Weight Q&A: Addicted to Sugar?

Featured Article, News and Advice, Weight Loss
on March 1, 2011
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Spry editor Lisa Delaney is one of the rare souls who know what it’s like to be an “after.” This journalist and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl shed 70 pounds — and six dress sizes — and has kept it off for 20 years. She answers your questions here each week.

QUESTION: I’m trying (yet again) to break my addiction to sugar. I’ve tried to control myself, but after every lunch and dinner, it seems, I want something sweet. It’s so bad that if I don’t have access to candy or other sweets at work, I go pawn them off my co-workers. Help! — Liz

DEAR LIZ: ‘Tis the season for swearing off the white stuff: I have several friends who are fasting from sugar during the season of Lent. (I, myself, have sworn off wine. My son wanted to give up broccoli, but I wouldn’t let him.) Plus, with the American Heart Association’s (AHA) relatively new recommendations to limit sugar intake to 6 teaspoons a day for women and 9 teaspoons a day for men, there are more reasons than ever to focus on taming your sweet tooth.

The AHA’s stance is not just based on the fact that excess sugar adds excess pounds (a risk factor for heart disease) but that as we fill up on sugary treats, we’re missing out on healthier foods like veggies, whole grains and lean proteins.

As a long-time waist-watcher, I’ve been painfully aware of my intense love/hate relationship with sugar. Love to eat it, hate the fallout. So I’ve put a lot of thought into how to curb my craving for the white stuff (and its syrupy relatives). Here are a few of my favorite strategies:

Chew your calories. I learned early on—maybe back in my Slim-Fast shake period—that liquid calories simply don’t satisfy. Some time after that, researchers confirmed that calories consumed in liquids don’t affect hunger like calories from solid foods. The upshot? Don’t waste your precious calories on sodas (the number one source of added sugar in the diet, by the way) or other drinks.

Discover seltzer. I’m not saying you always have to opt for plain old water—that’s just plain old boring! When I want a bit of flavor, I cut cranberry juice (100% juice, please) with fizzy, zero-calorie seltzer water, and add a bit of fresh lime. You can spike just about any drink—even white wine—with seltzer. Some stores carry seltzer infused with flavors like lime or raspberry, so you get a hint of fruit, sans calories or sugar substitutes.

Try natural sugar substitutes.People who shun the blue, yellow and pink packets because of their artificial origins may want to experiment with stevia, a natural, zero-calorie sweetener. Stevia’s the stuff in Truvia, on grocery store shelves now.

Go low-sugar across the board. One of the positive results of the Adkin’s anti-carb craze (yes, there were a few!) was the introduction of lower-sugar versions of various products, such as jams, juices, kids’ cereals and such. Many of these formulas cut sugar without the use of artificial sugar substitutes—but read labels carefully to make sure you know what you’re getting.

Exercise your INO. As in “It’s Not an Option.” INO is the mantra I use to help me put the brakes on when I’m faced with temptation. INO is my way of reigning in my appetite and keeping myself on track (for instance, “It’s Not an Option to polish off an entire sleeve of Girl Scouts Thin Mints” or “INO to take the elevator instead of the stairs”). Try it for yourself—or feel free to come up with another mantra (because mantras can be a very personal thing).

Go for the gum! When you get a hankering for something sweet, pop a stick of sugarfree gum in your mouth. Not only will it help with your cravings: Gums containing the sweetener xylitol may strengthen your teeth and prevent cavities. I experiment with different flavors and brands to keep things interesting. The other thing about gum—it’s hard to eat other things when you’ve got a piece in your mouth, so I like to chew it when I’m cooking and (especially) baking.=

Plan a once-a-week treat. I’ve found that having a sweet splurge to look forward tohelps me stay straight the rest of the week. It also makes the treat-of-choice (whether it’s an ice cream sandwich or a Milky Way) seem more decadent and indulgent than if it was every day fare.