Many people struggle with sugar addiction and find the keto diet breaks the cycle. The ketogenic lifestyle offers a way to live sugar-free with low carb, satisfying food options. Lose the cravings, and free yourself from the blood sugar roller coaster forever.
Want fresh, healthy food all year-round? Grow salad greens indoor any time!
- 1 Measure How Things are Now
- 2 Understand Carbs
- 3 Create a Food Plan
- 4 Create a Support System
- 5 Psych Yourself for the Long Game
- 6 Measure Your Progress
Want the Fast Track? Jump to the Summary section here. Otherwise, dig in for more details.
Sugar-Related Health Issues
More than half the population of the United States is diabetic (type I or type II), pre-diabetic, insulin-resistant, and/or obese.
My sugar addiction goes back as long as I can remember. As I kid, I loved holidays and birthdays, because it meant a rare treat of candy or desserts.
As an adult, I knew sweets were not beneficial to my health, and ate them only occasionally. But, even with a ‘healthy’ diet of plenty of fruits, veggies, and whole grains, something was not right. On paper my diet looked really good, so why did I still feel like I was on a sugar roller coaster, controlled by food?
After years of bad advice, and testing various dietary changes, I eventually stumbled upon the answer.
I have now been eating this way for over five years with no slip-ups. That’s why I don’t call it a diet. It’s a lifestyle, or now, my normal way of eating.
I will show you what I found and provide tips for finding what’s right for you.
No two bodies are the same, but, if you know sugar is an issue, this may be the solution you need.
Update: I originally wrote this article a few years ago. Since then, keto has become trendy and with that, there is a lot of misleading and contradictory information online. I’m sharing what was helpful for me when I made the switch, but please do your own homework and find sources you trust.
Understanding the Problem
Whether you call it a sweet tooth, sugar addiction, or carb-mania, those of us with a weakness for sugar know how it can overpower us.
I use the words ‘sugar’ and ‘carbs’ (carbohydrates) interchangeably here. Technically, sugar is one type of carb, and all carbs can be a problem, as you’ll see (spoiler).
When I say sugar addiction, I’m not talking about those naturally thin people (unicorns) with stable blood sugar levels who occasionally have dessert or a piece of chocolate and can leave the rest uneaten. I’m talking about those of us who feel controlled by sugar and suspect our diet is connected to other health issues.
Feeling hungry soon after eating a good meal or the urge to constantly graze throughout the day is a big clue. Despite consuming enough calories, we don’t feel satisfied.
Even if it’s not desserts you’re eating—any carbs like bread or pasta can cause this.
It may start in childhood, with a love for candy and desserts, but eventually manifests as health problems in teenage or adult years. You may notice it as weight gain, particularly around the belly; mood swings; inability to think clearly; skin issues; and so on. The list is long. And no, they may not all be due solely to a high carb diet, but wait until you spend a few weeks eating differently and then decide how much influence your diet has. Good food choices can be powerful preventative medicine.
This crazy sugar roller-coaster is not a willpower issue. It’s simply your body signalling for more because it is not able to properly utilize what it has. Your blood glucose and insulin levels are battling it out. It doesn’t matter if we ‘balance’ our meal with healthy fats and protein. For some of us, so long as the carbs are high, the imbalance persists. And the addiction to sugar continues.
You may go years as a sugar addict before you start seeing related health problems, but you still sense there’s an issue. That’s the time to end the sugar addiction—before it comes back to bite you!
For years I was given the advice to reduce my consumption of refined and added sugars and increase my intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Popular advice says refined sugars are bad but natural sugars (in fruit and vegetables) are good.
Not for me, they weren’t!
As a long-time vegan and organic gardener who grows these foods, I was already up to my wazoo in healthy, wholesome fruits and veggies—and it wasn’t helping. I still felt like I was on a roller coaster.
Eventually, I discovered that a piece of chocolate or an apple could both send my blood sugar soaring. A smoothie or veggie juice with high carb ingredients like carrots or bananas left me feeling horrid. And no matter how ‘healthy’ my diet was, I was still riding the roller coaster. I hated the constant feeling of hunger and cravings and had to find answers.
A Carb is a Carb
The change came when I realized all carbs have the same effect on me. Quality matters with food, but high sugar is high sugar. My body didn’t care where it came from: if a food was high in carbs, my body could not handle it. I would feel ‘off’ and the lab tests confirmed it.
Once I saw it this way—that all carbs count—I finally broke the cycle that had been bothering me my entire life.
When I tell people about this, most say, just tell me what you eat! And we’ll get there, but, first: This is your body and your life and if you are serious about making a change, real-life measures are needed to evaluate whether this is right for you.
Ideally, you visit your doctor now, and get some tests done. Then, map out your eating plan and stick to it for a few months. Then, visit your doctor again and repeat the tests to see what has changed.
Some doctors are supportive of low carb, moderate-protein, healthy-fat diets. Others are not. There is plenty of credible research supporting this, so facts are on your side.
