Any tips for curbing my serious sugar addiction?
February 17, 2008 1:31 PM   Subscribe

How do I curb my sugar addiction? It's getting serious.

I am seriously, seriously addicted to sugar. I've always had a sweet tooth, but when I quit smoking about a year and a half ago, my consumption of anything and everything sugary went haywire. It's reached the point where I eat enough sugar that I end up feeling ill almost daily and I feel cravings as intense for sugary things as I remember feeling for cigarettes. I'm maybe on the high end of normal, but am not considerably overweight as I exercise a good amount and eat healthily otherwise.

I guess I'm wondering if anyone has suggestions as to how I can get this sugar issue in check, if the exercise is balancing the effects of the sugar consumption at all, and how much sugar is reasonable to have. I only buy fruit to have at home, and that helps, but there are plenty of bakeries near my apartment and always sugary crap in the break room at work - at least with cigarettes, I didn't have to walk by a dish of them in the room next to my office every day. :(
posted by lxs to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
well, i cut out most sugar by not having any around the house--and using substitute for things that need sweetening. i bring my own snacks to work.

how about bringing some sugar free gum or candy to work to help you resist the cravings?

if you really can't, then try an addiction counselor. seriously, they'll be able to offer you some good strategies.
posted by thinkingwoman at 1:40 PM on February 17, 2008

There are somewhat odd research findings on Chromium Picolinate supplements helping to reduce carbohydrate cravings, particularly in patients with atypical depression. Whether it will be of use to you after quitting smoking, I can't say, but it's worth further research. I am not a doctor, and you should consult one prior to screwing around with your metabolic system.
posted by zachlipton at 1:41 PM on February 17, 2008

My grandmother -- who also had a serious sweet tooth, and was forever trying to lose a few pounds -- used to swear by having a little something sour (pickles, olives, etc.) to temporarily shut down random sugar cravings.
posted by scody at 1:42 PM on February 17, 2008

sugar cravings feed on themselves. If you can avoid taking that first bite of sugar, those half stale pink glazed donuts in the breakroom will look a lot less appealing. What helps me is realizing what all that spiking blood sugar is doing to my body. Try and be kind to your body by feeding it a steady stream of low glycemic foods so your mood and your blood sugar stays stable. If you aren't spiking it, you will have a lot less cravings.
posted by 45moore45 at 1:46 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

1) The Shangri-La Diet (using extra light olive oil) did wonders for my carb cravings.

2) Limit yourself to low-sugar fruit at home.
posted by backupjesus at 1:47 PM on February 17, 2008

Switch to a high fat, high protein diet. I've found most of my cravings have disappeared.

I have a family history that tends towards diabetes and had a raging sweet tooth, so that's why I switched. Not so much for weight loss but that has happened a bit.

Recommended reading: Gary Taubes
posted by crustix at 2:05 PM on February 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

This may not curb your sugar cravings, but may help prevent you from acting on them. If walking by the bakeries near your house is a big temptation, don't carry cash or just leave your entire wallet at home if possible. Once at home, even though the temptation to buy is less, it's still helpful to keep very little cash in the house. Like 45moore45 said, stopping yourself from taking the first bite can make a big difference.
posted by summit at 2:12 PM on February 17, 2008

Here's an odd one that works for me: brush your teeth more often. If I concentrate on how nice that "clean mouth" feel is, I'm less likely to give in to temptation. Adding a quick brushing at 1:30 or so in the afternoon, after lunch, generally keeps me away from snacks until dinner.
posted by gimonca at 2:32 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Chew sugar-free gum.

