For optimal health and fitness, our diets should consist of simple, natural ingredients that have been turned into delicious meals with minimal processing. Food of this nature isn’t just tasty, it’s also full of high quality nutrients whilst being inherently low in refined sugar.
A reduced-carbohydrate diet can provide a variety of health benefits when it is tailored to suit the needs of the individual and this has received a great deal of coverage in the media of late. If you are unfamiliar with the principals and benefits of a low-carb diet, I’d recommend taking a look at my Introduction to the Paleo Approach before reading the rest of this post.
There is no way of skirting around the fact that refined carbohydrates are highly addictive and kicking the habit is hard. Many processed foods are engineered by the manufacturers to stimulate the areas in our brains that are associated with pleasure and reward so it is understandable that we crave them and keep going back for more. This is one of the reasons why making dietary changes or loosing weight can be tough.
Attempting to reduce your sugar consumption by gradually cutting down is all well and good but it doesn’t address the issue issue of addiction and this may reduce your chances of long-term success. That’s why most of the sources I have come across recommend going through a period of complete abstinence as described below.
Taking the cold-turkey approach means cutting out ‘banned’ foods all together for a while until your body has adapted. This transitional period typically takes about 1-2 months to complete and your goal is to shake off the addictions and adjust your metabolism.
Foods to avoid include fizzy drinks, sweets, chocolate, pasta, bread, cereals, potatoes, anything with added sugar in it and even fruit juice (comprehensive information can be found within the sources below).
These can be replaced with fresh vegetables, quality cuts of meat and don’t forget healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil and butter which will keep you filled up and stop you feeling hungry. If you must, it’s o.k to occasionally consume whole-grain products but use caution as many of them are highly processed, full of additives and of course, inherently high in carbohydrate.
You may experience some of the following symptoms during this period of transition. These are all signs that you are encouraging your brain-chemistry and metabolism to change and they will pass with time
After you have completed the transition, you should notice an improvement in your mood, energy levels and a reduction in appetite and cravings. You may also notice that you loose some weight as your body becomes better at utilising fat for energy.
A sustained period of time without regular cravings is a good indicator that you have overcome the worst of sugar addiction and that your body has adapted. If it takes a little longer than two months, stick with it! We are all different and it takes some people longer than others.
Once you’ve reached a stage where your cravings have reduced consistently for a couple of weeks, you can congratulate yourself that you have overcome the worst of sugar addiction and you are ready to reap the lifelong benefits of a diet based on real food.
After this transition, you can experiment with slowly adjusting the amount of carbohydrate you consume to see what works best for you. This can be achieved by increasing your consumption of fruit and slow-burning, carb-rich vegetables like sweet potato (but not white potato which is burned much more quickly). Adjusting this steadily will allow you to figure out your perfect level where you feel great and enjoy sustained energy.
You may also choose to embark in controlled re-integration of small amounts of previously ‘banned’ foods to see how your body reacts. This needs to be done carefully and there is a fantastic chapter on the subject in ‘It Starts with Food‘ by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. Occasional sweet treats are fine but it’s easy to slip into bad habits so why go back and risk undoing your hard work?
We spend a relatively low proportion of our income on food in the UK and it is possible that your weekly shopping bill will increase as you replace processed food with high quality fresh ingredients. This may take some getting used to but try to consider it as an investment in your future health.
One of the tricky things about making the transition can be learning how to cook using a different set of ingredients. Buying a low-carb recipe book can be a great way of overcoming this situation and I’d recommend taking a look at Primal Blueprint Quick and Easy Meals by Mark Sisson as a good place to start.
As I’ve said above, if you haven’t read it already you can take a look at my introduction to the Paleo Diet here.
Some notable resources on this subject are as follows. It’s really worth checking them out:
Dallas and Melissa Hartwig – It Starts with Food
Mark Sisson – The Primal Blueprint (very popular)
Robb Wolf – The Paleo Solution
Loren Cordain – The Paleo Diet for Athletes
The Weston A. Price Foundation – A not-for-profit organisation who promote paleo-type principals
Do you have any hints and tips for reducing sugar consumption? Please leave your thoughts below!
Please note that the information in this post is not a substitute for a visit with a health-professional