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Four realistic steps to end a dangerous, health-robbing sugar addiction at your own pace without debilitating detox symptoms or discomfort.
Sugar addiction is a very real and growing problem that has the potential to steal your health just as much as other more high profile dependency issues. Check out this email from Regina asking for help.
Dear Sarah, I’m sure you get lots of emails every day but I sure hope you can give me some advice. I’m 52 years old and a horrific sugar addict. At six weeks old, my mother started me on chocolate milk and other than very short periods of time, I don’t think I have been without sugar. It doesn’t matter what form it is in…just have sugar. This morning I told a friend that I could be rolled in chocolate and be happy!
So, you see my problem. Please help me get off sugar. Even typing that makes me start shaking and looking for my next fix!! I’m working very hard to change our eating habits. We grow almost all of our food…veggies, beef, pork, eggs, chicken, milk. This week I started making our butter, yogurt, etc. and hope to be making hard cheeses soon. Can you help a middle-aged, over weight, grandmother improve her health? Thank you so much, Regina
Regina, I can relate to your situation. I used to be a pretty dedicated sugar junkie myself back in my 20’s. I was the gal who was scarfing down the Snickers bar (King Size, no less!) at 3 pm every day at my desk while I worked a stressful, travel packed, restaurant loaded corporate lifestyle.
A box of donuts on the conference room table was my idea of a good start to the day!
Even after I had the good sense to quit that career and start working from home in 1996, I still had trouble conquering the sugar monster.
Not surprisingly, I was hypoglycemic from the misguided but supposedly “healthy” low-fat lifestyle I was following. Despite eating organic fruits, veggies, and meats much of the time, all that sugar made me a nervous wreck not to mention incredibly moody from seesawing blood sugar.
I’m happy to say that my sugar addiction days are long behind me and while I do still look longingly at a box of Dunkin Donuts, I pass them by. While I do give in and eat one bite-sized munchkin from time to time, I have found the hard way (refined sugar gives me such a nasty headache!) that choosing to eat none at all is far easier than indulging even just a bite or two!
So, how did I do it? How did I slay the sugar monster and keep it at bay for so many years?
Here’s the protocol for slaying a sugar addiction for good without any nasty detox symptoms taking your down for a week. I’m sure there are other approaches that would work just fine too. Here’s what worked for me and has enabled me to stay sugar addiction-free for many years.
How to End Sugar Addiction for GOOD
Below are the four steps for ending a sugar addiction for the long haul. It is important to note that how long each step takes is completely up to you. There is no hard and fast schedule for completion.
The point is to continue to make progress even if one step takes a bit longer than the others. And, if you have a setback, that isn’t the end of the world. You can continue to move forward. Progress, not perfection is the ultimate goal!
Step 1: Replace ALL Refined Sugar with Natural Sweeteners
This step means exactly what it says. You must get rid of all the white sugar and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in your home wherever it may lurk and replace it with natural, whole forms of sugar like honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar and sucanat (whole cane sugar). Do not use agave as it is highly processed.
Don’t forget condiments .. they are a big source of HFCS. Replace them with condiments from the health food store that taste just as good and don’t have some form of refined sugar as the main ingredient.
Not ready to get rid of soda entirely? Then buy soda only from the health food store! There are brands available there that use unrefined cane sugar instead of HFCS. These sodas taste terrific. You won’t miss a thing taste and satisfaction-wise by drinking them, I can assure you.
Stir sucanat or coconut sugar into your tea or coffee instead of white sugar. Only whole, unprocessed sweeteners make the cut here.
Replace those candy bars with healthfood store versions that use whole cane sugar instead of refined white sugar as the sweetener.
Whatever you do, DON”T replace the refined sugars with artificial sweeteners.
Studies have shown that folks who consume artificial sweeteners have more sweet cravings than folks who just eat the sugar in its natural form!
Be aware that you are going to have to start reading labels to complete this step. Refined sugar is hidden everywhere in processed foods!
The goal in this step is not to reduce sugar consumption but simply to replace it with a more nutritious, unprocessed, whole form of sugar.
When you have accomplished this significant step forward, CONGRATULATIONS! You are now ready to proceed…
Step 2: Increase the Amount of Whole, Unprocessed Fats in Your Diet
The sugar cravings many of us experience are due to the lack of enough healthy, whole fats in our diet. Dietary fat stabilizes blood sugar .. sweet cravings become overwhelming on dips in blood sugar.
I used to think that it was a lack of willpower that was preventing me from succeeding in getting my sugar cravings under control. As it turned out, it wasn’t a lack of willpower at all. It was my low-fat diet that was the primary problem.
Once I switched from skim milk to whole milk (preferably unprocessed directly from the farm), the whole yogurt from low-fat or fat-free yogurt, and butter from vegetable oil and butter substitutes, I noticed my sugar cravings rapidly diminished!
