How I Beat My Addiction to Sugar | Help & Advice
Everyone loves food, right? And...we agree that a lot of people also like added sugar, right? Well, I didn't just like added sugar, I loved it. I couldn't get enough. No matter how much I had, I always craved more and it started to feel like sugar was ruling my life. After getting to a point where I felt like my nutrition was so bad that I needed to change or it would affect my health in irreversible ways, I decided to start figuring out what was going on and why I felt I needed sugar all of the time.
Why did I always crave sugar, even when I wasn't hungry? Was it something my brain was doing? Did I have an actual physical addiction? Was there something else I was actually craving? I didn't know, so I started to research general nutrition standards in the United States via the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and their recommended daily values for nutrition to see how much added sugar per day was normal.
So, what's considered a normal amount of added sugar by the FDA? Well, after observing and documenting what I usually ate in a day and adding everything up, I was pretty appalled by the types of foods and drinks I was consuming and how little nutrition they had overall. My diet was mostly saturated fats and added sugar, with a lot of refined carbohydrates, little protein and little vitamins and minerals.
I mean, I was tired all of the time, in pain most of the day, my menstrual cycle would last two weeks, I was hot all of the time, I had migraines a few times a month, my mental health was in a bad place and I felt like I was controlled by food. I wasn't overweight because my metabolism is fast, but just because I was a healthy weight, didn't mean I was healthy, because I just wasn't.
It was really hard to be faced with that because I wanted to feel free to eat what I wanted. I realized I looked forward to food and looked forward to the next time I would be able to consume something high in sugar and fat. Every time I was sad or stressed out, I would automatically get up and get a piece of candy or a Little Debbie, something sweet to ease my mental health pain, even though I didn't realize it at the time.
After realizing what I was doing (and eating), I started researching added sugar and what it does to your body. I found out that over time, the American food industry has been adding more sugar, fat and salt to our food to entice people to eat more, crave more and want more later. In a sense, to get us to become addicted to their food.
Companies engineer food to have textures unlike anything we can get in nature (chips are crunchy, salty and melt in your mouth almost immediately-what else in nature reflects that? I mean, really?). Companies add ingredients that are in their foods specifically to raise your blood sugar and drop it equally as fast so you crave more and more (ingredients like maltodextrin).
I found that maltodextrin was in so many of the foods I was eating and most of the foods had almost no nutrition, basically just refined carbohydrates with a whole lot of salt and some maltodextrin sprinkled in to make me want to eat a whole bag of chips instead of just a few.
In nature, sugar is mostly found in foods that also have fiber in them, which allows your body to digest the food more slowly, which ensures that your blood sugar doesn't spike then crash. Do you ever eat a big meal, then feel super tired afterwards? Do you sometimes need to take a nap? Well, that, for me, meant that my blood sugar raised quickly, then crashed and I had no energy, so I needed a nap.
What I Used to Eat:
Pretty much every day was like, get up, eat a breakfast with poor nutrition, make a latte that contained about two and a half cups of whole milk, six pumps of whatever Torani syrup I had (full sugar versions) and two shots of espresso. That iced latte alone had about 124 grams of added sugar. The recommended daily value is 24 grams of sugar and right in the beginning of my day, I was going over it by an excessive amount.
My lunch was usually a bowl of Progresso soup (very salty, not a lot of calories and very little nutrition). My dinner was usually some kind of fast food (McDonald's, Chinese take-out, etc.) because I was in too much pain to cook. I'd usually eat a Big Mac meal with a large Coke and have some Pepperidge Farm cookies for dessert. So, not a very nutritious diet at all.
I did used to cook too, so it wasn't all fast food. However, even though my food tasted really good, it still wasn't healthy. I'd make cheesy chicken risotto, salmon with a lemon-cream sauce, blue-cheese hamburgers on a brioche bun, pumpkin pie, no-bake peanut butter cheesecake, toffee-chocolate-chip peanut butter cookies...everything and anything I'd find that sounded good in a cookbook or online, I'd make and we'd eat it. I'd very rarely make room in a recipe for vegetables and fruits and I'd use lots of full-fat butter, heavy cream and sugar in my recipes.
