Sugar binges are on the rise, with the average American now eating 22 teaspoons of added sugar every day.
That number is four times the amount recommended by the American Heart Association and World Health Organization, who suggest that daily added sugar intake should be no more than six teaspoons for women and nine for men. (1)
Sugar has become ubiquitous in the nation’s diet. While sugar is found in places you’d expect, like cakes, ice cream, and sodas, it’s also loaded in seemingly healthy foods. Think “natural” fruit juices, granola bars, flavored yogurts, and even whole grain bread.
Sugar is a source of empty calories that leads to weight gain and obesity, and is one of the main culprits behind conditions like type II diabetes, heart disease, and food addiction. Yet, we continue to consume it. Why?
The Science of Sugar Binges
Sugar addiction is as real as being addicted to drugs or alcohol. While 10 years ago that sort of claim would have seemed outlandish, scientific research supports it.
Some research suggests that refined sugar is more addictive than cocaine, heroin, or morphine. Others show that the more of it we eat, the more of it we crave, thanks to the impact of sugar consumption on the brain’s limbic region. (2, 3, 4)
Admittedly, some scientists still disagree on sugar being classified as an addictive substance. (5) Unlike illegal drugs, however, sugar is very easy to access for people of all ages, and it’s socially acceptable to consume in high levels every single day. So the cycle continues.
Your Health Versus Your 3 P.M. Vending Machine Run
The evidence is clear that sugar is not good for your health, but does that mean that you need to swear off sugar for life? You can, but you likely won’t succeed.
There is no evidence that shows any ill-effect from avoiding sugar altogether – the main problem is that it’s very challenging to do. So instead of trying to quit cold turkey on your 3 p.m. candy indulgence or after-dinner chocolate, simply commit to being more mindful about how you consume sugar. Try implementing one of the five mindfulness strategies below.
5 Ways to Cut Sugar with Mindfulness
Mindfulness refers to the state of being 100 percent focused on the present moment. Tackling tasks mindfully has been shown to have a calming effect on the body and mind, and keeps you aware of your thoughts, actions, and decisions.
This awareness of self and surroundings is particularly important when it comes to avoiding sugar binges. The more present you can be during your sugar eating experience, the less likely it is that you will overeat. (6)
1. Is It Really Sugar That You’re Craving?
Oftentimes a food craving represents a nutritional deficiency, or a lack of something that you need physically or emotionally. Since the sugar response is one that gives quick energy, lifts the mood, and signals to the brain that a reward has been received, your job is to figure out how to create these same feel-good responses in other ways.
Some healthy swaps for your sugar craving:
- Swap eating sugar for energy with drinking a large glass of water, stepping outside and taking in fresh air, or closing your eyes for a quick 10-minute nap.
- Forget about using sugar as a source of dopamine! You can get the same high from a workout class, completing a project, or even listening to music that gets you pumped up.
2. When You Eat, Just Eat
This sage advice is applicable to all meals, but it’s especially important to remember when you’re consuming an addictive substance like sugar.
Think about the last time that you chowed down a protein bar at your desk, perhaps while answering emails or finishing that spreadsheet:
- Did you eat it quickly? Probably.
- Did you savor the taste? Probably not.
- Did you visually notice how much you had eaten and how much you had left? Unlikely.
- Did you wish you had another? Undoubtedly.
Digestion doesn’t begin in the stomach, it begins in the mind. The Cephalic Phase Digestive Response (CPDR) describes the gut-stimulating pleasures of seeing, smelling, and tasting our food. In fact, an estimated 30 percent of digestion is reliant on our full awareness of what we’re eating. (7)
By eating in a distracted state, you are missing this important element of digestion, which is why you don’t feel satisfied after that bar, even though you’ve had enough to eat.
Instead, try this:
Take a 10-minute work time-out to eat your treat. Unwrap the bar intentionally, noticing the texture and smell, and when you do take your first bite, simply hold it in your mouth for a moment, appreciating the taste of what you’re eating. As you swallow, you can feel that bite travel down your throat and into your stomach. Pause and breathe before taking another bite.
3. Be Wary of Seconds
A friend once noticed that I took a second piece of dark chocolate from the packet and asked why I wanted it – they thought that the first piece would have satisfied my taste for chocolate. Despite being a little peeved at the time, I have to say that I agree.
There’s no reason why you can’t enjoy a small quantity of sweet foods if you really enjoy the taste, but is there really any reason to go back for more? Probably not. If you’re still hungry, reach for a healthy snack like raw nuts or fresh fruit instead.
4. Remove Yourself from Binge-Worthy Situations
Office donuts, the party snack table, picking from the kids’ plates: these are all opportunities for regretful sugar binges. Fortunately, you can avoid getting caught in these situations by mindfully choosing to remove yourself from the situation, or at least relocating yourself to the other side of the room.
If you catch yourself distractedly noshing on cookies, cakes and sweets just because they’re lying around, consciously elect to move yourself out of arms’ reach, or consider moving the food out of sight.
Why does this help? It is much easier to remind yourself that you are choosing to eat more sugar if you have to walk across the room to take another bite.
5. Consider Your Healthier Alternatives
Avoiding sugar binges is best achieved by avoiding sugary foods in the first place. While that decision may feel challenging at first, it’s important to point out that it is a decision you can make. Part of living mindfully is choosing to do things that will nourish your body, mind and spirit, and eliminating added sugars falls into that category.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet will naturally decrease your desire for added sugars because your body will have all of the nutrients it needs to thrive. Couple that with making other healthy lifestyle decisions – such as getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, and investing time in your personal relationships – and it becomes easy to quit your cravings for sugar, once and for all.
The next time that you catch yourself falling into a sugar binge, put on the brakes.
- Ask yourself: Is it really sugar that you’re craving? Most likely not.
- When you do decide to eat a treat, appreciate it and give it 100 percent of your attention.
- Pass on the seconds and grab a healthy snack instead.
- Physically remove yourself from binge-worthy situations.
- Consider your alternatives. Add more nutritious fruits and vegetables onto your plate to decrease any cravings for sugar and naturally increase your energy, health and happiness.
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