3 Ways to Beat Sugar Addiction Without Willpower

In PeerWell's previous post Sugar Addiction: Studies have shown... we talked about the binge -> withdrawal -> craving -> binge cycle. An individual's personal war against addiction is mostly fought in the craving part of this cycle.

The problem with today's solutions to fight addiction is that they all rely on willpower to fight craving. This is harmful for two reasons. First, it ignores all the underlying biochemistry that propels the human body along the cycle. Second, it puts the blame for failure squarely on the shoulders of the individual.

In this post we will discuss ways to fight craving without relying on brute force willpower. This is not a Buzzfeed list- all of this has been scientifically vetted. If you take these steps you will increase your chances of kicking your habit.

#1: Eradicate all cues

Cues are signs that indicate a reward is coming. Cues spike the intensity of craving in addict's brain by activating the circuitry in the brain that processes reward. Obese individuals are hyper-responsive to cues. So with this in mind, lets take a look at an average American pantry:



Well that's not good. Look at all those bright colors and bold claims screaming EAT ME. Imagine seeing something like this when you come home from work tired and 4 days deep into a sugar control program. There is no harm in whipping up a spaghetti dinner and munching on some cheese nips while the water boils right?

Wrong. Remember, giving in to craving leads to binging. When you reintroduce the stimulus you will overconsume. The key to avoiding this situation is to not get into it in the first place.

Remove all cueing food from your reach. Go through your house and discard or donate any food that has added sugar. Sugar has 61 aliases in the market. You can identify 50 of them by eliminating anything that has: juice, sweet(ener), sugar, syrup, and anything that ends with "ose". We made a mnemonic to help you: "Juicey sweet syrup gives you a sugar dose."

#2: Eliminate other stress

In studies stress reduces food consumption... unless the food is high sugar, then intake increases. Another study of 65,000 adults showed that higher levels of stress were associated with greater intake of snacks and fast foods. This is because the idea of "comfort food" is very real. In a stressful situations people gravitate towards things that make them feel good. Studies show that one way to increase serotonin production is to increase carbohydrate consumption.

Managing stress is a complicated task, but here are a few simple things you can do.

First, identify your triggers. People usually report the following:

  • Before and after checking your phone
  • As you enter / leave your house
  • As you enter your car
  • When you feel stress or anxiety building up during the day
  • Before each meal as a reminder to eat mindfully
  • While lying in bed before sleep
  • Every time after you brush your teeth
  • When you park your car after your commute
  • Before logging into your email for the day

Second, use the 4-7-8 breathing technique when you approach a trigger:

  1. Sit up straight
  2. Place the tip of your tongue up against the back of your front teeth. Keep it there through the entire breathing process
  3. Breathe in silently through your nose to the count of 4
    Hold your breath to the count of 7
  4. Exhale through your mouth to the count of 8, making an audible “woosh” sound
  5. That completes one full breath. Repeat the cycle another three times, for a total of four breaths

For more help, the Mayo Clinic has a great list of resources on stress management.

#3: Eat real food

Figuring out how to replace all of the food you just got rid of can be a challenge. Today's food environment obscures real food. Here are some simple rules to follow to help you find it:

  • Real food lives on the perimeter of the grocery store, not in the middle
  • Real food has less than 5 ingredients
  • If the item has multiple ingredients, they can be identified and pronounced by a 10 year old
  • Real food often does not have a nutrition label
  • Real food is something your grandmother would recognize

This concept of real food is important because the human body was built to run on unprocessed food. Sugar in itself is not harmful. Overconsumption of quickly absorbed sugar is the issue. Real foods like fruit or whole wheat have sugar in them, but are complexed with things like fiber that make them fine for the body to ingest.

Here are some examples of easy replacements:

  • Nuts instead of chips
  • Fruit instead of candy
  • Water instead of soda
  • Regular yogurt with fruits you slice into it instead of flavored yogurt
  • Coffee with cinnamon instead of sugar

Eating this way will seem more time consuming and expensive at first, but as you break the cycle you will notice that you eat less overall and have more energy.


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TL;DR

Fighting sugar addiction means controlling cravings. Controlling cravings means getting rid of triggers in your pantry, dealing with stress in a constructive way and replacing bad habits with real food.

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Nitun is a sleep medicine physician. He's built clinics to help people understand their sleep so they can be more alert and effective. He connects the best of tech with the best of medicine.

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