6 Easy Tips to Quit Sugar, Lose Weight Fast, and Have More Energy Right Now
I confess: I have a sugar problem. I love to add spoonfuls of sugar in my green tea, which when I need a little break or a quick jolt of energy while working from home. I know this is bad, but everybody has their thing.
So I called Michele Promaulayko, who wrote the book on how to quit sugar, to get her help in ditching my bad habit to set myself on a path toward being fitter by the time this whole working from home thing is over (hopefully soon). She wrote Sugar Free 3, a plan that guides the reader to be sugar-free in three weeks. The full title of the book is Sugar Free 3: The Simple 3-Week Plan for More Energy, Better Sleep & Surprisingly Easy Weight Loss! Sign me up. Michele is a friend from her days as a magazine editor (we were both editors of health magazines, and she has authored Look Better Naked and 20 Pounds Younger.) She was also editor-in-chief of Women's Health and Cosmo, so let's just say she knows her healthy-living advice.
Q: How Can I resist heading to the cabinet for a sugar fix at 4 p.m. every day?
A: You have to know where it's coming from. For most people, one of the reasons they crave sugar is that they are on the dependency cycle. They are eating more than they realize. You have these really intense cravings because you are on the cycle of dependence because you're eating it in hidden resources, like savory sources -- bread and tomato sauce or granola, Think what you had for breakfast. Was it toast? Cereal? Chances are you got on the cycle then.
Eating breakfast with hidden sugar starts the day with a surge of quick energy and then it dips again, about an hour and a half later. So that keeps you on the highs and lows. The more sugar you have, the more you want.
Q: Got it. True. Toast this morning was the culprit. Let's diagnose the problem of why we crave sugar, and then give people (okay me) five tips on how to solve it.
A: You need the awareness piece. So the first piece is the ingredient education. You have to have the awareness piece.
Tip Number 1: You are eating more sugar than you realize. It's hidden!
Most of it is from a hidden source. There are about 70 names for sugar so it can be in your food and you probably don't know it. Sugar, the simple kind (not fruit or whole grains) exists as table sugar but also in agave or honey or food additives. It's in oat milk, and of course dairy milk as lactose. Anything with an "-ose" at the end of the word. Lactose is sugar. There is naturally occurring sugar in things like milk or in fruit (whole fruit).
Tip Number 2: Learn to Read the Labels. Sugar is usually on them.
Finding the hidden sources by knowing how to read the labels is the key to getting off sugar. You can't get off it if you don't know where it's coming from!
You have to understand that packaged foods generally include added sugars, so you need to learn how to look at a label and see the added sugars. It's added to make the food more palatable and addictive, but don't fall prey to that. You just don't want hidden sugar in your tomato sauce or your crackers.
Tip Number 3: Start curbing your intake in the morning.
So instead of cereal or toast, start the day with whole foods -- even if it's fruit, you can have that because of the fiber, which will keep your blood sugar steady. The point is to avoid the spikes because it sends you on a sugar roller coaster, and for every spike, you experience a dip. That dip is when you feel low energy and reach for more. Instead, curb your consumption from the first thing during the morning and eat more vegetables and protein, and no added sugar—even from hidden sources —and when you do that you will crave it less.
A side note about plant-based products and sugar. Beware of the health halos, so just because something says organic or enriched or natural or gluten-free does not mean it doesn't contain added sugar. Basically whole foods are the ones to eat, not processed.
Tip Number 4: You don't have to quit eating fruit. We mean "whole" fruit.
This is controversial since fruit has a lot of naturally occurring sugar. But here is the difference: It also contains fiber, and that means that your body breaks it down slowly, and the steady form of energy is going to keep you going, but not make you fat. It's hard to eat enough whole foods of any type to gain weight.
We are not a nation that is grappling with obesity or being overweight because we are hooked on whole fruit. I have never heard of someone being overweight or obese by eating too much fruit. If the sugar is naturally occurring in whole food, such as an apple or an orange, you should have it, because it comes with vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants and is packaged with fiber, which keeps fruticose from entering your bloodstream all at once, so it gives you a steadier form of energy and your blood sugar stays steady.
On the Sugar-Free 3 plan, you are allowed to eat whole foods because you are eating naturally occurring sugar. It comes with healthy fiber and nutrients that allow this natural energy to enter your bloodstream slower and keep your energy going, like a natural time-release capsule.
And more good news: You can eat whole grains, such as wild or brown rice or quinoa because a whole grain has all of the nutrients. But not processed or white rice, since the minute you process the rice, you strip away all the fiber and it becomes empty calories.
Tip Number 5: Choose Other Sources of energy.
Let's purge from your mind that sugar is a quick source of energy. since the opposite is true. In adults -- and in kids -- sugar becomes energy-draining because it actually makes you more tired. Your body needs some sugar to function but you are already getting it from natural sources, so don't add more, since the spike of quick sugar then mobilizes insulin, which tells the body to store the extra as fat, and then you have no energy at all since it's tucked away into fat storage. So you end up feeling drained and gaining weight—a bad combination.
Stress eating? We all do that. One of the things I really truly believe is that there is such an ingrained thought process in our brains, that habitually we have been socialized to think sugar is harmless and celebratory and it's our friend, so when we are stressed we reach for this "harmless" reward. Its' also really too easily accessible and you can pop it in your mouth when stressed. It might even be crackers or chips, something you don't think of as sweet, but it has simple carbs that act like sugar when it hits your system. So next time when you think let me just throw it in the pie hole, stop yourself and do something else. Breathe, walk, call a friend, drink a glass of water. Just don't mindlessness eat a source of sugar.
Q: How about alcohol or wine? Are those allowed? Please?
A: We drilled down on this one. During the three weeks, I ask you to give up alcohol. The reason is that alcohol is a sugar. And it is a disinhibitor. What that means is that when you drink, you eat, and when you eat while drinking, you throw caution to the wind. It's true that you can get the drunk munchies, but you can also just eat more than you intend to, including bread and simple carbs. The one exception is that red wine does not actually have a lot of sugar. Almost all of it is gone in through the fermentation process. But basically you have to think of all alcohol as a sugar and a toxin. So why challenge your body more with this adjustment. It's hard enough to break bad habits so for three weeks try to limit your alcohol intake. Now, of course, there is an exception. Read on.
Tip Number 6: Choose Your Mindful Indulgence.
Once a week during this three-week period you can have a mindful indulgence—really good pizza or something you miss. But think about what that is. There might be a certain cookie or treat. You have to let yourself have it if it means that much to you. It's okay in life to indulge mindfully once in a while. It's unrealistic to say "I am never going to have birthday cake again" or if you are in a special place, like when I was in Italy last summer, I let myself have gelato and you can tell yourself "I am going to mindfully enjoy it."
We know that these are the exceptions and if you feel too guilty about it, the stress of guilt can change the way the body takes calories and holds onto them. The feelings you attach to a thought -- the cortisol created by that stress can actually cause your body to maintain the calories as body fat. Healthy, naturally slender people indulge from time to time and don't sweat it. They enjoy it.
For my birthday last week, I enjoyed myself. I was with a friend and she has a pizza oven. So we made homemade pizza and a dessert pizza. The whole thing was full of refined carbs. It was not a Sugar-Free 3 approved meal, but it all worked because a lot of other ingredients were healthy like I added broccoli to the pizza, but more importantly, I was with my friend in a joyous moment and we had dessert pizza and toasted with wine. And the next day I was back on track. That's how to stay healthy, and sugar-free, now.