I’m addicted to sugar. I definitely have a sweet tooth, and I crave chocolate, biscuits and cake more than I care to admit. One of my biggest challenges so far in all my 18 years of life has probably been giving up chocolate for Lent in order to try and prove to myself I could live without it – I barely survived those 40 days and descended into a chocolate-induced state of bliss for the next few weeks afterwards. However, recently I’ve started to become more aware of the negative ways my love for sugary foods impacts my day-to-day life: it makes me lethargic, unsatisfied and regularly consuming above the recommended amount (which some nutritionists and doctors have argued needs to be cut further) seemed to be taking its toll on not only my body but also my mind.
As a result, a few weeks ago I decided to seriously try and cut down on the amount of added and refined sugar I was eating on a daily basis, and while it’s been a struggle I couldn’t be happier that I decided to take up this challenge. I’d been struggling to tone up for a while without significant results but limiting the unhealthy snacks I was eating has definitely enabled me to see an improvement even when I’m eating larger portion sizes for my main meals. I feel a lot more energised and a lot happier, and even find I’m sleeping better. Reducing my sugar consumption has allowed me to be and feel so much healthier which in turn has had such a positive consequence on my physical and emotional state, with the added bonus that when I do now indulge in sweet desserts or snacks I appreciate and enjoy them so much more!
While I don’t think I could ever cut out sugar completely, I feel like I’ve reached a much more balanced approach in terms of nutritional health and looking after my body. Surprisingly, once I’m summoned up the courage to say goodbye to my routine of snacking on Ben and Jerry’s brownie fudge ice cream every evening, the transition from a sugar-obsessed girl to one slightly less dependent on the sweet stuff wasn’t as hard as I’d feared.
1) Figure out your problem areas
Keeping a food diary, either using an app on your phone or the old fashioned way with pen and paper, is a great starting point for evaluating how much sugar you’re consuming and whether you need to consider cutting down. Try and figure out where and why you’re turning to sugary snacks (other than the fact they taste pretty good): is it out of routine, boredom or comfort? It may also help to track your emotional state as well and see if there’s any correlation between a rubbish day and an extra large bar of chocolate! For example, I found I was more likely to turn to sugary treats as a combination of routine – coming home from school and instantly reaching for food, or while watching a film – and boredom, which led to unnecessary late night snacking.
2) Set yourself an achievable goal
Vowing to never eat another gram of sugar again is going to be pretty much impossible. Make sure your target is practical and will be possible to reach, so you don’t feel disheartened or like you’re missing out. You could limit yourself to only a few days a week where you eat chocolate, cut out certain snacks such as sweets and ice cream, or limit yourself to one small dessert or snack a day. If you’re more serious about reducing your sugar intake, you could cut down on the amount of processed sauces and foods you’re buying and start making your own, and cutting down on items such as cereals, fruit juices and alcohol.
3) Let others know about your plan
It’s easier to stick to something when you have the support (and watchful eye) of those around you. If your family and friends know you’re making a conscious decision to eat more healthily, hopefully they’ll support you – and keep any tempting snacks out of sight!
4) Find your substitutes
It’s important that you don’t feel deprived when you first start cutting down on sugar, so making sure you have healthier quick and easy snacks is a must. One of the biggest attractions of sugary snacks is the fact that they’re so convenient and can be eaten instantly, but food like fruit and vegetables also often need very little preparation. Keep some celery, carrot, cucumber and pepper sticks in the fridge with a pot of hummus or some nuts and you’ve got a quick and easy snack for when hunger strikes. There are loads more ideas for simple alternative treats online and in recipe books and magazines and I’ll probably do a blog post at some point sharing my favourites. Also, ensure your main meals are nutritious and filling so you don’t end up resorting to snacking multiple times a day due to hunger: protein and lots of water is the way forward.
5) Be patient
It’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to happen overnight. Successfully giving up sugar is a gradual process of changing your routines and mindset and it’s so important not to be too hard on yourself if you slip up. Remind yourself why you started, and gently persevere.