Guest Post : How I broke free of Sugar Dependency

Monday, March 04, 2019

Sugar is such a sweet thing - quite literally. It tastes good, makes our taste buds tingle for more. But the more we eat sugar, the more we fall into a pattern of sugar dependency. It becomes so that if we don't get our afternoon sugar snack we become irritable, hangry and unable to focus. If someone refuses to give us chocolate we accept it - but secretly it really annoys us. Not necessarily because they've refused to given us one, but because an innate feeling within really really wanted that sugar. 

I think a good or shall we say, realistic way to think of sugar is as a 'sweet poison'. It tastes nice, we can tolerate quite a bit of it. But if we keep consuming it, and consume too much it can have adverse effects on our health. 

It's a real battle so many people face in life. A true struggle. And it's so hard to break because right from a young age you're given sugar. It's used as a reward, a treat, a way of bribing children to do things. So we begin to associate the sweetness of sugar with reward. There the problem starts. 

Not only that but as you grow up and begin to have your own allowance and money to spend it's so easy to buy a chocolate bar or a couple of sweets for a cheap price if you're feeling sad, angry or irritated. The chemical response that occurs from eating sugar releases dopamine (the happiness hormone) within our blood and makes us feel happy. In fact, consuming sugar can act as a painkiller - if you're ever in pain, physically or mentally and consume something sugary, for the next 30 seconds any pain you had is likely to go. That's how powerful sugar is. Sugar is one powerful drug. 

I'm going a bit off topic here, so let's get back on track. 

Trying To Become A Better Runner

I was a young runner, around 13 or 14 I think when I became quite aware of how much sugar I was consuming through chocolate. I wasn't the fastest runner, but I was (and still am) ambitious. I trained hard, and perhaps more frequently than my peers yet I couldn't seem to beat them. I thought about it. Maybe if I ate a better diet I would recover better and could train harder and run faster. 

But there was the problem. I was very much hooked on carbohydrates and sugar like many other runners. All carbohydrates (except fibre) are eventually broken down into glucose which is the pure form of sugar used by the body. So as you may have guessed, if you eat a diet dominant in carbohydrates, it doesn't make it easier to unhook yourself from sugar. 

In the morning I would probably have cereal (loaded with sugar), maybe a cereal bar as well or even some chocolate in the morning if I could find any - usually about 50g of milk chocolate. My lunch was generally pretty good, but as soon as I got back from school around 4 pm I was ravenously hungry and would eat 100g milk chocolate and possibly a KitKat chunky before cycling to the nearby athletics stadium where I trained for my running.

During a typical training session, I would run at least 10km so it was easy for me to eat lots of chocolate! And that's how it was for me for a couple of years before I decided to make a conscious change in order to fuel my body better in order to become a faster runner.

Implementing The Changes

Let me just start with this. It was not easy.

First I began by trying to reduce the amount of chocolate I ate in the morning, from about 12 mini blocks of chocolate to 8 blocks. That wasn't too hard, and then eventually I made my way to not having any chocolate in the morning. For breakfast, I began to switch cereal with eggs and fruit - great fuel for runners. That helped to swap the artificial sugars in cereal with natural sugars in fruit which in my opinion is far better for you. Since eggs are very filling due to their high protein and fat content, that helped to keep me satiated until lunch.

Trying to eliminate my chocolate eating habits after school though was a lot more difficult. Initially, I began by stopping myself from eating the KitKat chunky - they were supposed to be reserved for my dad anyway. That meant I was 'just' or still eating 100g milk chocolate (however you want to put it). It felt impossible for me to stop and remove the chocolate from my daily routine, so I tried something else.

I knew that dark chocolate had less sugar than milk chocolate so I swapped my milk chocolate for dark chocolate (only 50% dark). Looking back on it, they both actually had very similar sugar quantities, but the flavour was very different. The dark chocolate would last longer in my mouth so I would let it sit in my mouth so it would take longer before I reached for more chocolate. Initially, I wasn't fond of the taste, but over time I grew accustomed to it and began to enjoy it.

Breaking The Habit

The ultimate turning point for me in stopping myself from eating chocolate habitually was lent. Many things you do every day are due to habit. This even includes eating breakfast, lunch and dinner - you do it because you're used to it. Now, I listen to my body and only eat if I'm actually hungry.

