How can I control my sweet tooth?
April 20, 2008 11:08 PM   Subscribe

I want to eat healthy, but have an almost uncontrollable sweet-tooth. What can I do to control myself?

I eat pretty healthy. I try to keep processed foods to a minimum, eat well balanced meals, and brown bag it most days of the week. When I go to fast food places, I almost always look at the nutritional information and try to get the healthiest items (baked chicken rather than fried, for instance). I take fruits and yogurts with me to work and school with my lunches (well balanced, whole grains, etc.). I drink diet sodas and rarely put sugar in my coffee. I eat a big heaping bowl of oatmeal for breakfast every morning. I even go to the gym multiple times per week, and always opt for stairs rather than elevators or escalators.

However, I love sugar. I love M&Ms, malted milk balls, and pretty much anything with a chocolate coating. The HR director at work keeps bowls and bowls of this stuff on her shelf. It's like a candy buffet, and I'm quite literally the proverbial kid in a candy store. So through the day, I snack on these candies. I tell myself the occasional two or three M&Ms don't hurt, and I'm going to the gym after anyway...but I'll eat something closer to 30 M&Ms and 15 malted milk balls. Even if I'm being good and stay away from the HR office, someone might bring in cookies, and I may partake. Or birthday cake. Or donuts.

I'm not fat, but know I could be in better shape without the huge intake of this crap (and perhaps I'll live longer). I've tried many things to try taking my mind off the candy. I've tried keeping healthier snacks at my desk--rice cakes, raisins, instant oatmeal, nuts. I've tried avoiding the HR director's office. I've tried bringing bags of fruit, eating graham crackers instead, and drinking sugar free hot cocoa. But 95% of the time, I end up giving in. I crave the stuff.

So what can I do? What tips do you have to keep myself in control? Should I consider hypnotherapy? Is there anything that I can do to reduce my cravings for sweets?
posted by rybreadmed to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Keep packs of gum around. Chew on that.

Other stuff is disgusting if you've got a wad of gum kicking around, and it keeps your mouth busy.
posted by spatula at 11:16 PM on April 20, 2008

This previous thread might be helpful.
posted by ethel at 11:26 PM on April 20, 2008

Mint gum in particular, as mint really changes the taste of sweets.

What you need to do more than anything is quit denying yourself and start implementing these things as a part of a healthy overall diet. 30 M&Ms aren't that bad for you, if it's just that much. Your problem is that you keep denying yourself, giving in, and indulging far too much, it sounds.

Look at how many calories you consume daily. Are we talking a sweet tooth that wants 100-200 calories of candy in a day, or are you chomping down on two jelly donuts followed up with a bag of Skittles and a chocolate chip cookie? On top of that, how healthy are your "healthy" snacks? Remember, there's plenty of calories in graham crackers.

It comes down to not seeing avoiding sweets as "punishment" of yourself, and permitting a certain amount of sweets. Establish this amount well before any exposure, and stick to it. Make sure to consume these sugary treats slowly. If you chomp down a chocolate bar in fifteen seconds, you're really missing the point. Enjoy what you will over more time, and know what your limit is.
posted by Saydur at 11:32 PM on April 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have been battling this problem. Try this: find a treat that is clearly at least one step healthier than those hideous candies and cakes and donuts, yet is very desirable to you. For me, I did a two-step operation. First I gave up processed sugar treats and substituted something else that I totally craved -- good french baguettes and croissants, with soft cheeses, or with butter and jam. Yum. So I ate those mostly, instead of the very very bad things. Now after six months of that, I'm on step two: I'm cutting down the good old bread to just a bare bare minimum.

So, can you find some treat that is decidedly healthier, yet turns you on? Like:
bagels or other breads w/ butter or cream cheese
popcorn w/ butter
potato chips made old-fashion way
fruit salads w/ crunchies and vanilla yogurt
nuts salted and flavored (as you indicate above)

If your system is craving fats, you might switch to potato chips, since they are easy to take to work. BUT THEN YOU MUST GO TO STEP TWO LATER. Now at step two, I find that just one croissant (my crave-food) but accompanied by well-rounded food like a good bowl of soup at the deli, or a slice of meat, or a hard-boiled egg, etc., is very satisfying.
posted by yazi at 11:33 PM on April 20, 2008

Awesome article

If you can track your diet and aim for a goal and slowly lower it, it helps. I started out eating a ridiculous amount of sugar and slowly I've brought it down to more reasonable levels. I find once I've done this for awhile, the really high sugar foods like soda or checkout line candy bars taste absolutely horrible.
posted by melissam at 11:53 PM on April 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I find that 5-HTP really curbs my sweet tooth. And chromium picolinate helps too.

And not having goodies in the house... of course, I now work at a place that gives us free meals and snacks; it may be my Waterloo.
posted by kindall at 12:02 AM on April 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

Are these open bowls of M&Ms and malted milk balls? If so, think of it as a bacterial breeding ground for all the germs of your coworkers (picture the one you like the least). Chances are, at least someone has reached into that bowl and transferred germs from picking their nose, using the bathroom w/o washing their hands, etc.