If possible, get a full check-up with your doctor including lab tests for everything your insurance covers.
Some useful measures include:
- Hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C0)
- Fasting blood glucose and insulin
- NMR lipid profile (to understand the particles for each type of lipid)
- hsCRP (High-Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein) to check for systemic inflammation
- Vitamin B12, electrolytes, thyroid function, cortisol, magnesium, Vitamin D levels
- Bonus if they’ll test blood ketone levels
- Take photos of your entire body (front, back, side) and closeups of your face, hands, and feet.
- Your weight
- Blood pressure
- Waist measurement (and more, if you like)
- Percentage of body fat
- What you eat and drink for a week (everything!) – find out how many carbs you are currently consuming each day (there are lots of apps for this)
An app like Fitness Pal can calculate these things for you.
- How you feel before and after eating
- Cravings (what, when, how often)
- Energy levels
- Sleep quality
The foods we eat provide these macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
If you have studied some nutritional science, you know there are essential fats and amino acids with protein, but there is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate. We don’t need them for fuel!
As sugar addicts, the issue is excess carbohydrates (starches, sugars, and fiber). There is compelling evidence that moderate consumption of proteins and good fats are not an issue when carbohydrates are minimal. Carbs are too high when they trigger insulin problems (and any of those symptoms mentioned earlier).
Carbohydrates are present in many whole and processed foods.
Some foods are high in carbs, some are moderate, and some are low, and some have none.
To break free of sugar addiction, we shift to only eating wholesome, natural, low carb and no-carb foods and avoid all the stuff that has been monkeying around with our metabolisms.
The basic goal is to:
- Keep your total carbs under a set amount each day (for me, that’s 20 grams, your amount may be higher).
- Consume protein at the right amount for your weight and activity level (see Resources for ways to calculate this).
- Consume healthy fats for satiety. These are the secret to feeling satisfied after a meal and no longer craving sugar!
Once you’ve seen your doctor and taken your measures, and learned which foods are low in carbs, you’re ready to start.
Give it a Chance
- At first it will seem impossible to switch to low carb eating, particularly if always add something sweet or starchy to your meals, or for dessert.
- It took me several days for this basic craving to settle down, which was hard but not a huge price to pay considering I’d felt these cravings since childhood.
- The payoff is totally worth it. You gradually learn to eat the right amount of protein and fats for your metabolism, consume minimal carbs, and you start to feel satiated after meals and rarely hungry between meals. And the sugar cravings go away. <-WOOT
- And, for many, excess weight comes off, skin clears, energy increases, sleep is better, and so on. If you want photo evidence for encouragement, there are wonderful before and after photos in many online discussion groups.
3 Create a Food Plan
Focus on the goodness and abundance of what you can eat, rather than that which you used to eat.
Some people make the switch to low carb eating all at once (that’s me). Others want a gradual transition.
Either way, you need a plan. Whether you cook at home, eat out, or a combination of both, you need to decide what you’re having for every single meal, and have the right snacks on hand, no matter where you are.
There are numerous low carb and ketogenic food plans available (links below). And yes, it is possible to get low carb options in just about every restaurant.
Most low carb and ketogenic diets consist of some types of meat, fish, cheese, eggs, nuts, low carb fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats.
Low Carb and No-Carb Food Examples
This is just an overview. Find yourself a good resource book or site for more information.
|Meat, fish, seafood, eggs||Vegetables|
|Free-range, grass-fed, free of hormones and antibiotics is recommended
|Leafy greens, spinach, zucchini, cucumbers, broccoli, peppers, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms…. No root vegetables.|
|Dairy (full fat)||Fruits|
|Cheese (real), yogurt (plain), sour cream, cream cheese, heavy cream, cottage cheese||Raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, grapefruit, lemon, limes.|
|Nuts||Saturated and Monosaturated Fats|
|Brazil nuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, walnuts, nut butters from these nuts||Butter, olive oil, avocado, ghee, coconut oil, avocado oil, and nut oils. Lard, tallow, animal fats.|
|Coffee, tea, water||Vitamins and Supplements|
|Consult your doctor to discuss this. Some people take B12 and magnesium citrate daily, but your needs may be different.|
Also, some artificial and alternative sweeteners can also be problematic. Sucralose, saccharin, acesulfame-K, maltitol, sorbitol, and xylitol may cause spikes in insulin levels. Amongst other things, high insulin levels hold your blood sugar hostage and insulin stores fat (that’s the belly fat mentioned earlier).
Diet options include:
- Ketogenic (definitions vary but in general it’s low carb, moderate protein, fats until satiated)
Some keto diets are all whole foods, others use artificial sweeteners to for low carb desserts. Some include dairy, others do not.
- Vegan Ketogenic – takes more effort but not impossible.
- Low carb | there are zillions of plans. Just make sure it’s one that counts ALL carbs.
There are lots of these diet plans online and each one has its own variations. I’ve seen anything from 20 to 100 grams of total carbs per day max, and you will have to determine what is right for you. I use my lab results and feeling of well-being as my guide and generally consume fewer than 20 grams daily.
