How do I get myself to eat less candy?
May 7, 2011 5:34 PM   Subscribe

Why do I love candy - and how can I love it less?

I love candy and eat it basically daily. We're talking bags of swedish berries/fuzzy peaches/marshmellow bananas/licorice/jellybeans/etc on a pretty regular basis. I love sugar. Some people like salty, I prefer this.

And I work out a whole lot so it's not really a weight issue so much as it is a health one. I have terrible teeth (cavities galore!) and some kind of alarming symptoms: Last blood test I had low glucose, indicating I was in a sugar low following a high that was caused by too much sugar ie candy. I regularly get very sleepy (like, overwhelmingly, can't-keep-my-eyes-open kind) after eating amounts of candy. The fact that it is not a weight issue makes it harder to deal with, and I have a history of restrictive and obsessive eating patterns that I am afraid of triggering again if I cut candy out entirely.

The problem is that I cannot eat a moderate amount. A bag is in the house? I will eat the bag! I seem to take larger portions than most people of most things but hey, I'm 5'10 and work out 10x a week so I am not too worried about it generally. With candy though, it's problematic. It fulfills many needs - satisfies cravings, I eat when I am bored, is something to do with my hands, etc. I like eating things like baked goods, vegetables, fruit, meat, bread, but nothing is such a pleasure as candy. The weirder the better - giant chewy nerds? Bring 'em on. Licorice filled with candy foam? All mine!

But seriously, it is not healthy. How do I eat less candy? What kind of other high-volume, small piece food can I replace it with (ie popcorn)? Are there any mental hacks - is cold turkey better than gradual reduction? How do I set the boundaries?

PS - I have seen this question and am looking for any new answers you may have stumbled upon in the past three years, or think are worth repeating.
posted by hepta to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I used to have this problem. I started buying only single-serve portions of candy. One Reese's PB cup, for example, or a single chocolate truffle from an expensive chocolatier. If I want something that only comes in big bags, I buy it when I am with friends and give as much as possible away.

I also replaced eating candy in the evening with eating higher volume sweet foods like pudding or jello or hot chocolate drinks. Chocolate milk is good too.

Finally, I did once give up sugar for three months entirely and I totally lost my taste for it, plus I felt much more energetic and stable in general, but then Christmas came, I started eating chocolate and deserts again out of politeness, and I got my cravings back as bad as ever.
posted by lollusc at 5:40 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

No idea if this will help you, but... If you really pay attention to a lot of junk food -- it's taste, how the big rush of sugar and/or fat affects you, etc -- it's kind of gross. I used to drink a lot of soft drinks, especially coke products. Then one day I really focused on the taste and realized that I didn't like it all that much. I tried shifting brands, but they all tasted nasty, and, as I stopped drinking them, I stopped wanting to drink them. I have also done this with most fast foods and doughnuts.

The trick is, though, that cutting down doesn't really work (or so I have found) -- it's pretty much cold turkey. I find, if I can stay away from something long enough (say a couple of weeks), I stop craving it, and that makes it easier to keep stopping (to keep on having stopped?).
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:41 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

A bag is in the house? I will eat the bag!

Why is there a bag in the house? No more bags in the house. And if you do buy some, buy the tiny bag even though the big one works out cheaper.

Don't live near a store that sells this stuff. The time in my life when I ate the least chips was when my roommates and I banned them from the house and I lived on the top of a giant hill with all the chip-selling stores at the bottom. Up and down the hill for a bag of chips? Not worth it.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:42 PM on May 7, 2011 [6 favorites]

PS: I only managed to cut down to single serve portions by first going a week or two cold-turkey, and then also allowing Saturdays to be all-you-can-eat candy day. So on Saturdays I am allowed to buy and eat any candy I like. That means during the week if I get cravings that I can't easily fulfil with a single serving, I make a note of them, and start looking forward to Saturday.
posted by lollusc at 5:42 PM on May 7, 2011

Best answer: Firstly - are you eating enough calories to maintain your weight with all that working out? Log your calorie intake and needs using something like my plate for a few days. You're probably craving carbs from the working out, so just cutting out the candy won't help unless you're properly fueling those workouts. That means 15-30g of carbs Before a workout (muscles need glycogen to function!) - like a banana, and then something like a chocolate milk Right after the workout with protein and carbs - within a half hour is good, within 15 minutes is better.

