I just wanted to share an old story about one of my previous client’s, Andrea.
I’m telling this story to share give a framework in how to stop sugar cravings in a practical way.
The framework is simple – understand the three causes of habits and eat plenty of nutrient-dense foods throughout the day.
Here’s a quick glimpse of the strategy:
1 – Become Aware Of Your Routine: Take fearless, nonjudgmental inventory of what you eat and why.
2 – Switch The Routine: For most people, commit to eating more nutrient dense foods more regularly. Feel the difference!
3 – Isolate and Replace The Routine: Put the sugary foods away so you aren’t triggered but are not deprived either.
4 – Glue Together With Self-Care: You need to meet your emotional needs at the end of the day.
To stop sugar cravings, let’s start where Andrea started.
Andrea was a sugar addict. She was a food addict, but you could say she had a sweet tooth that caused her all sorts of small problems that added up to be big problems.
Andrea would sneak sugar all the time at work. She’d have sugar in her pocket, in her car, at her desk, and of course at every meal.
She’d have little candies by her toothbrush and little candies by her bedside.
Andrea would always be popping sugar candies and little sweets just like an addict would.
Andrea was doing fine in life though. This is way different than alcohol or drug addiction!
Sugar addiction doesn’t make you violent (usually). Sugar addiction isn’t correlated with abusive behaviors and drunk driving. No, sure addiction is tough because it’s almost invisible.
You can essentially be normal to everyone else but feel like a total failure on the inside. Not to mention, a sugar addiction will hold you back from your potential.
It’s kind of hard to get promoted, study hard and focus when every 15 minutes you’re distracted by a sugar craving.
And an ideal body image too, throw that out the window if you’re a sugar addict.
So, Andrea is 57. She has two kids, loving husband.
I tell her we’re going to put away the scale.
We’re not going to measure success by the scale. If she wants to occasionally glance at the scale that’s fine, but we’re not going to be measuring success by the scale.
This is a key Eating Enlightenment philosophy to stop sugar cravings.
Let weight loss occur as a byproduct. Don’t focus on weight loss.
Focus on eating right, taking care of yourself, sleeping, meeting your emotional needs, listening to your body, etc. Focus on being happy. Just focus on feeling lighter.
If the weight comes off, great. It usually does, but sometimes the weight is a little stickier. That’s okay too.
So, let’s dive in. Do you remember habits? I made another post here where I focused on habits to stop snacking at night. Look at the graphic below.
Phase 1: Become Aware Of Your Routine
First we started by getting super clear about what Andrea was eating. This is oftentimes the hardest part!
People instinctively don’t want to look at what they are eating and be honest.
Yet if you can muster up the courage and willingness to honestly examine what you’re eating, without judgment, this step can change lives.
With Andrea she simply used a google doc and typed out what she ate during the day. Turns out she wasn’t eating that much.
A bowl of cereal, some toast, a muffin, maybe a salad on somedays, a latte on the way home, and of course, sugar.
Dinner was only large meal of the deal of the day, and she would oftentimes continue eating after dinner as well.
So first let’s talk about setup.
Want to know a big reason why Andrea can’t let go of the sugar? She isn’t eating enough.
The food she is eating is nutritionally deficient.
I’m not saying carbohydrates are bad, but you can’t only eat simple carbohydrates (like white breads, muffins, and cereals) and maintain a proper nutrient balance.
Andrea’s in this weird state during the day where she’s not starving, but she’s not satisfied. Her body wants more, and sugar fills that need, temporarily.
She’s rationalizing all these sugar decisions. At the end of the day her energy is depleted.
Do you see how she has a huge set up to crave sugar?!
To stop sugar cravings we must be filled up on good foods and good emotions.
Phase 2: Switch The Routine (in Andrea’s Case, add tons of protein and fat)
First thing we did was have Andrea pick some foods that sounded delicious and were high in proteins and fat.
It’s a good rule of thumb to have equal proportions of proteins, carbohydrates and fats.