Also, diet coke or soda might help.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:42 PM on February 17, 2008

This site (and book and community forum) changed my life. I haven't had any sugar for nearly seven years.
posted by granted at 2:43 PM on February 17, 2008 [4 favorites]

Seconding 45moore45 and gimonca. I find the day goes better if I don't even have that first bit of anything sweet. If I have anything sweet early in the day, I'll be certain to return to it later. And having a nice fresh feeling in the mouth is a disincentive for me towards eating.
posted by DarkForest at 2:48 PM on February 17, 2008

Have you heard of xylitol? Pretty amazing stuff. Check it out. And maybe bake some stuff with it.
posted by keith0718 at 2:58 PM on February 17, 2008

A postscript: as seen here, most of the advice regarding sugar addiction is in the form of pithy tips. Tips can be helpful, but they are rarely a solution for something like addiction - especially something like sugar addiction, when sugar consumption is woven into the fabric of our lifestyles from the moment we are born. I had been on a constant diet since I was eight years old, and believe me, I tried many, if not all of these things. Brushing my teeth didn't make a damn difference, any more than it would keep an alcoholic from a six-pack. Cutting out sugar for good required not only a total lifestyle change for me, but a total paradigm shift.

I work in the addiction field now (an interest that was triggered by my own battles with sugar) and every day I am more and more convinced that sugar addiction, while of course less devastating than drugs and alcohol, is otherwise exactly the same. The craving, the compulsion, the bafflingly irrational self-destructive behavior - it's all the same. I know it well. Sugar addiction is a genuine addiction, and should be viewed as such if it is to be conquered.
posted by granted at 3:00 PM on February 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

I find that to kick my sugar cravings, I need to have gone 7-10 days without eating sugar. This is painful, but in the end, I find that I don't want it nearly as much anymore, and I can very easily say no to it. There is definitely a withdrawal period that is necessary. I believe that for those who are addicted (and I understand this term is controversial for sugar intake, but I believe that sugar dependence is real), it has to be cold turkey at first, or it often creates a slippery slope towards overindulgence again. I think people can go back to enjoying it in moderation after awhile, but I have to be pretty careful with myself, or I can justify some bad behavior again.

During that 7-10 days of staying away from sugar, I have different things on hand that can help. For example, I like sour candy products. So I keep something on hand like 100% grapefruit juice to curb the craving when it hits.

I also drink plenty of water, and keep some good non-sugar substitutes on hand. I find that my cravings often kick in because my body is thirsty, and somehow it's learned to associate eating (and especially sweets) with taking care of thirst.

Again, whenever I kick the craving (because I regress a bit at times, when I'm not being dilligent), I don't see kicking the habit as something I'll be in pain about forever. Realistically, I can expect my body reaction to return to normal wiith a week or so of good behavior. And then I'm pretty much past the pain of it, and I feel in control of my food choices.

Something else that is helpful is thinking quite intentionally about the benefits, and paying attention to them as you "withdraw" a bit. For example, I find that after a day or two of no sugar, I'm less anxious, I fall asleep easier, and I wake up easier. My workouts are less painful, and more efficient.

One final thought: sugar is in everything, it just goes by different names. For example, one common ingredient in many foods is high fructose corn syrup. Yeah, that's just sugar. If you feel like you still have cravings after keeping away from it for awhile, it might be sneaking in under other names..

Anyway, just a bit of my own story here. Hope it's helpful.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:10 PM on February 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

What Spacemanstix says, only for me it's only about 5-6 days.

During those days I allow myself SOME non-refined sugar. (For instance, a spoon of honey or dried fruit or something.) I also use the sugar-free fudge-sicles or ice cream, but they don't do anything for the real cravings- they just temporarily trick me into thinking I'm indulging in my craving.

Long and short of it is that if I can stick it out 4 days I'm pretty much home free, and by day 6 I only crave sugar when I'm anxious, and it's not nearly at the level it used to be.

I'm not religious about it- I still eat catsup, for instance. But I try very hard not to eat refined sugar in bigger quantities than an order of french fries's worth of catsup.

Over the years I've discovered I can eat non-refined sweets and not trigger massive cravings if I don't eat too much of them. Fortunately (or unfortunately) this is a market that's growing. I can also make my own sweets and not have it set off the major cravings. (Obviously there's some perpetual craving going on or I wouldn't be learning how to make rapadura apple crisp. To this end, I recommend the book Nourishing Traditions, which is full of no-refined-sugar-or-flour recipes, and also, in the margins, a lot of scientfically dubious claims about the evils of refined foods. I'm willing to be persuaded these things are evil, but if you read the margin notes you'll see what I mean.)

