We all know that powerful feeling of temptation. It’s come over me when I’m out to dinner with friends at a nice restaurant in New York City. It’s descended on me suddenly when I was in the middle of a stressful day at work. And it’s even crept in and taken over my brain when I was relaxing quietly at home in the evening.
“Taking over my brain” is probably one of the best ways to describe it because that’s how sugar cravings can feel. It’s been so distracting that I almost couldn’t pay attention to my friend telling a hilarious story because I was thinking about how to get a hold of the dessert menu. It was a couple of people down from me. I saw the fudge brownie a la mode when I glanced at it earlier.
At work, I would be head-down solving a problem, trying to complete a project in time. Before I knew it, I was wandering out to the kitchen. My eyes were scanning the space for something sweet, while my mind was still going over the project details that weren’t adding up or coming together.
Suddenly I realized what was going on. I was absent-mindedly looking for something to eat so I could cope with the stress that was welling up in my body.
This happens all the time! Sometimes we realize it, sometimes we don’t. Either way, it’s never easy to battle the desire for something sweet, sugary, and satisfying to soothe and comfort ourselves.
Although stress can cause it, wanting something sugary used to come over me a lot at night, too. This was a time when I should have been kicking my feet up and enjoying a good book after putting my kids to bed.
Again, my mind kept wandering to the peanut butter chocolate ice cream I “hid” from myself in the back of the freezer. I wasn’t stressed,. I wasn’t out at a fancy dinner where the extra calories would be “worth it”. Still, I wanted that sweet creaminess so bad!
When I gave in, I would melt into the sensation of the sweetness that lit up the pleasure centers of my brain.
Until the guilt started to kick in. I knew that the extra sugar would sit in my body and create more fat when I was trying to lose weight. I also knew that sugar wouldn’t just work against my bikini goals, it was downright bad for me.
Too much sugar affects your skin, your heart, your blood sugar levels and more. I kind of knew this, but I managed to push that knowledge underneath my awareness until after I had demolished a giant bowl of drippy, dreamy dessert.
Then the guilt would rush back in. Why was this so hard for me? Why didn’t I have the willpower to fight the desire for sugar?
I decided I had to figure out a low-sugar weight loss diet that would actually WORK for me. I knew some people who did it, and they looked and seemed to feel amazing.
For me, I knew that feeling deprived was NEVER going to work for me. I would eventually give in. So I figured out a low sugar weight loss diet while exploring new foods to hit those sugar cravings and make me feel empowered by food, rather than controlled by it.
In this mega-post, I’m going to share this low sugar weight loss diet with you, including
- Symptoms you feel when eating sugar (you may think it’s normal to feel this way. . .but it’s not!)
- Why a low sugar diet is so powerful for weight-loss and overall health
- Challenges of changing to a lower-sugar diet
- The effects of sugar on the brain
- Surprising foods that have sugar, and what to replace them with
- How to use spices instead of sugar to satisfy your sweet tooth and calm inflammation
- A how-to go low-sugar framework (exact foods to eat and how to combine them to feel full and satisfied)
Let’s dive in!
How too much sugar affects your body and life
You feel like you’re on the weight gain freight train
Of course, we all know that eating moderate or high amounts of sugar can spell bad news in the dressing room. I used to dread having to buy new clothes because I hated the sizes I had to buy, and I hated the way they looked and felt on my body even more!
Especially when I was turning a blind eye to how much sugar I was eating and the sizes I needed kept going up. This was such a terrible feeling of powerlessness.
It shows the most obvious reason why eating too much sugar can be so hard on our bodies – weight gain.
Excess sugar that isn’t burned up gets stored as fat. Our bodies don’t like having too much extra fat on them. It’s more of a burden on everything from our joints to our immune systems and our self-esteem.
Some other symptoms from eating moderate to high amounts of sugar are sneakier and often overlooked.
