Many of us are addicted to sugar, some of us without even knowing it. Processed and prepared foods often contain sugars that are sneakily added to enhance flavour or aid preservation. Over a long period of time, we can develop a dependency on the sugar ‘high’ that is similar to that of drugs such as nicotine and cocaine – and the longer we abuse it, the bigger the hit we need to satisfy our craving.
The good news is that with a little willpower and a change in our approach to meals, you can overcome your sugar addiction. After a week or two on a low carb diet such as Atkins, sugar cravings DO go away but if you still find yourself desperate for a sugar fix, what strategies can you use to help you resist?
Atkins recommends a balanced, low carb, high protein lifestyle – it isn’t a protein-fest where you can eat unlimited amounts of bacon, steak or eggs. Instead we recommend having moderate amounts of protein-rich, low carb foods with each meal. Research has shown that protein keeps you feeling fuller for longer so you’re less likely to crave sugary, high carb foods.
So aim to have 115-175g of meat, fish, poultry per meal. Add some fat to that meal, such as avocado, oils, butter, fatty fish like salmon, then add some vegetables and you have a great, balanced low carb meal which will provide all the nutrition you need.
Again, protein at breakfast time is a must. Eggs, smoked salmon, cheese or bacon are all great choices and you’ll be less likely to get the munchies later on if you eat a decent sized breakfast.
Many night-time snackers I’ve worked with have got out of their bad habit by incorporating a breakfast, even if they previously felt they weren’t a breakfast lover. Give it a try and you’ll soon find you enjoy breakfast once you start having it every day, plus you’ll not give into cravings later on.
If you think cutting calories and avoiding meals will help you lose weight then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Skipping meals tends to catch up on you and as blood sugar levels plummet, the cravings start. Most of the time this results in over-eating and having that feeling that you just can’t get full, so you end up eating more in the long run.
Instead, eat a low carb, high protein meal every 3-4 hours to keep blood sugar levels on an even keel. You’ll soon find that your energy levels go up and sugar cravings disappear.
Even if you stop drinking sugary drinks and avoid desserts, it’s important to know where hidden sugars lurk. Foods like ketchup, sauces, salad dressings, crackers and bread often contain sugars. So check labels, once you get into this habit you’ll soon know what to avoid and your supermarket trip won’t be as time consuming.
Find low sugar alternatives or make your own sauces using tomatoes, stock or cream, plus your own salad dressing with olive oil and vinaigrette.
Do you find that you get emotional comfort from sugary foods? Don’t worry, you’re definitely not alone. If you’re reaching for chocolate when you’re sad or buying your favourite dessert to reward yourself, you’re using sugar to feed your emotions and once established, it’s a tricky cycle to break out of.
Becoming aware is the first step to breaking that cycle. So, when you reach for sugar in times of emotional highs or lows, slow down and examine ‘why’ you’re doing this, how will you feel when you’ve fulfilled that need – is it making the sadness/anger/happiness/boredom any more or less emotional? Just taking a second to examine your feelings may help you change your behaviour.
Whether it’s the full-sugar coke every time you go to the cinema, a slice of mum’s cake that you just can’t resist or the bowl of cereal in front of the TV every night, you need to assess your ‘trigger’ moment.
Once you understand the pattern, you can replace these habits with healthier ones that will make you feel great – choose a diet drink at the cinema, take a low carb dessert to your parent’s house and treat them instead; or have an antipasti plate of cheese and olives as your Friday night treat.
Having an end goal in mind always seems to help people stay on track. Whether it’s an upcoming wedding, a holiday or other event, having it in your mind’s eye can help you to kept motivated.
If you don’t have an event, just pick a date and put a big stamp on your calendar. Then break your goal down into mini-goals, especially if you have a lot of weight to lose, and it’ll make it much more rewarding when you hit each goal.
What are your strategies to avoid sugar and stay on track? I'd love to hear them on our forum so come and join the conversation!