Not really a solution, but something to think about.
posted by invisible ink at 12:15 AM on April 21, 2008

I have the same problem. For me, the only thing that works is going cold turkey - after about two weeks without any sugary things, my body "forgets" about sweet, and I no-longer desire it.
Should I have some sweet stuff, I'll want to eat lots, but as long as I'm out of the habit, I can reach a point where the odd indulgence doesn't result in slipping back to square one.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:29 AM on April 21, 2008

I have the same problem too. I can go cold turkey for a few days but the moment i taste the 'forbidden', i can't stop. I have the same cravings for sour prunes, salty snacks and worse of all, cheese. And when those cravings come, no healthy snack can do the trick. The cravings stay even when the stomach is full.

I second Saydur and Yazi to not deny yourself these things but to limit the portions to serving size. Pour/measure it out and proceed to enjoy your daily serving of indulgence. The biggest problem i have to eating out of the bag (be it candies, potato chips). We never know how much we've gone until the craving is gone and it's usually when our fingers have reached the bag bottom. ;P
posted by prudie at 12:49 AM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I love strawberries and grapes for my sugar cravings. They're really sweet but a strawberries are about 5% sugar, M&Ms are 60% sugar.

Personally I find sweet fruits like strawberries and grapes taste much sweeter with far less sugar/calories than chocolate and candy
posted by missmagenta at 2:58 AM on April 21, 2008

Try keeping really really dark chocolate at your desk. One little square of the darkest chocolate you can stand should drive away your chocolate craving for an hour or two.

Also, knock off the diet sodas and switch to unsweetened iced tea if you can, as you are just training your palate to appreciate overly sweet tastes. The more diet coke I drink, the more I crave sugar. After giving it up for a few weeks, I crave sugar a lot less. Eventually most mass market candies become almost inedible from being too sweet (and chalky because of the cheap chocolate).

Incorporate foods into your diet with spices you associate with sweetness, rather than sugar. For example, grate fresh nutmeg on top of plain yoghurt or a whole grain cereal bowl. Use cinnamon and vanilla on other foods.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:50 AM on April 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

Seconding BrotherCaine - last year I read an article about a study where they discovered that people who drank diet soda actually gained more weight than people who drank regular. Now, these weren't randomized experiments, so it's likely there were a few unaccounted for factors, but still. Pretty startling.

One hypothesis is that diet sodas, being sweet, taste like they should be high in calories (energy) and then when no energy comes with the drink, your body gets confused and wants some more energy (calories).
posted by lunasol at 4:55 AM on April 21, 2008

I had the same problem, with candy at work that I would eat all the time. I would tell myself that I would only eat a little bit, but I wouldn't be able to stop. The thing that has helped me is something called the No-S diet, which I've been doing for more than a year now. The rule is No snacks, No sweets, No seconds... except on days that begin with S. Because I wasn't depriving myself completely (I could eat sweets on the weekends!) I was able to stick with it, and because there are no loopholes, I couldn't talk myself into taking that one M&M that turned into thirty (or more) M&Ms. And while I do eat sweets on the weekends, I don't have as much candy just sitting around my house as there is at work.

Good luck!
posted by cider at 5:01 AM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Can you politely ask the HR director to lay off the candy buffet for a while?
posted by miss tea at 5:04 AM on April 21, 2008

Brush your teeth, then concentrate on the "clean mouth" feeling. Works moderately well to keep me away from between-meal snacks. Side benefit: improved oral hygiene.
posted by gimonca at 5:20 AM on April 21, 2008

Splenda snacks
posted by caddis at 5:46 AM on April 21, 2008

Ask the HR director to keep the treats in a large jar with a screw top lid instead of an open bowl. Everybody can see them and still get to them, but you'll have time to stop yourself when you have to pick up the jar, unscrew it, put the treats somewhere while you put the lid back on the jar and return it.

If that doesn't work, put low-fat sugar free treats in the top of the jar - a mixture of low-fat/salt pretzels and sugar-free marshmallows, perhaps, or even some sugar-free mints. Now you've got to fight your way to the bottom to get those treats. No barrier to the determined, perhaps, but it's something else in your way.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:50 AM on April 21, 2008

One reason for your craving sweet foods could be low blood sugar levels. I find dried fruits like raisins, figs, apricots etc. are good for snacking on. Try eating low GI foods so your energy levels are smoothed out.
posted by DZ-015 at 6:26 AM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Like some of the others above, quitting cold turkey is the only thing that keeps me from over-indulging in coworkers' desktop M&M dishes. It seems I can't have "just a couple". Really giving this stuff up is much easier, I've found, if I tell everyone in the office that I'm doing it, especially the person who has the candy dish. People in my office tend agonize loudly over each handful of candy anyway (Cubemate: "Guess I'll do another 20 minutes at the gym tonight!" [grabs a handful] . . . Boss: "Gah, I can't stop eating today!" [grabs a handful]), so it's not that weird if I pronounce to everyone within earshot, "I'm not eating any office candy for 8 weeks. Seriously." Knowing that other people will witness my failure if I give in to temptation makes the temptation much easier to resist.

