I confess I’m a sugar lover. I’ve even written a whole post about being a sugar-free failure. But loving sugar doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to quit it.
Sugar and its effects on the mind, brain, and body have been extensively researched.
According to the results of numerous scientific studies, sugar does in fact have addictive qualities, and its dependence is widespread. Since it activates dopamine receptors, sugar has the same potency as some controlled substances.
So if you’re looking to learn exactly how to quit sugar, you’re in the right place. Not only will this article teach you 7 ways you can quit sugar, but also why you should consider it and what to expect during the process of quitting.
Why Consider Quitting Sugar?
While quitting sugar isn’t always easy, the benefits outweigh the struggles, as added sugar has been shown to have negative effects on your body.
Numerous medical conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, as well as poor dental health, have been linked to a high added sugar intake in scientific studies.
Sugar may also lower your energy, leading to fatigue and being less alert during the day. According to a 2019 review, eating sugar may even contribute to depression.
Eliminating added sugar from your diet may improve your overall health and reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases.
This article examines how reducing the amount of sugar you consume may affect your body, both physically and mentally, and provides helpful strategies for overcoming the potential negative effects that this may have.
And a reminder upfront, we are not talking about the sugars you NEED to consume during long runs and races to maintain energy levels.
How Much Sugar is Okay to Consume Per Day?
According to the American Heart Association, men shouldn’t consume any more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar per day. That equates to approximately 36 grams or 150 calories in sugar.
For women, the numbers are slightly lower at 6 teaspoons per day for added sugar which is equal to about 25 grams of sugar or 150 calories worth.
To put things in perspective, one 12-ounce can of soda contains approximately 8 teaspoons or 32 grams of added sugar. This makes it almost the daily limit for men and crosses it for women!
Are All Types of Sugars Bad For You?
Sugar is a carbohydrate, one of the three macronutrients that are necessary for life.
Sugar comes in four main forms: glucose, fructose, lactose, and sucrose.
Sucrose is the type of sugar that makes cakes and sweet drinks tasty and is most often associated with negative side effects, whereas fructose and lactose are naturally occurring sugars found in fruits and dairy products, respectively.
Examples of high-glucose foods are honey, agave, and fruit juices.
What’s the Difference Between the Four Main Types of Sugar?
The nutritional profile of the foods that contain each of these four distinct types of sugar is the only thing that differentiates them from one another.
Sucrose is often called ’empty calories’ because it’s used to add flavor to foods and drinks but doesn’t offer much in the way of nutrition.
The other three types of sugar are found naturally in foods like fruits, vegetables, bread, pasta, milk, and other foods that are high in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
What to Expect When Quitting Sugar
When you’re quitting sugar, you’re doing through a sugar detox that can be uncomfortable at times.
When you reduce your sugar intake, your body will notice it and react to it. This is known as sugar withdrawal.
In general, withdrawal symptoms aren’t too severe, but they can certainly be annoying. Some common symptoms to watch out for include headache, fatigue, irritability, extreme cravings, thirst, and insomnia.
How severe your symptoms are will largely depend on how much your sugar intake was in terms of processed foods and beverages. Any people also report feeling worse symptoms during stressful periods.
Symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. But don’t worry because our bodies are great at adapting, and your body will eventually adapt to lower added sugar in your diet over time.
7 Tips to Easily Quit Sugar
How does one stop sugar cravings without doing some crazy sugar free challenge, which seems to make us want more? Some of you will rock a cold turkey quit situation.
BUT a lot more of you are like me and that “I can no longer have any sugar” test, turns back around and I want it more than ever because my brain hates being deprived.
This is the question that I wanted to better understand and find doable solutions we could use.
Thanks to help from some great Registered Dietian’s, I’ve come up with a list of ideas. Check them out to see which one feels like it’s best for you.
Thanks to Lindsey of The Lean Green Bean for many of these.
1) Start by Cutting Back.
I know there are a lot of people out there who believe in quitting cold turkey with a detox, Whole 30, etc. If that works for you, great…but in my experience that often makes people crave sugar even more.
When I started really watching my sugar intake after I graduated from college, I did it in small steps.
So what does that mean?
- If you’re eating two sugary snacks a day, cut back to one.
- If you put three packets of sugar in your coffee each morning, cut back to two, then one.
- If you like juice, start mixing in sparkling water and reducing the amount of juice.
- If you’re a soda person, look for healthier options that can satisfy your cravings.
- Can you switch to extra dark chocolate and really savor a few bites, instead of fun size bar.
- Can you ask the co-worker with the massive jar of candy to fill it less often? Or put it out of eyesight?
I had to remind myself that it would still be there later. So I could start with that smaller serving and if I just really wanted more later, go back.
How much sugar are you really eating when the label says a serving contains 6 grams?
To give you a visual, 4 grams = 1 teaspoon of sugar.
If your muffin has 6g of sugar, visualize the 1.5 teaspoons of sugar that’s inside it.
As your taste buds adjust to lower amounts of sugar, you’ll probably find that if you return to your original eating habits, things will taste overly sweet!
2) Find the Hidden Culprits.
Sugar is hidden in so many foods that unfortunately it’s easy to accidentally consume excess sugar.
