One writer shares her monthlong quest to break her dessert addiction.
Photo: OlegDoroshin / Shutterstock
I've had a sweet tooth my entire life. Give me a box of cookies and—until last month—I would have polished them off solo. I'd even look at the dessert menu at restaurants before deciding how healthy to be for the entrée. The addiction was real.
But after hitting my mid-30s, the health benefits of cutting back suddenly seemed urgent. I was eating just as much sugar as I did when I was younger, but my body was processing it differently. For instance, I've slowly gained weight around my midsection, a risk factor for insulin resistance, which ultimately leads to type 2 diabetes. Yikes. (Related: Ever Wonder What All That Sugar *Really* Does to Your Body?)
I began reading up on how blood sugar affects my body through start-ups such as Day Two, a service that tests your gut microbiome in an effort to predict how your blood sugar will react to certain foods. Finding out about the history of the powerful sugar lobby in the U.S. only confirmed my decision. (Full disclosure: I was also eager to find out if the glowing skin benefits were real.)
Still, as a true dessert lover, I knew I wasn't ready to go cold turkey. (And, in my defense, there's science showing that completely cutting sugar out of your diet can sabotage your fitness goals.) Instead, I decided to make a committed effort to cut back on my intake. With summer coming, I was eager to feel (and look) my best—giving me a concrete goal to keep in mind.
Since I had tried and failed to make the move in the past, giving up at the first sign of stress during a busy workweek, I realized I'd have to do things differently. I decided on a few parameters, including eating breakfast without added sugar to set the tone for the day, and writing down any items I did have with added sugar to make me more mindful of what I was eating. I didn't want the monthlong exercise to feel restrictive, but something I could stick to for months, or years.
So how'd I fare? My aim was to curb my cravings and not be tempted by every chocolate croissant, and I've been relatively successful in my quest. But that's not to say the past month has been easy—retraining my sweet tooth not to crave simple carbs or desserts is still a work in progress. While it's getting easier to eat less sugar at home, I still struggle when at a party or hanging out with friends. Not eating dessert or birthday cake still just feels like I'm missing out. (To deal with it, I try to find a willing partner to share with me or just steal a few bites from my husband.)
On the upside, I've shed a few pounds and feel less bloated overall. To be honest, I'm motivated beyond the numbers I see on the scale. It's easier to focus on my work throughout the day, my cravings have subsided, and my skin breaks out less often. And because I'm more choosy with my sweets, I find I enjoy them more when I do indulge. Bonus: Even natural fruit tastes sweeter to me these days.
If you're looking to cut back on sugar, there are a few tricks that can make the process less painful. Here are five things that have helped me make the transition away from processed sugar that I think could work for you, too.
1. Try a morning drink.
I was initially skeptical about a wacky pre-breakfast morning drink, but I decided to try out a riff on the trendy Master Cleanse—a mix of apple cider vinegar, lemon water, cayenne, and Stevia. Within a week I became a convert of what's reportedly Beyoncé's favorite concoction. Drinking this as a morning pick-me-up meant I wasn't reaching for sugary snacks as a substitute for a real meal (or finishing my kids' breakfast). I'm also experimenting by throwing in other spices such as cinnamon, a natural appetite suppressant, or opting for a bottle of Suja's Probiotic Vinegar Juices, which also helps me curb my cravings and better ease into the day.
2. Fill up on healthy foods.
Before I start to feel extra hungry—which is when I'm more prone to reach for sugar—I'm making an effort to eat fiber-filled salads or simple raw vegetables with hummus. Noticing that I'm hungry well before I'm ready to eat whatever I can grab allows me to have a healthier, more thought-out meal. If I still have cravings for sweets at the end of a healthy meal, I've found that low-calorie hard candy, including MealEnders lozenges, help keep them at bay.
3. Save sugar for the evening.
During my experiment, I found it way easier to fight sugar cravings during the day than at night. (And it's not just me—the body's circadian rhythm is to blame.) So while I don't totally cave to my cravings the way I did in the past, I now reserve the occasional sweet treat for the evening after dinner when I know my body will be craving it the most. By working with my body rather than against it, I've been able to cut back on my overall intake.
4. Avoid personal trigger foods.
For me, the struggle with sugar is always about portion control. I've realized that eating stuff I love in small quantities takes more willpower than simply resisting altogether, and that extends to sugar. That means I've stopped storing my favorites—including chocolate wafers, stroopwafels, hazelnut spread, and ANY cookies whatsoever—to keep from feeling tempted. Instead, I keep around some ultra-dark 80 percent chocolate. Since I don't love super-dark chocolate, if I'm really craving sweets I can reach for a piece without being tempted to go overboard and eat the entire bar in one sitting.
5. Don't deprive yourself.
While I don't regularly stock my pantry with my "triggers," I also don't deprive myself of a homemade dessert or the comfort of indulging in special sweets I loved as a child. And I don't force myself to drink my coffee black either (though I'm trying more natural sweeteners such as coconut sugar and date juice to keep from using processed sugar). But I *will* reinstate my daily ice cream habit that starts once the weather warms up just because not depriving myself of things I love keeps me from feeling like I'm really sacrificing it all—which is so much more sustainable. (And there's research to back up the need for cheat days, too!)