When I'm going through "withdrawal" I eat a lot of fruit, fat and protein. I hadn't associated the protein part to it but crustix's post makes me wonder if there's a relationship there.

I also eat things like birthday cake at my niece's party because I don't want to be That Diet Person, but I know going in that I'm setting myself up for 5 days of misery and just live with it.

So- no great advice, except that in my experience the cravings do go away if you cut refined sugars out entirely.

posted by small_ruminant at 3:31 PM on February 17, 2008

oops. problems with the small tag there- sorry.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:31 PM on February 17, 2008

I agree that cold turkey is the only way. Sugar addiction is like a stray cat, as long as you keep feeding it, it'll keep coming back. Just go absolutely cold turkey, be a cranky bastard for a week or so, and you will be free. Eat all the fat and protein you want, just forsake the white devil.

I would recommend skipping the other sweeteners too, if you can. I find Splenda, for example makes my cravings come back. If you can go without any sweeteners at all your taste buds will change and suddenly you will taste the natural sweetness in food--that helps an awful lot.

If you're really in trouble, Dr. Atkins used to recommend opening a 500 mg capsule of L-Glutamine under your tongue. (It doesn't taste bad) You can also supplement with glutamine on a regular basis; a lot of people find it helpful.
posted by bink at 3:44 PM on February 17, 2008

I started putting cinnamon in my coffee instead of sugar to help stabilize my blood sugar levels.
posted by hortense at 4:08 PM on February 17, 2008

You may be tempted to switch to sugar-free candy. Sweetener technology has made it just as good as the regular kind, but I tried this method and I urge you not to do this. I won't elaborate on why, but it involves the words "the bathroom" and "a lot."

I am struggling with my own sweet tooth, but I find that unsweetened herbal teas with naturally sweet ingredients, such as peppermint or decaf chai, are a good substitute for the craving.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:16 PM on February 17, 2008

As Granted said above, sugar addiction is a true addiction. I use a twelve step approach, not necessarily overeaters anonymous. I can't manage or control my sugar addiction. I have to surrender and admit I am truly powerless over it. I need help beyond myself to achieve some sense of sane eating. Also, I keep it in today. If I had to go my entire life without sugar I don't think I could do it, but I can be sugar free for today.
posted by Xurando at 4:38 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

wow. not a frequenter of askme, but i stumbled on this thread as i was coming down from a sugar buzz. just ordered a couple of the books suggested here, and checked out the radiant recovery link. many thanks. and glad to know it's not just me.

yes, intellectually i *know* it's not just me, but i'm getting to the desperate stage and sometimes that's a lonely, lonely feeling.

thanks for posting this, lxs. and congrats on kicking the nicotine. that rocks.
posted by msconduct at 4:57 PM on February 17, 2008

Kicking the sugar habit/addiction is hard, no doubt, and the best thing that worked for me is to not only going cold turkey, but exclude all sweet tasting things from my diet. No artificial sweeteners, no diet drinks, no sugar-free this or that, not even fruit. The first several days are indeed difficult, but I have found that going sugar free and "sweet"-free for at least 30 days really helped me to completely get past not only the physical addiction to sugar, but the mental addiction as well so that memories of (and desire for) sweet-tasting things fade with time.

Good luck!
posted by SoulOnIce at 5:11 PM on February 17, 2008

One final thought: sugar is in everything, it just goes by different names. For example, one common ingredient in many foods is high fructose corn syrup. Yeah, that's just sugar.

Seriously, and to that I would add dextrose, maltodextrin, and anything else ending in "syrup." It's really discouraging. There are some brands of, say, lunch meat without any sweeteners at all, but they're really hard to find and three times as expensive.

the best thing that worked for me is to not only going cold turkey, but exclude all sweet tasting things from my diet. No artificial sweeteners, no diet drinks, no sugar-free this or that, not even fruit.