Once I realized how poor my diet was, I thought about how I was supposed to change. My entire life consisted of eating fast food occasionally, eating a lot of added sugar every day (sodas, lattes, Arizona Lemon Iced Tea, cookies, ice cream, chocolate, etc.), and a lot of saturated fat. How could I possibly change what was now decades of bad habits?
I decided first to cut out the lattes and only drink Starbucks on the weekends. I'd usually get a Venti Chai Latte on Saturdays, but I thought I could drink a Grande instead with less syrup and soy milk instead of whole milk. I also decided to go to the grocery store and look at all the foods I would normally choose to buy and read the nutrition labels.
It was super stressful the first week of this (in January 2022) because I hadn't learned to read nutrition labels in the past, didn't particularly care about my nutrition and felt overwhelmed by all the food in the store. Everything I looked at seemed to be bad, everything I was drawn to had little nutritional value and I felt crazy with the need to eat sugar. However, I noticed after three days, my incessant urge to eat sugar had gone down quite a bit. I no longer felt like every minute of the day was me trying to battle my brain, which was telling me I needed sugar.
After about a week, I felt a whole lot better, with my urges for sugar going down to only a couple times a day. I started to notice things that used to be just right started tasting very salty, very sweet and just...off. I felt like my palate had changed and I was shocked at how quickly I was able to detect sweetness and saltiness at lower levels. It was like my brain adjusted to what it was given and I wasn't a slave to the cravings like I had been for so many years.
From the end of January of 2022 (I started on the 21st) until about the beginning of March of 2022, I started intensely craving vegetables and fruits, nuts and foods with high nutritional value. I used to exclusively eat Martin's Potato Bread, but found it started to taste gross and bland to me. I switched to Dave's Killer Bread, Power Seed and Good Seed, and noticed I liked the flavors of them more, was actually full after I ate them and felt like they had way more flavor. I also started to hate Skippy Peanut Butter, as it started to taste extremely sweet to me, almost like eating a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.
Quite honestly,, never in my life had peanut butter tasted sweet and I was shocked to find that had happened. I switched to salted creamy almond butter from Trader Joe's (which is awesome, by the way) and it tasted really good to me.
From January 21, 2022 to June 2022, I pretty much stuck to these daily values:
Calories: 1560-1650 a day
Saturated Fat: 20 grams a day max
Added Sugar: 24 grams a day max
Protein: 85-100 grams a day
Carbohydrates (always complex): 124 grams a day max
Sodium: Less than 2,300 grams a day
I didn't have a limit on unsaturated fats and I tried to keep my vitamins and minerals as high as possible. I started using the MyFitnessPal app to track my food and have used it every day since January of 2022. I weigh all of my food and it's become a habit.
I want to talk a little about weighing my food because when I started, I thought I would weigh it at first, like for a few months, then stop once I had an idea of what proper portions looked like. I learned though, it's almost impossible to judge how much something weighs and what a portion looks like. I like knowing that I'm getting the proper amounts of food and drinks and my nutrition has been much better for it.
I also just weigh everything instead of using measuring cups or spoons. You'd be surprised how much those tools are off because they can't account for different shapes, if you mound dry ingredients like sugar, flour, etc., so I found amounts that I assumed were a cup or a tablespoon were either much more or much less than was measured in those tools. It's just better to use a scale and you'll always know exactly how much you are eating.
Making Slight Modifications Along the Way:
Right around the middle of June of 2022, I noticed that I still felt a little sluggish. I decided to cut my carbohydrates down to 85 grams a day and to stop eating added sugar. I decided to stop because I had noticed that I no longer craved added sugar and didn't look forward to eating things with added sugar, almost (very surprising to me) like it was a chore.
