Do You Have a Sweet Tooth?
Have you ever eaten a cup of sugar, spooning it into your mouth one tablespoon at a time? No? Neither have I. But I’ve certainly scoffed down a cup of sugar in a day, for example, via toast and jam in the morning, a muffin at break time, a fruit-bottom yogurt and granola bar with lunch, wine with dinner, ice cream and a brownie for dessert – you get the picture. I’ll bet you’ve done it, too.
Food manufacturers want us to eat lots of food, of course. So, they add sweeteners to practically everything to improve flavour, texture and eye-appeal. They know that we’re genetically programmed, some of us more than others, to want sweets.
Possibly, it’s because our hunting and gathering ancestors needed to pack on a few extra pounds to prep for lean times, so they would gorge on sweet things whenever they found them. Whatever the cause, the fact is we tend to over-eat sweets, and some of us would go so far as to say we are addicted to them.
How Much Sugar is Too Much?
The FDA comes down on both sides of the argument regarding how much sugar is too much. They include sucrose (table sugar) in their generally regarded as safe (GRAS) list, and sanction its unlimited use, while at the same time recommending “everyone limit consumption of all added sugars, including HFCS and sucrose.”
The Case for Common Sense
Regardless of studies, common sense tells us that if we crave something, and continue to use it despite knowing it to be detrimental to our health, we’re dealing with a powerful agent.
Consequently, I think we can rely on our own judgement when determining whether we are addicted to something or not. Scientists can tell us why we might feel the effects of something but our own life experience is valid, and should hold sway in forming our understanding of ourselves.
An addiction to sweetners, I think, is the reason I have always struggled with my weight. And I’m not alone. Nearly 75 percent of American men and 60 percent of American women are either overweight or obese, and nearly half of Canadians are too. The World Health Organization (WHO) says it’s a worldwide problem, calling obesity “one of today’s most blatantly visible – yet most neglected – public health problems.”
How Does Being Overweight or Obese Affect Us?
Again, according to WHO: “…obesity in particular poses major risk for serious diet-related noncommunicable diseases, including diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke, and certain forms of cancer. Its health consequences range from increased risk of premature death to serious chronic conditions that reduce the overall quality of life.”
But we know that. Don’t we? And yet, we still find it hard to say no to that Caramel Frappacino, or that warm-from-the-oven double chocolate chip cookie or the crunchy-on-the-outside-chewy-on-the-inside bread. A lot of us don’t even think of the bread as a sweet, and yet it behaves like one when it hits our bloodstream.
Maybe, by mentioning sweets, I’ve made you want one. If I have, you’re definitely in the right place, because I’m going to help you break your addiction to sweet things, and start eating in a way that will help you build and maintain your health.
Refined Sugars Are Not Food
Remembering that helps us to recognize them for what they are: Artificial sweetners!
Our bodies don’t respond well to artificial sweeteners. Those things trigger cravings. Instead, our bodies need natural, whole foods that satisfy hunger. Cravings and hunger are entirely different.
Remember, it’s not as if we aren’t meant to eat sugars: Whole foods, including fruits and vegetables and grains and legumes contain sugar, and in its natural form it can be part of a healthy, balanced diet. It’s just that we’re not meant to isolate it, and use it to make everything we eat highly palatable. That’s when it ceases to be a food and becomes an additive.
Brain Chemistry is Affected by Sweetners
Don’t beat yourself up if you’re struggling with sugar addiction. Your body is programmed to respond positively to sweetness.
Sweets cause our brains to release neurotransmitters, chemicals that sends signals to the central nervous system. Neurotransmitters are responsible for all sorts of things that make us human, including regulating how we experience pleasure.
When we eat something pleasing the resulting flood of neurotransmitters causes us to seek it out again. If it’s healthy food, that’s great! If it’s highly-sweetened processed food it can become problematic. Research into genes has shown some individuals are more prone to seek out sweet foods and become sugar-dependent, just as some individuals are prone to alcoholism and drug-abuse.
