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December 6, 2012

Beating Your Sugar Addiction

Getting a lot of questions in the JillFit Lifestyle group this week about how to curb cravings for sugar, so I thought I’d share some of my favorite DOABLE tactics.

I’ll admit, I used to be a huge Sugar Queen, and even still at times, I have an insatiable sugar tooth, but I’ve dealt with it long enough to form some strategies around it–enough to stay satisfied, slim and sane.

I know it’s popular to quote all the sources saying sugar is just as addictive as heroine or cocaine or some other drug. And it makes sense–eating sugar can lead to the desire to want to eat more sugar. But calling it an addiction, in my mind, almost gives us permission to not take action. It’s kind of like saying you have “a slow metabolism,” as if we should just chalk it up to bad genes and throw in the towel.

Instead, let’s treat the belief that “I have a sweet tooth” like we can do something about it :) Because like any addiction, there is always a moment of CHOICE involved, and it’s no different than with sugar. In fact, most sugar cravings are the result of HABIT. And when we address it from that angle, we can change BEHAVIORS and learn to control cravings better.

Here are some potential tactics, and how they might work for you:

1) Quit cold turkey.

This is the least-reliable option of all because willpower is exhaustible. And the longer we resist and the more we deprive, the worse our cravings become, until we end up binging more and worse later. Usually quitting cold turkey will work for a specific period of time, and then you will inevitably be introduced to the real world again :) In fact, it’s usually competitors who are the most successful (at least short-term), due to the threat of embarrassment on stage. This *might* work for you if you have a specific time frame you want to abstain, like before a vacation or in preparation for a reunion. Just watch for compensatory reactions later!

2) Address your “habit loop.”

In his book, The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg identifies the “habit loop”:
1) The cue
2) The routine
3) The reward

I am sure if you think about it, a lot of your behaviors around sweets stem from a routine you’ve established in your schedule.

Years ago, I used to *need* a sweet every day around 2-3pm when I was working my 9-to-5, as if it was my reward for getting through another day. The cue was the time of day (down-time at the office), the routine was this elaborate walk from my office to the complete other side of the building where there was bulk candy set up–I’d get my bag, fill up with the favorite “usual” goodies, then walk back to my desk. And then the reward–the satisfaction of the sweet and the completion of my routine. Does any of this sound familiar to you? Once you identify YOUR cue, think about how you can change it.

Here’s how I did it:

Another example: I used to have a habit loop that revolved around nightly sugar-free frozen yogurt. The cue was my drive home and the fact that it as at the end of a long day of training clients. The routine was driving to the fro-yo place (which has a drive-thru! How easy can it be!?) and seeing what the SF flavor of the day was and seeing the usual people working (…lol, this is getting hilarious as I write it…) and then drive home to “relax” with fro-yo (the reward).

To break this loop, I started changing my routine in certain ways: I wouldn’t come home the same way, or I would go to Starbucks to work and get a huge, hot green tea instead of going right home, or I would make a deal with myself, that I could have fro-yo only after I abstained for 3 nights in a row. All worked, and I hardly ever get it anymore. Think about how you might change your routine to break your loop.

3) Weaning yourself.

This actually works fairly well, and an example is what I did above with the fro-yo–reducing the # of times I had it in a week by making a hard & fast rule with myself.

Another example is what Jillian calls, “Ritualize, don’t habitualize“:

When we make something a habit, we do it automatically, without thought or preparation, and usually daily. However, a ritual is a big deal, right? We have to plan and prep for it, get everything just right and make it special. This would be a weekly cheat meal, for example. Instead of eating every sweet item that crosses your path during the day out of habit, have YOUR ABSOLUTE FAVORITE thing on Saturday night, and do it up big, and don’t compromise. Have exactly what you want and enjoy it fully without guilt.

Weaning yourself allows your taste buds to resensitize to the taste of sweet. The sweeter we take our food, the sweeter we need to continue to make it over time, to get the same relative sweetness. An example of this would be to slowly cut back on the sweetener you use in coffee. Splenda and Sweet N Low are dozens of times sweeter than sugar (sugar alcohols like xylitol and erythritol are actually slightly less sweet than sugar). You might not be able to cut them out completely, but try to slowly remove 1 packet from beverages over a 4-6 week span, allowing your taste buds to adjust. And then reduce further when you’re ready.

4) Practice mindfulness.

This is similar to ritualizing. When we take the 2 seconds necessary to think and be aware of what we are doing, many times resisting sweets doesn’t hurt that much. Saying “no” when the waitress asks if you want dessert might leave a momentary sting, but you literally forget about it within a minute. Try it.

5) Employ preemptive cheats.

This is my favorite tactic and keeps me from eating lots of real sugar later. When we deprive, deprive, deprive, we simply ratchet up our need and desire for the very things we are trying to abstain from, until it reaches a fever pitch and we inevitably overindulge. Preemptive cheats are items that don’t have a huge impact on our waistline but can make us feel more satisfied throughout the week so we never reach the point of needing to overindulge. Examples include nuts/nut butters, breakfast meats, sugar-free fro-yo/pudding/chocolate (1-2x/week), avocado/guacamole or a sprinkle of cheese. Do preemptive cheats 3-4x per week.

6) Make the moderate choice in every instance.

Yep, that thing we don’t want to think works because it’s not hardcore enough. But honestly, staying lean without effort is the MOST hardcore, so give moderation a try! How? Use ME’s “3 Bite Rule” and allow yourself 3 bites of sweet per day, that’s it. Example include 3 bites of dessert, or 3 Hershey Kisses.

7) Use the Metabolic Effect Craving Tools.

Unsweetened (baking) cocoa mixed with water, stevia if desired, drank up to 3x/day. Or opt for green tea, up your water intake, increase fiber via veggies, increase protein or add BCAAs to your routine (up to 10-20g/day taken in 5g servings). At JillFit and ME, we’ve found the cocoa drink and BCAAs to be lifesavers when it comes to cravings.

That’s it! Good luck! Ox, Jill

Related: 16 Ways to Curb & Prevent Cravings

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