For years, we have been saying to ourselves and hearing others say to us, both subtlety and obviously – that all we have to do is stop eating: “Put down the fork. You’d be so pretty if you lost weight. Your sister eats just one of those”.
I remember how demoralizing this felt. And if it were that easy to just stop, of course we all would. The problem is that certain foods act in the body as if they are drugs, creating an addiction powerful enough to hold people captive in a pattern of overeating despite their most fervent efforts to break free.
I call these foods “drug foods”, which by themselves are not drugs, but through a series of chemical reactions eventually cause production of brain chemicals that can have a drug like effect on the body. Sugar and refined carb foods (which act like sugar in the body), as we now know, are “drug foods” and more addictive than cocaine. No wonder it isn’t easy to stop at just one.
Do you have the same kind of emotional attachment to celery as you do to M&M’s? Natural, whole foods (as nature intended them) are not drug like foods, so we are pretty safe eating them. On the other hand, chips, ice-cream, cookies and candy are designed to get you hooked.
When I took my first step toward getting most of the sugar out of my life 14 years ago, I had no idea that once I broke my dependency on sugar and rid myself of addictive behaviour, I would be able to eat and enjoy small amounts and then stop. Up until then, if special sweets came into the house, I would be haunted by them until they were gone (that is, eaten).
For those of you wanting to break free from the hold sugar has over you, I have good news – change is possible with the right strategies. The bad news is, in most cases, it takes a lot of work. Like a smoker trying to quit cigarettes, it can require the fierceness of a lion to break the stronghold.
But living without the excess sugar will give you better moods, better health, clearer thinking, less headaches, more energy and almost effortless weight loss.
To get you started, here are my top 5 ways to be mostly sugar free;
1. To Strive For Perfection Is Pointless
It’s absurd and unnecessary to be totally sugar free all the time because sugar, high fructose corn syrup, barley malt and a host of other sweeteners are hidden in thousands of processed foodstuffs, from crackers to ketchup. By becoming more aware of where sugar hides, you can make better choices, buy plain foods and add a touch of sweetener yourself. So instead of being perfect, aim for 80 or 90% sugar free.
For example, I will have a third of the amount of ketchup (which I know contains sugar) and mix it with two thirds Dijon mustard to have with my steak or lamb chops. I also buy plain yogurt and mix it with berries or stevia and cinnamon for sweetness. I also buy the darkest chocolate which contains the least amount of sugar.
2. Always Have Healthy Emergency Food with You
For the best chance at success, it’s imperative to plan ahead at all times. One of the reasons people get caught out and tempted is when they are stuck somewhere and there are no healthy options. Whenever I leave home, I pack water and some protein rich snack like nuts, Babybel cheese or beef jerky in a ziplock bag to ward off the blood-sugar blues, which can lead to reaching for the donut or muffin for quick energy even when you promised yourself you wouldn’t.
3. Go For Quality
If you are going to have sugar, perhaps when you want to enjoy a divine dessert at your favourite restaurant, make sure it’s worth it. If by chance the recipe disappoints you, accept the disappointment and move on. It’s not worth it, instead, save your “sweet quota” for something exquisite. Also, at home, experiment with making treats with alternative sweeteners, such as stevia or Brown rice malt syrup or simply using half the amount of sugar in a normal recipe. This will help you adjust your palette to be less sweet.
4. When Stressed or Tired, Temptation Will Strike
It’s important to see things coming. Over the years, I have come to understand my vulnerable times and triggers for sugar laden foods. It’s when I’m overtired, have a headache, under extreme stress, and have deadline pressure or emotional turmoil. Sure enough, my calm resolve will be shaken and at that point, I have to remember to pause and clarify what the real problem is. When I address the issue at its root, like take a nap, or have a headache tablet or call someone to talk things over, I am less likely to turn to sugary foods to feel better.
5. Falling off the Wagon is Ok
Perhaps Even Expected. Food is not like alcohol or drugs, where we can remain absolutely abstinent. We always have to eat, which means that whenever and wherever you go, sugary non-foods will abound and sometimes it will feel easier to just eat it than to give a reason as to why you can’t.
Yes, food pushers can get you when you least expect it. In this situation, allow yourself few bites, and then put it down. Like anything, the harm of sugar is dose related, so a little will do a lot less harm than a lot. We are human beings and we’re not perfect. Sometimes we just won’t eat right. But it’s what you do afterwards that counts.
I hope that helps you stay on track for being mostly sugar free, so you can enjoy all the benefits that comes with no longer being dependent on a substance that isn’t doing your body any good.