Tackling the sugar habit

Before the Easter Bunny shows up bearing baskets of holiday treats, consider this: Sugar.

Need I say more? Okay, I will.

An Australian documentary filmmaker did an experiment on his own body maintaining calories but ingesting 40 teaspoons of sugar a day – all from what we think of as “healthy” food – like juice and sauces.

The resulting impact on his health in just 3 weeks tells a powerful story. Here’s a link that includes clips from this documentary.

We know sugar isn’t great for us, so why is it hard to give up the white stuff?

  • Eating sugary foods and drinks gives us an energy lift which our body sees as an immediate reward.
  • Sugar as a social thing at home and at work. What’s more celebratory than sharing cake and ice cream? And so many holidays have ties to sugar: Halloween, Christmas, Easter.
  • We grow up eating it.
  • It tastes good.
  • It’s a habit.

If you’re ready to cut back, here’s a habit-breaking plan to help you get started.

  • Take a week to figure out how much sugar you’re currently ingesting. A planner is a great place to track a habit, but any piece of paper will do for sugar tracking. Jot down what you eat and drink each day, and how many grams of sugar are in it. It’s just 7 days out of your whole life. And won’t it be interesting to see what your total is?
    • If you don’t know how much sugar is in something you ate or want to eat, google “How many grams of sugar are in…”
    • Packaged goods list sugar in grams per serving. FYI: 4 grams of sugar = one teaspoon. For your tracking, total grams is fine. Just be sure to include the number of servings if you have more than one.
    • Read the label for everything you eat. You might be surprised where you find sugar – in bread, sauces, crackers… You’re on a treasure hunt this week.
    • Keep a total by day, and run a total at the end of the week.
    • Highlight the worst culprits for the week. Were there any surprises?
    • Thinking of surprises, it’s important to know what your normal intake of sugar is. And you want to note any exceptions this week (i.e. Birthday party! Had to eat cake!). Sometimes we think, “That’s not my norm,” but if every week has a “not my norm” moment, then “not my norm” is part of your sugar intake. Everything goes on the list.
    • Note any physical issues you have each day – a head-buzz after eating certain foods, headaches, achy joints, sore mouth. Physical symptoms you’re experiencing may not be related to sugar, but if they are, you should start to see them disappear as soon as week #2.
  • In week #2, cut back on sugar.
    • When you shop for groceries, spend more time in the produce aisle and less time in packaged goods. Sugar is a natural ingredient in a number of fresh foods, but it’s processed sugar – including corn syrup, honey, and syrup, that aren’t great for your system. If you aren’t normally a fruit eater, try some this week. It may taste sweeter than you remember as you cut back on processed sugar.
    • Read the label of any packaged goods you buy. The goal is to cut back on sugar, but artificial sweeteners aren’t great for you either. The goal is to buy only low sugar or no sugar items in week #2.
    • If you feel like a treat that’s just a little sweet, try making what you want from scratch and cut the amount of sugar at least in half. I made a carrot cake last weekend for a party and used half the amount of sugar in the cake and less than half in the cream cheese icing. I went heavier on carrots and nuts and everyone seemed to like it.
    • Make note again of any physical symptoms you experience. I don’t tolerate sugar well, and when I eat it, I feel it in my fingers and knees. Sugar is an irritant to your system and irritants tend to attack your most vulnerable areas. My vulnerability is definitely in my joints!
  • In week #3, try to cut all sugar. Track just like you did in the previous weeks for sugar intake, and track any physical symptoms.
  • It takes about 4 weeks to get a new habit in place, so shop, eat, and track one last week.

If you’re a data geek like me, you may also want to track calories and weight starting in week #1. After 4 weeks, you’ll have a good idea of how many calories you eat a day, how much sugar you can tolerate without physical symptoms. And you may be surprised to see you lose a pound or two.

Are you ready to take on this challenge? It’s your life. You want to be clear-headed and healthy. I’d love to hear your results!

Sending you a little peace of the ocean today 🙂

Want to see other posts on this blog? There’s a small link below to the most recent post. Or check out the column on the right to see what other folks are reading. Try the “search” box at the top right if you’re looking for something in particular. I welcome your thoughts and suggestions for future posts! I hope you have a wonderful, habit-breaking day.



4 thoughts on “Tackling the sugar habit

  1. Janie, You’re tracking just added sugars, right? Not, say, lactose in milk? What do you think is a good target daily total?
    Love your posts!


    • Hi Lisa. I have trouble with all sugars, but right now, I’m just looking at processed ones in the food I eat. On the “how much” front, food advocates say ZERO is the right amount! What I find interesting is to see what you eat now, and see if you can cut back. I’m not a big believer in drastic diets. You want to make changes that work for you and that you can stick with. I know people who hold onto one last sugary thing and can’t give it up. And if that work and you feel well, then I’d go with that! I like a long-term view of changing habits.


  2. Photo is spectacular! And I thought I could shine you on on the sugar front until you mentioned the knees… dammit, Janie, now I’m gonna really have to start paying attention!


    • Hi Sam. To save my joints, I cut back on all acids: meat, alcohol, caffeine, fruit, sugar… I found once I cut everything I could tolerate having some in my system – but it does seem to build up if I push it. The only thing I really miss is coffee. I have an occasional cup when I’m driving long distances and feel it in my finger joints the next day! That’s a welcome reminder for me about why I cut it in the first place! Long-term health requires a long-term commitment, eh? 🙂


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