Sugar is a hot topic at the moment. There is no denying that high sugar foods and drinks are something that should not be a major part of the diet, and we should minimise our sugar intake. But I’m not quitting sugar. It’s not because I think it’s necessary to eat it. It’s not. Sugar per se has no nutritional value. Eating less of it is important. But you can do this without quitting.
Quitting sugar means never eating sugar. It means following specific rules around what you should eat and what you shouldn’t eat. Sticking to rigid rules around food can have a negative effect psychologically. Especially if you have or have had a unhealthy relationship with food.
The reason I won’t “quit sugar” or follow any prescribed “diet” is because it inevitably leads to a situation where you don’t follow the rules. And when you don’t follow the rules, more often than not you fall into a spiral of negative emotions which affects your relationship with food.
Recently, I ate a chocolate bar. Of course, it was high in sugar. If I had quit sugar and eaten this, I would have felt guilty. I would have felt as if I had ruined my plan. I would have felt anxious. But I didn’t quit sugar. And I enjoyed my chocolate bar. I ate it slowly. I savoured each moment. I was satisfied. Now I probably won’t eat another one for a while. But it satisfied me and I enjoyed it. I didn’t feel guilty. I didn’t judge myself. It was just chocolate. And it was delicious.
If you can comfortably cut out sugar without it affecting your relationship with food, causing guilt and overeating, then that’s great. But if you can’t, it’s ok to have it.
For me, strict rules do not work. I’ve had a bad relationship with food in the past and now I prefer to keep my food philosophy is simple.
1. I aim to eat a diet that’s minimally processed and high in plant based foods.
Most of the time, I eat a nutritious diet full of nutrient rich, minimally processed foods that provide me with the nutrients I need to be well and feel good. I include vegetables or fruit at most meals and snacks. I eat a range of foods from all food groups (as I don’t have any intolerances to foods). Some days I eat high sugar foods, but I don’t keep track of sugar grams, or stress about it. I enjoy it!! If I go out, I choose what I want to eat off the menu – something I’ll enjoy and that will make me feel good. Sometimes that may be pizza, sometimes it may be a salad. It’s the big picture that counts.
2. I eat intuitively (also known as eating mindfully)
This means I eat with all my senses, sensing and savouring food. I am not judgemental of my food choices. I listen to my hunger and fullness cues. I understand emotional triggers. I don’t ban foods.
Through mindful eating, I’ve learned to enjoy the foods I love in moderation, without guilt. Someone bought a cake into work for a birthday. I just had a really thin thin slice. I just wanted a taste, that was it as it looked great, but I wasn’t really hungry. Another person commented “I wish I could do that!” The reason I can now is that I eat mindfully and no food is banned for me. Years ago, I would have had a giant slice whether or not I felt like it or not because I’d think it was “bad” so I may as well eat a giant piece and make the most of it since it was a birthday.
Once I couldn’t anything that wasn’t high in nutritional value without going into an eating frenzy before I started being “good” again. This type of eating definitely isn’t healthy, yet a lot of women live like this, either “on a diet/being good” or “off their diet/being bad”.
Interestingly enough, the less I stressed about food, the less I felt like sugary foods.
I can quite easily say no to cake or chocolate because I don’t feel like it, rather than because I feel I shouldn’t eat it. Research shows that this is the case too.
The more you “normalise” a food, and learn to eat it mindfully, the less desirable it becomes overall.
Nourishing your body with minimally processed, whole foods and eating mindfully is a fantastic way to eat. It requires no rules. It’s about finding what works for you.
For these reasons, I’ve been stable in my body size.
If you want to learn to eat intuitively, here’s some tips:
1. Don’t ban foods
If I say “Don’t think about chocolate” what happens? You THINK about chocolate! The same thing happens when you ban foods. They stick in your mind. Deprivation is one of the main factors that can lead to binge eating or feeling out of control around food. By allowing all foods, your much more likely to be able to have a positive relationship with food. While it’s great to eat a nourishing,minimally processed, diet with lots of whole foods, if you really want hot chips or a chocolate bar – go for it. It’s what you do most of the time that’s important. When you have a healthy relationship with food you’ll find you’re mostly drawn to eat nourishing foods because they make you feel good, but there’s also room to eat those pleasurable foods you love.
2. Eat mindfully
Eat slowly, enjoy your food, savour each mouthful.
3. Ask yourself – am I hungry?
Feeling like food isn’t always because you’re hungry. Get into the habit of asking yourself “Am I hungry?” Chances are you might be bored, you might be stressed or you might be down. If you’re not hungry, deal with the real issue. Another great question to ask is “I can have it if I want it, but do I really feel like it?” This is beneficial because you’re allowing yourself to have the food, but giving yourself time to evaluate if you actually really feel like eating it. Sometimes we’ll see something delicious, but when we pause we realise even though it looks good, we’re not really hungry for it and don’t actually feel like it right now. But it doesn’t mean we can’t have it later if we really want it.
4. Deal with emotions
As a follow on from above, it’s important to learn to deal with emotions in a non food related manner. Know your triggers, allow yourself to feel emotion, and find non food related ways to ease stress and other emotions.
PS – Is sugar addictive?? Eating lots of really sweet food primes your taste buds to want that flavour, but it’s probably not addictive.