Beat the Sugar Habit: 3 Steps to Cut Sweets (Mostly) Out of Your Life

Editor’s note: This is a guest post in Zen Habits written by Mike O’Donnell of the IF Life. It is frugal in the sense that you need to stop buying those expensive sweets that are no good for you.

Sugar, sugar, sugar. It’s everywhere. It’s in our drinks, it’s in our foods, and it’s hidden in places we never would think of. Many would call sugar their friend in time of need, but in fact their so-called “good friend” could turn out to be their worst enemy in disguise.

Sugar for many is something they may have been battling with for a long time, but the past is the past. Time for sugar to be seen for what it really is, and for us to take back full control of our lives. Here’s a simple three-step process to help you start to win back the battle for your health.

First Step – Awareness of what Sugar Really Does to Your Body

I think most people I talk to will say they “know” that they shouldn’t have sugar, but they really can’t help it. To me that is a lack of true awareness of what sugar does to oneself. I don’t think many people will say that they want to hurt their body on purpose, but unless they know it’s really happening they will continue down that road. Sugar is slower to impact our health (as we don’t die from an overdose right away), and it’s that slow destructive process that is the most dangerous. Unfortunately most people don’t know the damage until it has already been done (diabetes for example).

Let’s look at what is really going on with sugar from inside our body’s point of view.

  • Sugar increases fat storing. Possibly the most important hormone in the body when it comes to weight loss and health is insulin. Insulin is the main hormone that we have full control over daily through our diet and lifestyle. When we eat sugar and it enters into our bloodstream too quickly, we have a spike in blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia). Now in times of high activity we are able to burn it off, but if we are sitting around this is not a good thing. So in response to that high level of blood sugar (known as glucose), the body will release more insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin will then take the excess glucose and try to find a place to store it. If your muscles are all full (or have insulin resistance) then the best place to put the excess glucose is fat cells. When insulin is high, the fat cells are told to start storing (shutting down any process of releasing stored fat into the blood for burning). With chronic high insulin spikes comes a resistance to it (insulin resistance) by your cells, leading to more insulin production, leading to more fat storing, and more resistance, eventually going down a road of diabetes and ill health for the whole body. It’s interesting to note that in cultures known for their longevity, many had different diets and lifestyles but the one thing they all had in common was low fasting insulin levels.
  • Sugar disrupts normal brain function. I think most people can relate to mood swings and energy highs/lows that come after a high sugar meal. Sugar can also be the source of many people’s increased anxiety and depression. Let us not also forget the kids with ever-increasing attention “disorders” and behavioral issues. Sugar is not helping with that, either. In fact, there have been many studies that show when taking sugar out of a kid’s diet and increasing fat intake, their attention/learning ability increases, their behavior changes for the better, and in some extreme cases have been able to manage (if not eliminate) seizures. The brain is made mostly of fat and although runs on glucose it gets “shorted out” with too much sugar.
  • Sugar decreases your overall health and makes you age quicker. Too much sugar will lower your overall immune system, increase destructive inflammation, lead to essential mineral deficiencies in the body, feed bad bacteria growth in your gut (all health starts in the gut) and other wonderful stuff. Aging is just a fancy word for the body breaking down quicker than it can repair itself, as that is what happens when we get older. Aging also is accelerated by the increasing risks of all degenerative diseases such as diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease and cancers. We are all going to get older, but it doesn’t mean that we have to “age” quicker.

Not a good overall list on what sugar does to our body right? Well on the reverse side by taking sugar out of our diets as much as we can (and controlling insulin), we can effectively help to do the following:

  • Increase fat burning ability of the body.
  • Increase the immune system and state of health.
  • Slow down the destructive aging process.
  • Decrease risks for most degenerative diseases.
  • Have steady energy all day long (no crashes or swings).
  • Have increased mental clarity, focus and concentration.
  • Increase positive behaviors in children (as well as adults).

So first step is that we need to be aware of what sugar is really doing in our bodies. Once we see what is happening, I think we can start to change our view on whether it is our good friend or possibly public enemy #1 in our daily lives.

Second Step – Realize You are in 100% Control of Your Actions

This could the most underrated yet the most important step, as we are the only person who controls what we put into our body. Everything starts in what we choose to put in our mouths. Some people may say they can’t control their sugar cravings, but that is already admitting defeat and giving up power to some “cosmic sugar influence” out there. We can pass on dessert, we don’t need to buy a candy bar, we can drink water instead of soda, but the choice is ours to make.

Also many like to call it an “addiction”. This is just another way to give up your own personal power of choice. While sugar can have “addictive like” qualities, it’s not something that you own or is a part of you. Fight the battle and you will get over the addictive feelings, they will go away. But if you call it an addiction and make it part of you, then it is yours to keep forever. Be free from it, let go. Take back control and anything is possible.

Third Step – Just Live the Daily Journey one Choice at a Time

Life is just a series of present moments, and the choices we make in those moments. So let’s just focus on what we can do right now instead of worrying about what has happened in the past or may or may not happen in the future. “Now” is all we have and all we need to focus on.

