Who doesn’t love sweets?
We celebrate everything with a fluffy cake covered in scrumptious frosting. We count down the days until Girl Scout cookies go on sale. And we can’t seem to run on anything but Dunkin’s sweetened coffee.
Sure, eating too much sugar leads to weight gain and causes acne. It also increases our risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and even depression. It’s serious stuff and we know we should be cutting down on our sugar intake. That’s a simple statement to make, but very hard when we’re used to letting our sweet tooth make our decisions.
Giving up or cutting back on sugar can seem overwhelming. For some, it’s an entire lifestyle change and that can be scary. Instead of freaking out and feeling like it’s too hard to accomplish, I offer a different approach. Forget going cold turkey and start down the easiest path to ditching sugar.
Know What We’re Eating
One of our biggest mistakes is we don’t check for hidden sugar in our diet. Even when we’re saying no to cupcakes, we can overdo sugar just by eating normal foods. In These Simple Tricks Will Slash Your Sugar Intake, Anthea England explains a few of the worst culprits:
- Every year we consume 2310 teaspoons of sugar from drinks alone
- Small flavored yogurt can have up to 5 teaspoons of sugar per serving
- Eating “healthy” cereal for breakfast can easily triple our sugar intake in one bowl
Then there’s added sugar in marinara sauce, ketchup, salad dressing, and bread! The first and easiest way to cut back on sugar is identifying how much we’re eating without knowing it. Start reading labels and ask about added sugar when eating out. It’s easy to make healthier choices when we can clearly identify what’s not healthy.
Understanding Our Habits
One of my favorite books is The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business by Charles Duhigg. It’s a fascinating study on how habits are formed and maintained. One part of the process is something called a cue, which is a trigger to tell our brains to start the habit loop. The system is a cue, routine, then reward. As Duhigg explains, we need to change the routine but not necessarily the cue:
“Rather, to change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine.”
Let’s take our sweet, fragrant, mouth-watering morning coffee for an example. Here is our coffee habit loop:
- Cue: we wake up
- Routine: we make coffee
- Reward: we enjoy our sweet morning coffee, feel happy and satisfied
No one wants to give that up, even if we switch to decaf. It’s our Zen. But what if we didn’t have to give up our reward? What if we found a few simple ways to change our routine that allowed us to ditch sugar without giving up the happiness that sugary caffeinated goodness?
Ditch Sugar: Finding Sweet Alternatives in Our Routine
The easiest way to ditch sugar may be to switch to artificial sweeteners. Except there are multitudes of risks associated with some artificial sweeteners including a higher risk of cancer and a 67% increased risk for type 2 diabetes. We could also cut back on our daily sugar, or try sweeteners like honey, stevia, blackstrap molasses or maple syrup.
But remember we’re not trying to eliminate our sugar habit entirely, at least not in the beginning. Think of it as a gradual process where we want to reduce our sugar intake without going insane and eating a dozen glazed doughnuts just to get our fix. Going back to our morning coffee as an example, we need to change the routine and keep the reward.
Here are a few things we could try:
- Cut back on the number of teaspoons of sugar we add to our coffee until it’s a reasonable amount (like one teaspoon and not six)
- Reduce the number of cups we drink, not necessarily the amount of sugar
- Find a sugar substitute that is almost as rewarding as the real thing
It will take trial and error to find a routine that gives us the same reward. Be open to trying new things or giving a substitute a chance.
Creating a Path with Less Sugar
I find pineapples, apples and oranges incredibly sweet. When my afternoon sweet tooth comes knocking, I’m happy with a simple bowl of pineapples sprinkled with unsweetened coconut flakes. Sometimes I throw a few dark cherries on top when I’m really in the mood for something sweet.
And I sit back and enjoy every sweet, satisfying bite.
It’s never going to be easy to ditch sugar. With that hard truth out of the way, we can begin to see the possibilities of changing our routine to get the same-ish reward. Sometimes we’re going to want what we want. Yet, we can still find the reward we crave without damaging our health. We just need to understand that nothing will ever taste exactly the same as “real” sugar.
But that doesn’t mean life can’t still be sweet.