Cutting sugar out of your diet is one strategy to lose weight and feel healthier, but it can be a tough transition. Here are 8 tips to go sugar-free without going crazy!
Not kidding, going sugar-free wasn’t an option for me most of my life. I used sugar and sweets as my comfort and way of staying sane, so cutting it out would have just added more stress to my life. A lot. In fact, it wasn’t until I got serious about managing my stress and learning how to get in touch with my feelings that I was able to stop using sugar as my coping mechanism. Once this happened, I felt so. much. freedom. I can’t even tell you how freeing it is to eat dessert but because I want to, not because I have to.
I know not everyone eats sugar for emotional reasons, some people eat a lot of sugar simply because it tastes so darned good. Our brains and bodies have evolved for us to seek out pleasurable foods. But, the truth remains that many of us go overboard with sugars, especially refined sugars. That’s what it’s not a bad idea to think about going sugar-free or simply cutting back on sugars from your diet. That’s where this post comes in!
Here are my favorite ways to go sugar-free (from my experience as a former sugar addict) and still keep my sanity.
Note: I updated this post as I recorded these tips in a new podcast episode of Clean Eating for Women.
1. Increase Fat Intake to Improve Satiation
One gram of fat contains 9 calories while one gram of sugar contains 4 calories. Fat is more satiating, making you feel more full for a longer period of time. If you eat more fat you’ll generally crave less sweet stuff. Opt for healthy fats like avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, and fattier fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines. I find that adding more healthy fat sources to my diet definitely decreases my after-meal or snack time cravings for sugary treats.
2. Get More Sleep to Balance Hunger Hormones
Studies have shown that shorter sleep duration is associated with an elevated body mass index. The reason for this is because your appetite regulating hormones (leptin and ghrelin) are negatively impacted by sleep debt, causing you to crave easy sources of energy that often come from sugar. If you make sleep a priority and aim to get at least 7-8 hours per night your hunger hormones balance out and your cravings for the sweet stuff are reduced. Getting consistent solid sleep is one of my biggest challenges, but it’s also one of my health goals for 2018.
3. Practice Stress Management Techniques to Control Emotional Eating
I often hear women (and men too) say that they didn’t mean to eat whatever their sweet treat of choice may have been, but stress made them do it. I’ve been there, friend! Emotional eating is common among those who are stressed out, but there are ways to control it. Adopt a meditation practice, go for a walk outside, sip some calming tea, meet up with a friend for yoga, or try some breathing exercises. The 4-7-8 breathing exercise has been known to work well in times of stress. Finding something to take your mind off your sugar cravings is necessary when you’ve been involved in a stressful event and are prone to emotional eating.
4. Use Fruit to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth
Low glycemic fruits such as berries, green apples, and fruits from the citrus family are good natural options to help you satisfy a sweet craving. These fruits provide a hint of sweetness while also providing you with a fair amount of fiber and beneficial phytonutrients. The fiber fills you up and the phytonutrients provide your body with vitamins and minerals that help you meet nutrient requirements so you don’t try to seek them out somewhere else.
5. Drink More Water
Often times you may think you’re hungry when in fact your body is in need of some hydration. Drinking one to two glasses of water when you get a sugar craving can help quell that craving. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day also helps keep cravings at bay. If you aren’t a fan of plain water, try adding slices of fruits, cucumbers or mint to your water to make it more pleasing to your palate.
6. Boost Your Serotonin Levels
Serotonin is also known as the ‘happiness hormone’. It’s that ‘high’ you feel after you finish a good workout, sometimes called a ‘runner’s high’. Serotonin levels can be raised through exercise, a nutritious diet and plenty of restorative sleep. People with higher serotonin levels are less likely to crave sweets.
7. Get Educated About Sugar-Free Alternatives
There are plenty of sugar-free alternatives available to you, but not all of them are created equally. Aspartame is the sugar substitute generally found in diet drinks. It also goes by the name of NutraSweet and is made in a lab from aspartic acid and phenylalanine dipeptides. There have been concerns about aspartame as a potential carcinogen. Though its carcinogenic effects have not yet been proven, it’s still recommended that you stay away from this stuff. Another sugar-free alternative to stay away from is sucralose, also known as Splenda. A 2017 study found that zero-calorie sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose were actually found to increase, not decrease, weight.
Stevia and monk fruit extract are better alternative choices. Neither stevia nor monk fruit have been shown to be unsafe or have negative side effects, but check with your health provider if you’re unsure about what is right for you.
Here are some specific sweetener products that I have tried and recommend (some affiliate codes included):
8. Know Your Limits
Some people report that even just a tiny hint of something sweet provokes intense sugar cravings. For these people, it is recommended that they quit all sweet stuff temporarily. This includes fruit and safe zero-calorie sugar alternatives. If you fall into this category, as many people with insulin resistance often do, you can add back in sweet alternatives once your taste buds have been reset. This can be anywhere from two weeks to a full year. You’ll just have to know what works for you through intuition and trial and error.
Give Sugar-Free a Try!
Here’s some more motivation for you to keep going strong on your sugar-free journey. Sugar is highly addictive and can control you. Some studies have shown it to be more addictive than cocaine and nicotine. Prolonged intake of sugar has been linked to mood disorders, obesity, diabetes, and other serious metabolic disorders. It may seem like a struggle to give up sugar at first, but I promise it gets easier. Experiment with these steps above and you’re much more likely to beat the sugar blues without going crazy.
Lastly, here are some FAQs about going sugar-free. If you have other questions, feel free to leave them in the comment section below.
How do I know if sugar is in a food?
This can be tricky! Ideally, you are eating mostly real food which wouldn’t have a label. Foods that come in a package often have hidden added sugars. So, some of the ingredients on the package might not sound like sugar, but they are. Here’s a list I’ve put together in this infographic about hidden sugars. I hope this is helpful.
Do I have to avoid fruit when going sugar-free?
I don’t recommend giving up fruit unless you have some health reason for avoiding it. As I mentioned above, fruit is nature’s candy and contains health-promoting micronutrients and fiber.
What if I cheat?
It’s not a contest and please don’t feel guilty if you have sugar when you don’t intend to. In this case, it might be good to review your reasons for going sugar-free and think about what other choices you could make in the future, especially in a similar situation.
Here are some Sugar-Free Challenges online you can join (no affiliation, but these are good programs):
Now it’s your turn! Tell me about your relationship with sugar, going sugar-free, or challenges you have with sugar. Leave a comment below.
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