10 Tips for Silencing The Siren Song of Sugar [Sugar is Like Crack. Literally]
Posted Oct 12 2012 1:16am
Katy Perry may have thought that she liked kissing a girl because of her soft lips (or because it got her attention from men who like to watch two girls kiss thereby relinquishing the power of her sexuality for the voyeuristic enjoyment of others) but it turns out there may have been another reason the Teenage Dream star enjoyed the smooch: Cherry Chapstick has sugar in it. How do I know this when their website only lists the vague “flavor/scent” ingredient?
Because I’ve been there. Hot Chocolate Bonne Bell Lip Smackers was my gateway drug. My friend Liz and I each ate a tube one day while we were on a ski trip in middle school. Why? I don’t know, middle schoolers are weird. At any rate, it was delicious. A little waxy but no more so than a Hershey bar (reason #210 why I refuse to eat Hershey’s). Ever since that magical day I’ve been pretty loyal to my Lip Smackers. Yes I’m a grown woman with three different flavors of lip gloss in my purse (Skittles – the yummiest, Dr. Pepper – gives such a nice hint of color, and Burt’s Bees regular flavor – my nod to adulthood although I gotta say it’s pretty tasty too.).
One day, curious about my decades long addiction, I googled every chemically sounding ingredient on the tube and underneath some of those fancy names I found, yes, sugar. The White Satan lives in inauspicious tubes of beeswax masquerading as a health product. And who doesn’t love Chapstick?
I am a life-long sugar addict. And when I say addict, I mean addict. Several recent studies have found that sugar operates on the same neural pathways in the brain that opiates do. In one study, rats hooked on cocaine were given a choice between sugar and cocaine and do you know which drug they picked? The sugar. Moreover, when the rats were denied their little rat soft drinks, they experienced typical withdrawal behaviors like the shakes and altered brain chemistry. From sugar! And not only is it highly addictive but unlike crack it’s found literally everywhere making it nearly unavoidable. Unless you have a much more entertaining lifestyle than I do (I hear toilets in LA are rife with the stuff) then you can go about your daily life without seeing a mention of cocaine. The same cannot be said of sugar.
So I realize that it’s a little hard to take advice about quitting sugar from someone who used to routinely strap on a 12-ounce bag of jelly beans like a nose bag as I wandered about my house performing my various duties. (True story: I used to bribe myself to get up with my babies in the middle of the night with jelly beans. As in, “If you go and nurse the baby again you can grab a handful of sour-ized sugar pellets!”) But it turns out that all of this struggle with sugar means I’ve learned a few things. Plus we’re coming up on the High Sugar Holidays and I figure I can use all the help I can get so I hope you guys will chime in with your tips in the comments!
Tip #1: Get Educated. Sugar is in friggin’ lip gloss! That’s the main problem with sugar: it’s everywhere. Even in places you don’t expect, like Katy Perry’s boobs (she shoots whip cream from her knockers in her California Gurls video which is inexplicably set on a life-size Candyland board.) We all know we should eat less sugar but it’s hard when it’s almost unavoidable. This is why you need to get into reading labels. You don’t have to go over the ingredient list with a fine-tooth comb unless you’re a science nerd like me but just look at the “sugars” line of the nutrition label. Experts recommend looking for something with 5g per serving or less. It’s not perfect but it’s a pretty good gauge.
Tip #2: Avoid Sauces. This is more of a shortcut for tip #1 as sauces are a major source of hidden sugars. Spaghetti sauce, salad dressings, ketchup, relish, barbecue sauce, marinades, gravies and even flavored rice vinegars are all loaded with sugar. If you have the time, make your own – it’ll taste better anyhow – or just limit your use of them. I don’t know about you but if I’m going to eat 8 teaspoons of sugar, it sure as heck better be in a piece of peanut butter fudge and not my marinara.
Tip #3: Eat enough protein. I’m stealing this one from both Rachel Cosgrove and Geneen Roth (two smart ladies whom I routinely worship on this site). She says – and I’ve found this to be true in my own life – that intense sugar cravings are really your body craving protein. I know it sounds counterintuitive (hee!) but if you eat a yummy piece of salmon or steak you will probably discover you’re not craving those chocolate-covered cinnamon bears anymore. I find it helps to prepare ahead for this one. I cook extra servings of meat and beans and keep them in single serving packages in the fridge so all I have to do is microwave one rather than fight off the talking cinnamon bears for 20 minutes while it cooks. Also, those little cans of sardines are perfect for this! Just eat the bones. I’m serious. You will get used to it.
