Pour some sugar on me…
But not on my food. No way, no ma’am, no thank you. I not-so-secretly adore sugary things. Actually, I love salty foods. Fatty foods. Fried foods. If it is dyed an obnoxious color, I’ll probably like that too. (Those chewy Swedish fish make my day. Some part of my brain knows it’s not a real food, that fish are neither chewy nor bright red nor sweet, but I become 100% committed to devouring the entire box the second they’re in my hands.) I use so much salt on my food, it looks like a literal snow blizzard has descended upon my plate. But out of all my vices, I think my sweet tooth is the worst. Scratch that, it’s not a sweet tooth, but teeth. Like, a mouth full of ’em. I’m pretty sure my body is out to get me.
When science is finally confessing sugar is silently killing us and likens it to a hyper addictive drug, what’s a girl to do? Find ways to cut sugar out for good, that’s what. But hoooooooow!!!! Aside from the obvious answer (just DON’T do it), I’m sharing my own bullet-proof tips that help my own health endeavors.
Note: I’d like to add I’m personally against the idea of never eating anything with sugar. Life is about balance, and if you eat the occasional Cadbury egg (ahem, guilty), no big deal. Just make sure you stick with a clean diet for the long run.
Most people don’t mind admitting sugar is bad for us. But the real truth is that it’s deadly—and it’s also addictive.
1. Your brain processes sugar (and junk food) the same way as cocaine, heroin and morphine. And yes…it wants more. A lot more.
Ok, let’s be frank: if it’s a matter of sugar vs. cocaine, obviously sugar is the much, much lesser of two evils. Science is finally admitting sugar and processed foods have a devastating impact on the body. Hard drugs will wreck the body quickly, but sugar is a slow and silent killer to all our major organs. UGH. Whyyyyyy? I love it so. I mean, Captain Crunch Berries is to die for. But there’s a reason my body has been tricked into adoring sugary things: when we eat sugar, our brains release a flood dopamine. Our bodies interpret this as the feeling of “pleasure,” or being high, and our brains reprogram to want more. And more. And more. And guess what, kids, sugar is in everything. This is why highly processed, sugar-laden foods often cause people lose control over their consumption and find themselves in a cycle of eating more and more sugary/processed foods. Oh, and want some more bad news? Our tolerance builds just like with any other drug.
Imaging studies have shown sugar/processed foods lights up the same parts of the brain lights as drugs.
How crazy is that?! Functional MRI (fMRI) scanners show the same brain regions are activated in response to cues and cravings for both junk foods and drugs.
Read More: How Sugar Hijacks Your Brain and Makes You Addicted
2. Sugar Creates Powerful Cravings
Oh my god. I don’t know about you, but I have zero will-power against cravings. Did you know the vast majority of our cravings are self-induced—or I should say, shelf induced? The processed, refined foods we eat aren’t natural and don’t provide nutrients. They fill us up with calories, but leave the body hunting for real food.
Our body works really hard to make sure we’re never too hot, too cold, too hungry, too full, but always just right.The body has an awesome system to achieve homeostasis–or perpetual “just right” Goldie Locks syndrome. We go out on a summer day, the body starts sweating to help us cool off. We don’t drink enough water and the body signals the thirst mechanism.
If your body is desperate for certain nutrients, it lets you know by kicking in the cravings. But those cravings for soda, chips, chocolate etc? Not so normal. They have zero nutritional value, so your body doesn’t recognize them as useful or fuel. People often get those cravings despite having just finished a fulfilling, nutritious meal. This is because cravings are not about satisfying your body’s need for energy, instead it is your brain calling for “reward.”
SO HOW DO WE KICK SUGAR TO THE CURB?
1. Snack on a few medjool dates:
I’m not kidding when I say the instant I eat one or two of these food gems, my energy level is up and my cravings are gone. Why? Dates are loaded with both soluble and insoluble fiber and amino acids, and contain minerals like copper, potassium, zinc, magnesium, calcium phosphorous, and iron, as well as B vitamins (especially B6), vitamin K, and vitamin A. While they aren’t “low calorie”, they are a mega-high wattage form of healthy fuel for the body. They also help curb symptoms of depression. We need to shift our thinking away from “low calorie/low fat” to “high fuel quality/high nutrients.” And dates definitely fall into that category.
