Just about everyone who knows a little bit about proper nutrition knows about the dangers of sugar in your diet. I keep reminding my personal training clients that high sugar consumption is associated with obesity, increased risks for various diseases and poor diets. If you have weight loss in mind, sugar is often the first to go, or at least to cut back on.
But of course, you can’t really avoid it these days, so you need to set a limit. There’s just one problem, and that is, experts are not exactly in agreement as to what this limit should be.
The World Health Organization, for example, has gone on record that it is much preferable that sugar should only make up about 5% of your total daily energy intake. In other words, that means your sugar total should not be more than the equivalent of 6 teaspoons of sugar if you have a normal BMI. This includes all the sugar added to your food and drinks, as well as the natural sugar in fruit juice and syrups.
Not everyone in the world has been quick to agree, however. Dieticians in Singapore, for example, believe that even though this is a good idea, it’s also impractical and difficult to implement. The Health Promotion Board (HPB) in Singapore allows for sugar to make up 10% of your total calorie intake. That’s about 40g to 55g, or between 8 to 11 teaspoons a day.
In the US, the American Heart Association recommends a limit of 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day for women and 9 teaspoons for men. But Americans do what they like—“it’s a free country”—so they average about 22 teaspoons of added sugars a day.
Why You Can’t Say No
Actually, there’s also another problem: it’s not easy to say no to sugar. Regardless of what nutrition plan we subscribe to, we just want it. Weight loss can take a back seat.
There are several reasons why sugar is just so irresistible. Doctors acknowledge that sugar is the first taste that we like from birth, so there may be some genetic factors at work. When you eat sugar, you stimulate the release of serotonin, which is a brain chemical that makes us feel good. The taste also causes the release of endorphins that help us feel calm and relaxed, while also offering a natural “high”. It can quickly satisfy our hunger, and provide us with an immediate boost of energy.
It just tastes so good as well. And that craving for sweets is also reinforced when we use sweets to “reward” ourselves for a task well done.
As you can see, the odds are not in our favor. But still, we have to persevere.
Some Ways of Saying No
This is one of the more challenging tasks that I’ve to deal with as a personal trainer who’s concerned about his clients’ health. I am constantly thinking and researching ways to help them cut back on empty calories. Here’s some ways:
There’s not one single way of saying “no” to sweets that will work for every person. But here are some of the more popular methods people have used to say no:
- Cut it all out completely and abruptly. I don’t usually recommend this, but it works for some people. In the US, this is called the “cold turkey” form of quitting. You just say no and do it. Of course, even its proponents admit that it’s not that easy. The first two or three days will truly test your determination. But some find that after a few days the cravings for sugar diminish, while others may have their taste buds used to less sugar.
- Do something. When you have a craving, get up and do something. Take a walk, have a change of scenery, engage in sports. These will serve as distractions.
- Chew gum. Some research studies suggest that chewing gum can reduce food cravings. This is very popular in countries like the US 🙂
- Keep them out of your house!
If you’re a sweet tooth like me (aha!), you may want to stop buying and stocking up the fridge with candies, chocolates and other sweets. When you’re craving for a piece of chocolate late at night, there’ll be none in the fridge! Imagine if your refrigerator is always stocked up with candies and cakes – they’re so easily available and definitely won’t help you towards your goals of lessening your sugar/candy intake. One Mars bar a day would mean more than 360 Mars bars a year!
- Out of sight, out of mindSeeing candies and yummylicious caramel cheese cakes may trigger your brain to start thinking of eating them. Keep them out of sight- best to keep them ‘out of stock’ altogether. Don’t give it a chance to take control over you!
- Be progressive in cutting back your sinsThe methods that I recommend above – all well and good, but I’d strongly recommend this one, while doing them: cut back your sugary desires by 10% week for 5 weeks (as opposed to cold turkey) . In 5 weeks, you’re already 50% there- what’s important here is that your body don’t feel deprived of the things that you like. In fact, this method of teaches your body to change. This method is more progressive and ‘easier’ for your body (including brain and taste buds) to adapt. This means you can continue to enjoy your candies (albeit lesser calories now, yeay!) Now that you’re ‘50%’ successful in this, continue to progressively lessen your sugar intake. Change to eat less candies, chocolates and all those ‘sinful’ (Yes I know they’re yummy!) food, and learn to enjoy less of them. Teach your body to love less high calorie food.
There are many other ways to do this. Think behavioural change and start new habits – replace negative habits (such as eating too much of that salted caramel cupcake) with great ones 🙂
Coach Sharm, MSc