How To Break A Sugar Addiction

by | Feb 18, 2013
Photo by joe.oconnell

Photo by joe.oconnell

“I eat way too much sugar and have constant cravings for it that make me feel like I am addicted … do you have any suggestions for cutting back?”

There is still a debate over whether or not sugar is an addictive substance. From the data I’ve seen and people I’ve talked to, I’d guess it probably is.

But whatever the answer, the important question for most of us is how to kill the cravings that have us eating so much sugar in the first place.

Cravings exist in both the body and the mind, and you will have the best luck overcoming them if you address both simultaneously.

The first step is good nutrition. A nourished body is a happy body, and permanently kicking a sugar habit requires healthy food.

Eating balanced, delicious meals is essential for getting real satisfaction from what you eat and leaving cravings behind. For most people this means approximately 50% of your meal being vegetables and the rest split between protein, intact grains and/or legumes (beans or lentils) and a bit of oil or other fat. However, everyone is a little different and you should experiment to find what works best for you.

Healthy eating will not squelch cravings overnight, but it is essential for permanently cutting sugar because it ensures your body has everything it needs. Once your muscles and organs are taken care of, you can address the cravings in your brain.

The first step in breaking a sugar addiction is making the decision to stop eating it completely for at least 4-7 days (the longer the better), and sticking to it. While I usually recommend making dietary changes gradually, sugar has the unique ability to inspire cravings which are refueled every time you give into them.

The only way to break the cycle is to stop feeding the fire.

Once your sugar tolerance has normalized you can reintroduce it in small amounts, so long as you are sure you are eating for pleasure and not from habit.

Quitting sugar cold turkey is not entirely easy, however, even if you know the break is temporary. Cravings can be incredibly intense and make sticking to your resolution very difficult. If you hope to get through it, you must have a strategy for diverting yourself from temptation.

Start by removing all sweets (especially your weakness) from the house. Do a full sweep, no secret stashes can stay. If you do not want to throw things out, try giving them away at work or even sealing them up and putting them somewhere you can’t get to them. Making it impossible to cheat will greatly increase your probability of success. Don’t rely on willpower.

Once you have removed your most likely pitfalls you need a strategy for dealing with cravings. For this it is important to understand clearly why you want to avoid sugar, what you are making the effort for.

If you aren’t sure why limiting sugar is necessary I recommend spending some time educating yourself on the subject. If you’re a visual learner, check out the first part of this video about the potential dangers of sugar and the theories of Dr. Lustig and Gary Taubes.

Being completely convinced you want to change your habits makes following through on your resolution much easier.

The next step is deciding on alternative behaviors to divert yourself from cravings—they will pass eventually so all you need to do is distract yourself for a bit while they are strongest.

What works for you will depend a lot on your own personality and needs. For many people, sugar snacking is triggered by certain environmental cues such as location or time of day. In these situations, diversions should be planned in advance to avoid slipping into habitual behavior.

Planned distractions from habitual eating can include taking different routes between locations (to avoid walking by that bakery), substituting behaviors (there are no cookies at the gym) or choosing different foods or beverages during certain activities (mint tea instead of ice cream?).

Experiment with different alternatives and figure out what works best for you. Foods with oil and protein tend to be satisfying and quench cravings, if hunger is a problem for you. Exercise is the golden ticket for others. For me personally, sugar cravings are best satisfied by fresh fruit, especially those with a lot of fiber like apples and oranges.

Make sure your alternative foods and activities are things you enjoy. If they aren’t you will eventually abandon them for your old habits. Ideally these avoidance behaviors will completely replace your sugar habit and become your new healthstyle.

As you cut sugar out of your diet, also be sure to avoid hidden sugar sources. Stay away from sauces and condiments that are really desserts in disguise, e.g. honey mustard, teriyaki, etc. Added sugar is very common in restaurant sauces (especially mid-range chain restaurants), so you might want to avoid eating out all together for a few days if you can swing it. You should also avoid sugar substitutes.