There are also various phone apps available to track your macronutrient intake (protein, fats, carbs). I haven’t tested any because I know the food list by heart.
Now is the time to get rid of temptations and create a support system with the right people, chat groups, and food supplies.
Assume the first week is going to be a challenge. I felt sugar withdrawal for 3-4 days (just by stopping high-sugar fruits and whole-grain bread. I’d already given up all refined sugars.)
- Get rid of any foods you will no longer be eating. Some eat what’s left before making the shift, but, if it’s really hurting your health, you might reconsider that thought.
- Tell friends and family what you’re doing—but only if you know they will support you. Some will fight this.
- Get the information you need to understand low carb eating and be sure all your questions are answered to your satisfaction.
- Join forums and discussion groups (there’s lots on Facebook) and participate where you feel welcome and comfortable.
- Gather recipe ideas. There’s lots of books and websites (see list below).
- Seek out positive reinforcements. I like listening to low carb / keto podcasts.
- Carry low carb snacks and water everywhere you go. If you are getting adequate fats, and moderate protein, you will start feeling satiated after meals and the urge to snack will rapidly decrease.
For some people, the shift away to a low carbohydrate diet is a life-long change. Others find they just needed weeks, months, or years for the body to heal and can then reintroduce more carbs into their diet.
From what I’ve read in support groups, you should allow at least 4-8 weeks (without cheating) to decide if it’s right for you.
Whatever you choose, don’t be a dabbler! Some people dabble in low carb eating for quick weight loss and then resume their former eating habits. I find this scary. There is plenty of evidence that switching back and forth can be seriously harmful, and the combination of high carb intake plus protein and fats contributes to many common health problems—the same issues that brought you here in the first place (weight gain, heart issues, clogged arteries, high blood pressure, high blood sugar). Put your health first.
When you have completed a few months of consistent, low carb, whole-food eating, if possible, ask your doctor to repeat the initial lab tests and see what’s changed.
At this point you probably already see positive changes including:
- Looking and feeling better.
Take new photos and compare them to those from the start.
- Weight loss (if overweight)
- Lower blood pressure
- More energy
- Clearer thinking
- Better sleep
- Feeling satiated for hours (or more) after eating
- Skin changes, decreased inflammation
- No more cravings
- The desire for sugar is rare or gone!
Here’s what happened for me: that gnawing hunger I’d felt for years stopped after the first few days. This was the biggest surprise of all. And how foolish did I feel when I realized the solution was so simple! I lost excess weight without trying. Now my weight stays stable (yay!). Brain feels sharper, energy is higher (I used to feel like napping most days, now I rarely do), eczema cleared up, and so on. All my lab tests improved and now stay within normal levels. I live this diet (lifestyle) now and never veer off course: feeling unwell is just not worth it, and I love not feeling owned by food.
- Low-Carb Diet for Beginners | The Diet Doctor
This site has tons of recipes and excellent information for getting started on a low carb / ketogenic diet.
Podcasts (audio shows you can download or listen to online)
I first wrote this article years ago and since then there are a bunch more keto podcasts than I have listed here. Just search ‘keto’ in your podcast player and the world is your oyster.
- Keto for Normies | Matt and Megha are totally rockin the keto world
- Keto Talk with Jimmy Moore and Dr. Will Cole
- Formula for calculating your daily amount of protein | DocMuscles.com
This is just one way of doing it. Your doctor may have a different method.
- For some of us, all types of carbohydrates (carbs) including sugars, starches, and grains can affect our health and make us feel ‘sugar-addicted’. This is why it’s not enough to remove refined sugars from your diet. The sugars in fruits and various vegetables, breads, crackers, legumes, and more can be equally disruptive to blood glucose and insulin levels. And it’s this blood sugar roller coaster that creates the sweet tooth and constant cravings.
- To stop the cravings, reduce carb intake to a minimal amount, eat moderate amounts of protein, and consume healthy fats.
The amounts vary according to weight, activity level, and metabolism. See Resources for recommended books and websites.
- If carbs are the problem, this new way of eating will stop the sugar cravings. Many of us also get numerous other health benefits including lower blood pressure, weight loss, higher energy levels, better sleep, and more.
- Before you change your diet, consult your doctor and get a full work-up so you have measurements of your ‘before’ numbers.
- When you cut out the excess carbs, the first week will be hard. It really does feel like withdrawals. You may have headaches, strong cravings, and irritability. For me, it was fine after four days.
- If you stick with a good plan, after 6-12 weeks, it’s time to take new measurements. See your doctor, get new tests done, and compare. If you’re like me, the change was so dramatic, I’ve never turned back. It’s been years since I’ve had any added sugars or more than 20 grams of carbs per day and it’s totally worth it.
I hope this has encouraged you to explore your own options. If you have any medical conditions, you must consult with a doctor first. Do your homework, gather facts, get your lab work and other measures taken, and see what you can do to kick sugar to the curb.
Good health to you,
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