  • Choose to eat more natural foods. Choose whole food proteins, healthy fats and natural sources of carbohydrates (processed carbs are just lumps of sugar to the body once digested quickly). If it wasn’t around a thousand years ago or is made by man (and not nature), chances are you don’t need it. Note how it says “Choose” above, as it is your choice.
  • Find the hidden sources of sugars and remove them. Sugar is hidden in places such as sauces, ketchup, soups, processed foods, drinks, so called health bars, and more. Become a label reader and see how much sugar you are consistently putting into your body. Don’t fall for the marketing trick either of “low fat”, because that usually means “more sugar”.
  • If it’s not near you, you can’t eat it. So get all sources of sweets, deserts and sugar out of your house. If you are even tempted and it’s nowhere to be found, then you can’t have it. Simple enough right? If you want to go out for a treat then make it something that you have to work for and go some place, don’t keep it within arms reach or easy access.
  • Make each meal balanced to control your blood sugar and insulin response. If you don’t let your blood sugar crash then you are less likely to crave an intake of sugar. Balance with whole food proteins, healthy fats and non-processed carbs. Have a slow and steady stream of glucose into your body, and not a rush that is created with sugar.
  • Eat sugar from its natural packaging – like fruit (as it is packed with fiber, water, vitamins and minerals) and other complex sources like vegetables.
  • Base your larger intake of carbohydrates around workouts and other activity. If you are able to use it for fuel right away or to replenish empty muscle and liver glycogen when they need it, then you will not be increasing storage into your fat cells.
  • Choose to burn fat, not store it. Realize that you can burn fat all day long if you give your body the right hormonal signals, which means keeping insulin low and glucagon high (which goes up when insulin lowers, but also shuts down when insulin rises). There is no way that you can keep burning fat if sugar is always present and elevating insulin all day long.
  • Get out and exercise. Feeling stressed? Then go for a walk and don’t reach for Ben and Jerry. Want to help increase insulin sensitivity in the body (which is a good thing), do some resistance exercise. The body was naturally meant for movement, so go break a sweat everyday doing something you enjoy.
  • More fish please. The brain loves the essential Omega 3 fatty acid DHA. Also Omega 3s are key to helping to increase insulin sensitivity, decreasing inflammation and increase burning fat. All this leads to fewer cravings for sugar and the body’s ability to handle it as well. Best source is wild salmon (not farmed) or you can supplement with Cod Liver/Fish Oil daily as well.
  • Learn it’s OK to say “No”. Don’t feel pressured to eat something just because someone else is or passes it to you (like a birthday party every week or sweets at the office). You have the final say in what you put into your mouth, so learn to say “No Thank You” with a smile.
  • Get rid of your mental attachment to sugar and food – once a week with a short fast (like only eating dinner for a day once a week). Many people are just too attached to needing to eat food all the time. Maybe that is why many people eat when they are watching TV or feeling bored. Time to realize that you will not starve yourself or whither away if you take a short break. Use that time to clear your mind, get perspective, and go for a walk in nature. You may be surprised at the revelations you may have during those quiet times of not eating. Also break that need for eating consistently, you can do fine once in a while without it, but more importantly break your mental attachment to constant food intake. An added bonus to fasting is you will help your body to “reset” some of its natural cravings and instincts. So you may start out craving sugar in the beginning of the fast, but later on your cravings may shift to something else like vegetables or healthy fats. Help your body to find it’s natural and primal instincts once again.
  • Control and manage your stress. Stress and your reactions to the environment around are important, as high stress will lead to increased cortisol. Cortisol in turn will lead to increased demands for blood sugar and increased sugar cravings. Take notice in the past when you may have eaten the most sugar and you may see a pattern around stressful and emotional reactions. Control your stress and you can control your cravings.
  • Go to bed early and get your sleep. Again notice when you may crave sugar the most, and chances are that it is late at night. If you are going to bed very late, then you are probably also messing up your natural cortisol cycle. You may see that if you go to bed by 10:30 you won’t eat junk food at night….but if you stay up to 11:30 or later you eat more and more sugar. Your body is confused and getting all the wrong signals as you stay up later, so to get your natural hormonal cycle down get to bed early and you will feel better for it.
  • Don’t ever get down on yourself. Do your best every day and don’t beat yourself up if you do have some birthday cake or ice cream. It happens and no reason you shouldn’t enjoy things time to time. Just don’t make it a staple of your life and once it happens, just move on to the next meal. Don’t focus on a mistake that might have been made in the past, as that is how people end up feeling depressed and just eating more. It’s OK as you are not expected to be perfect but you are expected to be in control. Do your best and keep smiling knowing the future is made up of whatever choices you make next!
  • Enjoy Life. It’s really quite simple that is we move and eat the way our bodies were designed for, health and happiness usually follows. So go enjoy life, have control over you choices, don’t worry if you have some cake once in a while, and be able to smile knowing that you are healthy and in control.

This is a guest post from Mike O’Donnell, a professional health and fitness coach. His blog can be seen at

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