Be Honest with Yourself
Few of us want to admit we’re addicted to anything. We have mixed feelings about addictive substances. We know that if we admit our addiction the next step is probably coming up with a plan to overcome it. That can be complicated, because it involves a change of lifestyle.
Changing our lifestyle isn’t easy. It might include changing how we socialize, including giving up traditions and possibly even relationships. Often, we are met with resistance from people upon whom we depend for love and friendship.
Ultimately, deciding to face up to an addiction comes down to deciding if something is causing you more pain than pleasure. Not everyone who drinks alcohol is an alcoholic, and not everyone who eats sweets is a sugaraholic. Only you know your situation, and how you feel about it.
But if you’re reading this post, chances are you wonder if you might have a sugar problem.
I did. So, I’ll share with you what worked for me in the hope that it might work for you, too. If you’re someone who has given up sweets, please, share your experience in the comments section below, and possibly you can help others, too.
For Me, It was Sweetened Chocolate
I realized my love of sweetened chocolate was an addiction one February afternoon in 2015. I was standing at the kitchen counter, staring into space, ruminating about a family situation and gobbling down handfuls of chocolate chips from the bag.
I don’t know what pulled me from my revelry, but I thought, “Heather, you’re addicted to chocolate!” Then, I thought, “It’s not chocolate. It’s sugar!”
Why I Needed to Get a Grip
Suddenly, aware of my insatiable appetite for sweet things, I considered how it was affecting me. In five years, I’d gained 17 pounds. Consequently, I could no longer fit comfortably into most of my clothes, and I was reluctant to buy new clothes, because I wanted to wait until I lost weight.
I was always starting a new diet. They were never extreme, just attempts to cut back. I’d lose a couple of pounds, and then something would happen (the girl guides would show up selling cookies, it was someone’s birthday, a friend baked, it was Friday…), and I’d throw caution to the wind, and regain the two pounds I’d lost and then two more. Of course, that was followed by low morale and more resolutions to eat less and exercise more. Sound familiar?
It wasn’t just the clothes, either. I lacked energy and vitality. Everyday, around three in the afternoon, I felt like I needed a nap. My knees ached. A visit to the doctor revealed arthritis. He suggested I lose a few pounds and walk more. I tried walking but that made my knees ache more, so I didn’t enjoy it and didn’t do it often.
It didn’t help that within my circle I was known as “the desserts maker.” I baked several times a week, and revelled in trying new recipes. I enjoyed taking courses in cake decorating and sugar crafts, and was fully kitted out to make all sorts of fancy confectionary. As a result, I was often called upon to make celebratory cakes, including my daughters’ wedding cakes. Talk about a lifestyle!
How I Quit Eating Refined Sugar
Despite all that, the moment I realized sugar was at the root of my problems, I turned and tossed the bag of chocolate chips in the garbage, and resolved to quit sweets.
That was Februrary 2015. So, did I simply toss the chocolate chips in the bin and never touch sugar again? Not exactly.
The next thing I did, before I could change my mind, was to go through my house and get rid of all the sweetened processed foods: granola bars and cookies; cereals; ice cream; sauces – everything.
Then, I began modifying my favourite dessert recipes to make healthier versions. I used honey and maple syrup, agave and stevia and xylitol – lots of different sweeteners – in place of sugar. I switched from white to whole meal flours, and boosted all my baked goods with things like flaxmeal and oats.
It helped. While I didn’t lose a lot of weight – just five pounds in the first year – I felt like I was on the right track. However, I was still craving sweets and had to work to resist them.
Finally, I spoke to a nutritionist, who told me that the substitute sweeteners I was using were working on my system in the same way the sucrose had done. If I wanted to end the cravings, she said I’d have to try and cut out refined sweeteners and cut back on starchy carbohydrates.