Since Andrea wasn’t having hardly any proteins or fats, that’s what we focused on first.
Andrea first picked bacon and eggs for breakfast, as well as chicken and avocado salad for lunch. She also said she wanted some lean meat at night with her family dinner.
However, Andrea soon became hesitant about eating extra protein and fat.
Here’s how Andrea got over her hesitation to stop sugar cravings.
First, we never took away candy.
If she wanted candy after she ate all this food, she could have candy. That’s because taking away food like most diets do sets you up to feel deprived and break the diet.
We don’t want that. All we wanted to do was to have her fill up on nutrient dense foods and to change her eating routine.
I also said, “Try this for 10 days. See how you feel. If you gain weight, then I’ll give you your money back. Let’s see how it goes.”
10 days later Andrea comes back. She says she feels so energized, like incredible. She’s so excited!
I then asked her about the candy. Andrea replied that she was eating way less because she simply wasn’t in a semi-starved hungry nutrient-deprived state.
Her energy was way better.
But she was still eating some candy. To really take a deep dive into her candy habits, we learned about emotional needs, emotional benefits, and rewards of habits.
Andrea said that sugar made her temporarily feel energized and excited. She had something to give her mind a break from thinking.
She used to avoid feeling stress and used sugar to procrastinate.
Phase 3: Isolate and Replace The Routine
(Andrea Got Rid Of the Candy and Replaced With Healthier Alternative)
Now we had Andrea take all her sugar she was hiding all over and put it all in one place.
Andrea took all over her little mints, chewables, mini-Hersey’s kisses, and other sugary treats and put them in the back shelf of her pantry. She took all the candy from her bedside, desk at work, bathroom, you name it she found and put the candy in the back of pantry.
We put the candy in her pantry for two reasons. First, we took all the candy so Andrea would not be stimulated visually by seeing the candy and being triggered into an automatic habit.
Yet we put the candy in the pantry to avoid feeling deprived. Andrea could still have the candy whenever she wanted, but she would have to go get it.
Then, I gave Andrea an alternative to candy. Since she was always snacking on some chocolate, we decided that a meal replacement of hers would be a Clif Bar.
So, if she ever felt an overwhelming urge for something sugary, she could have this bar. She could have as many as she wanted. If she still wanted a sugary treat after the Clif Bar, she could have one.
The Clif Bar mimicked the candy but gave Andrea protein. It satisfied her sweet tooth – for the most part – and helped Andrea feel full.
Phase 4: Use Self-Care As Glue To Stop Sugar Cravings
The final step we looked at Andrea’s self-care habits.
Self-care is like oil in a car … glue for a school project …
It’s what holds everything together. You don’t normally think about glue or oil …
But without blue or oil everything comes apart. The same is with self-care.
Fortunately, Andrea had a pretty good sense of her emotional needs and had social skills to get her needs met.
For example, one time Andrea got super made a coworker and found herself totally bypassing the Clif Bar. She was eating because she was furious!
Yet Andrea also realized that by stepping up in her personal relationships (after she was no longer furious) she could get people to respect her boundaries.
Andrea also realized that one reason her coworker had upset her was simply because Andrea was sleep deprived. She was watching a few too many episodes of Netflix after the kids had gone to bed.
By committing to getting an hour’s extra sleep, and speaking up for her emotional needs, Andrea felt the sugar urge died down to essentially zero.
It’s not that she never had sugar again. It’s not that she never ate candy again.
But the compulsion was gone. She was normal. This is what it means to stop sugar cravings.
Stop Sugar Cravings Case Study Months Later:
A few months later Andrea reports a few slip-ups. But she understands why she returns to sugar and every time it’s either because she skipped a meal or somehow missed an emotional need.
She no longer craves candy. She can have candy if she wants, but she doesn’t want candy.
She’s lost about 10 pounds and we didn’t even talk about weight loss. We talked about happiness. And Andrea is sure has hell happier than before.
You can do this too.