I also avoid artificially sweetened things - they're still a trigger. It's funny, once I cut everything out, I found that I don't even like sweet-tasting things all that much. Sweet potatoes, unsweetened rice milk, and so forth I can take in doses, but too much grosses me out.

wow. not a frequenter of askme, but i stumbled on this thread as i was coming down from a sugar buzz.

I finally opened up The Sugar Addict's Total Recovery Program in a dark parking lot while eating an oreo and butterfinger McFlurry, two days after I'd resolved never to eat junk food again. I'm sure if a cop had rolled up he'd have expected to find my hit kit and a baggy of heroin under the passenger seat.
posted by granted at 6:15 PM on February 17, 2008

I would suggest researching using a form of Gymnema sylvestre. I bought it as a tea, under a brand name I cannot remember that I picked up at an Indian grocery near my house. In my experience, it actually changed how sugar tasted to me, and I found its effects beneficial overall when attempting to reduce my sugar intake and while I do not monitor my blood sugar, I felt that I had less health problems related to sugar intake after using the tea on a regular basis.

As with any herb, consult with a trusted health care practitioner, nutritionist, etc., before use.
posted by kuppajava at 7:06 PM on February 17, 2008

My most heartfelt sympathies go out to you. I am a sugar addict, and I know the cycle of desire-plot-satiate-shame-desire very very well.

I stopped eating sugar almost 2 years ago, and I am still dealing with the unhealthy habits and rituals I built up (using sugar) around eating. I imagine I will deal with them the rest of my life.

It's great to hear other people calling this an addiction. When I described it that way to my psychologist (years ago, so maybe things have changed), he didn't get it, but was willing to consider that sugar could be addictive. And as pp have pointed out, it's not like you can kick the eating habit. . .Sugar is so ubiquitous in our society that choosing to be sugar free makes you an outsider (I have ample experience with this - mostly from my family).

Everyone's addiction is different - I am trying to manage mine by recognizing that I need sweet, but that doesn't mean I need sugar. I try to eat holistically, so sweeteners like Splenda are out. Maltitol and other sugar alcohols do you no favors - they do affect your blood sugar, as well as causing diarrhea. I use xylitol for some things, but it also will eventually affect your blood sugar (which is what starts the cycle of craving). For most sweet goods I use stevia. It has no caloric value, it is plant based, and it actually helps regulate blood sugar. So I can have cookies and fudge and ice cream and chocolate - all without sugar. So I broke the desire-shame cycle, but now I have to work on the habits (eating when hungry, only one treat, etc.)

Which is the long way of saying that for me at least, the only way out of my sugar addiction was by taking control of EVERY aspect of my sweet goods consumption. I make it, so I know exactly what goes in it. I would recommend this book, especially the fudge. If you do decide to go sugar free, keep in mind that you can't also cut out fat - the food just doesn't taste the same. If you have questions, feel free to contact me at the email in my profile. Good luck.
posted by dirtmonster at 7:07 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

And at the risk of being too talky - yes, exercise does counterbalance the effects. I know that if I drink (I never claimed to be perfectly sugar free), I really need to exercise the next day to get the alcohol AND the sugar out of my system. And drink lots of water and eat many whole grains. So yes, eating well and exercising will help.
posted by dirtmonster at 7:11 PM on February 17, 2008

You cannot quit sugar cold turkey; you need sugar. That said, you can cut out refined sugar from your diet. Refined sugar is what's going to screw you up, and since sugar is not physiologically addictive, you will not go through delirium tremens if you stop consuming refined sugar. However, you need to eat things that have natural sugar to keep your body fueled; fruits are the best source of this. If you absolutely must have sweet things, switch to stevia, which is apparently even sweeter than sugar.

Refined sugar bad. Natural sugar good.

-a friendly neuroscience student
posted by kldickson at 12:47 PM on February 18, 2008

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