(I still believe it was important for me to have a transitional period, during which I ate things similar to the sweets I craved but much healthier. I think it helped me move gradually toward a healthier lifestyle, which made the change sustainable. And sustainability is what it’s all about. We’re talking about a change of lifestyle, not a diet. I’ll give you my recipe for a no-added-sugar chocolate chip cookie recipe at the end of this post.)
Getting Rid of My Baking Library
After my conversation with the nutritionist, I went to my beloved library of cookery books and culled all the baking books. That was hard. There were so many memories connected to those books. But they had to go.
If I’d kept them, you know what would’ve happened: One day, when I’d been off sweets long enough to think I was in control, I would’ve made something for old time’s sake.
Initially, I would’ve been mindful of eating a small portion. When I managed that, I would’ve congratulated myself for being in control. A false sense of security would have taken hold. Next thing, I’d be buying chocolate chips, and before I knew it I’d be standing at the counter with my hand in the bag.
I know this, because like so many people, I’ve lost and regained weight enough times to know how it goes.
Contending with Cravings
Of course, I then had to contend with cravings. With no processed snacks or homemade baked goods to satisfy me, I had to figure out what to eat when the cravings became intense. This will sound boring and predictable, but I ate fruit.
Fruit contains lots of natural sugars, and while you probably won’t believe me when I say that an apple can kill a craving for a cookie, it can. At least, it did for me, and I was surprised. So can a banana or an orange or practically any piece of fruit you like.
So, in the beginning, when you’re trying to release yourself from the grip of sweets, eat as much fruit as you like. (Unless, of course, you have some sort of medical condition which precludes that.)
Blending fruit is fine; it’s akin to chewing thoroughly, which enables us to access nutrients from our food. But don’t opt for fruit juices, including those you make with a home juicer. When you blend fruit it retains its soluble and insoluble fibre but juicing removes the fibre, so the fruit sugars enter our bloodstream rapidly and can cause insulin to spike.
The only exception I make in terms of fruit juice is unsweetened cranberry juice, which I like to add to water. A 1/4 cranberry juice: 3/4 water ratio is nice. It’s very tart, so it’s a good substitute for wine with meals.
Smoothies to the Rescue!
Knowing that blended fruit was good for me, I began experimenting with smoothies. I bought a Ninja blender and I love it. It’s super powerful, so it has no trouble blending frozen ingredients. Besides having a large container, which is useful for making smoothies for the family or blending soups and other things, it has two single serving cups, which are very convenient.
There are as many combinations of smoothie ingredients as there are individuals, so you can have a lot of fun concocting your own. My go-to ingredients are argan oil, collagen, a variety of frozen berries, powdered greens, and cocoa powder. To those ingredients, I might add plain yogurt and/or milk, frozen vegetables, frozen fruits, seeds, nuts, protein powder, powdered crickets, psyllium husk, flaxmeal, matcha tea, and oatbran.
Protein Also Made a Difference
Cravings for sweets and cravings for bread feel very similar, because bread is a starchy carbohydrate. Consequently, it affects your body biochemically in much the same way refined sugars do. So, when I was trying to break my sweets addiction, I cut back on my bread consumption.
Instead of having a sandwich, I ate the fillings. Eggs, meats, fish, poultry, cheese, nuts and seeds: All those sorts of things helped to stabalize my blood sugar, curbed my hunger and killed my cravings.
I also began starting my day with protein. What a huge difference that made to my whole day. Instead of loading up on carbohydrates, like toast, cereal and juice, as I used to do, I made omelettes or added protein to my smoothies. If I did eat grains, I was sure to add protein. And I started having salads and veggies with my eggs or nuts or adding them to the smoothies, too. In the beginning, it was difficult to make the switch, because it felt ‘wrong’ to be eating “dinner foods” for breakfast, but I soon felt so much more energetic that I didn’t want to return to my old, familiar ways.
