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I am a really good quitter. Over the last ten years, I’ve quit alcohol and cigarettes (after a period of very poor decisions). I quit all meat for a time and even went vegan for about a week. Now I rarely eat red meat, potato chips, have coffee after noon, watch TV, or get lost on Facebook. But I just can’t seem to quit sugar.
In fact, just clicking on two blog articles by the super accessible & fabulous happiness guru Gabby Bernstein titled 5 Tips to Quit Sugar the Spirit Junkie Way and What It’s Like to be 1 Year Off Sugar sent me running for the Lindt Lindor Truffles. Not the arguably healthy dark chocolate ones, but the pure refined sugar bombs that are the white chocolate truffles. Mmmm.
The problem is that I didn’t have a good answer to the question “why quit sugar”? I mean, I knew it was “bad” but was it worse than, say butter? Or not flossing? So I went down a researching rabbit hole to find out. Turns out that yes, it’s probably worse than butter. Here are my findings so that you can make your own decision on whether you should quit sugar, as well as some tips on how to to do that.
Sugar is Highly Addictive
Just the mention of sugar triggers neurological pathways itching for a dopamine hit that I can’t help scratching. And it is helpful to know that my sugar addiction is just that, an addiction. In fact, it may be as addictive as heroin.
My brain created a physical need by deciding sugar is the fastest way to feel better when stressed, bored, annoyed, or overwhelmed. I am also contextually triggered, by breakfast (sugar in my coffee and syrup on my pancakes) the end of a meal, or a special occassion (cake!). But just like any addiction, I can convince my brain that there are faster, better, and healthier ways to feel good. I just have to figure out how to train my brain. And then I actually have to train it.
Sugar Is Making Us Fat
I recently went on a TED talk and YouTube bender to find out more about how sugar affects my body to help me want to quit. Dr. Robert Lustig of UCSF rocked the house in 2009 with his brutal takedown of how fructose makes you feel hungrier. Your liver basically completely converts fructose into fat, with little to no benefit to you nutritionally.
Lustig’s YouTube video is an hour and a half long, so if you want a shorter summary, I recommend Underground Wellness’s very informative breakdown of it. 60 Minutes also did a great expo on sugar in 2012, featuring Lustig, that suggested sugar could even be feeding certain cancerous growths.
We Are Eating Way More Sugar Than We Realize
I don’t eat that much sugar, really! I mean, there’s that generous squirt of agave in my morning coffee(s), and the honey in my yogurt, or the syrup on my waffle, or the occasional banana bread or scone… But lunch, I’m good at lunchtime! I just add a splash, or maybe a big glug, of lemonade to my sparkling water. I only have one or two or maybe pieces of chocolate after lunch. And sometimes I’m hungry later so I have some of that trail mix from Trader Joe’s which, I mean, it’s TJ’s so it’s got to be healthy right? I think it’s even organic!
Ok, you get the idea. And that’s not even considering all the added sugars that are in sandwich bread, crackers, or kung pao chicken. I started tracking my sugar intake with the My Fitness Pal app. I found that all those little treats here and there added up to more than 90 grams of sugar on some days! Lustig recommends no more than 25 grams for an adult female, while the FDA recommends 50 grams. Even on days when I didn’t drink fruit juice (my biggest sugar culprit), I was still hovering around 60 grams. Yikes. Time to cut way back.
Why Quit Sugar? Because You Will Feel Better & Because YOU CAN!
Sugar is friggin everywhere. And because of that, limiting it feels insurmountable; like reducing household waste, going green on all my beauty products, or starting a blog. But I did all those things, and I didn’t die. So here I am, becoming more willing to cut out sugar.
At first, I just made small changes. I kept the agave in my coffee but reduced it to a mere 1/8 teaspoon. I eat more savory breakfasts, or these banana egg pancakes that are very sweet on their own. I cut the recipe’s measurement for sugar in half when I bake. I replaced that glug of fruit juice in my sparkling water with fruit teas that I steep in cold water overnight & keep in the fridge. It tastes sweet but has no added sugar. We don’t buy sugary treats at all anymore so there’s no temptation. If I want something sweet after dinner, I either have fruit tea or actual fruit.
With these changes, my sweet tooth required a lot less sugar to be satisfied. But I was still susceptible to outside triggers, like my mom’s amazing cheesecake, or, say Christmas. The game-changer for me was going on the Whole30 elimination diet whigh strictly prohibits any added sugar for 30 days. That slayed my sugar dragon and now I can barely stomach sweet treats.
Now my daily average added sugar intake is around 15-20 grams, down from 60 grams. Such a shocking change! And the changes weren’t really painful. I mean, the Whole30 was painful but for other reasons. Finally understanding just how bad sugar was for my body lead me to pay far more attention to it. When I tracked my sugar intake I was also far more mindful of how much I was taking in. From there, it was much easier to cut back.
I’d love to hear if you’ve ever tried to quit sugar. If you were successful, please share some tips!
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