As part of this step, be sure to clear out of your pantry any item that features a “reduced-fat” or “fat-free” marketing line on the package.
Fat is your friend when you SLAY the sugar monster!
So go ahead and load up on butter – the best quality your budget can afford. Eat that delicious fat that surrounds your grass-fed steak. It tastes great for a reason! It is full of nutrition and it is a huge asset in stabilizing your blood sugar.
Don’t worry that your triglycerides will shoot to the moon and that you will drop dead of a heart attack. It is the factory fats that are so dangerous to your cardiovascular health, not whole unprocessed fats in milk, cream, eggs, and butter. Doctors and nutritionists who tell you otherwise are not up on their research.
Definitely avoid transfats, partially hydrogenated fats, interesterified fats, and any other rancid, cheap vegetable oils that are used in processed foods. But welcome with open arms cream, butter, egg yolks, coconut oil, and other forms of traditional, nourishing fats.
As you increase the whole fats in your diet, most people find the introduction of a therapeutic strength probiotic and homemade fermented foods to be of great benefit.
Probiotics will help to rebalance gut bacteria to a favorable ratio and keep candida under control. There are dozens of recipes on this blog that show you how to make all kinds of fermented foods and fermented drinks that will keep those pathogenic yeasts in your gut under control that are a big contributor to out of control sugar cravings. Homemade kombucha is an excellent choice for this purpose (NOT store brands that are high in sugar!).
Step 3: Remove All Forms of Processed, Whole Sugars From Your Home
Once you have abandoned the low-fat lifestyle and embraced traditional fats in your home, you are ready for the next step. Get rid of all processed sugar foods in your home even if made with organic, whole natural sweeteners.
That’s right, lose the natural sodas, organic cookies, pop tarts, organic chocolate, and any other organic junk food that you started buying when you switched from refined sugar to natural sugars in step one above.
This may seem difficult but wait…let me explain.
You can still eat as much natural, whole sugars as you want. Examples include maple syrup, sucanat, coconut sugar, and date syrup.
The catch is that now you can’t buy them…you have to make them yourself.
So if you want chocolate chip cookies, have at it. You must make them yourself using a cookie recipe using whole sweeteners. You can’t just walk to the pantry and pick up a bag of Newman’s Organic Chocolate Chip Cookies.
What this step introduces is the inconvenience factor.
When something is inconvenient, most of the time, you will just skip doing it, am I right?
For example, if I have a bag of organic chocolate chip cookies in the pantry and a very stressful event occurs suddenly out of the blue, the chances that I am going to walk to the pantry and eat some, or more likely, the entire box of cookies is rather high.
At least it is for me.
If, on the other hand, I don’t have any prepackaged, easy to munch organic cookies in my pantry at all, the chances that I will whip out the mixing bowl and make some chocolate chip cookies myself are much much lower.
In this step, you are still allowed to drive to the store and buy some organic cookies if your craving is overwhelming. But, when you walk through your front door, whatever you haven’t eaten in the car gets thrown in the trash (or given away). That’s right – they hit the circular file.
Only homemade sweets made with natural sugars are allowed in your home from this step forward. You can make as many homemade sweets as you like and consume as many as you like. But, they must be made by hand.
This step is where the rubber meets the road. Can you do it? You absolutely can if you are eating lots of whole fats in your diet! Eating lots of whole, unprocessed fats is your ace in the hole because your cravings will never be overwhelming as your blood sugar will be stable the majority of the time.
Step 4: No More than 3 TBL (36 grams) of Natural Sugars per Day
Congratulations are in order if you have made it this far to the fourth and final step. You are now 90% of the way to slaying the sugar monster in your life!
The final step involves a gradual reduction in the amount of natural sugars you consume to a safe level of no more than 36 grams per day. According to Tom Valentine in his classic anthology Search for Health, significant immune system suppression begins to occur above 36 grams of sugar from all sources on any given day.
This is the amount for adults, by the way. It would be about half (18 grams) for children. This is the amount you must try to refrain from exceeding in any given day. Note that the natural sugar in fresh or dried fruit counts toward this daily total.
How long should this step take? As long as is necessary. For some, it will take one week. Others may find it takes several months. The point is to keep moving forward and don’t give up if you fall off the wagon on occasion. Just get up, dust yourself off, and keep going!
Ideally speaking, some of your days should not include any sweets at all after a while. Having a goal of no sweets ever is not realistic, however. I suggest not going there mentally. It sets you up for failure.
Our culture is sugar-saturated so sometimes you are simply going to indulge. Don’t worry about it or feel guilty about it for even one moment when it happens.