I admit to still enjoying an occasional sandwich or a slice of pizza, but I only eat whole grains. I prefer them to white flour products, which surprises me. When I was a sweetaholic, I might have eaten whole grains because I thought I should, but now I really do prefer them. My tastes have changed that much. They’re part of a balanced diet, and I enjoy them on occasion but I don’t crave them, and they don’t make me want to slip back into my sugar addiction.
Using Essential Oils to Beat Cravings
I also turned to essential oils to help me overcome my addiction. As a certified aromatologist, I use essential oils extensively to help my clients with all sorts of things. Having learned that grapefruit oil was useful for curbing sugar cravings, I made myself an inhaler, and I took a sniff every time I wanted something sweet. It worked! My cravings went away.
If you’re not into essential oils, you might think that sounds barmy. But essential oils are powerful chemical constituents taken from aromatic plants. Here is a good little free introductory course, if you’re interested in knowing more about them.
Within a week of not eating processed sweets and sniffing grapefruit oil, my sugar cravings were less intense, and they occurred less often. I began wanting savoury foods rather than sweet foods. And my desire to eat bread and pasta, things I had previously enjoyed immensely, began to wane.
Socializing Without Sweets
In my circle, I was always the one who brought desserts to our potluck suppers. I loved doing it, and I always tried to make it something special. So, it was disappointing for everyone when I said I wasn’t baking anymore.
If you’re the dessert-maker, be prepared for some push back when you say you’d prefer not to make dessert. Your friends and family might give you a hard time, because they love your desserts and they’re linked to traditions.
But if you’re serious about quitting refined sugar, you’ve got to find new culinary ways to please friends and family and develop new traditions. Try to have fun with it! Take time to create show-stopping, satisfying suppers. Bring creative appetizers and side-dishes to potlucks. Instead of making carrot cake, make a gorgeous tray of fruits, veggies,nuts and cheese for afters.
Keep going to cafes to meet up with friends but eat at home, so you won’t be hungry, and stick to coffee or an herbal tea. Focus on the conversation rather than the food.
Artificial Sweeteners and Other Sugar Alternatives
Artificial sweeteners have been linked to numerous serious illnesses, so if you’re trying to improve your health don’t eat artificially sweetened foods. What about so-called “healthy sweeteners,” such as coconut sugar? How about agave syrup? Neither is a good idea.
I’ve learned that breaking the habit of eating sweets is easier to do it if you don’t eat sugar substitutes. All they do is keep your cravings alive and prevent you from discovering a new way of eating. If you eat artificially sweetened yogurts, drink coffee sweetened with coconut sugar, or pour agave syrup on waffles made from white flour you are feeding your sweet tooth.
The secret to breaking your addiction to sweets is to stop eating sweets. Stick to whole foods. Satisfy your need for sweets by eating whole fruits. While they contain sugar, it’s buffered by the fibre they also contain, and there are vitamins and minerals in them which are necessary for good health.
The Ripple Effect of Not Eating Sugars
Giving up refined sugars makes it easy to stop eating all junk food. Foods you used to like no longer taste good, because your tastes change so much. As an example, I used to like an occasional fast food burger, but now I find the buns too sweet. So, I don’t eat fast food. That’s got to be a good thing!
I also found that wine lost some of its appeal, so, I started cutting back on it. Now, I seldom drink. And while five ounces of red wine is said to be good for us, because it contains resveratrol, there are other foods that can give us the same benefits, including grapes, pistachios, peanuts, berries, and cocoa.
The longer I continue not to eat sweet things the more I enjoy vegetables, too. Now, I’m as likely to slice up some radishes, fennel, cucumber and celery for a simple tasty snack as I am to reach for a piece of fruit.
It All Sounds Incredibly Unlikely
Radishes and fennel instead of three-layer chocolate cake? When you’re still in the clutches of your sweets addiction the idea sounds ludicrous.