Giving myself a time limit (8 weeks) helps too. I usually find that I've lost my taste for the goodies by that point, so they're easier to resist, but having a deadline for when I can indulge again makes it easier to give them up temporarily.
posted by vytae at 8:09 AM on April 21, 2008

I have this problem when I don't take my calcium + vit d. As long as I take it 2x a day (your body can only absorb so much at one time) I don't crave carbs or sugar. Try it, the worst that will happen is you make your bones stronger who doesn't need that!
posted by meeshell at 8:15 AM on April 21, 2008

In my experience, sugar addiction is sort of invasive but thankfully, unlike other addictions, the withdrawal period is short. In my case, it's 48 hours. Once I go past the 48 hour mark, I don't want the soda, or the candy, or the whatever. But getting to that 48 is tough. My problem is that eventually I forget and order a soda somewhere, and then I realize halfway through what I'm doing. Then I drink it again for a week or two, then quit again.

Maybe I like the torture?

What I DO really like about quitting cold turkey is that later on, when you do eat something sugary again for the first time, you'll say to yourself "God this is disgusting, why did I like this so much?" Soda especially.

So, in summary: +1 for cold turkey. Granola bars w/ chocolate chips are an acceptable interim snack.
posted by TomMelee at 8:46 AM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Have you looked at the labels of those yogurts recently? You might be surprised at the amount of sugar in a supposedly healthy snack. The way to control sugar cravings for me has always to go cold turkey, not just for sugar but for most processed carbohydrates as well. Cut out flour and sugar from your diet for three days. Oatmeal too. It will be tough but at the end of it you'll probably find that you don't have any cravings at all. Then you can decide whether to keep feeling satiated and full or go back to craving sugar all the time. The choice was easy for me. But the first three days will be tough.
posted by peacheater at 9:04 AM on April 21, 2008

Don't buy sweet stuff.
posted by tiburon at 9:27 AM on April 21, 2008

What you need to do more than anything is quit denying yourself and start implementing these things as a part of a healthy overall diet. 30 M&Ms aren't that bad for you, if it's just that much. Your problem is that you keep denying yourself, giving in, and indulging far too much, it sounds.

This sounds reasonable on its face, but for many people it makes about as much sense as advising an alcoholic that moderation is better than sobriety. I know it sounds hard to believe but some people seriously can't limit themselves to 30 M&Ms and then just close the bag. There is no such thing as a "serving size" of sweets for me - just however much it takes for me to satiate the craving. If I haven't by the time I finish my allotted half-cup of ice cream, I'll just obsess about it until I give in and get more. It's not like I don't know where I put the carton.

It really is easier for some not to have any at all, and that includes all the hidden sugars in soup, salad dressing, canned foods, lunch meat, and everything else. I stopped eating sugar using the methods outlined on this website and in this book. I hope you find something that works for you, but definitely don't beat yourself up if it turns out moderation doesn't. Best of luck!
posted by granted at 10:30 AM on April 21, 2008

Chew gum as dessert.

Fruit as dessert. Melon is coming into season.

Cold-brewed iced teas with no sugar or, if you absolutely MUST, a tiny bit of honey (if you put a couple of standard Lipton black tea bags into about 16 oz. of water in your refrigerator overnight, you get the most amazing iced tea you've ever had, because it's still got that lovely tea-y flavor, but without any bitterness at all -- you don't NEED to sweeten it)

Tabata workout routine (twenty seconds of maximum-intensity exercise like prisoner squats, ten seconds of rest, repeat pattern for four minutes) has completely killed my appetite while also getting me in shape. I literally can't eat much of anything when I'm not hungry for real food -- a quarter-cup of canned tangerines has left me feeling almost sick, like I ate way too much. This might not actually be safe.
posted by DoctorFedora at 10:33 AM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding the suggestions about rich, dark chocolate and expensive sweets - the only way I've managed to successfully tame my sweet tooth is by allowing myself two pieces of dark chocolate a day (which is probably still too much, but given how I used to eat it's a huge improvement). It's been made much easier to stick to by actually going to a chocolate shop once a week and buying a small amount of something decadent - it becomes a ritual and makes you savour the experience so much more. As Phalene says above, it won't take long before you find the supermarket stuff kind of gross and prefer to wait for the good stuff. Going cold turkey never works for me, but everyone has to find what works best for them. Good luck!
posted by sleep_walker at 3:01 PM on April 21, 2008

I'd go cold turkey. Once you get your body out of needing that sugar fix it gets a lot easier. Also, I'll often get a major sugar craving in the evening, what helps me is drinking hot cocoa. There really aren't that many calories (if you pick the right brand) and it takes awhile to drink and it fills you up a bit, I find it takes the edge off a lot of the time.
posted by whoaali at 5:32 PM on April 21, 2008

« Older Gear for Three Months of Backpacking in Europe...   |   Page view limit exceeded why? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.