Lent was a time when I could challenge myself and break my habit of eating chocolate. So I said to myself, "I'm not going to eat chocolate for 40 days." I did have sweets a few times and crisps, but no chocolate. I ate those other foods to help prevent me from caving into my chocolatey desires. And once lent was over, I didn't crave chocolate the same way I used to. I ate my Easter egg and thought "Mhmm this is nice." I recall sniffing it a few times just to "inhale the scent of chocolate" again and it was good, but my habit was broken.

Over time, I increased the percentage of the dark chocolate I ate and reduced the amount. Now I enjoy eating Lindt 85% dark chocolate and can easily eat the whole bar - I have to stop myself! Anyway back to the story, I soon seemed to have gotten more control over my eating habits.

One thing I think which helped me mentally is knowing the ill effects of having too much sugar such as:
  • Increased risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Increased insulin and blood glucose levels
  • Increased oxidative stress to the body
  • Sugar rushes and sugar crashes
  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
  • A higher likelihood of storing excess sugar as fat
Knowing some of these facts helped me to turn down anything sugary when I had the option.

After that, I began to eliminate carbohydrates which also elevated blood glucose levels drastically such as bread and pastries. After removing sugar, that wasn't too hard. I swapped the calories in those foods for lots of vegetables and nuts such as pistachios, pecans and cashews which I've become extremely fond of.

Barriers To Breaking My Sugar Dependency

#1 - People Offering Chocolate
When I started to make the conscious decision to try and reduce my sugar intake, sweets were easy for me to reject; chocolate as you now know, not so much. If I was ever offered chocolate, it would always frustrate me since in the early phases of trying to break my sugar dependency I would accept the chocolate and eat it. I'd even go and eat more chocolate if it was there waiting to be eaten. After all, a half-eaten bar of chocolate is just begging to be eaten.
It took a lot of willpower to be able to refuse the chocolates in the end. You really have to tell yourself not to eat them. For the first minute or so after rejecting them you'll probably be a little upset inside, but after that hopefully, you'll realise you can cope just fine. I'd suggest telling family members if you're trying to break your sugary dependency as this may help to stop them from accidentally offering you sugary treats which may hinder your progress.

#2 - Craving Sugar After Intense Exercise or Running
It's quite typical for runners to reach for sweets, energy drinks or snack bars after training to help replenish the glycogen lost in the muscles. Whilst this is important, your body can actually replenish glycogen in the muscles by breaking down fats. If you only run once a day, then this provides enough time for your glycogen stores to be restocked for your next run. If you train your body to do this by reducing sugar dependency.

Instead of reaching for chocolate after training, I began to bring bananas and beetroot to replenish glycogen with natural sugars. I found these were far more satiating and didn't trigger that same response in sweets or chocolate where I just wanted to eat a little too much. So I was still consuming a source of sugar, but it was one I would classify as a healthier.

#3 - Habit and Routine
The human body loves routine. It's how our body likes to work. Breaking habits can be difficult because you do them so often. By challenging myself not to eat chocolate during lent I really managed to break my habit of being dependent on chocolate. I'd highly suggest challenging yourself in a similar way if you really can't seem to break your habit and get your family and peers to support you in the challenge.

#4 - Social Situations
I learned to just say no to chocolate, sweets and anything sugary in social situations so that people would ask, but expect a 'no' from me. Some would even skip asking me completely and joke about it which was fine with me. Of course, that doesn't mean to say I don't allow myself a treat at all, I do but it's not very often.

#5 - Emotional Stress and Stressful Situations
As mentioned above, sugar is a powerful drug. That dopamine response it causes and how it appears to remove or dampen any sensation of physical or mental pain is one reason we crave it when we are stressed. It takes us away from how we actually feel and seems to dispell us to another dimension temporarily.

Whenever I had the urge to eat another KitKat I had to stop and ask myself: "Why do I want this? Is it because I'm stressed?" And if the answer was yes, I'd tell myself to put it back down and find something else to eat like some leftovers from the previous night or a handful of nuts.

The Key To Breaking Sugar Dependency

There are numerous ways and methods you can use to help stop sugar cravings and break sugar dependency, however here is what I believe the key to breaking sugar dependency is:


Be mindful of what you're eating.
  • Think about whether you need it.
  • Think about why you want to eat it.
  • Think about how much nutritional value it provides your body and if it is damaging in any way.
Think of those things when you want to reach out and eat those sugary foods. 

Just remember though, the process takes time and different methods and strategies will work for different people.

Take care of yourself and live and feel great.
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