Are your sugar cravings getting out of control? Research shows that some people may become addicted to sugar in a similar way to those who become addicted to drugs.
Eating sugar can be pleasurable and it actually stimulates pleasure centers in your brain. On top of that, we often associate it with pleasurable activities and social occasions like birthdays and holidays. You might also find that you use sugar to reward yourself when things are going well or soothe yourself when you’re feeing bad.
There’s a ton of scientific evidence that indicates you’ll be healthier if you reduce your sugar intake. However, for most of us that’s easier said than done because there’s usually an emotional tie behind your sugar cravings.
Something that emotionally powerful is bound to be hard to change–but it is possible. Here are five tips to cure your sugar habit:
1. The first step in making any behavior change is to decide to make that change and then start (read more about how to make behavior changes that stick here). Now make a list of the habits that you’re going to change in order to reduce or omit your sugar intake. Are you going to stop putting sugar in your coffee? Are you going to cut out dessert? Are you going to keep track of every gram of sugar and set a quota for yourself?
It doesn’t really matter what the plan is, but it has to be specific so you can tell if you’ve gone off your plan. And instead of saying I’ll start tomorrow, once you’ve decided on the plan, just start!
2. The next step is to become more mindful of what you’re thinking, feeling and doing–no more going through life on autopilot. Once you’ve committed and started your plan for consuming less or no sugar, start paying attention to any cravings or urges you have to go off the plan and write them down. And if you give in to those cravings, write that down as well.
3. Review what you’ve written and see if you can identify any common patterns and triggers. Pay attention to factors such as your mood, time of day, or settings and situations you were in when cravings came up. You can ask yourself the following questions to help with this:
- What were you feeling right before?
- Were you looking to soothe a distressing emotion or were you feeling good and used sugar as a reward?
- Was the craving a part of a habit?
- Were you in a place or situation where you usually eat sweets?
- Is there a pattern in the timing of your cravings?
4. Once you have a better understanding of the triggers and habitual patterns that challenge your attempts to stay on your plan, you can start to develop strategies for managing these cravings. For each of the challenges you’ve uncovered, identify a replacement or a distraction that you can use the next time it comes up.
For example, if you found that you tend to crave something sweet every day in the middle of the afternoon, make a plan to go for a short walk with a friend to give yourself a break from work before the craving hits. Or, if you find that your cravings are often about soothing distressing emotions, develop a list of alternative ways to relax and calm down like meditating, talking to a friend, or taking a hot bath.
5. You can maximize your chances of using these alternative strategies by taking good care of yourself, and that starts with making sure you get seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Research shows that sleep deprivation increases the appeal of sweet and salty foods.
In fact, you react more emotionally when you’re tired than you would otherwise, making it more compelling to want to soothe your out-of-control feelings with sugar. Finally, if you wait until you’re really hungry to decide what to eat, you’re probably going to pick the quickest and easiest food, which is rarely the healthiest option.
Now here’s the most important thing of all to remember when you embark on this habit-changing quest: Be kind to yourself.
It’s probably going to be difficult at first to make these changes, and no one is perfect. Don’t forget that you’ve set this goal because you’re trying to be healthy and good to yourself. So when you falter, don’t beat yourself up and don’t give up either. The very next moment offers another opportunity to get right back on your plan!