Refined sugar. Consuming too much has been implicated in everything from obesity to cancer. Cutting sugar out of your life could be the key to living longer, supercharging your day with extra energy, and managing your weight once and for all.
Of course, there are challenges -- sugar in its refined form is as addictive as heroin; it's in 75% of the food products on the market today; and, oh yeah, our evolutionary wiring sets us up to want it. Quitting sugar is easier said than done. And while some MIT researchers are experimenting with optogenetics, a sort of light therapy which would rewire our brain circuits not to need or want refined sugar anymore, such solutions are years away from making it onto the medical market.
You'll have to rely on some other strategies if you want to live a sugar-free lifestyle in the meantime.
Prepare yourself for a detox.
Studies show going sugar-free for just 7 days can dramatically impact how your body interacts with it, how you taste it, and how much you crave it. Few people quit sugar by "cutting down." Most succeed by cutting it out.
But the road isn't easy. You can expect headaches, mood swings, and fatigue for the first several days. If possible, you might want to take some time off work. Clean out your fridge and your pantry to get all sources of temptation out of your path, pick up some healthy alternatives, and settle in.
Good news: after 30 days your cravings should disappear entirely. As long as you don't backslide, you will be well on your way to a sugar-free lifestyle.
Sorry, you can't fall back on artificial sweeteners.
Artificial sweeteners can promote weight gain because they trigger your body's sugar cravings without delivering the same dopamine hit. It also keeps you from enjoying the palate cleanse you'd otherwise get from quitting sugar altogether.
The palate cleanse is vital. When sugar is no longer desirable—when, in fact, added, refined sugar becomes downright unpleasant—you won't be so tempted when your coworkers whip out cake in the conference room.
You can, however, enjoy fruit, and you'll find it's a lot more pleasurable once you've trained your tastebuds to enjoy natural tastes again. You can even turn fruit into variations on your favorite desserts. Put frozen bananas into a food processor, and you get something very close to ice cream.
And, of course, smoothies are delicious, and a great way to eat your vegetables if you don't like them or find chopping up veggies inconvenient. Add a little EasyKale to a mango smoothie, for instance, and your tastebuds will never know the difference.
Your body will, however, and it will thank you for all those antioxidants!
Reach for iced green tea.
This is a great trick to use if you're a soda addict, especially if you don't like water very much. Unsweetened iced green tea is a bit of an acquired taste, but once you catch on it's a refreshing alternative to the fizzy stuff.
As a bonus, it acts as a natural appetite suppressant, offering you one more way to fight off cravings.
Make your own meals.
Checking labels will reveal there's sugar in everything from spaghetti sauce to salad dressing. You'll have an easier time if you shop whole foods and make most things yourself. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar make a fine salad dressing. There are plenty of homemade sauce recipes online.
(Hint... Toss veggies -- broccoli, cauliflower, carrot -- in olive oil and a pinch of salt, then put them in the oven at 400 degrees for 30 minutes—easy roasted veggies that you'll swear have a little sweetness to them.)
You'll have to spend a little more time in the kitchen, but it will be well worth it. It beats undermining your other efforts, or frustrating yourself as you read labels in the supermarket.
Did we mention fruit? A lot of it is highly portable, can be eaten with one hand and delicious.
Check your mindset.
If you tell yourself it's going to be hard, it will be! If you spend all your time lamenting all the things you can't have, then you'll struggle to enjoy healthy substitutes.
Going in with a positive mindset, excited about all you have to gain and the changes you're going to see, is a much better way to go.
Make sure you know why you're quitting refined sugar before you begin. This will empower you to stay the course when the going gets tough. Eventually, it won't be so hard anymore.
The sugar-free lifestyle will be second-nature to you, and you'll be healthier than ever.