This is the time of year that we start getting excited for the holidays; within the span of just a few months’ time we celebrate Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas—all three of which are generally associated with candy, delicious desserts, and an overall abundance of sweet foods. Because we tend to have so many traditions that involve sweet foods, it's a difficult time not to develop a sugar addiction, and it's even more difficult during this time to break one. Sugar addiction can manifest itself in multiple ways, but any who are addicted to sugar cannot get it off their minds. They keep coming back for more and the more they have it the more they want it. Even when sugar addicts try to stay away, they just can't seem to go without it. Sugar addicts often have strong cravings, feel out of control around sugar and binge, and/or experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches when they haven't gotten their sugar.
While this may sound like an extreme version of a small problem, it is actually a large and growing issue in our world today. In 2010, according to the USDA, the average American consumed 132 pounds of sugar—the majority of which came from soft drinks, cookies, ice cream, and so on. This is a serious problem because not only does it cause weight gain and obesity, but sugar is highly linked with type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, depression, migraines, poor vision, arthritis, gout, and osteoporosis. Though many of us know that sugar isn't good for us, many still become addicted to sugar because it's all around us; we are drowning in sugar. Then, when sugar is consumed, it releases a chemical called serotonin that causes us to feel good. This is why so many people become addicted to sugar. The good news is that sugar addictions can be broken in just a couple of weeks.If you feel like you have a problem with sugar, prepare ahead of time for the holidays by following these tips to avoid and break sugar addiction:
- Identify Sugar and Where It's Hiding—We really are drowning in sugar; it is in so many of our foods today that it takes knowledge and effort to avoid it. The first step in avoiding or breaking a sugar addiction is to figure out what foods contain sugar. Foods such as ice cream, cookies, and soda pop are obvious foods to eliminate. But even foods that we often think of as 'healthy' such as yogurt, fruit juice, instant oatmeal, or granola are often loaded with sugar. In order to avoid 'hidden' sugar, reading the ingredient list is important. If any of the following ingredients are in the food, then sugar has been added:
- Clear all foods that contain sugar from your pantry and refrigerator—Now that you know what foods have added sugar, remove all foods from your kitchen that contain these ingredients. If you don't have the food with the sugar, you are much less likely to eat it.
- Eliminate all foods that contain added sugar from your daily diet for 3 weeks to start—As with any addiction, it takes time for sugar addictions to be broken. Temptations will be all around, but when cravings strike, try going for a walk, exercising, or drinking a glass of water. Most cravings will pass if you give it enough time. If you are hungry and craving sugar, eat a handful of nuts, veggies and hummus, or some other healthy snack. Try and distract yourself and avoid thinking about how much you just want something sweet.
- Find non-sugar flavor enhancers to cook with—Many people cook and bake with sugar because it makes things taste better. But there are other ways of making food taste good without using sugar. Try using spices such as cinnamon to add flavor, or use alternatives such as stevia to add sweetness without adding sugar.
- If you slip up and eat sugar once, don’t go on a sugar binge—Breaking a sugar addiction is a very difficult thing to do. If you do slip up, it's okay, sugar has not defeated you. Keep working at it, small improvements still add up.
With time, sugar cravings won't be as intense and food that used to taste good will become too sweet. In the mean time, try using as many substitutes as possible, such as herbs, spices, stevia, or xylitol. When sugar is consumed, make it as healthy as possible by using sweeteners such as raw honey or agave.