It took about a week of feeling like I had some kind of flu (from what I gathered, it sounded a lot like when people get Keto flu), I felt really good. I felt like I had way more energy, even more than before and I still didn't feel hungry between meals or after meals.
What I Eat Now & What I've Learned About Food:
Around June 2022, when I reduced my carbohydrates and stopped eating added sugar, I had stopped eating Dave's Killer Bread and switched to Ezekiel English muffins because they had no added sugar. There are different types of whole wheat bread, tortillas, hamburger buns, etc., but you have to read the ingredients and nutrition label, because what I've learned is that just because something says it is whole wheat, doesn't mean it is. You really have to look at the food you're eating, because food companies will sneak sugar, refined flour and preservatives you may not want to eat in their food for various reasons.
You might be wondering about if I eat alternative sugar or "fake sugar", as I call it. No, I have never liked the taste of alternative sugar, no matter if it's something like aspartame or something more natural, like Stevia, I just have never liked the taste. The other reason I don't eat anything with fake sugar is that it primes your body to think that it is going to get real sugar and can make your cravings for sugar and/or refined carbohydrates worse than if you had just had real sugar in the first place.
As far as drinks, I just drink coffee, cold brew, Americano's, naturally flavored seltzer water, water, iced tea and hot tea. It was weird, because I was never able to drink hot tea without sugar because it was too bitter for me. As I reduced my sugar intake, I noticed that tea didn't taste as bitter and I could drink it without sugar at all. Coffee was the same, as I reduced my sugar and fat intake, it became less bitter for me overall. I used to put six-seven tablespoons in a cup and a half of coffee, now I'm using four tablespoons (60 ml) per 12 ounces.
My diet would probably be considered mostly a Mediterranean diet. I eat fish such as salmon, barramundi, calamari, sardines and anchovies. I eat lean chicken, lots of vegetables and fruits (2 1/2-3 cups of vegetables a day and half a cup of fruit), whole grains, extra virgin olive oil (only get olive oil that says it's from Italy or it might be cut with an inflammatory oil like canola oil, etc.), nuts (pistachios, hazelnuts, cashews, almonds, peanuts, macadamia nuts and walnuts) and legumes (peas, edamame, black beans, kidney beans and navy beans).
Outside of the Mediterranean diet, I occasionally eat beef, pork, and alternative meats like Impossible Meat and Beyond Meat. I eat Turkish figs, pickles, eggs, cheese, half & half more often, but in small amounts.
Do I Miss the Food I Used to Eat? Am I Resentful of Others?
I thought I would miss drinking soda, sweetened iced tea, sweetened tea and coffee, Starbucks Coffee and the freedom to go wherever I wanted to eat and make whatever I wanted to eat, but I don't. I see people eating foods I used to eat and drinking soda at so many places and while at first, I was incredibly jealous and resentful that I couldn't have what they were having, after I reduced my sugar intake and my cravings diminished, I found that I noticed I didn't care as much over time and not at all after a few months.
I remember the first week my husband and I changed our eating habits. It was the third day and I thought I was going crazy with my need for sugar and I remember thinking, I never want to feel like this again, no matter what. It's not worth feeling like this. No soda or cake could ever be worth being addicted, being in so much pain I could barely walk, having my entire body be so inflamed, having poor health and being scared to go to the doctor because I knew I was eating so badly and it was affecting my health.
What could be more important than my health? It affects everything. My life has changed so much for the better and I feel so proud that I did something that was so difficult. I feel like the most difficult parts are: the first three days, being around other people eating what you used to eat (at first), throwing out food I used to eat, seeing commercials for fast food (at first) and being confronted by events that were closely tied to food (like birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Halloween, Easter, Fourth of July and Memorial Day.