I say this knowing a fitness instructor who thought he had an eating disorder until he discovered that, no, he was just Not eating enough healthy carbs to fuel his workouts, so he'd binge on sweets at night.

You crave this stuff (sugar) because it's addictive. The only way I can get out of the sugar high/crash cycle is to cut it out almost entirely - moderation doesn't work well for me (at least at first). I still have a little home-made preserves in my plain yogurt, some maple syrup in my oatmeal, the chocolate milk after hard workouts, but otherwise I can't have Any sugar or I will crave it too much to ignore. I've made a rule - added sugar only on weekends, with one cheat a week (this includes white bread! Whole grains are your friend!). It's absolutely helped the sleepies and improved my energy immeasurably. And, yeah, I can't have it in the house, or I will eat the container, no matter how big.

Here's the thing - it feels so much better to properly fuel your body - you're doing the workouts because they feel good, right? Now do the other part, and you'll be astounded by how good you feel. Good luck!
posted by ldthomps at 5:52 PM on May 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

I find that when I don't eat processed sugar sweets for a while, I sort of stop craving them. When I start eating them again, they taste kind of weird and "fake," and are less appealing.

Lots and lots of ripe fruits will help too - I definitely need some kind of sweet or tart flavor at the end of a meal if I'm going to be happy, and fresh raspberries or strawberries or peaches help. There are also a lot of ways of cooking fruits that make them taste a lot sweeter than they are naturally; I have a particular habit of baking nectarines.

Also, don't buy them - only go shopping after you've had a full meal and, maybe, some candy, so you're not craving them. It's a lot easier to avoid eating something if it's not in the house! When you do buy it, buy only one of the single-serving checkout-line type.
posted by you're a kitty! at 5:54 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had a candy-addicted semester in college, until I went to the dentist and found out I had my first eleven cavities. That in itself made me go cold-turkey for a while.

Now I'm addicted to sugarless gum. It scratches most of the same itches, but is a bit less damaging. I get cravings for particular textures, though, so finding foods that are a little less sugary but have similar textures as candies I like has helped a lot. Various dried fruits seem to be a good substitute for certain candies. (Admittedly, that's often still very high-sugar, but it's a little better for you.) I also like nuts and sunflower seeds for the mindless-eating fix; that can get into very high calories fast, but you say you're not having weight issues with the candy, so you'd probably be fine there.

Saturday cheat days like lollusc suggests have really helped many of my friends. I'd recommend it if you have trouble dealing with cravings.
posted by lemonadeheretic at 5:56 PM on May 7, 2011

Not sure if this is the kind of thing you're looking for, but when I crave sweets, I find that a Jolly Rancher helps. The reason is:

1) You can't bite into them, so the only way to finish them is suck on them until they are gone.
2) It takes about 20 minutes until they are gone (for me, anyway).

So I get to enjoy the taste of the candy for about 20 minutes, and even if I was tempted to crunch into one and just eat it right away, I couldn't. And even if I had several, I could eat at most 3 in an hour, so it helps me eat less sweets than if I had chosen some other kind of candy.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 5:58 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Eating a spoonful of almond butter helps me a lot with this kind of thing. If you're near a Trader Joe's theirs is the cheapest, by far. I recommend the raw over the roasted.

On the pricier end, a spoonful of Maranatha chocolate almond spread would work nicely.
posted by jgirl at 6:21 PM on May 7, 2011

Have you read Good Calories, Bad Calories yet? It convincingly pulls together all the scientific research on just how bad for us sugar is and why. After reading that, stopping eating sugar was much, much easier because I understood just what kind of damage it was doing to me.
posted by platinum at 6:24 PM on May 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

Nthing quitting cold turkey if you want to quit (and maybe also if you want to cut down). I also have a super sweet tooth but I've cut it out a few times over the years. For me it takes about a week and a half, and suddenly it's soooo much easier to say no.

I still have some candy but much less than I used to. I chew a lot of sugarless gum and eat berries (blackberries or blueberries from Costco are much cheaper than you might think - if you have one nearby and are willing to shell out the membership fee), pumpkin seeds (King Henry's if you can find them) or pretzel thins (giant bag, also from Costco) more often.
posted by Glinn at 6:32 PM on May 7, 2011

I make it an ironclad rule to simply not bring into the house food that I can't or shouldn't eat. The impulse control needs to happen at the store, not in your kitchen.

