As the new year rolls around, it’s common to hear people saying they’re determined to lose weight, putting heavy expectations on themselves to fulfill their goal, and then get frustrated when they don’t get immediate results or overdo their efforts in the short term and burn out, then feel discouraged and quit, and feel like failures. Such resolutions are difficult enough but coming right after holiday bingeing—where people let themselves off the hook entirely—they become exercises in extremes in going from total gluttony to total deprivation. No wonder diet resolutions often backfire!
Somewhere between the extremes of gluttony and deprivation is the sweet spot (pun intended) of transforming your diet permanently. This is why, like many who have made a similar lifestyle change, I say that I re-engineered my diet to avoid diabetes; I don’t say I’m “on a diet.” Part of the shift of permanent change definitely includes “mindful eating” as an important concept for eating consciously and enjoying the experience of whatever you decide to eat but I don’t see this as a strong enough guideline for going low sugar. In my previous, high-sugar life, I could easily eat half a coffee cake and really be present and enjoy it!
However, to this day, I don’t measure portions or count calories. For those of who are skeptical of this approach, this study shows that people who cut sugars and refined grains without worrying about portions and calories lose weight and see improvements in health markers such as blood sugar. With this research in mind, what would be high impact substitutions and tweaks people could make for the new- year that will get them to the sweet spot?
I like general principles that guide specific actions, and these are three of the most important diet guidelines (as opposed to exercise, stress and other lifestyle principles) and examples that I’ve found most helpful in adopting a low-sugar life.
First, replace all grain-based and processed (white) carbs/starches with vegetables or alternative products that mimic what you crave. This means cauliflower rice instead of white or brown rice, shirataki, zucchini or squash noodles instead of wheat, rice or other types of noodles, yams instead of potatoes. Whole grain/high protein breads and crackers, if any.
Second, replace everything high-sugar (which are often also low-fat items) with low-sugar (and higher fat and and protein) items. This means eating fresh, dark berries or small piece of fruit instead of jam, drinking almost any kind of non-sugary drink instead of fruit juice or lactose-filled milk, low-carb ice creams instead of the usual fare, stevia instead of sugar, very dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate, plain full fat yogurt instead of low-fat, flavored yogurt, etc.
Third, drink more liquids, including before meals. I fall down on this all the time—I think I’ve been dehydrated my whole life but when I do it, what a difference!
With these guidelines in hand, you might be amazed what you could achieve between the new year and Valentine’s Day. Studies show it takes only about a month of eating less sugar to experience the sweetness in foods much more intensely. As we leave sugar behind, our tastes and tummies shift in accordance: we crave fewer sweets as well as sweets that are less sugary, and our splurges reflect this. Because excessive sugar blocks flavor, you’ll probably notice many sweets eventually lose their appeal, and may become disappointingly, unsatisfyingly sweet. Tasting overly sugared items can be as unpleasant as licking a salt tab! And eating a large quantity of carbs will often make you feel bloated and sluggish.
Once you’ve reached this point you’re well on your way to a new low-sugar you!