It often replaces fat in low-fat/fat-free foods and you’ll find it in things that can really be made from just a few ingredients like nut butters, breads, and salad dressings.
For example, there are many brands of peanut butter that are made with added sugar, when in reality all you really need to make peanut butter is one ingredient- peanuts.
We know that a candy bar likely has a lot of sugar, but many of the sauces, dressing, and condiments are equally high, which often shocks us. It’s another reason to check the label or decide if you can make it yourself.
A great easy place to start is oatmeal! Those packets often have tons of added sugars.
Try making high protein overnight oats and you’ll save money, and sugar and get in more protein to make them keep you full longer!! Notice this protein trend?? It really helps with cravings!
- High Protein Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
- High Protein Low Sugar Dessert Ideas
- High Protein Breakfast Ideas
3) Eat Real, Whole Foods.
If you have a sweet tooth, try satisfying your cravings with sweet foods like fruit.
When you do eat packaged foods, check the ingredient list and know the various names for sugar. I know there has been a lot of talk of coconut sugar lately, but it’s still sugar. Just another form.
Remember that low fat/fat-free often means high in artificial sweeteners or natural sugars to create taste.
Your favorite granola or protein bar may have a lot of added sugar in it. When you need to refuel, choose whole, nutrient-dense snacks such as nuts and seeds, whole fruit and nut butter, hummus and vegetables, or hard-boiled eggs.
Dessert should be reconsidered. After dinner, check in with yourself before grabbing your go-to candy bar or favorite pint of ice cream. Is your nightly sugar fix a hard-to-break habit, or are you actually hungry?
If you’re really hungry, eat something high in protein and healthy fats, like a handful of macadamia nuts or unsweetened Greek yogurt with berries. Sticking to whole foods will also help you stay away from the hidden sugar in packaged foods.
4) Savor and Enjoy!
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a sweet treat occasionally…but perhaps you could eat it more frequently if you learned to be satisfied with a smaller amount.
Do you really need that gigantic piece of carrot cake all in one sitting? Probably not. Split it into smaller pieces and enjoy a few bites each night of the week. (No joke I did this with my birthday cake and it was so much more satisfying.)
Eat it slowly and really enjoy it.
5) Cut Back when Baking.
A lot of baked goods are made with large amounts of added white sugar.
Try cutting back the sugar in your favorite cookies, muffins, etc by 1/4, then by 1/2 the original amount. You probably won’t even notice the difference in a lot of cases.
You can also try sweetening baked goods with fruits like bananas, dates or applesauce, or even maple syrup. Just keep in mind that even though these are natural sources of sugar, they’re still sugar.
Protein Pancakes are super easy, more filling, and will help stabilize blood sugar levels.
6) Increase Your Protein Intake.
As runners, we’re often very focused on eating enough carbs to provide our muscles with energy. But a diet that’s too low in fat or protein is going to ramp up our sugar cravings.
In fact, in our 30 Day Runner Nutrition Course we talk A LOT about protein.
To prevent hunger and fatigue while detoxing from sugar, include protein in every meal. Research shows that eating protein can make you feel full, which can help you control the cravings you’ll feel during the withdrawal phase.
This will make it easier for you to resist the urge to grab a candy bar or other quick source of sugar. Protein-rich foods include fatty fish, lean meats, eggs, beans, legumes, and nuts.
- It helps us to maintain muscles mass
- It helps to feel full when we eat
- It really helps to drop those cravings which are often the body saying it needs FOOD and NUTRIENTS
For distance runners, an easy rule of thumb is often aiming for 100 grams of protein per day. If that sounds high, just think you’re aiming for roughly 30 grams of protein at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
This was the tip that did the most for me personally. Once my protein intake increased, I noticed immediately I was craving less sugar…but that lead to the final point.
7) Think Through Your Craving.
Is it actually craving or is it a habit?
If you are low in calories it could 100% be a craving. Your body is smart and it wants to fuel you, so when you aren’t getting enough nutrients for the workload it will try to find any means necessary to encourage eating.
And sugar is one of the easiest ways to get you to eat because of that dopamine reward!
But it’s also important to ask yourself do I even want this food? Why do I want this food?
Many of us have an immediate need for something sweet after lunch or dinner. Not because we’re still hungry, but because that’s what we learned as kids, right?
Finish your meal and you get a treat!!! Now it’s a habit and you’re consuming excess refined sugar without really thinking about it.
- Am I hungry? If you’d eat an apple then yup probably hungry and you should get food, not a treat.
- Is this a snack? Have you ever noticed “snacks” are usually just carbs? If you’re really looking to snack to fill a need for food can it be a combo of that sweet treat plus something like string cheese or almonds to balance blood sugar and keep you from craving more soon.
- Is this a habit? I’ve just had a great filling dinner…do I actually want chocolate or just grab it because I always do?
- Would a smaller portion satisfy me?
It’s ok to ask yourself questions! Don’t just blindly keep doing what you’ve done.
Especially if it’s not working for you!
5 More Quit Sugar Resources
- Sugar Detox Series: Why, how, obstacles, cravings and more
- How to fuel your runs with whole foods (nix the gels)
- 11 Low to No Sugar Snack Ideas for Work
- Understanding Your Personality to Make Quitting Easier (scroll half way down for my sugar story!)
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