Here comes the confession. I am a total, life-long sugar fiend. I have no limit when it comes to sweet treats, I love baking, I hoard chocolates and I am basically the grown-up version of that child who hovers by the lollies at a birthday party.
And I know. I know sugar is bad for me. It may even be worse for me than alcohol. I have bought every book on quitting sugar, tried and failed with things like rice malt syrup and sugar-free products. I made bliss balls!
The main problem was that I would start off in earnest with my goals, but then I'd do what I call "the thin edge of the wedge." I'd let myself have a square or two of dark chocolate (because it is healthy), which would lead to me having a sliver of chocolate cake, and then a Tim Tam and suddenly this is me:
I've learned a couple of things along the way in my various quests to break my sugar addiction: I look out for hidden sugars (I know that low-fat doesn't automatically mean it's healthy), I'd rather hold out for a real treat than a healthy alternative (also, if you eat 12 bliss balls you might as well have just had that chocolate bar in the first place . . . saying this for a friend) and I'll never be able to "quit" sugar. Life is too short and I like cake too much.
So instead, this year I want to find more of a balance and to not let sugar control me so much. So I asked nutritionist Amanda Ford from Zest + Zing for guidance for some tips on how to cut back on sugar (but not my will to live).
What's the first step for kicking a sugar habit?
The first step is really identifying sugars present in your diet. Many people believe that because they're not eating bags of lollies that they don't have much sugar in their diet. However there are loads of hidden sugars in packaged foods, flavoured yoghurts, muesli and snack bars, and even excessive consumption of natural sugars like fruit juices, smoothies and dried fruits, have an effect on your health.
Is going cold turkey a good idea?
Not for most people. If you are generally healthy and consume low sugar foods then you might be OK. However for most people, going out too hard might result in you giving up and throwing in the towel completely. Remember you may experience sugar withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue and headaches. So the recommendation is to slowly reduce the sugars in your diet until they're completely eliminated. However make sure you set yourself a timeframe to stick to!
How to handle the cravings? Do they ever go away?
It's inevitable that you will experience sugar cravings initially, normally for the first seven to 10 days at least. The key is to have a healthy alternative prepared for when that craving hits! Some healthy replacements ideas include herbal teas like liquorice root tea, homemade bliss balls, vegetable sticks and hummus or a spoonful of natural peanut butter.
What foods and supplements do you recommend when trying to give up sugar?
The key is to include low GI foods and protein in your diet, which help balance your blood sugar levels, reducing those sugar cravings. So consuming a wholefood diet which includes whole-grains like quinoa and brown rice, and proteins like lean meats, fish, eggs, legumes and raw nuts; is going to help fuel your body with the right foods to stay energised. Cinnamon is also a lovely natural blood sugar stabiliser, so add this to your morning smoothie, yoghurt or muesli.
Chromium and magnesium are two of the key nutrients involved in blood sugar control. Taking a daily supplement of these minerals can help regulate your appetite and control your sugar cravings, as well as providing many additional benefits!
I tend to be all or nothing, is there a way that you can truly learn moderation?
Through practice and experience, yes I think you can learn balance and moderation. It's something that many of us struggle with; but we know that consistency is the key and by finding your ideal balance, you'll achieve not only a healthy weight, but a healthy and happy life.
I also tend to 'thin edge of the wedge,' in that I have a tiny treat which then ends up being a not so little treat and then I think "Oh well, might as well keep going." Um, how do I break this?
While it's important to not deprive yourself or to feel guilty about food, you want to be able to exercise some willpower when it comes to treats. A good approach is to allow yourself to enjoy about two portion controlled treats a week. That way you're not depriving yourself, which just results in a blow-out! Portion size is key when it comes to enjoying treats, so the mindset of "I may as well eat the whole thing," is one which you want to switch to "I'm going to enjoy this small treat, and I'm going to save the rest so I can enjoy it later on without feeling any regret." So it's not an all or nothing approach!
Any additional advice on kicking a not-so-helpful habit?
You do need to replace habits with something. So finding a healthy alternative or distraction is a good approach. For example if you find yourself snacking on naughty foods after work, then why not schedule in your daily exercise at this time instead. That way, you're keeping yourself busy, doing your daily activity and you can come home ready for a healthy and wholesome dinner.
So just to be clear, if you really can't give it up, is it OK to have a little bit of sugar regularly?
Firstly, you want to make sure that you're using natural sugars and ditching any refined sugars like added raw sugar, sweets, chocolate, cakes, biscuits and sugary drinks. Allow yourself two sweet treats a week at the maximum and then on the other days, try and avoid sugar completely or for a natural sweet hit enjoy a piece of fresh fruit.