Tip #4: Get Enough Rest. How many times have I tried to compensate for a lack of sleep by going for the quick hit of ice cream eaten off a fork standing in front of the freezer (that’s so I can pretend I’m not really eating it, see)? Too many to count. Just remember when you’re tempted by the quick lift, that it will inevitably be followed by a quick crash leaving you feeling worse than when you started. You’ll feel much more energetic if you can squeeze in a quick nap. (I have one friend who used to take naps on the bathroom floor at her work – 20 minutes or so can totally be explained by intestinal distress and who is going to question that? Gotta admire her ingenuity!)
Tip #5: Alcohol is all sugar. But you knew that already right?
Tip #6: Eat What You Want. Fact: I have a bag of Halloween candy sitting in my cabinet right now and I haven’t eaten any of it. As a person who used to throw bags of candy in the garbage because I couldn’t handle them calling to me 24/7, I am beyond shocked. And this is where the magic of Intuitive Eating comes in: teaching myself that if I really want a treat, I can eat it. Guilt free. The only rules are that it has to be exactly what I want and I stop when I’m sated. So every time I’ve gone and pawed through the bag of candy swiftly growing stale, I find that it doesn’t really appeal to me. If I’m going to eat chocolate I want the real deal – these days I’ve been really into making my own Almond Joys (from Heather Eats Almond Butter ). They’re not health food but they are delicious and they are exactly what I want. I know this sounds crazy. Two years ago I would have rolled my eyes (and then blogged about it) when someone said “Eh, I don’t really like candy.” But if I can get to this point of relative peace with sugar then you can too.
Tip #7: Know Your Limits. Now that I’ve just told you to eat what you want, I’m going to tell you that successfully doing #6 requires you to really know yourself. I don’t keep ice cream in the house anymore. If I want some, that’s fine but I’m going to have to go get it. It’s too easy for me to go into mindless eating mode with it. Other things like Halloween candy don’t have the same effect on me but you need to find out what your triggers are and then set yourself up for success.
Tip #8: Don’t Use Artificial Sweeteners. The experts go back and forth about whether or not a packet of Splenda will do you any long-term damage but research has shown that our bodies are not fooled by these chemical sweeteners. They may be calorie free but they’re not consequence free. Dieters who were given artificially sweetened yogurt ate more calories over the course of a day than those who ate regular sugary yogurt. Our bodies are smart! Plus, others have pointed out that part of reducing sugar cravings is learning to enjoy less sweetness. Processed foods and artificial sweeteners especially are designed to be “hyper palatable” meaning that they taste so much more than regular food and you need to eat more and more of them to get the same high. The only way to break that cycle is to break yourself of needing everything to be crazy sweet. The upside is that all the flavors of real foods will be much more enhanced once you’ve retrained your palate. You know those people who rave about how sweet almonds are? I used to want to punch them too. And now I am one…
Tip #9: It Gets Easier… But it Never Gets Easy. Remember, Intuitive Eating is eating mindfully in a way that makes your body feel good – not eating whatever you think you want until you’re sick. It’s a fine line but it gets easier to discern with practice! For some people total abstinence works best. For me that’s a recipe for a binge. Five years ago I managed to go 6 months without any sugar other than naturally occurring kinds like in fruit (or chapstick…). The cravings never went entirely away like some people said they would. But they didn’t decrease significantly. And I learned I feel better when I don’t eat half a bag of chocolate chips while I’m making dinner.
Tip #10: This is Not About Weight Loss! Sure cutting out added sugars can help you lose weight but for me the real benefit is in how much clearer I think, how much I love not having that post-sugar afternoon crash, how much better food tastes when it isn’t overwhelmed with cloying sweetness and, yes, even how much more control I have over my food. It used to feel like sugar was controlling me. Now it’s the other way around. Mostly. Usually. Okay, I’m a work in progress but the progress is the important part, right?
So, now that we’re in Sugar Season – what’s your strategy? Do you abstain completely? Do you have just a little of the really good stuff? Do you have a sugar trigger? What kind of lip balm do you use?