Doing this means accepting things like paying a higher per-unit price for what you do buy (though generally cheaper overall).

Have you experimented if ultra-high cacao dark chocolate, the really intense stuff, can scratch that same itch? It's hard to eat a lot of it in one sitting because it is so intense, but it is sweet and has that chocolate goodness.
posted by Forktine at 6:41 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Definitely what other people have said: Eat well before you go to the store. If you want to buy some then buy a small bag (4 to 6 portions). Then don't go to the store again for a set number of days, or if you must then seriously don't buy any candy.

This has helped me a lot, my nemesis is potato chips... Usually Sunday/Monday is grocery shopping/potato chip day, and Saturday is food from the back of the refrigerator day, but averaged over the course of a week I eat reasonably.
posted by anaelith at 6:52 PM on May 7, 2011

I have no discipline when it comes to candy. If I buy a bag I will eat a disgusting amount of it in one sitting. The only thing that has worked for me is to NOT BUY IT. I occasionally buy a Snickers bar, and if people have candy sitting out I may grab a few pieces.

I know your pain. I saw some half-price Valentines day candy at a Walgreens and actually lovingly cradled a bag in my hands until self-discipline took over and I put it back. But it was painful to do so.
posted by jayder at 6:56 PM on May 7, 2011

My sweet tooth is insane, and I was a multiple-servings-per-day candy eater until a couple years ago. Then I realized that it was terrible for me, and decided to stop eating it like that. The strategy that has worked for me, as a real, honest-to-goodness addict, is going cold turkey, with an end point in mind. For example, I just ate candy on Easter. I kinda gorged, and it was a little disgusting (although I can't eat as much in a day as I used to routinely). But now I won't eat a single piece of candy until Memorial Day. None. I can't eat just a little bit, just have one bag of Sour Patch Kids - that will lead to eating tons of it. But having a "cheat day" in sight makes it possible. If I had given up candy entirely, I would just constantly cheat, because there would be no light at the end of the tunnel. Holidays work well. So I eat candy once every couple months, and it seems to work for me.
posted by PhatLobley at 7:06 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

nthing that cold turkey is really the best way to go. i too, suffer from this addiction - and make no mistake, it IS an addiction. one is too many, 100 is never enough. i used to eat candy instead of proper *meals*.

and by cold turkey, i mean that in order to keep myself from binging on sugar, i have to eliminate all refined sugar wherever i can find it: sugar in coffee, syrup, honey, sugary drinks, cakes, ice cream, etc. they all trigger me.

i don't buy it, i don't allow myself to have even a little. gradually, as i've aged, i've lost some of my taste for it. but in order to control the addiction, you have to treat it like one.
posted by wayward vagabond at 7:23 PM on May 7, 2011

I found a great blog with natural (no Splenda) sugar-free desserts that I have switched over to eating in place of sugar filled desserts. They don't trigger the same overeating/binge behavior for me as sugar does. I eat them only after full "meals" so as to limit my portions. Just made the chocolate cake - family loves it!

Healthy Indulgences Blog

After 3 years, I've kicked the sugar addiction! Take it a day at a time. It's a journey.
posted by sunnychef88 at 7:40 PM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The responses so far are great! I get the feeling that I will have to be more careful with my purchases. I find that even if I "successfully" grocery shop and don't buy any candy, I will trek to the corner store to get it. Gotta cut down on that impulse, I guess!

Cold turkey sounds like the way the most people have had success with this. Perhaps I will look into giving something like that a try.
posted by hepta at 7:53 PM on May 7, 2011

FWIW, I use fake-sweeteners as a crutch to help make it through those first couple of weeks going off sugar. My grocery has sugar-free cookies (Murray brand, they taste like real cookies!) that satisfy my sweet tooth, and after a couple of weeks I stop craving sweets together.
posted by TallulahBankhead at 8:22 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I do not care about sweets, but I have a huge issue with salt and vinegar/limon/dill pickle Lay's potato chips and dill pickle Golden Flake potato chips. I can and will eat a whole giant bag to myself. The only solution to my problem is just not buying them or tasting them--if I have one, I will eat the rest of them. I need to avoid the chip aisle at times, but that's just life. You might want to keep fruit on you at all times so that you aren't overcome with the sudden desire to buy five bags of circus peanuts when things get rough.
posted by 200burritos at 8:42 PM on May 7, 2011

