I want to take a moment in this article to say that it is not realistic to think that you will NEVER have sugar or something sweet again; nor am I recommending that.
My goal is to help you create a healthier relationship with sugar. To put YOU back in the driver’s seat. To choose nourishing yourself over the short-lived pleasure from eating foods laden with sugar.
Step 1. Get Sugar Out Of The House
In order to re-gain control over when, where, and how much sugar you eat on a daily basis, I strongly suggest you remove sugar-laden foods from your house. Create a “safe haven” at home where you’re not constantly being tempted by the foods you’re trying to reduce or avoid.
Remember, we’re talking about an actual addiction. Don’t expect your “will power” to be stronger than the addiction.
Think of it this way. If you’re trying to stop smoking, is it going to be helpful to take “smoke breaks” with your friends and watch them smoke? Or worse yet, what if you’re trying to kick a drug addiction but you know the drugs are still in the house and easily accessible? What are the odds you’re going to be able to resist the pull when the availability is so easy?
This doesn’t mean you can’t choose to go out for ice cream or head to the coffee shop and get a pastry. BUT if you have to get in your car and make a special trip for it, it’s less likely to happen as often AND it’s definitely going to have to be an intentional (mindful) decision.
Step 2. Bring In Healthier Treats
I also suggest you change your mindset regarding what counts as a “treat”. There are many wonderfully delicious yet healthier treat options out there. Often it’s a matter of what you’re used to.
So instead of finishing every dinner with a cookie or bowl of ice cream, try switching that habit to a piece of fruit or square of dark chocolate or even a cup of yummy tea. You still get the satisfaction of a sweet end to your meal, without the inflammatory unhealthy side effects.
Here are some of my favorite sweet treats and items we keep on hand at my house:
- Dates & other Dried Fruit, like apricots: just make sure they haven’t been dusted with added sugar
- Dark Chocolate: 70% or higher cacao content will be the best for you and have the lease amount of added sugar
- Berries: when in season, they’re sweet enough to be considered nature’s candy BUT still offer the lowest glycemic load of all fruit
- Other Fresh Seasonal Fruit: our fruit bowl is always full; right now it’s bursting with tangerines (yum!)
- Yogurt Bowl: this is an easy one to whip together and makes a much healthier alternative to ice cream
- Smoothie: I always keep ingredients on hand to make smoothies; when I’m craving something a bit more rich or decadent, a smoothie to the rescue!
- Healthier Treats Recipes on the blog.
- Low-Sugar & Naturally Sweetened Dessert Ideas: a simple google search can get you a lot of creative ideas; here are a few sites to get you started (1, 2, 3).
Step 3. Other Ways To Connect & Celebrate
The bigger picture here includes changing our culture around celebrations. Let’s face it, it is absolutely customary in most cultures to celebrate around the table. This usually includes some type of dessert; think the birthday cake or the Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.
I’m sure you have your own traditions, right? What special treat do you always get on your birthday? Or on Valentine’s Day? Or at Christmas? I have incredibly fond memories of my grandmother making me my favorite chocolate cake every year on my birthday! Chocolate cake will always have a place in my heart because of this.
Is that bad? Does this mean I should avoid all chocolate cake? No! Definitely not. I still enjoy chocolate cake on my birthday BUT in a much more mindful way.
I get the best quality dark chocolate cake I can find. And I fill up on a bunch of healthy yummy food first so I only need one slice. I savor every bite and mindfully enjoy my slice. I intentionally share my cake with others so I’m not left with the bulk of it.
AND, most importantly, I reserve my chocolate cake for my birthday. I don’t go out and get cake once a week or once a month just because it’s my favorite and brings back happy memories.
It’s also important to develop other traditions around how you celebrate.
Besides treats, what other practices can you put in place that will bring connection and joy.
Doing a favorite activity when it’s your birthday. Traditionally this would mean heading to the beach or going on a nice long hike for me.
Including activities with holidays. I always think of our traditional post-Thanksgiving walk that my family would take followed by board games. I have just as many happy memories from these activities as I do from the desserts that were enjoyed.
Or how do we “reward” ourselves for a job well done or to make up for a bad day? For many people, this usually involves sweets and treats. But it doesn’t have to. Come up with a few strategies that can lift your mood and make you happy. For me, watching a funny movie, or getting together with my girlfriends (especially the ones that make me laugh), or heading to the beach always put a smile on my face.
Take Home Message
There will still be times when you choose to enjoy a sweet or special treat. And I am here to tell you that “It’s OK”. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
BUT it is also very important to assess how much of a role sugar plays in your life and to take actionable steps to shift the balance away from sugar.
Sugar plays such a harmful role in your body and in your brain. And as such, we need to treat it with respect not with a mindless disregard to how much we actually consume.
Reserve it for special occasions and adopt healthier substitutes that can be brought in for all the other times that you may have traditionally turned to sugar.
It IS possible to live a life filled with nourishing, health promoting foods while still allowing for treats here and there.