How To Break Sugar Addiction

Reading: How I Broke My Sugar Addiction

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How I Broke My Sugar Addiction

When my doctor told me to lower my cholesterol, I didn’t know he meant murder my sugar habit

By Lesley Jane Seymour

If Wheaties is the Breakfast of Champions, then this is the breakfast of sugar addicts: Boston Crème donut. Regular large Dunkin’ coffee.

And here’s our snack: a (small-ish) bag of licorice bridge mix. Or chocolate-covered raisins. Or Oreo cookies (cholesterol free, right?). 

And our 4 pm break: Gong Cha frozen strawberry milk tea with boba and lychee poppers, if you work in a city with boba.

Dinner ends with dessert — possibly a hot fudge sundae — but now that I live in the the sugar capital of the world (New Orleans), maybe just a large square of fabulous bread pudding purchased from the local supermarket. Or red velvet cake, which they offer as well. Or maybe Doberge (a special NOLA cake with multiple vanilla layers filled with chocolate cream). Or when it’s 90 degrees out, a Snoball (shaved ice and flavored sugar water) with condensed milk and whipped cream. Or if it’s really hot, two.

My sugar habit went undetected because it was invisible. I was genetically lucky that it never showed on my hips. My only moment of reflection came when my cardiologist looked at some of my genes and blurted, “Wow, I’m surprised to see those two genes. Usually, the person is obese. Keep doing whatever you’re doing.” So I continued to go to the gym. And feed my sugar habit.

After menopause my cholesterol spiked, and my GP suggested I consult a nutritionist. I was shocked and insulted. “Me? Miss I’ve-been-working-in-women’s-health-for-40-years?” I knew everything there was to know already from reading, writing, or editing 5,000 health columns in women’s magazines. I decided to humor him and take the appointment. But just to be “good” I began cutting my cholesterol myself: I no longer stopped by my beloved Bevi Seafood — where I’d grab a bag of boiled shrimp and remoulade and park myself at a picnic table and peel and eat myself into cholesterol heaven. I removed the butter from my toast and went just for the cholesterol-free jam! I checked the Oreo nutrition label (can you call it that?). No cholesterol there.

So I nearly fell over when my nutritionist, Cheryl Dauzat, slid across the desk printouts from Dr. Mark Hyman’s book The Pegan Diet that spelled out the way sugar translates into fat and cholesterol in our bodies. Whaaaaaat? How did I miss this research? Is this something new?  

Then I did what I always do: a deep dive literature review. I dug into every doctor, writer, nutritionist, and historian who has ever written, posted, videoed about sugar and gave myself a graduate level education in the science. My conclusion: sugar is indeed the culprit behind many diseases, bodily dysfunctions, and yes, cholesterol rise caused by insulin resistance. Some researchers point to sugar playing a part in fueling dementia and certain cancers. What is clear: if given the choice between snorting a line of cocaine or a line of sugar, these researchers and doctors would choose the cocaine. Sugar is more addicting!

So how would I kick this real addiction? Could I stop cold turkey the way I’d crumpled up a pack of cigarettes in college and never looked back? That had been easy, because cigarettes made my hair smell bad and gave me headaches. What would I do about my master baking? I can whip up a professional cake for a potluck dinner in an hour. How would I cool off on summer days if I couldn’t have a Snoball? 

The magnitude of the problem was overwhelming.

So I decided to do what I’ve taught CoveyClubbers to do when faced with a mountain of a problem that they need to get over: use Tiny Habits (luckily, I’m a certified coach) to chop the task up into bite-sized pieces that I can tackle a bit at a time. 

The easiest starting point: the agave in the morning coffee. Week 1: I cut my sugar in half. Week 2: in half again. And so on until there was an undetectable amount of sugar and I was able to enjoy the coffee by itself. Harder was replacing the after-dinner craving for a sweet hit: I moved out the Oreos and moved in the dried fruit. Not perfect from a nutritional standard (there’s still a lot of sugar in the dried fruit), but it gave me a starting point. Eventually I was able to wean myself down to a single date if I needed it.

I’ve learned to read labels because of all the hidden sugars that are in processed foods — even in things that are supposedly good for you, like yogurt. My feeling is: if I’m going to ingest 16 grams of sugar, I’m going to choose how to do it and it’s gonna be cake, not some lousy packaged bran cereal. Did I relapse? Of course. Dylan’s Candy Bar calls to me like an ancient Siren every time I’m in the airport — and occasionally I give in. But I hop back on the no sugar wagon as soon as I can. Besides, many of the experts in this area know you can’t live life without any sugar, so some say sugar is fine once a week as a treat.

Did I lower my cholesterol? Absolutely! And I dropped 7 pounds. Just like that. 

How To Break Sugar Addiction Tips:

  • Use substitutes. Sugar substitutes like coconut and monk fruit are great and don’t raise insulin in your blood, which is what raises cholesterol.
  • Forgo alcohol. I had to give up alcohol years ago because it’s a trigger for my cluster headaches. But if you drink, a few researchers claim that red wine does not raise blood insulin. That’s why the French are thin.
  • Scour labels. Learn the tricky names for sugars that hide in nearly every packaged product. Avoid anything with high fructose syrup — the corn derivative that many researchers blame for the metabolic disease in 80% of the population today.
  • Give it time. Know that it’s true: your taste buds will adapt. Did you know that broccoli is really sweet?

Come join my Tiny Habits to Remove Sugar From Your Life class. I will take you through methods for creating healthy habits that squeeze out the bad ones.

Also, reading the research will make you so angry that, I promise, you will have more incentive and resolve to remove sugar from your life than you have now. Once I discovered that all these manufacturers dump sugar into everything to solve a government problem with the farm bill or to increase sales because they know it’s addictive, I got pissed — and that motivated me even more. 

You can do it, I promise. Seriously. If I can, you can. 

  1. Susan Purvis

    Lesley. You are my hero. Your writing is strong and to the point. Keep on writing. And, thanks for helping me make my tiny sugar corrections stick…. Bye bye ice cream. Thanks, Susan

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