You’re seeing accelerated aging and other skin problems
Noticing more wrinkles coming on faster than normal? This could be happening because excess sugar actually damages the elasticity of your skin!
It can also cause an imbalance in your hormones and cause you to break out with acne on your jawline. Because sugar is so inflammatory, it can also cause inflammatory skin flare-ups such as eczema. (1) (2)
Cayenne pepper can actually help with skin problems by boosting vitamins A and E, and can even be used topically for chronic conditions like psoriasis.
You feel “in a fog” or low energy a lot
Sugar triggers a response from the pancreas to produce insulin in order to keep the body’s blood sugar levels in balance.
The more sugar we consume, the harder the body has to work to maintain that balance. When we overload it, we first experience a sugar rush or burst of energy and then a dip below normal. (3)
When this goes on too consistently, we will start to feel “out of it” more often than not. It could also lead to serious health problems like insulin resistance and eventually diabetes. (4)
You have bloating and gas
Noticing that your belly expands more than normal after eating? Or maybe you just feel bloating, pain, and gassy more than usual. These could be symptoms that the bacteria in your gut that craves sugar is enjoying a feast way too often.
Reducing your sugar intake and eating veggies and probiotic foods instead will give the “good bacteria” in your gut fuel to thrive and stomp out the bad bacteria that are making you feel like an uncomfortable balloon. (5)
Ginger is a great digestion easer. Learn more and get a spicy, satisfying ginger tea recipe in Benefits of Ginger Tea For Weight Loss, Inflammation & Memory.
You’re getting sick a lot
Too much sugar suppresses your immune system. This means you won’t just feel a little extra tired or gassy, you’ll actually be more susceptible to colds and the flu. (6)
Gut bacteria comes into play here because too much sugar feeds the bad bacteria and yeast in your gut, which makes your immune system less effective.
An awesome anti-sickness spice I love is garlic and. You can read more about how it helps in this post – The proven health benefits of garlic for fewer sick days and a healthy weight.
You get intense sugar cravings
If you do, you’re probably on a high-sugar cycle. Eating excess sugar also releases dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is the reward chemical, and everyone likes to be rewarded. (7)
Every time you give into high sugar foods, it feeds the cycle to make you crave more again soon. The more sugar you eat, the more intense these cravings can be. (8)
Your tastebuds also get used to sugary foods and, like a drug addict, you need more and more sweet stuff to experience the high. The good news? You can stop sugar cravings (even when you’re stressed!).
Download your own report, “How to follow a low-sugar weight loss diet” including in a PDF file, including:
- Surprising foods that have sugar
- What to replace them with
- How to go low-sugar framework
Why is reducing sugar intake so hard?
You might have already known some of these downsides to sugar. It’s not like we haven’t been informed about sugar being bad for us. We just might not have known HOW bad.
Even when we know about the ways sugar impacts our bodies, it’s still so hard to say no when we’re faced with a dish of luxurious chocolate truffles.
You probably want to cut back on sugar, but we all face so many challenges to make this happen. First of all, sugar is absolutely everywhere. It’s in practically every convenience food you can think of, it’s in colorful little packages at every corner store, and it’s sneaked into most dishes to make them taste more addictive.
It can be hard to cut back on sugar when you have kids because there are so many kid snacks full of sugar tempting you all the time.
Cutting back on sugar can be hard in lots of social situations too. It can be easy to feel isolated or like you’re missing out when everyone else around you is drinking sugary cocktails and indulging in sweet hors d’oeuvres.
BUT I have some strategies for how to follow a low-sugar diet by making low-sugar eating tastier and for sticking to it SO much easier. I’m so excited to share what’s worked for me with you!
Why a low sugar diet is so powerful for weight-loss and overall health
Eating low sugar is like getting to start completely over and enjoy life in a way you haven’t been. It’s amazing what a big difference such a small change can make in your health, energy levels, and the way you look and feel.
Look at these before and after pictures of me and some of my clients. You can see how much happier we are and how much better we look!
