There’s a reason why so many of us turn to a pint full of Chunky Monkey when we’re feeling lonely, depressed or stressed. Sugar makes us feel good — at least in the short term. America’s go-to-drug of choice acts as a release valve for dopamine in our brain, and in turn, convinces us that if we eat a little bit more, we may just feel satisfied (cue bottom of ice cream bowl here).
Very few people would contest that sugar hasn’t become prevalent in almost everything that we eat. Three hundred years ago, an individual on average consumed no more than 4 pounds of sugar per year. Fast-forward to today and we’re consuming almost 40 times that amount! In fact, a 2014 study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information shows that on average, 75 percent of all our foods and beverages contain added sugar, across an array of types of foods and brand names. That means if we were blindfolded in a supermarket and had to pick food at random, three out of four times we’d grab something with added sugar in it.
If you’d like to be more mindful about your sugar intake or do a “nutritional reset” for a span of time to see how your body feels off excessive sugar, here’s a few ways to get you started:
1. Keep a nutrition journal.
Where we obtain our sugar naturally varies from person to person. Keep a journal of where and how much sugar you consume on a daily basis, even if it’s just a weekly journal. The act of writing it down will at the very least make you more aware. For those who don’t have the time or the interest in journaling, try to cut down on or cut out the most sugary of our foods and beverages.
According to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, nearly half of total sugar intake comes from beverages (e.g., juices, sodas) and over a quarter comes from salsas, sauces and packaged salad dressings. Eliminate those and that is more than half the battle!
2. Clean out your kitchen and “eat in” before “eating out”.
Some of us are more prone to getting cravings after seeing or smelling food, whether we're hungry or not. If that’s you, then it’s best to clean out anything in your kitchen that could serve as a weakness. Remove as much of the temptation as possible. If you have a tendency to eat out a lot with friends, try to suggest healthier alternatives. Or if you’re constantly grabbing take-out for lunch, try to prep your own delicious meals the day before or earlier that morning.
3. Plan your recipes in advance.
It’s far easier to follow a program when you have a list of ingredients and recipes that you can work from. Last year I felt empowered to embark on my own sugar-less journey for a span of time and once again earlier this year. I wanted to get a sense as to how I can curtail cravings and eat healthier. If you’re looking for a ton of free resources, recipes and frameworks, that’s one place to help get you started.
4. Try to abstain versus moderate — at least for some time.
It’s far easier to follow a program when restrictions are very black and white. One little bit of sugar can actually set cravings off on a downward spiral, so it’s best to remove sugar completely from your diet ... at least for some time so that you can develop a more healthy routine.
Abstaining can be harder for some, and it’s not always a question of who has more willpower, as sometimes sleep, stress, and even our our balance of hormones can deeply affect what, when and why we eat the food we do. When I removed sugar from my diet for some time, I planned in advance, invited friends over for dinner, and even let my family know what I was doing, since I was going to see them for the holidays. Psychologically and physically preparing yourself helps set you up for success.
5. Help yourself by helping others.
If you look into or have partaken in any recovery programs, the last step is always helping others through the same issue. Hopefully, by sharing your journey, your own actions will inspire others, which is a powerful positive feedback loop that will naturally keep you satisfied — without the sugar!