When you have completed your four day sugar fast (go a week if you can), your cravings should have subsided substantially (the first 2 days are the worst). Continue to keep sugar minimal and actively avoid situations that cue you to eat sweets. Integrate your new behaviors into your healthstyle until the new habits replace the old ones. This process takes 6-8 weeks.

During this time get in the practice of asking yourself why you are eating sugar before you put it into your mouth. Are you eating from habit? Because of circumstance? For a special occasion? Because everyone else is?

The purpose of this exericse is not necessarily to stop yourself from eating, but to understand the reasons behind your behavior. The goal is to find a way to allow sugar into your life as a treat and not a necessity.

As you ween yourself off sugar, your tastes can change dramatically. All my life I had a sweet tooth, but over the past several years my taste for sugar has diminished and most drinks and desserts are now far too sweet for me. Consequently limiting sugar is not something I need to think much about, except during holidays and special occasions. Even then I don’t give it much thought, it happens naturally.

Besides eating whole unprocessed foods, cutting your sugar intake way down is probably the single best thing you can do to improve your health. If sugar is a problem for you, eating less of it should be one of your highest priorities.

Have you had success cutting back on sugar?

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93 Responses to “How To Break A Sugar Addiction”

  1. jeff clark says:

    In an effort to lose weight several years ago, cutting back on sugar was one of my main strategies, but instead of cold turkey, I weaned myself off it slowly and that has worked for me. First I gave up sodas (regular and diet). Then I removed additive sugars like sugar in my coffee or iced tea. After that, I just started resisting sweets as best as possible. Now I can satisfy an occasional sweet tooth after dinner by sharing a dessert with four rather than consuming one all by myself. Its amazing that just a couple bites will be all that I need.

    After drastically reducing my sugar intake, its amazing how much those added sugars masked the real taste of food. I think I am better able to taste all the subtleties of quality food now that my taste buds are no longer desensitized by the quantity of sugar I used to ingest. Also, if I am going to eat a sugary food now, I want it to be of the best quality, not just some processed box cookie, although I am still a sucker for a warm gooey oatmeal cookie.

  2. Matt Stone says:

    The only way to really overcome any addictive substance is to not have cravings for it. I don’t just mean overcoming cravings, but getting to a physiological state in which they do not arise. Fruit is a better alternative, but the sweetness of fruit still has a tendency to perpetuate cravings in those with a legitimate sugar problem. Fruit is still sweet enough to induce a big spike in beta endorphin, which is what creates closed receptors and perpetuates and intensifies the addiction. Kathleen DesMaisons is an excellent source of information on the subject, and the dynamics of how addiction works. I’ve written my fair share on it as well.

  3. Michael says:

    One of the early books I read in my initial quest for health was Sugar Blues by William Dufty. What an eyeopener! Anyone who can read the intro and not be convinced of the need to get off sugar and change your whole dietary life is truly a lost cause.

    At any rate, after reading the book I cleared my home of all sugar (and white flour), and not so surprisingly very little was left on my shelf. But the cravings were quickly gone, and since that day in my early twenties I have never looked back.

  4. jennifer says:

    Sugar IS a VERY addictive substance. That addiction stems mainly from the fact that sugar is added to EVERYTHING (other than home-cooked meals, of course)! I mean, it literally took me WEEKS to find dried cranberries that didn’t contain added sugar…even the ones from healthy grocery stores, like Whole Foods, had a ton of added sugar. I ended up having to pay $22 for a 1-pound bag of organic dried cranberries with no added sugar from a food Web site. And what amazes me is, dried cranberries without added sugar are still extremely sweet and taste SO MUCH better than cranberries with added sugar.

    And while you made many good points about how to “cure” sugar addiction… I have to add that it’s not always about the food you eat. Sometimes your “sugar” craving comes from a basic need that’s not being met. If after you’ve tried the stuff Darya listed in this post, you still find yourself craving sugar, take a step back and look at your life.