A low sugar diet is anti-inflammatory. Low inflammation is one of the number one ways to help your body relax and let go of extra fat and fluid retention.
Did you know that sugar can affect your brain?
One of the most powerful ways following a low sugar diet transforms your life is by setting your brain free of the effects of sugar. When you reduce your sugar intake, you are able to think more clearly and perform better at work and with tasks of concentration.
Your brain on sugar: how sugar impacts focus
Sugar reduces our ability to communicate effectively by forming free radicals in the membranes of the brain. This compromises our nerves cells used for focus and communication.
It also interrupts our focus because sugar is highly addictive. It affects your brain by releasing the reward chemical dopamine every time you indulge. This is on the same level as an addict drinking alcohol or taking drugs.
The thought of getting another satisfying hit can dominate your thoughts and keep you from being able to focus on the task at hand.
How sugar impacts your emotions
Since sugar is so powerful, it can even exaggerate mood fluctuations. When you’re feeling low, a sugar craving and feeling deprived can make it more intense. (9)
Giving into a sugar craving might make you feel that high for a short time, but then the blood sugar and mood come crashing down even more powerfully than before.
Riding this roller coaster can lead to feeling irritated and shorter tempered than normal. Of course, this makes being productive more difficult. Or you might find yourself snapping at the people around you, causing rifts in your relationships which only makes you feel worse.
How sugar impacts your memory
If you already feel like memory is a weak spot for you, it’s definitely a good idea to lay off the sugar. Too much sugar can block receptors for memory!
Studies show that excess sugar can mean making connections between concepts or remembering a conversation more difficult. (10)
What a low-sugar diet means (and what it doesn’t mean!)
Eating a low sugar diet means focusing on eating mostly whole foods consisting of veggies, healthy protein and healthy carbs in a good balance. I’ll break down the exact portions for how to split your plate below.
Eating low sugar doesn’t mean buying “healthier” packaged foods or “low-sugar” convenience foods. Most of the time, low-fat foods actually have MORE sugar than normal, and low-sugar packaged foods are just filled with artificial sweeteners that actually make you hungrier and cause more weight gain.
Women shouldn’t eat more than 25g of sugar a day, and preferably these sugars should come from natural sources in fruits, veggies, and healthy starches. (11)
What are the best foods for a low-sugar diet?
Surprising foods that have sugar in them
Here’s a list of foods that might surprise you in their sugar content and easy food swaps to replace them with!
- Salad dressing – Can have up to a tablespoon of sugar per serving size! (12) Food manufacturers add sugar to make dressing more appealing, but it kind of undoes the good of eating a salad! Most of us are a little extra generous with our drizzle, too. So it could be even more.
- Replace with 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar with a touch of olive oil – This is a perfect low-sugar substitution that will make your salad more satisfying. Add black pepper and a little sea salt for even more flavor and get filling healthy fats by adding nuts, avocado, eggs, or salmon.
- Heavy sauces or alfredo sauce – Milk sugars or other added sugars can take a healthy dish of fish and vegetables and make it high in sugar.
- Replace with tomato sauces – Tomato-based sauce is naturally lighter, lower in calories, and lower in sugar. Also include spices to provide more flavor without the sugar. More info on that below!
- Latte – Even if you don’t get a flavored latte which obviously has sugary syrup, milk sugar or heavy cream is the culprit for hidden sugar again here.
- Replace with an Americano – Much lighter as it’s made with just espresso and hot water, but it’s still got the strength of espresso and a tinge of creaminess. Plus, try my bonus tip it to add cinnamon for sweetness and extra fat burning!
- Regular bread – Most bread you’ll get from the grocery store or at restaurants will fall under the “quick-burning carb” category, which means it breaks down into sugar fast.
- Replace with sprouted bread – Much higher in fiber and easier to digest, sprouted bread will fill you up more, slow digestion to keep blood sugar from spiking, and allow your body to extract more nutrients. You’ll find this in the freezer section.
