Hey friends, how is your week going so far? Great I hope! Sometimes I write posts based on what people are talking to me about in the health/fitness arena. There are lots of questions out there about living a healthy lifestyle and I do my best to answer questions when I can. This post came about when a friend asked me about avoiding sugar in their diet and after a few lengthy answers I decided to make a post from what I sent her so more people could see it and perhaps get some good tips for beating sugar, too.
Have you ever felt addicted to sugar? I have! I used to feel like I was pulled to sugar, that I had to have something sweet everyday (often a couple times a day) and that giving up sugar was an impossibility for me. I found out through some hard work that it wasn’t impossible, it just took a lot of work.
Recent research is showing that sugar addiction isn’t just a cop-out for cookie habits. Sugar addiction can be an actual concern. Sugar intake can have similar effects on brain chemistry as addictive drugs for people who have developed a dependence on sweet things. People who have tendencies toward addictive behavior or who are quitting other addictive habits are at greater risk for developing abnormal food behaviors and food addictions.
I’m a science geek and love learning about that stuff! I recommend watching the show “Freaky Eaters” if this stuff interests you. Super crazy but fascinating!
We all know that sugar isn’t great for you and eating too much can lead to a variety of disorders like diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity, etc. But we often don’t know how to keep our consumption of it under control. And what makes it harder is that eating sugar is a perpetuating cycle: the more sugar you eat, the more sugar you want. It is tough at first to say no to those favorite sugary treats, but it pays off. The more you say no to those sugary things the easier it gets if you stay consistent.
I have found that when I really watch my sugar intake my energy levels are more stable and I am not so moody throughout the day. If you’re cutting back on sugar you may feel tired and irritable at first until your body adjusts. That’s temporary though! The process is tough but it works.
Let me tell you that I am not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I still like sweet things, but I am more conscientious about my sugar intake and I don’t feel that I am addicted to it anymore. I don’t have the periodic sugar binges I used to have since I am now making sure I am eating enough of the right kinds of carbohydrates and less sugar in general.
Here are some good ways to crush the sugar habit and start living on less sugar!
Find the Hidden Sources of Added Sugars
If you think that sugar is in everything, you are partly right! It’s really hard to get away from added sugars if you are eating packaged and prepared foods. The food industry is working on increasing sales and that means formulating new ways to make their foods more appealing and tasty. That often translates to sugar and more sugar.
Added sugars come in all forms, from natural ones like honey to artificial ones like high fructose corn syrup. Here’s a list of words to look for when trying to find added sugars:
Here’s a little hint too: anything with the -ose ending in it’s name is a type of carbohydrate or sugar.
When you are at the grocery store, be very careful of what you are putting in your cart. If it makes it into your grocery cart then into your house you will eat it, so try to read labels on everything you buy. It takes some extra time, but it’s worth it.
Also, don’t get lots of “low sugar” artificially sweetened things either. Artificial sweeteners still keep your body and your taste-buds craving sweet tastes so it can be counterproductive. The best way is to get your taste-buds used to the tastes of food without added sugars. With my coffee I use unsweetened almond milk and a little stevia. Stevia is a healthy sugar substitute, but the same principal applies: you can cut calories by replacing sugar with Stevia but it will still keep your taste-buds accustomed to sweetness, so don’t go overboard with it.
If you’re buying non-dairy milk, go for unsweetened varieties, not low sugar. Low sugar still has added sugar (just less of it), but unsweetened varieties have no sugar added and no sweeteners at all so those are the best. For bottled tea, go for unsweetened as well. If you want a little sweet, add a couple drops of Stevia to it or just get used to the taste of unsweetened tea (it’s really good – trust me!). Those bottled teas can have as much sugar in them as a can of soda!
Here are some foods to watch that generally have a lot of sugars in them beyond the typical cake, cookies, and ice cream. This isn’t a comprehensive list, there are lots of things out there that have added sugars to watch out for:
It is best to buy and prepare whole foods whenever possible, but I know how life gets in the way sometimes, so if you are buying packaged products make sure you are reading the labels on everything
Keep track of your sugar intake. Get a mobile app (I like LoseIt!) and keep track of your food and check your sugar intake at the end of the day. Since I love fruit and I don’t eat enough veggies, my goal was to try and eat less natural and added sugar in a day. This doesn’t include your carbs like starches and fiber, that’s just sugars. Apps like LoseIt! will break down your calories for the day and show you how much fat, sugars, carbs, fiber, protein, etc. you ate. When I was really watching my sugar intake, I also ate less fruit. I used to eat 3-5 servings of fruit a day, so I cut it back to 1-2 servings and really tried to eat more veggies.
If you want to manage your blood sugar to make sure you aren’t having blood sugar swings and resulting cravings and crashes, then it’s an excellent good idea to workout. Fitness and staying active have many benefits, but one of the benefits of exercise, especially weight lifting, increasing the body’s insulin sensitivity and the body’s ability to utilize carbohydrates and sugars.
This is fantastic news for diabetics and anyone with insulin resistance! But it is also good news for the average person who is having a hard time getting their sugar cravings under control. The more active you are the better your body becomes at efficiently utilizing the carbohydrates you eat. This means that your blood sugar will stay steadier and you won’t have as many up- and down-swings causing cravings.
There is also a psychological apsect to the exercise/sugar craving connection: when you do something good for your body, you are more likely to make better food choices when you’re feeling better after a workout. Some people get really hungry after hard workouts, so make sure you plan ahead to make smart food choices when you need to refuel.
For refueling after workouts, eat something within 45 minutes after your workout with protein and carbohydrates to refuel muscles and you’ll be ready to go for your next workout. For the carbohydrates, aim for some starches like oats, or sweet potatoes. Fruit sugars primarily refill your liver glycogen, not muscle glycogen, so post-workout fruit isn’t the best option (it is an option however if you have nothing else). Once you refuel right away and give your body what it needs, you won’t have crazy post-workout craving things later on in the day.
I have more tips coming! Stay tuned for part 2 coming later!