Giving up sugar isn't easy. For most, saying "no" to sugar is one of the hardest dietary commitments a person can make, especially around the holidays. There is always an occasion, treat or rationalization nearby that opens the flood gates to sweet stuff. We crave sugary foods. And if it's not something that tastes sweet, it's probably a refined food that has a very similar effect on our body and brain.
According to SugarScience, the average American consumes 66 pounds a year. That may seem like a nice, manageable number, but it's also the equivalent of 7 cans of soda, 14 doughnuts and 4 servings of ice-cream a week. Again, that's for the average American.
If you're reading this and you care about what you put in your body, chances are you don't kick back with a couple doughnuts everyday. Still, sugar could be creeping in your diet more regularly, just in lesser amounts. Think of every time you grabbed a sports drink, coffee drink, handful of candy, granola bar, muffin, commercial smoothie or container of yogurt. They're all havens for sugar. You may not consciously make the effort to eat sugar, but your brain does.
It's all in your head
When we eat sugar, the reward center of our brain lights up and releases a hormone called dopamine. When dopamine is released we feel good. Feeling good is great! One problem with sugar consumption is we feel so good that we keep going back for more. Eventually, a tolerance to sugar is developed and more sugar is required to feel good. Do you see where this is going? This may sound familiar, especially if you know a chain smoker, alcoholic or drug addict. Nicotine, alcohol and many drugs have the potential to create the same addictive cycle. Needless to say, it can be very difficult to stop.
Sugar consumption, and sugar addiction are growing problems in the United States and throughout the world. Without focusing on very important hormones in the relationship to sugar, like leptin or insulin, let's stay on track with dopamine.
What if we could kick our habit for sweet stuff by lighting up our brain with dopamine - forgoing the sugar?
Before I get to the three tips, you need to understand a couple things. I've worked with clients for over 14 years, talking many of them down from mean sugar habits. You can do it, but it might be rough for the first few days. On the flip side, some people skate through their sugar kick. If you live with other people, let them know that you're going to cut refined sugar out from your diet so you don't come home to a kitchen smelling like warm chocolate chip cookies.
1) Set yourself up:
As mentioned earlier, tell people. More importantly, tell them you want their support. Clear your kitchen of refined sugar. If you have children, it's okay - they don't need the refined sugar either. Kids eat far too much sugar already. I have three children and speak from experience. I've cut sugar out of the kitchen many, many times, including granola bars, and they've done great! Clearing sugar out of your kitchen and our of your body gives your brain a chance to regulate dopamine again.
2) Get active:
This may sound all too simple, but exercise to a point that's beyond what you would normally do. If you don't exercise, all you need to do is go for a long vigorous walk. If you're already an exercising regularly, up your game. Make it goal-oriented and purposeful. Regardless of which end of the spectrum you fall on, exercise targets the reward center of our brain, releasing dopamine. If you're looking for a few good workouts, here are 11 of my favorites.
3) When you crave sugar, reach for these foods instead:
The amino acid, tyrosine helps to support dopamine. While tyrosine won't directly help you avoid the vending machine, it helps play a significant role in maintaining healthy levels of dopamine, which will make you feel good without any sugar at all. Have a helping of these foods to keep you on track:
*Dark Chocolate (80%, and no more than 2 squares)