- Sushi – White rice is another quick-burning carb that can cause blood sugar spikes and feed unhealthy gut bacteria triggering weight gain.
- Replace with sashimi – Pure protein and still fun and refreshing, sashimi leaves the rice out but still gives you healthy fish and yummy side dishes for flavor variety. Order a 12-piece or 18-piece to ensure you are full. Eat with a side of pickled ginger and wasabi for more digestive benefits.
- Low-fat yogurt – In an attempt to make low-fat foods taste better, food manufacturers add sugars and other sweeteners to yogurt to make them more appealing.
- Replace with greek yogurt – High in protein and low in sugar, greek yogurt is the way to get the benefits of calcium and gut-healthy probiotics without the sugar.
Common low-sugar foods
You’re probably familiar with these excellent low-sugar foods that can help transform your body and mind.
Low-sugar foods include lots of green vegetables and leafy greens, a wide variety of healthy fats, proteins, and even some fruits.
Not all the low sugar veggies have to be green. For example, green, red, yellow or orange bell peppers are all lower in sugar and provide lots of healthy vitamins and antioxidants to help boost weight loss.
The veggies you’ll want to avoid are starchy veggies like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and winter squash like butternut and pumpkin.
Get a full list of common low-sugar foods to enjoy in the low-sugar framework below!
Uncommon low-sugar foods
There are some uncommon low sugar foods that you might not think of right away, but that add a great variety of ways to eat low-sugar.
Some of them are uncommon because you might not think of them right away, such as seeds like chia and flax seeds. These are powerful little ingredients that can be added to oatmeal, smoothies, or sprinkled over toast to add fiber and healthy fats.
Others are starches, but healthy slow-burning starches such as beans and legumes, or high-fiber bread.
Dark chocolate counts! Read this article How to Reduce an Apple Shaped Belly: Food for Belly Fat Loss and see the low-sugar framework below for details!
What are the best spices for weight loss?
Spices are one of the most crucial parts of how to follow a low-sugar diet and how I and so many of my clients have lost the weight we wanted to. The way it works is that we learned how to start using amazing spices to give variety and flavor to healthy foods.
Adding spices (either hot spicy spices or just flavorful mild spices) can help our brains and bodies feel satisfied by introducing a wide range of flavors. This reduces cravings and helps with weight loss. (13)
Spices are a double blessing for weight loss because not only do they make healthy food more exciting without adding sugar or globs of calories, they can also help to active fat burning!
Here are some of my favorite spices for weight loss and their benefits.
This is one of my all-time must-have spices. I literally carry some in my purse because it goes so well with so many things and can add a subtle sweetness to food and drinks. (That’s why I recommended adding it to your coffee. I do it all the time!)
Cinnamon mimics the sweetness of sugar without spiking your blood sugar levels. In fact, cinnamon is one of the most famous spices for helping to manage blood sugar. This means it keeps your energy levels constant to prevent insulin resistance. It also curbs appetite and meets your need for sweet.
Ginger has been linked to lower body weight and less belly fat in several studies. (14) It’s no wonder! Ginger is a natural digestion aide and has even been shown to boost your metabolism while reducing appetite and fat absorption. (15)
I have more amazing info on ginger here: Ginger benefits weight loss, digestion, and morning sickness
This mild, golden spice can actually block fat storage and reduce inflammation in the body to help release extra fat and water weight. Its magical compound is curcumin, which is highly anti-inflammatory and packed with nutrients that benefit weight loss.
Here’s a spicy hot spice that really kicks up your metabolic fires to help burn extra fat. Cayenne also reduces appetite so you don’t feel the need to eat as much. (16) Capsaicin is the compound that gives cayenne its signature heat and fat-busting abilities.
Want to learn more about the weight-loss power of cayenne? Read on! Capsaicin For Weight Loss: How Chili Peppers Burn Belly Fat
See the low-sugar eating framework below for more!