I will tell you everything became a lot easier the more time went on. Where I used to question when I'd start to feel better or if I'd ever stop craving sugar and fat, I started feeling better a lot faster than I had ever dreamed.
The Hardest Part:
I think the hardest part is just getting started. A few months before I changed my diet, I had started having thoughts of not wanting to consume so much sugar. I was tired of getting sick and feeling so badly. I was tired of not being able to do anything and I thought, well, it could be your diet, so maybe you can change some things. I think by gradually changing over time, it helped me come to terms with the change in a mentally healthy way.
As I could start to walk more and do more, I wanted more of that. I could clearly see that the food I had been eating had been hurting me and had only temporarily made me happy. After eating whole grains and vegetables, I didn't have the highs and lows that I had after eating sugar. I didn't feel gross or sick, I didn't feel like I wanted more. I felt fuller longer and healthier overall.
I really feel like it was my brain that missed the dopamine high I got from eating sugar and saturated fat, not the actual food. It was like, once I showed my brain who was boss and that it wasn't getting those things anymore, it accepted it more quickly than I ever could have imagined.
The Biggest Changes:
The biggest things I noticed after changing my diet completely (besides having more energy overall and no cravings) were: no more migraines, my menstrual cycle, for the first time in my entire life, had gone from 14 days long with extremely large clots and a lot of pain to a normal cycle (seven days), with almost no clots and very little pain/cramps, my blood sugar went to normal levels, my triglycerides, which were high, went to normal levels, my cholesterol went down to normal levels, my liver became healthier and my heart was tremendously healthier.
I went from sitting on the couch most days because I could barely walk to being able to make three meals a day, plus coffee and being able to walk around pretty much all day. I also went from barely being able to walk 50 feet at the beach to being able to walk four miles without stopping at Universal Studios. I used to have to take 800 mg of Motrin four times a day and noticed after a couple of months that I didn't have to take any at all.
I had very low potassium levels, bad enough that I had to go the ER at one point to get an IV and get my levels up, low B-12 levels and was iron-deficiency anemic, and all have gone up to normal, healthy levels.
My hair was not very thick before and I've noticed over time, my hair is much thicker and shinier than before and where it used to fall out pretty easily, I hardly have any hair come out when I brush my hair now. My skin used to be more sensitive, with eczema breakouts on my face, scalp and hands weekly, and I've noticed that my skin is less dry overall, I have very few eczema breakouts.
I didn't lose a lot of weight, although I lost some, but I still lost a lot of fat and inches, about four inches around my torso. I went from a size six to between a size two/zero and I really feel like that extra fat was from eating refined carbohydrates, which immediately turn to sugar in your body, which turns to fat, as well as ingesting the excessive amounts of sugar and saturated fat. Once I stopped eating those things in excessive amounts, all the unhealthy fat in my abdomen starting being burned off.
Another big thing I noticed was that I started to feel colder in my house. Whereas before I'd normally have the temperature at 71/72 degrees during the day and 67 at night, I started to feel cold and needed to raise the temperature. We now have the temperature at 79 degrees during the day and 74 at night.
My husband and I are not underweight and we have healthy BMI's, so I thought that was something that only happened to people that are severely underweight or sick. It just seems that my body has to work less hard at keeping me cool and my hormones have become more regulated as my body heals, which is evidenced by my menstrual cycle being normal for the first time in my entire life.
This is very personal information that I wouldn't normally share, but I feel that it is important to open up and tell people about how bad my nutrition was, how poor my health was and how I changed. Reading about how the typical American eats via the FDA website and from heavily researched books makes me believe I was not alone in how badly I used to eat. I notice in the grocery store, people generally fill their carts up with the foods I used to eat. It's normal to get fast food a few times a week and it's normal to get Starbucks Coffee for a treat.
Do People Look At Me Differently? Do People Judge Me?
