this in the EatSanely Workbook Course. I’ll offer a condensed version here in my next blogpost. For now, I share a few thoughts to help start the process. Let “Practice, not perfect,” guide you, and try to treat the “imperfect” gently—beating yourself up for the imperfections will not likely help. If you start now, you’ll get to a better place in time.
1.) check labels on any foods you eat regularly that come in cans, jars, or boxes. If any contain unexpected sugar, look for a similar type or another brand that doesn’t. Or, eliminate the food if practical.
2.) check labels on store-bought or take-out sweets (for example, cereals, doughnuts). See if you can find other items that you like that contain fewer grams per serving.
3.) think about all the times you eat sweets during the week. Try eliminating one.
4.) again think of your weekly sweets intake. Are there any that aren’t particularly special to you? Could you let those go?
5.) if you drink soda or other sweetened beverages, experiment with replacements. Diet drinks aren’t necessarily ideal, but they do cut sugar intake. If you don’t like those sweetened with Aspartame, try one sweetened with Spenda. Beyond diet sodas, lemonades, and iced teas, think of water, seltzer, vitamin water, herb tea, seltzer with a splash of juice.
6.) if sweets in the house lead to grazing or binging, try buying fewer. It may be helpful to make a family decision to do this. You don’t really need multiple packages of cookies, candy, and ice cream.
7.) keeps lots of good fruits and berries on hand. Use these for snacks and desserts more often. You’re likely to develop more desire for them as you enjoy them more.
To read more about sugar and related nutritional and obesity issue, visit the Center for Science in the Public Interest website at www.cspinet.org, particularly its Nutrition Action newsletter article at www.cspinet.org/new/sugar. In the most recent Whole Living magazine (July/August 2010), you’ll find an article on the sugar-inflammation link along with a few more cutting-down ideas (www.wholeliving.com).