Welcome to 2017. Unfortunately, not much has changed since December, except perhaps that nagging, ravenous craving for sugar you now harbor every afternoon. Holiday festivities can make a real dent in anyone’s healthy lifestyle. If you have been regularly feeding the sugar monsters in your belly, here is a week-by-week guide to help you kill those cravings and regain a healthy relationship with sugar in an easy 6 weeks. Let’s get started:
WEEK 1: Cut out all liquid sugars and artificial sugars. Lay off the soda. That’s all you have to do the first week. Stop drinking all soda (that includes diet), sweetened teas, sugary fruit juices, hot chocolates, sweetened alcoholic beverages (it’s probably best to avoid alcohol during this time) and sweetened coffees. These sugars are extremely addictive and extremely unhealthy. If you’re a big soda drinker, try seltzer with a few frozen raspberries tossed in as a healthier, lightly sweet option.
If you already avoid liquid sugars, good job! Move on to week 2.
WEEK 2: Avoid all sweet desserts, treats and candies. Ice cream, packaged cookies, brownies, cupcakes, sweetened chocolates, caramels, popsicles, doughnuts, muffins, pastries, you name it. If you could eat it as a dessert, it’s time to cut it out of your diet. Yes, this includes things sweetened with maple syrup, raw honey and even stevia. The goal is to squash sugar addiction. You can’t do that if you’re still feeding your body’s quench for sweetness with natural or artificial sweeteners. (Stevia is a controversial sweeter. Although it is calorie-free and does not affect blood sugar levels, I agree with naturopath Lauren Geertsen’s argument for avoiding heavy stevia usage.)
If you really struggle with your sweet tooth, try some berries and coconut cream post-dinner once in a while to help you conquer your cravings and make yourself feel like you aren’t being deprived.
WEEK 3: Eat more greens. That’s right. All you have to do this week is eat more greens. Eat greens at every single meal. Lightly steamed, raw or sautéed. Kale, spinach, wheatgrass juice, broccoli, seaweed, leeks, cucumber, avocado, sprouts, peas, arugula, chard—if it’s a plant, it’s in. Other colored plants are great to add in as well, like sweet potatoes and beets and carrots, but really focus on amping up your green intake. Not only are greens great at reducing sugar cravings, but veggies are indisputably fantastic for your body. Experiment with green juices this week if you want (just don’t go heavy on fruit juice).
And of course, continue to avoid sugary drinks and treats.
WEEK 4: Cut out all condiments with added sugar. Sugar hides in many of our favorite condiments. These include ketchup, bottled marinades and even sriracha. If the label lists sugars, ditch it this week. The good news: many high quality dijon mustards have no added sugars!
What should you use instead? Play around with lots of spices during this week, like curry powder, paprika, nutmeg, cardamom and especially cinnamon. Cinnamon is subtly sweet and actually works to balance blood sugar levels. Have fun experimenting, and you’ll begin to appreciate the vast array of flavors out there that aren’t in the realm of ‘sweet’.
Continue to avoid sugary drinks and sweets, and keep eating those greens!
WEEK 5: Cut out any processed food products with added sugar. This is the big week. Highly-portable, packaged foods often are loaded with sugars. Even savory foods can have significant amounts of sweetener in them. Get to know your food this week, and ditch the products that have added sugars. This includes crackers, cereals, granolas, flavored yogurts, some peanut butters, many commercial breads, canned baked beans, pre-packaged sauces and meals, pasta sauce, etc. If it’s in a package and it has added sugar, it’s out.
Begin to start paying attention to labels. Look at how many grams of sugar are in a serving. Look at how large a serving is. Read the ingredients. Sugar has as many as 61 different names, but the most common you’ll likely see are: high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, cane sugar, succant, molasses, beet sugar, caramel, agave nectar, dextrin, dextrose, fructose, glucose, maltose, maltodextrin, malt syrup, saccharose and rice syrup.
Do your best to find sugarless replacements for your favorites, like natural peanuts butters or traditionally baked sourdough breads. You’ll probably find that your shopping will become more restricted to the outer aisles of the supermarket. This is a good thing. Quitting sugary processed foods can be an evolving process, so don’t worry if it takes a little longer than a week to phase out all that is packaged and sugar-laden. Take your time if you have to and phase out certain items bit by bit to ensure that you don’t get overwhelmed and give up on your progress entirely. This is for your health. The cravings will pass, and you will feel so much better as a result of all the time and hard work you have put in.
Keep it up! You’ve come so far!
WEEK 6: Drink more water. It’s your last week! You’ve completely nixed sugar from your diet! You’ve increased your green intake and trudged triumphantly through a month-long process of diminishing your sweet tooth. This final week is just about maintaining and hydrating. Wake up to a tepid glass of water with freshly squeezed lemon juice. Drink herbal teas throughout the day (herbal chai is especially great for when you are craving something sweet). Have a tall glass of water every 2 hours. Keeping hydrated has myriad benefits, but it can also keep sugar cravings at bay. In the meantime, keep up with your progress from the previous 5 weeks all the way to the finish line.
Just because the 6 weeks end doesn’t mean you should hop right back on the train towards Sweet City. Continue to try to implement these tips throughout your year. Sugar is a treat that should be thoroughly enjoyed. Make sure it doesn’t become a daily necessity.
*Post Script: While you don’t necessarily have to exercise to quit sugar, yoga is surprisingly beneficial in rewiring the brain and encouraging healthier lifestyle choices. In fact, yoga has been shown in studies to be highly effective at stabilizing blood sugar levels in those with Type II diabetes. It also helps you to become more aware and conscious of the needs of your own body. By encouraging focus along with cleansing breaths and movements, yoga promotes clean living habits. If you’ve struggled with diet, blood sugar and weight, it’s worth giving a regular yoga practice a try for these 6 weeks. It could change your life.