Addicted to Sugar? Here’s How to Kick the Habit

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Suspect you're hooked on the sweet stuff? It's time to restore your brain to its pre-sugar-fiend state. Resetting your palate and eradicating cravings isn't easy, but it is possible. Instead of quitting cold turkey, try this five-phase plan adapted from Why Diets Fail: Because You're Addicted to Sugar, by Nicole Avena, Ph.D.

PHASE 1: Eliminate Sugary Beverages

If you're anything like the average gal, you slurp down nearly 40 pounds (70,000 calories!) of liquid sugar per year. Sipping sweet, fiberless beverages (think soft drinks, sweetened waters, coffee drinks) spikes your insulin levels and cues major cravings. Over a period of two weeks, cut out all such drinks. If straight H2O bores you, sip seltzer water or unsweetened teas or coffee.

PHASE 2: Quit Sugary Junk Foods

Cakes, cookies, candy bars—give 'em the heave-ho. Also press pause on secretly sugary fare such as granola bars. When you can, opt for fresh food over processed snacks—nearly 80 percent of the latter contains loads of added sugar. First, ID the foods you have the hardest time avoiding (um, cupcakes?) and quit those first, one at a time. Over the next two weeks, edit out all sugary junk. Sub in fruit when your cravings start up.

PHASE 3: Reduce Simple Carbs

Chances are, by this point you've halved your sugar dependence—and shed some serious pounds. Next, tackle simple carbs, which act just like straight sugar in your body. Make a list of the refined foods you typically eat (e.g., crackers, white breads, white pastas) and, again, reduce them one by one over the next two weeks. Try starting with pastas: Instead of making two cups of spaghetti, make one cup and top it with a protein-packed lean meat; the next time around, replace that remaining cup with a veggie such as spaghetti squash.

PHASE 4: Sleuth for Hidden Sugars

This one's the trickiest and could take a full two weeks to master. Because hidden sugars are, well, hidden, you could still be ingesting lots of sweet stuff. Keep a critical eye on ingredient labels on condiments, sauces, and salad dressings—all sneaky sugar sources. Also, be leery of "sugar-free" offerings; many are packed with simple carbs instead.

PHASE 5: Keep It Up (Realistically!)

It's all right to indulge every now and then, but pay close attention to your cravings. A slice of cake might be okay for one woman, but it could push another woman over the addictive edge. If a sweet snack leaves you yearning for more or, worse, bingeing, you'll know you're particularly vulnerable to sugar's powerful lure. Major bright side: Once you've kicked the habit and your taste buds are back to normal, fruits will taste supersweet and satisfying—and massive amounts of added sugar will taste like what they are: sickeningly sweet.

—Gretchen Voss

This article was republished with permission from Women’s Health.

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