We've all been there. We stepped on the scale or looked in the mirror first thing in the morning, found ourselves unhappy with the result, and said, 'That's it! I need to get in shape.'
We swing through the drive-thru and swap out the large green tea chai frappuccino for a black coffee and the donut for a pesto egg white low carb wrap. For lunch, we order the grilled chicken salad and instead of the coke we normally go for, we stick to the bottled water. Everything is on track, except, by about three o'clock we've got an energy dip and can't stop thinking about the vending machine being a seductive vixen in the break room. It's like the M&Ms are giving you the side eye and with the ease of slipping in a dollar and pressing the right buttons, you've wolfed down 250 calories of sweet, sugary goodness in a matter of minutes.
Then, two things happen.
First, you are unsatisfied.
Second, you want more.
Or maybe you've gotten home after work, made a huge dinner, stuffed yourself full on healthy foods like meats and veggies, sat down on the couch and thought, “Man. I want something sweet.”
If you're like me, you've got a huge sweet tooth and it's a tough habit to break. Nothing is quite as good as a mound of sugary goodness, but when it comes to sugar, it's a calorie-dense, appetite stimulant that keeps you craving more and can quickly derail any plans for a healthy diet.
First and foremost, most of the food you encounter it in on a daily basis has been engineered for flavor and mouth-feel. If you don't believe me, check out this previous post that sites some pretty compelling material.
Think about it, if the product tastes lackluster your won't want more and then that company will get no more of your hard earned cash. Recognizing this is a good first step, but here are a few more effective tips to help you break the junk food habit:
1. Actually break the habit.
We have a finite amount of will power, but it doesn't take much to inch toward this first step. If you're an every day consumer of sugar laden foods, set up a goal of nixing the habit on specific days of the week.
Pick a certain number of days, for this example, lets say 3, and establish what days they are. Let's say it's Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
For the next couple of weeks, you're going to try to kick the sugar habit on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. When you're going through this process, change your language about the foods. It's important to emphasize that it's not that you can't have sugar, it's that you don't want sugar. The tricky part here is not to binge on the days where you do have sugar. To prevent this:
2. Keep those foods out of the house and only purchase in single serving packages the day of.
As we said previously, will power is finite and you've exhausted it throughout your day with all of the things you didn't want do that you made yourself get into, so don't keep the foods you tend to snack on in the house. It's difficult enough to break away from these addictive foods, so why would you leave temptation within arm's reach?
Sometimes this can be difficult, we live with other people and can't control what they do. For tips on this check out the section called Set Up Obstacles in this post.
3. Have substitutions on hand.
Next up, have provisions on hand. Figure out what it is that appeals to you about the sugary foods you snack on? Is it the sweetness, the texture, the crunch? Now find healthier options that satisfy that craving.
If you like the creamy texture of ice cream, can the texture of a frozen banana or mango suffice? If you enjoy the crunch of cookies, what about an apple? Or if you enjoy more decadent treats, can you substitute them for healthier versions, like a smoothie for a milkshake?
A quick search for options less than 'x' amount of calories or substitutes for 'x' food can help you sort through different options. Keep in mind that calories still count, even if they are coming from healthier options. When it comes to more sophisticated treats like smoothies, make sure to measure out the ingredients. Not doing so could have you blowing past the calorie count and defeating the purpose of swapping to the healthier alternative.
4. On the days you do have sugar, pay attention to how you feel afterwards.
This is a multi-part process that relies on you checking in with how you feel after you have your sugar-bombs.
First, pay attention to how you feel right afterwards.
You ate that bag of M&Ms. How do you feel right after? Do you feel satisfied? Are you still hungry? Was it exactly what you wanted or was the idea of it more appealing than actually having it?
Second, pay attention to how you feel 30 minutes later.
Do you feel a little more tired now that the sugar-high has worn off? Do you feel physically uncomfortable in any way? Bloated? Irritable?
Third, pay attention to how you feel 2 hours later.
Are you hungry again? Do you feel any negative consequences from consuming the food? Are you experiencing a sugar crash?
Lastly, remember these feelings and repeat steps 1-3 the next time you have a sugary treat.
The goal is to practice being aware of how the food impacts our bodies and associating it with the action of eating that food. If you recognize that eating sugar makes you feel moody, bloated, tired and uncomfortable, and it happens every time you do it, soon you will be in the position to ask yourself 'do I want to feel this way?'
5. Now up the goal.
Once you've successfully nailed the habit of skipping the extra sugar a few days a week move the goal post and add a day to your goal. Go from 3 to 4 days a week or 4 to 5 days without sugar. Increasing the challenge gradually will increase your chances of adherence over time.
The end game.
By skipping the sugar and utilizing healthy substitutes, you'll find that your palette will readjust. Given enough time and consistency, you'll start to crave natural sources of sweetness like fruit.
This has a couple of benefits. First, the natural foods will give you more nutrients than the sugary stuff. Second, natural foods will be lower in calorie thereby making weight-loss goals easier.
We all love a treat sometimes and they don't have to be completely off the table. If we readjust to save those types of food for special occasions and cut them out of the daily routine, healthy eating becomes a lot more manageable and desirable. Imagine craving an apple over a candy bar or a salad over ice cream. It becomes one less hurdle to jump over to get back to a leaner, fitter you.