Recently I saw a client for our last follow up appointment who had been trying to stop eating sugar. She’d come to me anxious and stressed about her wellbeing and was also wanting to lose weight. She’d bought all the books, done the 8 week program and was still frustrated that she just couldn’t quit sugar.
All would go well for the first 5 or so days, but then she’d slip up and before you knew it, she was back to square one and craving sugar. She confessed to me that she was terrified that it was just her, and she would never be able to beat her sweet tooth. At our follow up, things had got much, much better. She wasn’t craving sweets. Her energy had improved. She had switched old habits for new healthier ones. And most surprisingly for her, she had lost weight and her clothes were fitting more comfortably without going on a diet!
So what happened? We looked beyond just sugar. We ditched the diet mindset and looked at overall dietary balance. We worked on emotional eating, looked at creating new habits and we looked at WHY she made the choices she did and how we could change this which helped change what she chose to eat.
Sugar is such a baddie at the moment. Yes, many of us consume too much sugar, and this needs to change. And while I’m really pleased that sugar is in the spotlight, sometimes people get fixated on a single component of their diet without looking at the big picture which is what we really need to look at when it comes to improving dietary quality.
When we discussed my clients diet, we had to look at why sugar was a problem and only then can we look at reducing intake. Here’s some of the things that helped my client and what you should think about for yourself.
So if you are struggling with sugar, take a step back and have a look at the bigger picture. Here’s a few suggestions to get started:
Balance and nutrition
Getting the balance of macronutrients right at your meals is key for keeping you satisfied, maintaining stable blood sugars and providing you with the energy required throughout the day. For most people, a mixture of healthy, slow release carbohydrate paired with a serve of protein and a little healthy fat works well. As an example, breakfast might be oats, Greek yoghurt, berries with a sprinkle of nuts/seeds or an omelette with vegetables, a little grated cheese with left over potato/ kumara or good quality grain bread.
Balance also means balancing your food appropriately throughout the day. I’ll often see women overly restrict their food intake during the morning only to get sugar cravings later in the day.
Don’t just focus on sugar – do a stocktake of your overall diet. Are you getting your portions right? Are you getting a balance of the food groups? Do you choose good quality carbohydrates? Do you eat good quality fats? Do you eat enough vegetables? These are a few of the things to consider as well as sugar. You don’t have to change everything all at once, but take steps towards making better choices.
Dehydration can lead to low energy levels, and low energy can lead to sugar cravings so keep up your water intake throughout the day. The easiest way to check if you’re hydrated is to check your wee. It should be around the colour of straw. If it’s bright or dark yellow, you are dehydrated. One point though, if you’re taking supplements it can affect the colour of your urine, so this won’t apply. So how much do you need? It varies, but around 8 glasses of water is a rough guide for most people – you’ll need more if you’re active and sweating.
For a number of clients I’ve seen, sugary sweet foods are a comforter, a reward, or something to soothe the emotions. Have a good think about the food choices you make and assess why you’re choosing what you do. Sometimes it can take a while to make the connection. Ask yourself “Do I really feel like this or is it something else?”.
I went through a stage of craving lollies in the afternoon a few years back. The garage next to work sells little $1 bags and I’d sometimes head over and grab a bag. I don’t even really enjoy lollies!! When I thought about it, I didn’t really want lollies, I was tired and in the afternoon I’d be working on a tough project and I wanted a distraction and something nice to make up for the frustration of the project. So what I did instead of going to the garage for a $1 mix was to go for a quick walk for a break around the block.
– All or nothing thinking
For some, a mouthful of sugar also creates feelings of failure and guilt. “I’ve ruined it, I may as well keep eating it and start again next week” is a common train of thought, but it’s not true. Ditch this mindset, and focus on the overall picture. If you read my blog, you’ll know I’m a great fan of moderation. To tell you the truth, I don’t stress about my sugar intake. I eat a minimally processed diet and I keep sugar to a minimum most days. But sometimes I eat sugar.
When I think about my diet today, I haven’t had any added sugars. Yesterday I did. I had family dinner at my mums celebrating my Granddads 87th birthday. For dessert I ate a slice of lemon cake with ice cream and strawberries. It was super delicious! I’m sure I had more than 6 teaspoons of sugar yesterday, but it doesn’t stress me out at all. I wouldn’t do it every day but it really doesn’t bother me because in the context of an overall healthy diet and a healthy lifestyle I don’t believe the occasional sugary treat is an issue.
We are creatures of habit and we like the little routines that we set for ourselves. Sometimes choosing sugary foods is simply a habit. If you’re sitting down to a cuppa and biscuits after dinner then it’s time to create a new routine. Change is hard, so it needs to be a concious decision to do something differently. Sit in a different chair and switch your hot drink to something new and enjoy this by itself. It will help separate the old habit and help create something new. The more you do it, the easier it gets.
If you’re feeling constantly tired and/or have overwhelming sugar cravings, it’s always a good idea to head to your GP for a check up. Sometimes thyroid issues, anaemia, PCOS or prediabetes/diabetes can cause these symptoms.
– Sleep and relaxation
Tiredness often leads to sugar cravings. When you’re tired, your energy levels are low and sugar is an instant, but short lived pick me but a better option is to get outside for some fresh air and a quick walk. It’s a bit harder to do, but trust me, it will help perk you up without the crash you get after a simple sugary snack.
Aim to get enough sleep – most people need between 7-9 hours a night. Something that isn’t mentioned as much as sleep is relaxation and down time. But having time to relax and unwind is also important to your overall wellbeing and happiness. Schedule down time in your life too. For more tips on this, see my post here.
Yes, reducing sugar is important. But remember it’s only one part of a healthy lifestyle. Sometimes you need to look at more than just what you perceive to be the issue to make progress.