You might be so badly addicted that you think life wouldn’t be worth living if you couldn’t drink soda pop or eat brownies, cakes, cookies, scones, cinnamon buns, ice-cream, puddings and all the other things you crave.
But once you beat the addiction to sweets you won’t even want that stuff. Last year, my husband, Neil, and I stayed at a B&B where the welcome included a visit to a room where free tea and coffee and port were laid out alongside a table groaning with sweets, and I didn’t even want them. That shocked me. There was no struggle. I didn’t have to resist, reminding myself that I no longer ate sweets. Really! Like anyone who isn’t addicted to sweets: I didn’t want them.
In the old days, when I used to try and lose weight by counting calories or fat grams or carbs or whatever, I would have struggled terribly to control myself in that room. Or, I would’ve immediately thrown caution to the wind, telling myself “I’m on vacation!” and gobbled down everything that took my fancy. It’s so good to be free of that internal tug-of-war.
Knowing Where Your Weakness Lies
Few of us are overweight because we can’t stop eating foods that are good for us. It’s usually the junk that gets in our way: Sweets; Salty take-aways; Supermarket snacks and convenience foods; Soda pop and alcohol. These are the things that make it difficult for us to lose weight and keep it off, because they satisfy cravings without satisfying hunger.
So, be honest with yourself. Decide where your weakness lies and swear off that stuff. Break your addiction. No more “cheat days,” that keep your addiction alive. Get rid of the garbage that’s posing as food and eat whole foods. Prepare your own food and replace empty calories with calories that pack a nutritional punch. You’ll feel better. You’ll look better. And you’ll never have to diet again.
A Happier, Healthier You
If I hadn’t given up refined sugar, I’m convinced I would’ve continued to gain weight, and by now I would probably be 25 or 30 pounds overweight.
Instead, despite being menopausal and having to deal with a slower metabolism, I’m slimmer than I was three years ago. I’m stronger too. Because my knees no longer ache all the time, I can walk everyday. Consequently, I’ve got more energy, so I’m able to do strength-training. That’s made me leaner, so my clothes fit better. I like that.
You can do it, too. If you’re addicted to something you’re eating, don’t let another day go by without facing up to it. Take the steps I’ve outlined here, and day by day you’ll walk away from your addiction and all the heartache it causes you. It gets easier and easier. I promise!
I think it’s easier to transition from eating processed foods to eating whole foods if you have a few simple, delicious treats recipes to rely on. These chocolate chip cookies are made with unsweetened chocolate and dried fruits. Keep in mind, they will probably seem a bit bland when you take your first bite. Chew slowly, giving your taste buds time to experience the melding of the flavours. Before you know it, you’ll choose these cookies over regular ones every time. They make you healthy as well as happy. 🙂
1/3 cup butter
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 large egg, scrambled
1/2 cup of chopped prunes
1/4 cup chopped raisins
2 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla
2 cups rolled oats
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup unsweetened baking chocolate, broken into chips in a food processer
(Sometimes, I also add a couple of tablespoons of natural peanut butter to the butter mixture.)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Using a mixer, combine butter, buttermilk, egg. It might look a little lumpy and separated, but don’t worry about that.
Put the prunes and raisins through a food processor to make a paste. Add the paste to the butter mixture, along with the vanilla.
In another bowl, combine the oats, flour, baking soda and salt.
Add your oat mixture to the wet ingredients and stir well. Once everything is combined, add your and seeds and chocolate and mix well.
I use a mini ice cream scoop to pop out cookies onto the parchment. If you don’t have one, you can use a couple of tablespoons to make your cookies. Press them gently with a fork to flatten.
Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, (depending on your oven), and allow to cool before eating, so they can harden up a bit.
Use these to satisfy your overwhelming cravings in the early days. I would suggest sitting down, giving thanks, and really paying attention to the cookie as you eat it. Mindfulness is a great way to slow down and make the most of every bite of food.