Comedian Jim Gaffigan said it first about bacon bits, but I also believe sugar is the fairy dust of the food world. From donuts to strawberries, sugar helps make great things awesome. Problem is, a diet high in sugar has many consequences, whether that’s diabetes, heart disease, or weight gain. Why is it that the most delicious food often tends to be the worst for us? It’s almost as if who or what created this planet decided to play a cruel prank.
Over the last two years, I’ve completely cut sugar out of my diet (aside from one exception, which we’ll get into, and you’ll really love). And by doing so, I’ve gone from a “his face is the size of a watermelon!” 316 pounds, down to 238 pounds at the time of this writing.
A Little History
Aside from a couple cousins, skinny people in my family are about as common as Hell’s Angels at a Justin Bieber concert. Eating was always the activity of choice, spearheaded by my grandmother, who was a phenomenal cook. After a while, though, your ways can start to catch up with you.
At the age of 17, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
Warning signs were there well before the diagnosis, but as usual, I ignored them. Fast forward to October of 2010. I returned from a social media conference in Las Vegas, having met some really amazing people. As usual, pictures are taken and, thanks to the world we live in today, uploaded to Facebook.
It’s then that I start going through my notifications, checking out these photos I had been tagged in. And that’s when the question popped in my head: am I really that huge!? In the book “The Four Hour Body,” Tim Ferriss talks about having a “harajuku moment,” first coined by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s defined as “an epiphany that turns a nice-to-have into a must-have.” As pathetic as it sounds, seeing myself in photos for all of the internet to see was my harajuku moment.
To cut sugar from your diet, we first need to address two underlying truths.
We Humans Are Creatures of Habit
For example, when you walk into your kitchen, what’s the first thing you do? Open the fridge, of course. And chances are, you’ve often found yourself on autopilot, staring in the fridge with no idea what you need from it. Whether you skip a nice, healthy breakfast for a bagel on your way to work, or grab an ice cold soda on a miserably hot day, all of these habits add up.
By simply being more aware of your habits, and replacing them with healthier ones, you can create a better you.
We Have Unrealistic Expectations
When we get excited or inspired about something, it’s very easy for us to shoot for the moon, or, more accurately, shoot for the end of the galaxy. Having big expectations and goals are great, but proper planning, strategy, and logic are often absent. To remove sugar from your diet, you must understand and accept the fact that you will never be able to completely remove sugar from your diet.
I know, it sounds totally counterproductive, but there are some things your body naturally craves. Unfortunately, sugar is one of them. However, understanding and accepting this fact will actually put you in a better place to succeed.
Step 1: Start Eating Nutritious, Well-balanced Meals
Our bodies are like the engine of car. If you don’t put in the right stuff, you’ll suffer from decreased performance, making it more difficult to get from point A to point B. Try to have each meal consist of protein, vegetables, and fruit (optional). Now, when we’re talking about fruit, we don’t mean a smoothie from Jamba Juice that has tons of added sugar. Similarly with protein, we’re not talking fried chicken or anything deep fried. Think as lean as possible, and natural.
If you’re a vegetarian, you can get protein in a variety of ways through nuts, beans (great source), or even through protein shakes. Just watch out for any added sugar or ingredients. Getting enough protein is especially important, not only for normal body function, but also to keep you full. And when you’re full, you’re less likely to indulge in less than desirable food throughout the day.
Step 2: Remove All Junk Food From Your House
No matter how much willpower you have, if you have junk food in your house, you will eat it at some point. Obviously, if you live with multiple people, especially those who have a different lifestyle than you, removing all junk food is going to be impossible. Instead, simply communicate with them, explaining that what you’re doing is very important to you.
Compromises can be made without there being a fight over you eating the last of the Oreos in a loss of self control at 3 AM.
Step 3: Cut Out Sugary Drinks, Including Sugar-free/Diet Drinks
With summer in full effect, there’s nothing like an ice cold [insert favorite soda brand here] on a hot day. Unfortunately, all of the sugar does a number on your body, and can go right into creating more fat cells. Because of this, many people opt for a diet soda or drink, thinking that it’s healthier. Turns out, drinks that use artificial sweeteners can be just as bad.
While there is a lot of controversy with sweeteners such as aspartame, one such finding rings true: consuming diet drinks makes you crave more things that are sweet. Eventually, after trying to fight your sweet tooth with yet another diet drink, you’ll move on to something more satisfying.
However, with that said, your life isn’t going to be ruined if you’re not able to cut out soda or diet drinks completely. In fact, I’d be a hypocrite if I said I was clean as a whistle. However, if you absolutely must have something sweet to drink, stick to sugar free, and no more than 16 ounces per day.
Step 4: Go Hog Wild One Day Per Week
Around 80 percent of all diets fail. There are a number of reasons, one of those taking us back to unrealistic expectations. You will never completely get away from cravings, and if you try to fight them back 24/7/365, chances are you will relapse at some point. This is where a cheat day comes in handy. Not only do you satisfy your cravings without the guilt that comes associated with it, but you end up increasing the long-term success of your change in diet.
Cheat days completely go against traditional teachings. However, they’ve also been found to actually aid your metabolism, keeping it from shifting down to a slow crawl.
So while it’s easy to condemn sugar as an incredibly evil substance that you must not put in your body whatsoever, the more effective approach is to be proactive. It’s not going anywhere, and you will encounter it in liquid or physical form many times per day. At the end of the day, moderation is key.
Just Do It
Now is the tough part: actually taking action. It’s easy to read something, but now is the time to create a better, more energetic, healthier you. Think of your normal day-to-day schedule and all of the habits spread in between. What are they? What simple changes can you make to create serious change? Write them down.
Your mind will fight back. Your mind will create excuses. The journey will be hard, and there will not be any easy shortcuts. However, I can promise you this: Cut back your sugar intake for just one week, and notice the difference. Worth it, huh?
Photo Credits: HS Disbatch, Alvimann, Rebuilding Wellness, Reshape The Nation, poolie and Diane’s Bakery Cafe.