As with all fruit, don’t go cray-cray and consume massive amounts of this little gem. Dates contain healthy sugar, but you don’t want to go overboard. Studies show you can safely eat up to three or four large dates a day without raising blood sugar levels.
Read more: Surprising Benefits of Dates
2. Drink a green smoothie every day:
This is pretty much my answer to life, marriage, love, liberty, politics (Trump definitely needs to drink a green smoothie), health, fitness…I mean EVERYTHING. It’s like NOS fuel for your mind and body, and if you’re charged up with good nutrients, you’ll be less tempted to go after those sugary foods. Make sure your body is getting its nutrients, so you won’t misinterpret your cravings as a need for junk food.
3. Get enough sleep:
I am so jealous of people that can pass out like a narcoleptic. Sleeping is an under-rating skill set, and if you have the ability to trot off to sleep like Winkin-Blinkin-and Nod, you should put it on your resume. I myself am a total insomniac. And a night owl. I literally love love love staying up into the wee hours of the morning, and get a burst of manic creativity from 1200-4am. It’s like I’m a crazed NYC artist living in the 60’s, but instead of doing anything artsy or productive, I end up pining like a million things on my Pinterest board. By proxy, I feel very, very productive from all the things I’ve pinned of other people’s projects. I’m convinced my booty is more toned from all the exercises I’ve pinned and plan on doing.
Anyway, my horrible, no good, very bad sleep cycle can lead to me reaching for something not-so-healthy to eat.When I’m tired, I’m a lot more tempted to grab something easy that gives me an insta-faux energy boost. For my own health’s sake, I force myself to go to bed before midnight and wake up around 6am everyday. And by force, I mean, literally under duress. IT’S SO PAINFUL. To wake up, it takes about 20 alarms and my husband gently but persistently resurrecting me from the dead. Samuel wakes up at 5am everyday without even flinching, and he only uses ONE alarm (IT’S NOT A COMPETITION, GOSH DARNIT, SAMUEL), because he’s so naturally productive he doesn’t even need a Pinterest board. In the interest of full disclosure, I only get out of bed because he goes out and gets me a coffee err’y day. I know. So precious. Isn’t he sweet? Least you think he’s the better spouse entirely, you should know I (mooooost of the time) do eventually wake up and make him a green smoothie and cold pressed juice after drinking said coffee, so I likewise give myself Good Spousemanship points.
4. Be open to explore the emotional issues around your sugar addiction.
Many times our craving for sugar is because we’re covering an emotional need that isn’t being met. I personally can be an emotional eater. Food is comforting, and within balance, that can be a good thing. In a strange way, our diet often mirrors the chaos or lack of self-love in our own lives. I’m not sure why this is, I just know that it often is the case. So if you find yourself in a cycle of turning to junk food, maybe ask yourself where you can give a little more love and grace to yourself and those around you. Be kind to yourself, and your diet will likewise follow suit. It’s a weird life hack.
5. Don’t substitute artificial sweeteners for sugar.
Study after study shows artificial sweeteners are apparently the devil in disguise. I mean, maybe not literally, but then again…
So here’s the cliff notes version of about a billion studies: if you use artificial sweeteners, you save yourself some calories, but your body freaks out at the empty non-calories and desperately seeks to make up for them. People who use artificial sweeteners average an extra 200-500 calories a day from aimless snacking and grazing, because these sweeteners seem to mess up the body’s ability to feel satiated and full. Also, Splenda wipes out the good bacteria in your intestines, which, don’t even get me started about. But you can read my thoughts of the need for probiotics here and here. Also, your body isn’t fooled into thinking you just gave it a treat if you eat something with artificial sweetener. Your hormones will make you hunt down carbs until it gets what it truly thinks it’s missing: sugar.
If you are like me and need about a thousand teaspoons of sugar in your tea and coffee, try natural sweeteners or stevia.
6. Drink water. Soooooo much water:
We’re a bunch of dehydrated people walking around in some shriveled up husks, let me tell you. Instead of drinking water though, we often reach for a snack. Why? Because dehydration actually does kick in real craving mechanisms of the body. Your homeostasis doesn’t appreciate running on meager portion of water, and signal the thirst mechanism to switch on. Most people interpret this feeling as being hungry or tired. So, before you take a nap (OH EM GEE, naps are my favorite. My fat cat and I try to schedule one in every day), or go for a candy bar, try drinking a large glass of water and waiting about 15 minutes for your body to soak up the benefits.