Trying to limit your sugar intake (dare we say addiction?) to the recommended daily allowance? Pull out a pile of pennies and let’s get to work. We can slay that sugar habit!
Nothing focuses the mind like stepping on the scale.
That and I signed up for the New York Times 7-Day Sugar Challenge right before New Year’s Day. The article linked to a lecture that I am familiar with but hadn’t watched, Sugar: The Bitter Truth with Dr. Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology. Yikes, it was the equivalent of a Scared Straight experience, especially right after my many sugary indulgences throughout the holiday season. Sugar addiction is real. Many companies use food scientists to make foods irresistible, and science works.
For the past year, my family has cut back on packaged foods, especially anything with more than three to four ingredients. But the cookies still came home with us. And I love chocolate and chocolate peppermint creamer. I love eating dessert twice a day. But you can guess where that leads.
I did the NY Times challenge, but I went one step further and decided to follow the American Heart Association dietary recommendations for added sugar intake: 25 grams of added sugar per day or about 6 teaspoons/100 calories is the recommendation for women. (It’s 37.5 grams or about 9 teaspoons/150 calories for men.)
Holy geez. It sounds like a lot, but it’s really, really not.
A serving of cinnamon rolls or dried cranberries exceeds 25 grams. And both of these items were in my fridge and pantry. The creamer that I like has 5 grams of sugar per serving (which is really a half serving when compared to half and half): 5 cups of coffee/tea, and suddenly, I am at 25 grams, and that is if I stick to the one tablespoon serving size, and it’s unlikely that I do. This is one of the ways that food labeling misleads us. We underestimate our consumption.
Calorie tracking: Not a Fan
I am one of those people who intensely dislikes tracking what they eat, especially calories and other nutritional information. Still, I knew I couldn’t count on my memory, so I came up with a visual system: 25 pennies, one for each allowed gram of sugar, and two small dishes. Throughout the day, I move the pennies after each meal or snack.
Some days, the pennies are gone by noon. But much to my surprise, by Day 5, the cravings subsided significantly. Some days, I made the pennies last. On Day 7, I ended the day with 15 unused pennies! I felt rich.
Suddenly, I felt like a bargain shopper. What could I eat that had no sugar (jackpot!) or under three grams?
Tapping into my bargain hunter brain
Using money has had an unusual side benefit: I find that I don’t want to overspend my allowance. High sugar items (read “expensive”) have become unappealing. I still get snack attacks, but it’s for fruit or nuts or cheese. The interwebs are filled with Keto/low carb desserts, and I am going to try a few. One of my challenges is that I need to eat a low FODMAP vegetarian diet, so a lot of sugar substitutes are off the table for me. But limitations spur creativity.
Approaching this challenge with a habits mindset
From a habit perspective, removing the high sugar options and replacing them with low/no sugar options helped tremendously. My supportive spouse put all the remaining holiday chocolate and cookies in the freezer. The low/no sugar options were set in easy reach, making it simple to make good choices.
How about you? Do you struggle with sugar love? Have you found good substitutes? If you’ve cut back on sugar, what are some of the best outcomes? I’d love to hear about your experiences.
How I did it
I raided my piggy bank for 25 pennies and set-up two small dishes, one for the bank and one for the spend.
I repurposed some takeout condiment cups and they work great. They are small enough to make the 25 pennies look like a lot.
I work from home so I set the dishes in my kitchen and move pennies from the bank to the spend pile throughout the day. It would also work to move pennies from one pocket to another.
This was my starting point:
- I measured added sugar, not total sugar.
See this article for more details about added sugar and the recent changes in food labeling: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/08/well/eat/diet-sugar-nutrition-foods-health.html
- I did not measure or limit anything else.
- I am a life-long vegetarian who leans vegan.
- I stick to a low FODMAP diet for the most part and this way of eating steers you away from processed foods and foods with high amounts of naturally occurring sugar like grapes and most dried fruit.
- I already made the move away from most processed foods, meaning that we cook most of our meals from whole ingredients. (It’s the snack foods that were getting me.)
- I started a daily 30-day exercise challenge in mid-December, and exercise is truly the magic pill for everything.