No sugar tonight...
September 26, 2013 8:04 PM   Subscribe

Mefites who have given up sugar (or some other beloved but harmful substance): does it get any easier?

Three weeks ago I swore off sugar, due to finally seeing some real and scary health effects of a lifetime of ingesting way too much of it. "Moderation" is not a thing I can do with sugar (oh, how I have tried), and so the easiest thing to do to protect my health seems to be quitting it altogether.

Except I am literally dreaming about Pop Tarts at night, and expending a lot of mental energy every time I go to the grocery store to not buy the candy bar/chocolate milk/sugar fetish du jour. It's exhausting and I'm tired of arguing with myself about why blueberry muffins simply aren't an option anymore.

The rest of my diet is fine; it's the sugar intake that was a problem. I still eat and enjoy fresh fruits. I spent several days experimenting with zero calorie sweeteners and found they trigger the same "must keep eating" reflex that plain sugar does, as do "healthy" treats such as date- or fruit juice sweetened baked goods.

I'm wondering if anyone else has quit this particular vice, and how long it took for you to accept the new reality. Or is there some other way I should be thinking about this? Is there an antabuse for sugar fiends? I'm reasonably happy and busy in my life otherwise (I did notice an immediate lifting of mood right after quitting, but that effect has faded).
posted by whistle pig to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
For me it only gets easier if I actually go pretty low-carb. Just cutting out *sugar* means the cravings never go away. Sorry.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:08 PM on September 26, 2013 [10 favorites]

I've cut out sugar, but like restless_nomad I cut out most carbs and try to eat low sugar fruits if I want fruit. I try to check the glycemic load of foods and keep it low.

Sometimes I cheat but I do find high sugar foods, whether white flour or vegan bread or Dunkin donuts or pasta, are addictive and make you want more and more.
posted by sweetkid at 8:14 PM on September 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Same here- cut out carbs (aside from ones coming from non-starchy veg or nuts) and really increase your protein. Start eating cheese for dessert, if you need a treat. A nice chunk of creamy brie eaten right off the spoon does wonders for me.
posted by joan_holloway at 8:26 PM on September 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

I quit coffee (caffeine) and all sugar* for 6 years. Craving never goes away. Will power gets more resolute.

*Once in a blue moon I would forget and have bbq sauce or ketchup that had sugar or high fructose corn syrup in it, but that was minuscule. The real feat is no Double Stuf Oreos.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:28 PM on September 26, 2013

Not exactly the same but I gave up all sodas almost two years ago (I had a MASSIVE Diet Coke addiction. And addiction is exactly the word to use.)

It got easier, and now I don't miss soda at all.

Give it about three weeks and I think your cravings will subside some.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:47 PM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ah, I see it HAS been three weeks....well, give it a couple more. ;-)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:48 PM on September 26, 2013

It does get easier. Thankfully for me, I'm not limited to all sugars... I just can't eat fructose. But, I also can't eat any dairy or soy products, which means that my all time favorite food, a good berry ice cream, is entirely out of bounds.

It does suck at first.

The key is to find replacement foods and replacement habits. In your case, if you want to cut out sugars, then find some complex carbohydrates you can eat instead when you're craving sweets.

Go for whole grains, cereals, et cetera, for starters (good cereal... not sugar cereal). If you're feeling hungry for junk food sugar, have a small bowl of oatmeal or Cheerios, for example.

Your body will quickly learn that this is how it gets its carbs, and sooner than later, you'll be craving complex carb foods, rather than candy bars.

One more friendly piece of advice... when you have a problem with self-control, forcing yourself to cut something cold turkey is a short-sighted fix. You yourself admit this is the "easy" way to solve your problem. You realize that your real problem isn't sugar, it's that you aren't controlling yourself. What steps could you take to actually address that more important issue?
posted by Old Man McKay at 8:54 PM on September 26, 2013

For me I made up my mind that whatever treat, dessert, pastry etc. that people were eating / enjoying "belong to someone else". That is, someone else who will have some trouble getting their weight down!

Like others here I cut out sugar (I have a strong sweet tooth) as part of going High Fat Low Carb.

And when I get cravings to snack on whatever's around (and as I travel a fair amount, I've become aware of how much convenience food is cram-packed with carbs), I reflexively think of the positive choice, searching out high protein snacks (but more recently have gotten into the habit of simply bringing my own snacks with me like cheese, eggs and portions of different kinds of meats).

As you have discovered quitting something entirely is much easier in many ways than trying to cut down on something. It's just too hard to know what is 'cutting down'.

I can say that now I look at starches (rice, noodles, pizza crusts...) as just other forms of sugar, and have been very pleased with the results.
posted by scooterdog at 8:55 PM on September 26, 2013

What the low-carb repliers above said, goes for me too. The craving goes down. You also may need to be mindful of emotional and habitual triggers for high-sugar eating. But it doesget more manageable.
posted by matildaben at 9:20 PM on September 26, 2013

Cut out carbs entirely and the cravings do go away. Ketosis is a beautiful thing. I find Splenda helpful for managing mouthy cravings, but if you're not into the artificial stuff, berries and 85% dark chocolate taste pretty damn sweet once your taste buds have recovered from a high-sugar diet.

