The start of spring and summer often inspires us to make healthier choices. Whether you hope to gain more energy, lose weight, sleep better, or just feel that it’s time for a change, reducing sugar intake is often a top priority. We constantly hear and talk about the benefits of quitting sugar. If you’re contemplating a sugar cleanse, you’ll find that psychological preparedness is vital. Part of that preparedness involves coming up with a plan that you can stick to.
Sugar is addictive. It alters biochemical pathways in our brain and tampers with our dopamine receptors, which makes us feel good. In order for us to get the next dopamine spike, however, we need a greater dose of sugar. That’s why about 80% of processed American food are laced with some form of sugar. We live in a culture where sugar is ubiquitous and oftentimes indistinguishable, carrying cryptic names like anhydrous dextrose, crystalline fructose, and evaporated cane juice. Sugar itself is a refined carbohydrate and source of calories that our bodies use as energy or store as fat. By the way, not all sugar is bad; it naturally occurs in fruits and other foods that, along with their healthy fiber content, provide our body with necessary nourishment. Excess sugar, and those hidden added sugars we don’t even realize exist can cause a multitude of issues.
High sugar content in processed food has been shown to contribute to common diseases such as high cholesterol, heart disease, fatty liver disease or cirrhosis, hypertension, hepatic insulin resistance, and slower metabolism & obesity. Increased appetite, insomnia, brain fog, mental chatter, depression, and various other symptoms all generate from excessive sugar consumption.
Here are some useful tips I use to help clients kick the sugar habit:
1. Find the sweetness in your life.
It is vitally important to invest in our own well-being, and the lack of self-nurturing is a common missing thread. Creating space for ourselves, and finding time to do things that bring joy are necessary to our health and wellness. Often, the people who are most susceptible to sugar cravings are working stressful jobs, living stressful lives, and feel out of balance. In these cases we may disconnect from what our passions are in life, to the point where life has become a series of obligations rather than enjoyment. Taking the time to invest in ourselves is a great long-term strategy to give up habits that do not serve us. When we are at ease and feel satisfied with life, the impulse to reach for sweets when stressed is greatly reduced.
2. Drink apple cider vinegar.
Raw apple cider vinegar helps to destroy candida yeast overgrowth in the body, which is often a contributing factor in sugar addiction. The body craves sugar to feed this yeast, which continues to grow and cause more cravings – as well as a host of other unpleasant symptoms. Be sure to buy only raw vinegars (apple cider or otherwise), as regular pasteurized vinegars can feed candida overgrowth and cause more sugar cravings. Apple cider vinegar also helps to change taste buds and after a while of supplementing with it, sugary foods often end up tasting too sweet. I have found people to crave less junk when they sip apple cider vinegar throughout the day. You can also use this vinegar to make your own healthy salad dressing. Try: Braags Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
3. Properly fuel your body.
In general, you want to get your calories from a balanced diet of the macronutrients protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. If you focus on clean eating—eating whole unprocessed foods as much as possible—you will be able to refocus your eating plan.
Protein helps your body feel full longer, so increasing it in your diet will help to curb those cravings, especially at that midday snack time. Try snacking on nuts, yogurt, or a hardboiled egg in place of processed and packaged snacks. Your body will thank you for it.
Carbs fall into three categories—sugars, starches, and fibers—but the body breaks down complex carbohydrates into simple sugars. Find yourself drawn to french fries, bread, and pasta? Your sugar fix originates in excess carbs. Avoid white and refined flour, rices, pastas, breads—and try nuts, seeds, and whole grains instead. If the carb is in its natural, unadulterated form, then it’s a good choice. When your cravings hit, try high-fiber foods to fill your belly and keep your digestive system moving like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. And don’t get stuck in the meal-label game—switch it up! Have eggs for dinner, avocado for breakfast, or oatmeal for lunch.
4. Stay hydrated!
While you can crave anything from chocolate to a salty snack, cravings for sweet foods are common when the body is dehydrated because it interferes with brain levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of well-being and happiness. Dehydration also makes it more difficult for the body to produce glycogen, a major source of fuel for our cells. A lack of fluids can cause difficulty in the production of energy output, and can trigger sugar cravings. It’s also not uncommon for the body to confuse the feeling of thirst with hunger, meaning that you may feel hungry when what you really need is water.
5. Train your taste buds to like bitter.
Train your taste buds to like the taste of bitter—it really does a lot to suppress the cravings for sugar. Try plain unflavored yogurt, and bitter greens like watercress, arugula, chicory, endive, and kale. Within 30 days, your taste buds will reset and you’ll crave less sugar.
6. Take the “sugar destroyer” herb.
Gymnema sylvestre is an herb in the milkweed family and known as a “sugar destroyer” in Ayurvedic medicine, and it desensitizes our taste buds to sweet items. It can help promote healthy blood sugar levels and reduce cholesterol due to supporting a healthy pancreas and liver function. It helps regenerate beta cells in the pancreas, which secrete insulin in order to take up sugar into the cells for energy. It also helps make cells more sensitive to receiving insulin. We tend to crave sweet items when we’re low on energy (perhaps not enough insulin or cells are resistant), stressed (increased cortisol causes the body to use sugar so we need to replenish), or poor sleep (also increases cortisol), for example, and gymnema helps balance spikes in blood sugar that could additionally be triggered by a poor diet. A few drops on your tongue before a meal can offset desiring sugar and last for about three hours, especially in conjunction with a nutritious diet and the desire to quit sugar. However, caution should be used if someone is taking oral medication or insulin, as it can alter prescription dosages. Try: Himalayan Herbals Gymnema
7. Utilize high-quality peppermint essential oil.
One of the easiest ways to begin your journey involves utilizing high-quality essential oils to retrain your brain, to curb the sugar cravings, and to revitalize your life. Amazing research has been done concerning cravings and essential oils. The most famous is a study by Dr. Alan Hirsch, who found that peppermint oil is amazingly effective at curbing cravings. Simply inhaling the scent of peppermint also awakens the senses and enables the brain to focus on the real task at hand. While it may be hard to believe that a scent can keep you from bingeing on sugar, aromatherapy can be the key to many of your health care concerns as an all-natural way to reclaim your vitality and wellness. Other essential oils that may help to curb cravings include black pepper, bergamot, cassia, cinnamon, clove, fennel, grapefruit, lemon, marjoram, and wild orange. Try: Amrita Therapeutic Essential Oils
We all have things we can change in our diets, our lives, our mindsets. Reducing sugar intake can be just the start of rebalancing your life. Don’t drastically cut out sugar from your diet and cause uncomfortable detox. Take it slow and let your body adjust. Start with a habit of awareness—being aware of labels, of what you put in your mouth, of your triggers, and of your personal wellness. Try mindfulness based exercises like yoga, tai chi, and meditation. Utilize high-quality essential oils to refocus your mind and body to rely less on sugar and more on the power of aromatherapy. You can make this change in your life by replacing sugar with a positive lifestyle that fuels your mind, body, and spirit!
*The information in this article is intended for your educational use only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
About the Author
Freya Farley is Evergreen’s Executive Director and an Acupuncturist at the Wellness Center at Evergreen where her practice focuses on Women’s Health and Fertility. Along with acupuncture, and herbal medicine, Freya practices a food-as-medicine approach, helping her clients utilize the healing powers of food to nourish their bodies mind and spirits. She offers private consultations & treatments as well as a weekly Community Acupuncture Clinic. The presence of yoga throughout Freya’s life has influenced and informed her ongoing path of health and wellness and she offers Open Studio morning yoga sessions to join in her practice.