My sister and I were having a discussion the other day about how to break the refined sugar habit. She feels she struggles with getting off it and, like me, she seems to go back and forth with it. It’s a love/hate relationship, that’s for sure.
While I have less sugar cravings now–and they’re less intense than they originally were, too–I also struggle with sugar cravings. Oftentimes I feel like I former crack addict who has to watch what’s in the house and the company I keep so as not to fall back into my old habits, which I feel could happen all too easily. Here’s what I did to break the strong hold refined sugar had on me but you have to take it for what it’s worth because I feel this is a very individualized thing–what worked for me might not work for you. You have to do what’s best for you and when you fail at one thing, find another thing that works.
What I Did:
1. I went cold turkey on refined sugar. I had tried for years and years to cut it down and out but I always ended up back on it. Sugar has a way of creeping back into our lives when you least expect it. Cold turkey was the only way that worked for me but it did suck.
2. I cleaned out my pantry and my fridge. I gave away all the refined sugar stuff (along with the gluten filled stuff) because I felt strongly this was the only way I could handle not having sweet things in the house. If it’s there, I’m going to eat it. It was hard to give away my food but I knew it was a great big step in the right direction and I had to keep reminding myself of that.
3. Because I also had to go gluten-free, I quit buying packaged foods completely and started cooking meals from scratch. Yeah, it sucked, especially when I was bone tired and wanted nothing to do with the stove. At first I didn’t know what to eat but a few months into it, things got easier. Now my go to menu is as simple as: one protein, two veggies, one fruit. The only dairy I can tolerate is cheese so I’m good there. I also bought a Paleo cookbook which has helped me find different ways for cooking meat. Sometimes our meals are as simple as hamburger meat with a cut up potato and sliced onions added to it to make burritos for the rest of the family and a sort of stew for me. Sometimes I’ll add corn and zucchini to it for a chunkier stew.
4. I started up on probiotics–namely VSL#3 mixed into natural applesauce and Kombucha. My kid says Kombucha smells like dirty gym socks and she’s probably right but it helped clean me out of the sugar-craving bacteria. I’ve had to resort back to these probiotics a few times, especially when I start craving sweets again.
5. I replaced refined sugar with fruits I could tolerate. Before January of this year, I hardly ever ate fruits or vegetables. I wasn’t raised on processed foods but my mom wasn’t one to cook up a big variety of veggies. We basically just stuck to meats, beans, rice and sopas — Mexican soups using pastas. It was really tough for me to find fruits I liked. Even now, I have a small amount I cycle through–red seedless grapes, strawberries, blueberries and the occasional mangoes and jicamas and, once in awhile, watermelon. I find the grapes go a long way towards satisfying my sweet tooth and they’re available a good portion of the year so I mostly stick to those.
6. I learned to shop the perimeter of the store. Yeah, I’d heard that for years but I never bothered to do it until this year. The perimeter is the place with the least amount of packaged and processed stuff but not always…read below for more info.
7. I learned to read labels. I didn’t realize that sugar went by so many different names and companies will change the name to better hide it in the ingredients list. I’ve seen products who list sugar, caramel, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup in the same list. That’s all sugar. To top things off, sometimes you think you’re getting something healthy when you’re actually buying a sugared item. Case in point: turkey cold cuts. I love turkey and I got into the habit of buying the least processed, “most natural” of the lot until I read the ingredients list. Sugar was the second ingredient. Sugar! In turkey! I’d been buying it because it was marked “Gluten Free.” I was fooled into thinking it was safe to eat. Not.
8. I learned to plan every single meal so as to avoid giving in to sweets (and gluten). Every. Single. Meal. It’s tedious and frustrating at times but it’s what’s saved my butt and has kept me from going back to sugar and gluten. Our Bible Study group loves to get together around sweet foods. Everyone takes turns bringing something sweet to eat and I don’t expect them to cater to my dietary changes. In the beginning I had to completely avoid the group, especially on nights when I was feeling very vulnerable. In the middle, I started showing up when I knew the lesson would have already started so as to avoid the sweets table. Now, I’m okay with being around sweets that I can’t have. I eat something at home before showing up–a handful of grapes or just a bigger dinner.
There are a handful of companies that make very tasty, very natural packaged foods that keep well in the car or in my purse. Lara Bars are ones I always have on me because most are all natural with no added sugars (except for chocolate chips in some) and they’re also GF. They’re my go to food when on the road. They have often helped me get through those times when I wasn’t around friendly foods, like on an airplane or in a non-GF friendly home. They’re a bit pricey but sometimes you can find them 10 for $10. That’s when I stock up.
I hope these tips help someone out there. I gleaned an awful lot of tips from the internet on my road to where I am now that I feel compelled to pass along what I’ve learned. Now I’d like to hear from you–what have you tried to kick the sugar habit? Did it work? Leave me a comment below.