When my husband and I go to the grocery store, our cart now is primarily filled with vegetables, fruits, meat, alternative meat, eggs, fish, nuts and coffee. While it's not as bad at Whole Foods as it is at Trader Joe's, Target and Publix, we usually get looks when we are getting food like we are crazy health food nuts, which sometimes makes me feel like what we are doing is super abnormal.
However, I can see the evidence in how I feel and what's going on with my body and I know this journey, which seemed impossible in the beginning, is worth it and anyone who decides to cut sugar, refined carbs and excessive salt and fat out of their diets will feel tremendously better.
Do I Feel Deprived?:
I do feel like this is a life-long, somewhat difficult commitment because I now make almost all of our food from scratch. We don't eat out at fast food places anymore and we hardly eat processed foods, so the conveniences that we used to have are gone, but I don't feel that I am missing anything. I feel better knowing exactly what I am eating, knowing it is fresh and the flavors are way better than anything I've ever eaten at fast food places.
Some of you might question if I feel deprived, and I don't. We still eat things like ribeye steak, pork tenderloin, salmon, whole-wheat quesadillas, whole-wheat pizza, pumpkin scones, Ezekiel English muffins, coffee with half & half, etc., but it all fits in the daily recommended values.
Challenges Along the Way:
The things I noticed before I stopped eating added sugar entirely were that I would get triggered by memories of eating specific foods. It was strange, because if I wasn't reminded of something, I didn't want it, but seeing someone get cake on their birthday or eat a New York style pizza at a restaurant made me intensely want to eat those foods, even though logically I didn't want it. Those memories were tied to fun times I had had with my husband and the food reminded me of those times, so I had to learn to separate food from events and learn how to celebrate events without food. It took until about July of 2022 where I didn't feel like that anymore.
At first, I wasn't sure what I was going to do about my birthday, as I had always celebrated with cake and ate at whatever restaurants I wanted to that day. I would also go to Krispy Kreme and get three glazed doughnuts and a frozen sugary drink. I thought that I would make my own cake, only with less sugar or maybe have some pie, as those sometimes have less sugar than cake.
Around July of 2022, I came to the conclusion that I didn't have to celebrate occasions with food and I'd probably be better off if I learned to separate food from celebrations. This was definitely an alien concept as I could not imagine celebrating holidays without food, especially desserts. I'd always heard, "Everything in moderation", but to me, since sugar was like a drug to me and no matter how much I had ever had, it was never enough, I saw that if I had sugar occasionally, I could very easily slip back into having a little, then having more and more as my brain tried to trick me into eating it.
I decided it would be better to just not have it. I mean, if you were addicted to cocaine, you very well couldn't just have a little cocaine on your birthday, then just at Christmas and maybe a little on the Fourth of July, could you? I mean, I guess you could, but you'd probably get addicted again.
I don't want that kind of temptation and I don't want to introduce inflammatory foods to my body again. Sugar, saturated fat, trans fat and refined carbohydrates are all inflammatory to your body. They will create all kinds of havoc to your body if you consume them in excess amounts. The thing is, you might never know how much they are affecting your body until you stop consuming them and start eating non-inflammatory foods.
Before I changed, I just thought my pain was connected to a severe ankle injury I'd had in my past. I'd had three surgeries to repair it and of course the area was inflamed. I had arthritis, so I thought I just needed pain killers for my joint pain and overall pain. I was taking so much Motrin because I just hurt all day, every day. At no point was I ever not in pain. I would cry at night because I couldn't sleep and wondered what kind of life I was living. I felt trapped in my own body and although I blamed my pain on the weather and my arthritis, I knew deep down that it was because I was eating foods that weren't helping my body, only hurting it.
You can only change what you eat when you are ready to do it. When you start having urges to have less sugar, salt, fat, etc., that's when you'll know you're ready to make changes. It's not impossible and you'll feel much better more quickly than you ever could have imagined, but you have to be in the mindset that you're helping your body, not taking something away. You absolutely cannot eat better for a while, then go back to how you were eating before. It just doesn't work, you just go back into whatever foods you were addicted to before. The only way to stop is to actually stop and know you will feel better, be healthier, not be controlled by food, cravings and urges and you will be happier without food that only makes you feel bad.
