Have you ever wished dentists could remove your sweet tooth like they do your wisdom teeth? I suppose it’s for the best they can’t, since technically, our sweet tooth is in our brains. Still, a girl can dream.
Although my sweet tooth is not the monster it used to be, I still crave sweets. I blame my Southern upbringing. I sometimes wonder what would be left of the South if everything with sugar in it suddenly dissolved.
Down here, a meal isn’t a meal without dessert. For me, dinner was just an inconvenience that delayed dessert. And by “dessert,” I’m not talking about the tiny plates of plastic-looking-afterthoughts they serve at fancy restaurants. Southern desserts are big and rich.
My Southern gentleman Dad enjoyed cooking and could hold his own on the dessert making playing field. When Daddy made dessert, he wasn’t happy unless he’d served you a helping about the size of a regulation softball. Anything smaller would hurt his feelings. I was happy to accommodate his feelings and ignore all opposing abdominal signals until my dish was empty.
My sweet tooth was “corn fed and hand spanked,” as we say of our hefty offspring. Do you have a sweet tooth? How did yours become what it is today?
When sweets are so much a part of family life and culture, they can be quite challenging to extract from the “fabric of our lives.” I often wondered if sugar was that thread which, when pulled would unwind me like a handmade sweater. Quitting was no joke. So I feel duty bound to share a word to the wise in case I can help make your path a little clearer.
Breaking up with sugar is hard and for some not so obvious reasons. It’s not simply because you like it so much.
What makes sugar so hard to escape? The ways we associate it emotionally with highly valued life experiences:
- Pleasure – sugary foods made me feel good, even if only for a moment
- Love and comfort – those good memories of security and home and family
- Family traditions – those recipes we love and share and grew up enjoying
- Escape and relief – soften the edge of a stressful day and other unpleasant emotions
Your brain allows you to experience all the pleasures of sugar. It runs the hardware and software for the pleasure you feel and the connections you recall.
What happens when you quit cold turkey? You’ll surprise your brain. You’ll effectively pull a chair out from under it. It’s not going to be happy and it won’t be very cooperative.
Be aware – will power isn’t going to be enough. And in fact, trusting your will power is the most unpleasant and frustrating way to go about getting sugar out of your life. To quit sugar successfully, you must proceed with some forethought, strategy, and perseverance.
Amateur Strategies to Avoid
I admit I’ve glossed over why you might be thinking of quitting refined sugar. I’m assuming you’ve already determined you’d like to move in that direction – for health or weight management reasons. Suffice to say, there’s nothing good that comes from eating refined sugar apart from the drug-like pleasure it offers. That doesn’t lead to anything good.
When you start to dabble in eliminating it, you might feel outmatched. It’s hard to even cut back, much less quit. Don’t be discouraged – you’re learning from your own experience how addictive it is to you. You need to know this.
You may even try to find ways to circumvent quitting, thinking, “maybe I can have it, but control it.” This is the phase where you might be trying to negotiate a peace treaty with it. Here are some amateur moves that I tried and found to be useless:
- Skipping meals to save calories for dessert
- Taking a bite of sweets and throwing the rest away
- Trying to make reduced sugar versions of desserts
- Exercising more (and more) to burn off the extra calories
The list goes on. If these sound familiar, check yourself. You are trying to negotiate with a granular terrorist. In all these cases, sugar still owns you. Each time you think you’ve contained it, it will creep up again and overtake you. One minute it’s acting right, the next, it’s sitting in a vat of cream cheese frosting.
It knows when you aren’t serious and it will continue to run your life. You must decide whether you are serious or not. For me, I had to slug through a few attempts at peace treaties that didn’t hold until I learned I had no choice but to kick it to the curb.
What to do When you Mean Business
Everyone knows sugar really is addictive, and our brains like it as much as heroin and morphine. Has it been your observation that people have an easy time overcoming drug addiction?
Not so much…
If that weren’t enough, repetitive behaviors, reinforced by pleasure create the most stubborn of habits. Your behavior has been hi-jacked by brain parts you neither knew existed, nor can pronounce. The more you repeat something, the more your brain believes it’s important and latches on harder. It will even remind you – “Hey, it’s 9:00, time for ice cream.”
So when you decide to quit eating sugar – it is important to know what you are up against. Don’t be discouraged, instead, learn how to match wits with your opponent and level the playing field.
In fact, don’t attempt it until you have a good plan in place. I created a worksheet to help you prepare for cutting sugar out of your life. The steps are summarized below. You can follow this link to download the worksheet.
The acronym IDEAS will help you remember the key points to this strategy.
I.D.E.A.S: A 5 Step Process to Prepare for Sugar Elimination
Identify – describe the problem. When does it happen? How are you feeling when it happens? Is there a pattern – the same time each day? Each week?
Detour – What alternative patterns can you establish to avoid the foods and situations where sugar is large and in charge?
Exchange – It’s not enough just to avoid the foods and situations. Find a substitute source of enjoyment, relaxation, and fun. You’ll need to offset to the sense of loss you’ll feel when it comes time for ice cream. Come up with some ideas that you are happy about.
Again – Repeat this pattern for as long as it takes you to escape the pull of your old habits. Count each day a victory, turf you have taken back from the enemy. Remember also that when you give in to the old behavior, the pattern is ready to rebuild – so don’t give up any ground you fought to gain.
Support – God made us to need each other. So, to reinforce this basic process, enlist the help of trusted friends who will commit to support you. Take time to consider what is genuinely helpful to you and let your friends know what those things are.
For more help with eliminating sugar, help yourself to this free 7 Day Sugar Exodus Plan!
Here is a fabulous book about habits: Atomic habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break bad Ones
Here is a fabulous book about addictions from a Biblical Perspective: Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave
At Stop Dieting For Life, we teach you how to turn to the power of Christ to fight and win this very real and very difficult battle.
For further reading check out my books, available on Amazon: