When I asked my clients the other day what their biggest struggle is when it came to their health, I grimaced at the resounding reply of SUGAR. How am I supposed to talk about this when I have my own sweet tooth that often feels out of control?!?! Then it hit me: maybe this makes me MORE qualified to talk about it because I understand it. Oh boy, do I understand it. If most of you are thinking, ‘Oh sure she “struggles with sugar,”’ this past holiday season I took down almost an entire double batch (I think Joel may have had a few) of pumpkin chocolate chip cookies in about 2 weeks’ time.
Seriously, this is how I feel about food that doesn’t contain sugar…..
So I’d say I’m qualified to talk on this subject, no?
Now that I’ve established that, the question is: how do we break the hold that sugar has over so many of us? I’ve tried a lot of things, but here’s what works for me….
One of the best ways to make a change is to pick 1 habit you want to change and focus all of your energy on that one habit for 2-4 weeks. Write it down. I write my goal in my calendar and track it there. (I can’t be the only one who gets a high from checking stuff off, right?!) Make it realistic and make it easy…. so easy, in fact, that you have no doubt you can do it!
For example, I knew I needed to start dealing with my sugar habit. So I started small. My goal was to have only 4 sweet treats a week. I figured that’s still the majority of days per week that I get to have my precious… ack! Sorry, a sweet treat. That first week I stuck to the number, but I went all out when I could have it. I’m talking Dairy Queen Blizzards, multiple graham crackers dipped in copious amounts of peanut butter and dark chocolate, and I honestly can’t remember the others but you get the idea. Did I beat myself up about it? Nope. Cuz I had stuck to my goal. However, I also knew that this kind of behavior wasn’t ultimately going to get me where I wanted to be, so I made slight changes each week that inched me more toward that ultimate objective. The next week I was still allowed 4, but one of those sweets could only be 2 squares of dark chocolate. Of course, if you really struggle to make your goal on the first week then there’s no need to up the ante the next week.
Some of you might be thinking this sounds too hard while others might find it too easy – the point is to choose something that feels attainable for you while still moving you in the right direction. If you’re like me and you can literally hear the chocolate calling to you over the sound of the TV, I’ve found this to be one of the easiest ways to start. If you’re the all-or-nothing type, I give you this little factoid: according to Leo Babauta, author of The Power of Less, when only one habit is adopted per month, success rates can be as high as 80%. However, when we get too ambitious and attempt to adopt even just 2 habits simultaneously, the success rates drop to below 20% for either habit! Wow….yowza….
Most of us have taken years to build our bad habits, so don’t expect to change them overnight. Don’t be afraid to relax into it and set yourself up for success!
Mind over matter
In my experience, the process of habit change is made drastically more difficult if you don’t figure out the Why. Why am I so attached to sugar?? One of the things I started to realize (as my head cleared and the sugar shakes subsided) is how much I associated sugar with happiness. I was so emotionally attached to sugar that I would often think that this or that party would not be fun if I couldn’t eat dessert. No matter that these parties were often filled with some of my most favorite people in the world, good conversation, fun games, and laughter. That realization hit me like a bomb. What a ridiculous way to think!! Sugar has no power to actually give us the satisfaction that we crave…ever. While I knew that in my head, my heart (and stomach) had decided otherwise.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love food. I believe we were made to enjoy food or else God wouldn’t have given food its flavor or us our taste buds! “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil.” But the two had become so connected in my head that I could no longer separate them.
To combat this, I would decide ahead of time that at the next party I would not splurge even though I still had some cheats left. And you know what I found? At the end of the night, I was still alive. Not only that, but I was mentally freed up to engage with and really enjoy all of the many other blessings I was surrounded by. How liberating to be at a party and not spend half of the time mentally waging war over ‘to eat or not to eat’! I still thoroughly enjoyed myself. Plus, my stomach felt a lot better the next morning!
I’m not saying you need to do this every time, but try it every once in a while. You might be surprised by how easy it is when you know going in that indulging is just not an option.
Often times – when I find myself craving something sweet – I’ve learned that if I take the time to listen to my body I tend to realize that I am not actually hungry at all. The hubs and I have coined the term “mouth hungry”, meaning that my stomach feels satisfied but my mouth is still craving. This most often happens to me at night, when I have mentally relaxed and am watching TV or hanging out with friends. Most trainers would tell you to turn off the TV and go to bed or go for a walk. Well, here it is: I like my stories! And I live in Colorado, so it’s too fargin’ cold to go for a walk right now! What I can do is see it for what it is: a mental craving. I make the decision right then and there to stop letting these thoughts take over and focus instead on the show. If I’m at a party, I focus fully on the people and the conversation. Usually, once I let go and focus my attention elsewhere, I start enjoying the show or company more and the craving passes.
If, however, the craving is really strong, I will also find ways to distract my mouth. First, I make sure that I am drinking enough water. It’s amazing how easily a craving can be dealt with by a glass of water. After that, gum is one of my go-to’s while Joel likes tea. We also love oranges and berries, but I try to save those for the times when I’m actually still hungry.
(One caveat: I do actually love going for late night walks in the summer time. And there are plenty of times where I would say that if you’re not watching something that’s good on the ol’ tele, turn it off and pick up a good book or hit the sack. These are just what things that work for me, but again, you have to find what diversions work for you.)
Find someone who will hold you accountable. My husband does this for me. Spouses are great for this because they are usually around you the most, but I will caution you that this can backfire. You have to find that person that will be persistent and know the right thing to say at the right time – whoever it may be. Otherwise, the next thing you know, you’re both headed to Dairy Queen because someone feels bad telling the other person ‘No’ OR you’re in a fight because you’re sure he just called you a cow. Those examples were just off the top of my head…. never actually happened to me before. 😉
Another option would be to get a friend that you check in with every night, even if it’s just over text. The power of accountability can be awesome when you find the right accountability partner. It just takes a little trial and error sometimes.
Here’s that whole moderation thing again. If I know I’m going to have a dessert, I try to eat a meal higher in protein and lower in carbs and I stop eating before I normally would. Because nothing is very enjoyable when you’re eating it on an already full stomach. Believe me, I know. During the holidays, I try to eat really clean at home so I can splurge and enjoy a few extra treats at parties and get-togethers. As with so many things in health and fitness and LIFE, it’s all about balance.
Last but not least, when you do finally partake in whatever deliciousness you choose, don’t waste the calories on something you could do without. Make it something you really really love. Then savor every dang bite. You’ll be amazed at how much less you will want when you take the time to really taste your food. Then be done with it. You won’t gain 5 pounds from one dessert. You won’t have thrown away all that you’ve worked for. (You just might even benefit every once in a while from giving in to that sugar craving.) So enjoy it and then move on. End of story.
I hope these tips are helpful to you. My ultimate goal is not to never eat sugar again, but to be free of the unrealistic expectations I have placed on this particular food group. I’m not there yet, but it is getting easier. Even though the physical cravings have subsided for the most part, I have easier weeks and harder ones. But I refuse to be controlled by it.
Unfortunately the all-or-nothing mindset seems to almost always leave people frustrated and back at nothing. Sure moderation isn’t sexy and it takes commitment and discipline, but with it comes freedom. I love this quote from A.J. Heschel: “Self respect is the fruit of discipline; the sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself.” Nothing in this world worth having is easy to attain – and that applies to our nutrition as much as to our fitness, our jobs, our relationships, or anything truly important in life.
Have some tricks or tips of your own? I’d love to hear them, so please share below!