How to go low-sugar framework
In this framework, I’ll give you a breakdown of which foods to eat, which to avoid, and support for how to realistically apply following a low-sugar diet to real life.
Eat these low-sugar foods to lose weight
- Leafy greens
- Cruciferous veggies such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower
- Summer squash such as zucchini and yellow squash
- Green apple
- Nuts and seeds
- Peanut butter or almond butter
- Olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil
- Salmon, sardines, cod, tuna
- Lean beef, lamb or bison
- Protein powder
Eat these uncommon low sugar foods that make it easier to stay full and satisfied
- Healthy carbs like lentils, beans, or sprouted Ezekiel bread combined with protein and vegetables
- Dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)
- Chia seeds and flax seeds
You can find out all about the benefits and great recipes for my favorite super seeds, chia seeds and flaxseeds in these articles – Chia seeds for weight loss and flax seeds for weight loss.
Add these 6 tasty spices to your meals for variety and fat-burning
- Cinnamon – Helps control blood sugar levels, cuts down on fat storage, and fights belly fat
- Ginger – Boosts digestion, burns fat, fights sickness
- Turmeric – Blocks body fat from forming, lowers current body fat, calms inflammation
- Cayenne – Burns calories after you eat, revs up metabolism to burn up fat cells, curbs appetite
- Cumin – Burns 3x the belly fat and fat around your waist as normal, helps control diabetes and blood sugar, aids digestion
- Coriander – Fights and prevents cancer, de-bloats your body, helps improve memory
Combine foods this way to maximize weight loss
Split your plate into three sections consisting of 40% protein, 40% vegetable, 20% healthy carbs.
The key for combining food this way is to help you feel full and satisfied with the protein and the healthy carbs.
Focus on getting enough soluble fiber and insoluble fiber from vegetables and healthy carbs. Both help contribute to feeling satisfied for longer so you don’t overeat and helps keep your digestion going to eliminate bloating.
- Protein can be meat, tofu or other plant-sources of protein such as nuts
- Healthy carbs might be beans, lentils, legumes (which are also good protein sources) oatmeal, and quinoa
- Choose from any of the low-sugar vegetables listed above
Practice moderation over complete sugar elimination
Maybe some people can cut sugar out completely, but not most of us. What I recommend for a low-sugar weight loss diet allowing yourself a scheduled cheat day or letting yourself plan on having sugary foods (like ice cream or a brownie or whatever you want) on special occasions.
The key is to focus on portion control and make sure you only have sugar when you’ve planned on it ahead of time. If you get in the habit of letting yourself cheat on a whim, you’ll probably find that before you know it, you’re back to eating as much sugar as you used to.
Allow yourself one brownie or one bowl of ice cream on a specific day, rather than just giving in and then deciding that you’ve “already ruined it” and continuing to indulge. This mindset will get you back on the track to gaining weight fast.
How to handle emotions and stress without relying on sugar
It is so, so easy to use sugar as a way to comfort yourself. When there are things happening in your life that you can’t control or that just plain stress you out, it’s common to try to numb the anxiety with something sweet.
Don’t fall into this trap!
There are healthier ways to deal with your emotions that will make you feel so much better both in the short-term and long run. Next time you want to find something sweet to take the emotional edge off, try these instead.
- Light a mint scented candle (mint curbs your appetite and also refreshes you)
- Go for a short walk (exercise calms your nervous system and boosts your mood)
- Indulge in a good book (even if just for a half hour)
- Journal about your feelings (it releases what you’re working through rather than burying it)
- Call a friend or family member (talking either about what’s bothering you or just chatting can help you work it out just take you out of your brain for a little while)
- Take a relaxing warm bath, maybe with a lavender diffuser (indulge your sense of touch and smell instead of taste!)
I hope this low-sugar weight loss diet guide is helpful for you. Let me know in the comments what resonated with you and what new ideas you’re excited to try!