If you have slain the sugar monster in your home by transitioning to only natural sugars, eating more whole fats, forbidding organic junk food from finding a regular home in your pantry, and eating homemade sweets only on an occasional basis, then you have absolutely accomplished your goal!
You are now eating natural, whole sweets in moderation and enjoying them in a safe manner that will not threaten your long term health.
Well done, my friend!
Where To Find Wholesome, Natural Sweeteners
These are the wholesome sweeteners I use in my home. Once you transition to unprocessed sugars, you won’t ever go back to white sugar or high fructose corn syrup laden products ever again!
Great article and process. I love this approach to the physical side of the addiction/sugar habit. I slayed the sugar dragon almost 8 years ago using Overeaters Anonymous. I highly recommend that or another 12 step food program for anyone who needs more help. The comfort and emotional regulation excess sugar, food in general, or other addictions provide often stems from much deeper issues. Adult Children of Alcoholic and Dysfunctional Homes is another amazing group to address deeper issues if someone has other challenges like anxiety, depression, relationship and fear issues.
I went through my own staged process while in OA. For the first several years fruit was daily, now it’s a treat. The only thing I disagree with in the article is that it is possible to stop the “hard stuff” (cake, cookies, candy, ice cream) completely forever. Not everyone needs to but it can be done. I haven’t had any since May 2013. People often say to me, “I don’t know how you do it.” It’s actually effortless at this point. I’m truly free and don’t care over 99% of the time. I have kids and sugar all around me at times and am not tempted. I do eat a high fat diet and completely agree with you, Sarah on how important that is. I needed more help and the 12 steps of Overeaters Anonymous provided that. I had been a hard core sugar addict from for over forty years.
Another place I’ve found camaraderie and help is Vinnie Tortorich’s NSNG (no sugar no grains) group on Facebook. He also has a documentary called FAT the documentary. It could be of help to anyone who completes the steps here but continues to have weight or health issues. The group is funny and sometimes abrasive but the success stories are mind blowing and non stop.
Thanks, Sarah! I’ve been reading your blog for around ten years. I was on your site every day when I started my whole food journey. Many many thanks for all you do.
God bless you all and keep searching for your answers!
Sounds like the opposite advice i get from Harvard T.H. Chan School Of Public Health
Sarah Pope MGA
What advice is that … to eat a lot of sugar?
After replying to your email I ended up getting my answer here. Thank you so much for your dedication. I do have another question though. There are natural sugars in things that aren’t “sweet” like tomatoes or milk. I would count these or no? After awhile do I just stop counting? I don’t think keeping track long term would be good for me. It tends to make me anxious and scared of food.
Sarah Pope MGA
Good point. In my view, there aren’t enough natural sugars in foods like tomatoes to worry about counting them. Don’t get stuck on the 36 grams as a hard and fast line … it is a guideline that you should stick around that level…perhaps some days a bit over and others way under.
on one of Dr price studies with children that had cavities he was able to completely heal and control all of there cavities only by giving them one healthy meal which included cod liver oil butter oil bone broth about 2 glasses of whole milk and orang juice even though they were still eating the food which caused there cavities which was white bread sugar vegetable oil highly sweetened coffee , so why dose the book cure tooth decay say that to heal cavities ,one needs to completely eat no sweetes even natural ones and no vegetable oil and a list of a lot of foods that are so hard to avoid completely?
Sarah Pope MGA
I didn’t write that book, so am just guessing…children today are far less healthy than in Dr. Price’s time. They have less diverse,beneficial gut bacteria and are born from mothers who ate poorly as well. The children are also getting on average 17 doses of antibiotics before adulthood which GREATLY impacts nutritional absorption.
I got a copy of valentine’s book, but cannot find the reference you cite that 36 grams of sugar start to suppress the immune system. Do you have a page number? I wanted to see the research underlying this number. Thanks!
Sarah Pope MGA
I don’t know the page number … I got it from the library when I read it, so don’t have it on hand.
Wow, food in the trash?! I know some people who could really use that food. I have followed much of your advice and much thanks. Please do your soul a favor and do not throw away perfectly good food, even if it us not up to nutritional standard. There are people who would be glad to even have the calories instead of food they scrape off the ground, searching for it as we speak in our land of the ‘free’.
Sarah Pope MGA
That statement was made for effect, my friend 🙂 Give it away if you are so inclined.
What about stevia as a sweetener
Sarah Pope MGA
Stevia is fine in moderation. Here’s how to choose a good brand. https://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/stevia-benefits-uses-concerns/
This was phenomenal advice. I really used healthy fats and lots of fiber and protein to change my diet around. However, I still was not able to kick the last of my sugar cravings. My holistic doc recommended me using organic chromium yeast and that got me over the last little hump. If you find yourself with the same issue, try it.