5 Secrets from People Who've Cut Out Sugar
It's a tactic that Allison Hubbard, 39, used to help her cut out added sugars from her diet—and lose 128 pounds. No small feat considering that 73 percent of the packaged foods lining supermarket shelves contain added sugars, according to research in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "By eating meals rich in healthy protein sources, my desire and cravings for sugar went away all together," she says. "The sugary desserts I used to eat weren't even a thought on my mind."
The science: A small University of Missouri study found that increasing your protein intake actually reduces the degree to which the sight of crave-worthy foods activates the brain's reward centers.
Carrie Dowling, 31, a self-professed diet-soda addict has lost 15 pounds since reducing both real and artificial sugars. "It's definitely easier to stick to a healthy diet after weaning myself off of diet soda," she says.
The science: "Artificial sugars are like a Band-Aid, or methadone!" says Nicole M. Avena, PhD, neuroscientist, food addiction expert and author of Why Diets Fail (Because You're Addicted to Sugar). "You aren't going to allow your brain to get accustomed to the lack of sugar if you are feeding it fake sugar." She says that non-caloric sweeteners may thwart the body's ability to monitor its caloric intake based on sweetness. In fact, participants in the San Antonio Heart Study who drank more than three diet sodas per week were twice as likely to become overweight or obese compared with those who didn't drink diet soda.
For Hubbard, that meant addressing a longtime sweets habit. "In college, I worked at an ice cream shop and received free ice cream every day that I worked. I took advantage of it," she says, adding that years later, she continued to indulge in ice cream. And by identifying her main sugar source, she was better able to start cutting back.
The science: Soda and energy/sports drinks are the greatest source of added sugars in the average American's diet, responsible for 34.4 percent of all added sugars consumed, found a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The next culprits are grain-based desserts, such as cake and cookies (12.7 percent), fruit drinks (8 percent), candy (6.7 percent),and dairy-based desserts, such as ice cream (5.6 percent). Instead of going cold turkey, which can be overwhelming, Avena suggests starting by tackling the food category you most crave first (so, if cake is your weakness, try eliminating grain-based desserts first).
When Hubbard, who's kept the 128 pounds off for more than a decade, is tempted by a sugary treat, she says that pausing and considering the situation from an outside perspective helped her figure out what was driving the craving (stress and hunger), which allowed her to address it in a healthier way.
The science: A 2013 study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that college students reduced their chocolate cravings after only five days of practicing a mindfulness habit called cognitive defusion. More ways to practice defusion: deep breathing, meditation and yoga.
If you've reduced sugar from your diet and find you have a hankering for sweets a day (or even a week) later, hang in there. For Jennifer Homendy, 45, her sugar cravings began to dissipate after three to four weeks of reducing her intake. "It is amazing how the desire for sugar goes away."
The science: In a 2015 study from the Monell Chemical Senses Center, people who followed a low-sugar diet for three months rated pudding as tasting 40 percent sweeter than did those who stuck with their typical, sugar-filled diets.
Want more stories like this delivered to your inbox? Sign up for the Oprah.com Healthy Body Newsletter!