Silly question...but how old are you? I found by the time I hit 30 that sugary stuff had lost a lot of appeal and I hardly have candy anymore. That made it easier to stop eating sweet stuff. I also had a root canal a few years ago that made me run screaming from cake of any kind for a while :-D It may naturally go away with time too.
posted by Calzephyr at 8:51 PM on May 7, 2011

I was just about to say what Calzephyr said- nothing,nothing makes you want to give up candy more than getting a root canal!!! (and I do bite into jolly ranchers which makes me even more nervous about my teeth...). Also now I eat small squares of chocolate or half a snickers bar after I eat dinner (and I eat a lot at one time so I am not still hungry and the chocolate just 'finishes it off'). I used to also have a big problem with candy/chocolate-eating for the year I was in England but again, coming home to a root canal (and then another one a year later!) pretty much ended it for me.
posted by bquarters at 9:16 PM on May 7, 2011

Response by poster: I'm 21. This only really developed once I moved out of my parent's house a few years ago, probably due to the lack of supervision since I hate eating candy in front of other people!!
posted by hepta at 9:25 PM on May 7, 2011

You like it because you're probably programmed to eat sweet fruits without limit when available in order to put on fat for the winter.

A great replacement food would be homemade beef jerky, as it avoids any carbs which will prolong the craving.

It's very easy to make the jerky and the drier as in these instructions:

posted by Not Supplied at 12:10 AM on May 8, 2011

Further to what GenjiandProust said about concentrating on the unpleasant taste of junk food - a lot of my taste for sweet stuff disappeared when I noticed the horrible furry sensation you get on your teeth after eating sugar. And, while you might enjoy the taste of sweet stuff while it's in your mouth, try noticing how your mouth feels five minutes later - it's often really sour (maybe this is why you keep taking more, to cover up that aftertaste?). So just before you go cold turkey, you could look up some of the AskMe threads on mindfulness (ie. paying attention to what is happening in the moment), and spend a little bit of time really paying attention to all of the sensations that surround eating sugar.
posted by penguin pie at 3:59 AM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ditto furry sensation -- and bad breath! The disgusting breath you have after eating Starbursts, ick.

But what I came by to say were a couple of hacks that got me off candy when I need to quit. One is peppermint tea. For some reason it seems to stabilize my blood sugar? When I am stuck in a cycle of eating something sweet every half hour, I finally break that by swapping in peppermint tea.

The other is, for me, exercise. If you go cold turkey, I'd do it after a workout.
posted by salvia at 11:03 AM on May 8, 2011

Best answer: "Cold turkey sounds like the way the most people have had success with this. Perhaps I will look into giving something like that a try."

To recall the oft-used catchphrase of a little green man, do or do not, there is no try. With language like that it looks like you are already providing room to wiggle out of a straight cold turkey, which can suggest you don't really mean to do what you want to do. Eating candy is something you should be able to stop completely right now, if you wanted to. If you get the impulse to walk to the shop, don't act on it! You know exactly when you are letting yourself down. As good as candy is to you, you are only 21 and already experiencing health consequences of your habit. Do you really want diabetes in a few years just because you wouldn't let yourself actually give this up?
posted by tumples at 11:10 AM on May 8, 2011

Another thing that helped me with shopping was looking at a chart of where my money went. "Can't pay the bills" was pretty motivating.
posted by anaelith at 11:33 AM on May 8, 2011

Unsulphured blackstrap molasses (a teaspoon to a tablespoon dissolved in green or black chai, other black teas, or milk) seems to reset my sweets craving for the day, making candy markedly less appealing.
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:26 PM on May 8, 2011

Response by poster: Tumples - I knew as I was constructing that sentence that there was a lot of iffy language in it. Thanks for calling me out on it!
posted by hepta at 1:22 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's a recent New York Times article: Is Sugar Toxic?

Also, the FPP about the article.
posted by Nerro at 7:42 PM on May 8, 2011

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