How Food Companies Manipulate Us:
I learned that one of the things food companies do to get you addicted to food is by using pleasant memories/experiences linked to their product. If you look at Coca-Cola for example, their commercials during Christmas come to mind, a cute polar bear family, joining together at Christmas to share a Coke. That makes you tie Coke to family, Christmas, coming together, warmth and happiness. It's very powerful stuff and a pleasant memory tied to a food or drink can tie you to it in a very significant way.
Starbucks Coffee has a saying on their cups that states: "That first sip feeling", which to me, is also known as sugar hitting your brain, making you instantly get a hit of dopamine, which makes you feel super happy, almost euphoric. Your brain releases dopamine every time you have sugar. So, no wonder it craves it, right? The same thing happens when you eat refined carbohydrates, you feel happy, but then what...you feel tired, sad, and you're still hungry? So, you say to yourself, "I need a treat", "I deserve it". You can find yourself in this loop where you feel happy and euphoric as soon as you have the food and/or drink that gives you that hit of dopamine, but as soon as it's over, you can feel physically and mentally terrible.
What I Noticed:
As I reduced my sugar intake, I noticed that my brain was very sneaky. I didn't outright notice that I was craving sugar, fat, and refined carbohydrates to make me happy and didn't notice how I'd go from one food/drink to another to keep that high going, but after I stopped giving my brain what it thought it wanted, I noticed it more and more and was disgusted by how much I felt betrayed by food companies, myself, and the FDA for not regulating salt, fat and sugar. I knew the only way I could take control was by recognizing what I was doing and making sure I had foods that didn't make me feel like I needed them.
I feel that once I started tracking my food, weighing my food and adding highly nutritious food to my diet, room for sugar, refined carbohydrates and fats just weren't there. I learned over months how to eat better, not within a week or two. It takes time to change, to really switch to a more nutritious diet. I would never go back to how I used to eat. I don't miss cake, ice cream, cookies, fried food, McDonald's or anything like that. Whereas I used to feel like I needed certain foods to feel happy, I now just know that I look forward to having meals that taste amazing when I eat them, feel full and complete after I eat them and do not have any negative effects from eating them.
I used to get food poisoning from fast food quite often, my gut flora was imbalanced and I just felt generally terrible after eating. I don't think you really notice how off and bad you feel until you start eating better. It's like your brain is so addicted to sugar, fat and refined carbohydrates, you only care about eating those things and try not to think about how bad you feel. Once I stopped, I started to notice how much better I felt and how much I wanted to keep going.
Is It Possible to Change For Good?:
If you want to change, it is possible, but it's not going to happen overnight. It takes a strong will to change, supportive people in your life and knowing you have to take it day-by-day. It does get easier and you will see how much better your life, health and spirit is without excess sugar and fat.
My husband changed with me and he also feels a million times better. We both helped each other and would point out how much better we felt, how the change was positive and how we will always eat the way we eat now. It's like, once you get over that feeling that something is being taken away from you, you realize it was a lie. You are gaining so much and losing nothing, just a toxic way of living.
Here are some links to books and information about food, Mediterranean diet, FDA information, MyPlate information and books I've read about sugar and food companies that are really interesting (none of these are affiliate links and I am not compensated for these links):
Have you quit an addiction to sugar? Do you feel like you have an addiction to sugar? Did you ever realize how much your diet affects you? What do you plan on changing in your diet in the future? What do you think about different diet styles?
I mostly eat a Mediterranean diet and feel those are the best types of food for my body. Have you ever tried the Mediterranean diet? Do you feel that it works for you?
What changes have you noticed in your body if you've started eating a highly nutritious diet? Please share your thoughts below!