The Sweet Life: kicking the sugar habit

Years ago, I was on assignment in the middle of nowhere Kentucky, which meant the only restaurant available for lunch was a Wendy’s. But no problem. There’s always a healthy option. You just have to make the best choices.

The worker handed me my order.

“Umm…excuse me,” I said, “I asked for the low fat honey mustard dressing.”

The photographer I was working with started laughing. And hard.

“You Jackass,” he said, “you ordered a Frosty.”

He was exactly right. My order was for the least diet offensive salad they could make, the low fat dressing and a small frosty.

The Wendy’s worker also looked at me like I was crazy.

But this is how I’ve always justified my sugar habit. If I could subtract the calories from the main course, I would be able to eat some sort of dessert at the end. If eating chocolate covered vegetables wasn’t completely disgusting, I would do it. Because that’s basically what I eat.

In my mind, I told myself I had complete control. I could give up sugar whenever I felt like it. But let’s be honest, if there was a cookie or chocolate somewhere in the room, I was powerless against it. A supernatural force would take over my body and – more specifically my arm – and shove that sugar into my literal pie hole.

I place the blame on three factors in my life and childhood.

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Halloween when I was probably 5 and my mom still rationed my candy

First, my mom was super health conscious before it was even a trend. As a toddler at Easter, we got dried fruit in our plastic eggs. If there were cookies in the house, there was a rule that we could only eat 3. With four of us kids, it was every man and woman for themselves. Sure, we would eat three in public, but then spend the rest of the night trying to figure out how to sneak more without leaving a crumb of evidence.

Then there was high school. There was the cafeteria line (which I didn’t buy from) and then there was an entirely separate line for just candy. JUST CANDY. I would buy Good N Plenty’s because most people thought they were gross and that ensured that none of my friends would want me to share. I kept the sugar all to myself. That’s how twisted my mind was when it came to sweets.

And finally, there’s my schedule. Ever since I started my career, I’ve probably only spent about three or four years on “normal” hours. I’m a vampire. And without sleep, that means I’m constantly in need of a rush.

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My baby’s first birthday, picture taken before I polished off a HUGE cake….by myself

Last September, as I polished off another 6″ x 6″ piece of Costco birthday cake from my daughter’s party, I realized I really really really had to stop. I had tried before, but then someone at work would bring in cookies or donuts or candy or chocolate. I felt obligated to eat it. And even if I tried to stay away, there was a nagging feeling that I couldn’t shake – that cookie was screaming at me from the other side of the room.

I went cold turkey.

It was the worst.

I spent about an entire month with headaches, to the point where I was worried I uncovered some other underlying issue, like a brain tumor or toxicity in my system. But no, it was just how much my body depended on sugar.

But after a while, the clouds cleared. So did my skin and my thinking. I slept better, my moods were better and most of all, I conquered my demon.

A couple years ago, I did an interview with a Cleveland Clinic Dietitian, Kristin Kirkpatrick, about the signs of sugar addiction and how to kick the habit. She gave me great advice. It just took a few years to follow it.  I did another interview with her here so you can get the same advice.

Here are a few pointers:

  • Go cold turkey. You have to just stop and not replace sugar with fake sugars. Kristin says those are just as bad because you are giving your body the feeling and taste of sweets. It will NOT help you kick the addiction.
  • Go for fats. When you’re craving sugar, Kristin says reach for something like nuts or string cheese. Those types of fats will actually satiate your hunger and craving and also give you the added benefit of protein.
  • Get enough sleep.  Being sleep deprived will make your digestive hormones work against you and set you up to crave sugar.
  • Get the sugar OUT. Throw it in the garbage, give it away, or burn it. Whatever you have to do, Kristin says you can’t have your fix readily available. That means no emergency stash. And if you feel the urge to run to the store for a fix, you need to follow this advice more than anyone.

Kristin wrote an entire article on Huffington Post around the time I first talked to her about kicking my habit. It goes really in depth on the health costs and benefits of being addicted to sugar.

For me, the protein advice was the biggest helper. It was kind of gross, but I would keep deli turkey in the fridge at all times. I made sure to snack on something like that or string cheese before the cravings started.

The hardest part of the day was after dinner. But now I am proud to say I’m one of those annoying people who “can just eat a piece of fruit for dessert.” I used to despise those people.

Don’t get me wrong, I still indulge every once in a while. But most of the time, I can walk away and forget that cookie ever existed.

If you’ve kicked the habit, leave your advice below.

7 thoughts on “The Sweet Life: kicking the sugar habit

  1. I’ve decided if I have a dessert it will have to contain beneficial things such as fruit, oatmeal, nuts, etc My go-to is usually a fruit crisp with the fruit of the season as the star! I use olive oil and maple syrup in the crisp part as opposed to butter and sugar. We top it with real whipping cream. Nothing to feel guilty about!

    1. I love making fruit crisps with the seasonal best. I’m intrigued by using olive oil and maple syrup instead of butter and sugar and feel inspired to try. Thank you Lisa!

  2. I’m working on this myself right now and have given up all sugar, alcohol, and limited myself to one serving of low glycemic fruit per day. It’s so so tough even after a month and I hope to eventually balance an occasional indulgence. Thank you for sharing!

  3. I never really had a sweet tooth but I did find myself eating sugar for…no reason. Once I shifted my mindset to be that sugar wasn’t forbidden or bad, but something to be enjoyed in moderation, I mostly lost interest in it. I also kind of have rules – like if I am going to indulge in dessert it better be for something GOOD, not store-bought packaged cookies but something homemade. And I realized I go nuts for a really good cookie but could take or leave even really good cake – so I don’t even bother with the cake.

  4. That was really good advice. I am going to try kicking the sugar habit. You know what has been getting to me is the artificial sweeteners in yogurt. Some of them are so sweet I find it disgusting. I can understand why they tell you not to eat artificial sweeteners now, because even though you are not eating straight sugar your body is still think it is getting something sweet, so you keep craving it anyway. For this reason I am going to start buying regular yogurt now and see if there is a difference. Thanks for the advice Maureen

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