This blog post is part of my ‘Putting it into Practice‘ series.
The Sweet Situation
Hot on the heels of Halloween, do you want to know the scary truth about sugar? American’s, on average, get 20% of their calories from sugar. This leaves the other 80% of our calories to deliver not only the nutrients that we need in order to be healthy, fight disease and live long and healthy lives, but also to compensate for the nutrients lost from the 20% of sugar that is robbing us of our health. When you consider the average American diet with it’s refined and processed foods, then you can see how inadequate this diet might be in delivering the 80% of proper nutrition we need to be healthy. Most people unfortunately do not eat enough fruits and vegetables, which are the best source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Instead we tend to load up on refined foods such as bread, pasta, and cereals as well as high fat foods such as cheese.
If you’re a subscriber to my newsletter, Elements, then you might have been interested by the October topic on the practice of eliminating sugar. This is something I talk about and encourage often. It is the single best thing you can do for your health. This one dietary change can not only help you lose weight and prevent diseases such as diabetes, but it can also boost immune function, exponentially improve energy levels, help you sleep, slow the aging process and sharpen your mind. Truly, sugar is the devil. It robs us of vital nutrients such as chromium, magnesium and B vitamins thereby weakening adrenal function which in turn can lead to inflammation, hormonal imbalances, blood pressure discrepancies (both high and low) and sleep disorders. Additionally, the loss of these nutrients affect our immune system and if you are like most people out there, this year’s flu season might have you feeling more vulnerable about your health than in past years. Check out my blog on how to manage flu season naturally.
But eating well is a practice. Getting to a place of optimal nutrition is a journey. It’s unrealistic to go from on-the-run eating to a balanced, healthy diet overnight. To endeavor to make that change all at once can be stressful and overwhelming. Instead, take it in steps, changing one habit at a time. And the best place to begin, hands down, is with the elimination of sugar.
What Kind of Sugar?
I’m talking about obvious sources of sugar such as added sugar to coffee, tea or oatmeal. I’m also referring to sugar in cookies, cakes, muffins, scones, donuts, pies, candy and ice cream. Although there is a lot of sugar in bagels, for instance, this is not the sugar I’m talking about. Nor am I referring to refined foods that are quickly digested into sugar such as bread and pasta. I am really talking about that 4 o’clock cookie or that morning muffin and that after dinner ice cream (including diet, fat free ice cream. Tip: when it says “fat-free” it usually means “more sugar”. This is how they compensate for flavor). When you consider that adding a single 60 calorie cookie every day to your diet, changing nothing else about your intake or lifestyle, can amount to a 6 ¼ pound weight gain at the end of the year, you can see the effects of even a little sugar on your waistline.
4 Tips to Kicking your Sugar Habit
1. Clear out the cupboards
This is absolutely the best thing you can do in order to increase the likelihood of success. Keeping sugar in the house while trying to abstain is like torture and will likely have you white knuckling your way towards failure. The first thing to do on your journey towards a healthy body is to throw it all out. If you are uncomfortable with throwing away food then pack it up and bring it to work and share the badness with your co-workers. This isn’t ideal and I am not suggesting that ruining their health in order to save your own is ethical, but at least it will get you past the first hurdle of waiting until you are finished with the junk food in your house before getting started. Let’s face it, tomorrow never comes in regards to getting our eating under control. Today is all you have. If you wait until it’s all gone, I promise it never will be.
2. Stock up on fruit
Initially your body is going to have a rough go of it and it is going to do some mighty things and talk some serious jive to you about how ridiculous an endeavor it is to give up your favorite food. It is going to cajole and harass you in the hopes of your giving in. At this point you will be very happy that you did in fact throw away all the junk food otherwise you’d be going after it. You’ll feel a mix of relief and aggravation at the realization that the only way to get your fix is to put your clothes back on, put on your shoes and coat and trudge all the way to the convenience store to have what you only partially want. Or at least, what only the beast in you wants. At this point you will be very happy to remember that you took my advice and bought some fruit, because although it might not be the same as having a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, it will satisfy your sweet craving and allow you to wake up the next day feeling guilt free and empowered by your enduring daily success. If initially you need to have more than one piece of fruit to satisfy your craving then go for it. Quite honestly, you are better off having 5 pieces of fruit a day than one candy bar~ the calories might be more or less the same but you get vitamins and minerals in the fruit that you won’t find in the candy bar and the fruit has fiber that slows down the insulin response, a key component in controlling weight gain. Eventually, as cravings quiet down and avoiding sugar becomes part of your routine, keep fruit consumption to two or three pieces a day.
3. Start your day with protein
Insulin, a hormone secreted in order to metabolize carbohydrates, is also responsible for the accumulation of fat around our mid-section and for the cravings we feel for starches and sugar. If you eat a lot of sugar or refined carbohydrates such as bread and pasta then you might find that your cravings for these foods are hard to control due to the over stimulation of insulin those foods provoke. Once you’re in this hyper-secretory state, it is difficult to exert will power therefore you give into cravings over and over. For this reason it is very useful when endeavoring to eliminate sugar to start your day with protein.
Protein does not require insulin for its metabolism. If you start your day with foods that don’t induce insulin, you have a much easier time avoiding sugar later in the day. If you start your day however with a bagel or cereal, both quick inducers of insulin, you are much more likely to give into your cravings for sugar later in the day.
The best breakfast to consider when trying to readjust your metabolism and control cravings, is scrambled eggs with vegetables (like ½ cup of asparagus or 1 cup of fresh spinach or even mushrooms, tomatoes and onions), with a sliced tomato on the side. Although the vegetables and the tomato are carbohydrates, they are slow inducers of insulin and require very little for their digestion so the effects of these on your metabolism and cravings will be nominal. Another good breakfast option is turkey sausages with slices of cucumber and tomato.
4. Consider taking supplemental chromium
Chromium is a mineral that is necessary for proper insulin release and sugar metabolism. It helps your body recognize insulin more efficiently and in this way allows your body to be more exacting about how much insulin is secreted in response to carbohydrates consumed. Like I mentioned earlier, if you eat sugar regularly, you are stripping your body of nutrients, including chromium, making your body more prone to insulin resistance, weight gain and cravings. If you feel that getting your sugar cravings in check is akin to climbing Mt Everest, then you might want to consider using Chromium to help give your body an assist and get things going. The best kind of Chromium is Chromium Polynicotinate 200mcg. Begin with one daily in the morning. You can increase to 600mcg daily if needed. If you are taking medication for diabetes or are concerned about whether or not Chromium is appropriate for you, be sure to talk to your health care practitioner.
“Practice and improvement always comes”…..Lady Ruth
Perhaps you won’t eliminate sugar from your diet overnight. That might feel like a scary prospect for someone who has relied on their sugar addiction for years, if not decades to get them through the day. The key however, is to create the intention to eliminate sugar and then begin implementing these practices in order to help you overcome your cravings for sugar. Practice a healthy breakfast and keep junk food out of the house. Start with these practices and do them daily. This is the best way to turn the mountain into a molehill. Once you begin to introduce these practices into your daily routine, you will soon find that you know longer blindly delve into a sugar-coated donut without so much as a second thought. Instead, these occasions become conscious decisions and exceptions to the rule rather than the norm. You can free yourself of the traditional ‘guilt’, safe in the knowledge that getting ‘back on track’ will be second nature, and not a looming task — and the donut won’t be the precursor to a sugar-coated downward spiral. This is the concept of Practice.