My experience is that removing sugar by itself isn't enough and the cravings won't stop (because other carbs are still spiking your insulin). YMMV.
posted by annekate at 9:28 PM on September 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've fallen off the wagon a couple of times, but I've found it gets a lot better for me around the six-week mark. For some reason, that's where I seem to develop a new baseline for sweetness and the food I used to eat starts tasting overpoweringly sweet and not very nice.
posted by northernish at 9:31 PM on September 26, 2013

It's probably smarter, when changing your diet, to actually use a formal diet program that accomplishes your goals -- try Atkins or one of the other low-carb diets. It makes it a lot easier, with a lot of recipes and support available for it. It removes a lot of decisions, which makes things easier when deciding on dinner and so on.
posted by empath at 10:54 PM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Fat Fixes Cravings. That's always been the mantra of my Atkins people. That's not to say there's no sweet - many of us hoard some Truvia or Splenda with cream cheese and vanilla, or those things plus a tiny bit of fruit. But the fat is the largest part.

I also eat dark chocolate. I mean the super-grim stuff, 70%+. But with fat, whatever will do in a pinch - cream cheese, sour cream, butter, coconut oil, olive oil, nuts.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:29 PM on September 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

I've tried to substitute fruit for the sweets I obsessively crave. I get a treat every 7-10 days (say, a piece of cake or a donut.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 1:34 AM on September 27, 2013

"I still eat and enjoy fresh fruits."

Then you haven't actually cut out all sugar. Fructose is a sugar. And whatever complex carbs you're eating break down into sugars too. These are all continuing to feed the brain chemistry, gut flora, etc. involved in your sugar addiction.

Try going completely NO carb for a few weeks. In my experience, this is the only way to break the addiction and end the cravings and obsessive thoughts. Then once your body and brain have forgotten their addiction to sugar you can reintroduce healthy carbohydrates to your diet.

I broke my own sugar addiction this way and now I can even eat sweets in moderation without triggering a relapse.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:42 AM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

I gave sugar up for Lent one year. It got easier after three weeks. I didn't give up carbs though.

When I went back to it -- well, that was a bad idea. :/
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 3:35 AM on September 27, 2013

Chromium picolinate is a popular supplement for curbing carb/sugar cravings that I see mentioned a lot in paleo literature (no personal experience though, sorry).
posted by daniel striped tiger at 3:52 AM on September 27, 2013

Took me 2 months to stop craving it, but the freedom is wonderful.
posted by dumdidumdum at 4:16 AM on September 27, 2013

Chromium tablets can help. Eat plenty of protein. Don't quit fruit, that is crazy! When they say fructose is bad, it's fructose syrup used as a sweetener. Whole fruit is fine.
posted by inkypinky at 7:09 AM on September 27, 2013

This is kind of a go-to, but for quitting anything I highly recommend mindfulness (think Eckhart Tolle). When you feel the craving, do NOT engage the thought (i.e. day dream about pop tarts and candy bars). Empty the mind of thought. Instead, physically feel the sensation of desire. It's usually in the chest. It can feel like a low, intense burning, along with the impulse to "reach out." It's joined with the false belief that only this thing contains happiness. But it's just desire. Just feel it. Then you will realize "hey! the desire for candy is just a feeling. But *I* have choice."

This has worked for me any time I have made the conscious decision to abstain from anything (anger, depressive thoughts, food, exes...). Very quickly the thing (or rather, my desire for the thing) loses its hold on me.

So just feel the feeling, but don't engage the thought/action. You'll find the world doesn't end, and far from it, you'll see how YOU get to decide what you actually do. Like dumdidumdum the freedom is wonderful, so focus on that as your goal (instead of "stay away from sweets" as your goal). Good luck.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:35 AM on September 27, 2013 [22 favorites]

Try giving up fruit for a while as well, I found that cravings didn't go away until I removed all sugars for about 2 weeks, including all fruit.
posted by markblasco at 7:50 AM on September 27, 2013

I've quit refined sugar and simple carbs three times, and it was easiest the time I also started hot yoga. I imagine another intense exercise program might similarly help.
posted by slidell at 8:08 AM on September 27, 2013

Yes, in my experience the cravings do go away. It might take a while though. I think you will have to shift your relationship with carbs in some way, but that can look different ways for different people. I modeled my diet after a slow carbs approach--I pretty much cut out grains altogether, but I eat plenty of beans and legumes.

I also eat lots of fresh fruit. For me, I would get cravings for donuts and pie and, every couple weeks, I would cheat and eat some. But the actual experience of eating that food was mostly unpleasant. I think that I craved the pleasure that I associated with eating those foods, even though doing do was no longer pleasurable. It took a while for my body to realize this.
posted by overglow at 8:31 AM on September 27, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all of these great suggestions! I was kind of hoping to avoid going low-carb, because depriving my brain of carbs makes me stupid--like, I just cannot think (I know this passes after the brain adjusts, but I've never been able to get over that hump).

But, having said that, I will do what I can to eradicate things like potatoes and pizza crust from my diet for a while. And BBQ sauce, whoops.

And I really like the suggestion to engage in a little mindfulness.

posted by whistle pig at 8:35 AM on September 27, 2013

Just jumping on the bandwagon to agree with everyone else: the only way I could get over that hump was to cut out carbs. After cutting them out altogether for a month or so, I am now able to have an occasional (once, maybe twice a week) treat of pizza or beer. But I have to be diligent in limiting it to that or it's right back into carb hell.
posted by corn_bread at 9:30 AM on September 27, 2013

OP: I will do what I can to eradicate things like potatoes and pizza crust from my diet for a while. And BBQ sauce, whoops.

Oh, you've been eating potatoes and pizza this whole time? I think if you took the "avoid white foods" approach you'd be able to get past that hump sooner and easier than you think. Yes, things like checking condiments is important, but I'd start on the macro level. You'd be surprised how many "incidental" carbs simply go away simply, too: You don't have to think about the ketchup if you're not having the fries.

I'd reset. Focus on carbs, not sugar, and like most of the others have said, give it another three weeks or so.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:53 AM on September 28, 2013

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