    Ask yourself–Am I feeling fulfilled in my relationships? Do I have enough sweet things happening in my life? Sometimes a craving for sugar is merely an internal craving for love and affection.

    • Darya Pino says:

      Great point, Jennifer. People often eat for emotional reasons.

      • Denise hendrickx says:

        That’s wat I thought till I found out that in ketosis the cravings are gone rightaway. though it is unconfortably to stay in ketosis the minr amount of carbs gets me binging again!
        PS I’ve always had normal blod glucose range

    • Kourtney says:

      I completely agree! I’ve always loved sweets but I realized as the older I became it was related to not being fulfilled with love. Good point!

  5. thomas says:

    “The first step is good nutrition. A nourished body is a happy body, and permanently kicking a sugar habit requires healthy food.”

    uhm no? why would that be?
    i would have to disagree. i didn’t eat any sugar, eat only healthy food for 20 weeks. ate a single chocolate and bang, started eating chocolate every day from that day forward. guess i should have stuck with AA.

    ” For me personally, sugar cravings are best satisfied by fresh fruit, especially those with a lot of fiber like apples and oranges.”

    sorry, but personally i think if you eat oranges you give in your cravings.

    • Darya Pino says:

      I did not mean to imply that healthy eating is enough to break sugar cravings. It definitely is not enough. However, if your body is lacking some fundamental nutrient then you will have cravings based on basic physiology. That way you are battling both your body and your brain. I just think healthy eating optimizes your chances. The best analogy I can think of is the cravings experienced by pregnant women. These needs are not imaginary, the body has new demands so wants specific foods to meet them.

      It’s hard for me to think of fruit as cheating on sugar 😉 It’s just enough for me to get over it.

      • thomas says:

        ok, but that is taking the addiction to the body level. i am not sure (ie. never read about it) that healthy eating can combat an addiction like that. and one thing you seem to forget: eating sugary items does not mean you eat unhealthy. i can eat very healthy and do sports (and not the yoga/pilates kinda type) but add 70g of the best chocolate amedei has to offer every day ( so with your theory i shouldn’t have cravings to begin with, because i eat healthy. skip the chocolate and you are good to go? doubt it very much. i agree with Alta on that one (one comment below me, if you don’t censor me or her 😉

        i am pretty sure an alcoholic who is drinking vodka shouldn’t switch to beer either 😉
        if it is enough to satisfy your cravings and on a body level already, you can only imagine how much sugar the fruit has and the impact of it on your body. or you weren’t addicted enough 😉

      • Kryztal says:

        You can have the opinion that oranges are still giving into cravings in an inappropriate manner, but you are wrong. Fruit is very, very healthy for humans and should be one of our main sources of daily energy/food. Fruit is not the same kind of sugar as cookies and candy, it is good for you … Packed full of nutrients unlike the other things. The body creates energy through ATP, which is made from glucose, which comes from carbohydrates, which is what sugar is. The brain and body thrive on carbohydrates, it is the most effective way to give yourself energy, and fruit is the easiest and main source of that micronutrient. Stop with the complete misconception that fruit is bad or like candy, it is not and should be consumed often.

    • Darya Pino says:

      Mmm… Amedei.

      I think we agree. I am not saying eating healthy fixes anything, I’m just saying it is harder if you are not well nourished. Your cells and tissues don’t need alcohol to function properly, but they need nutrients from food. But yes, sugar addiction can be independent of body health too. I think both are important.

      • thomas says:

        had pierre marcolini today. white chocolate. omg. forget about amedei 😉

        do rehab centers focus on nutrition – or is your statement of ‘harder if not well nourished’ only meant for sugar addiction?

      • Nancy says:

        Thomas, you just seem to be argumentative about the whole subject. A nourished body truly does have fewer cravings as it is getting what it needs. The rest is up to the individual. Your comments on the chocolates and which websites have them, etc. is just adding fuel to everyone else’s fires, ha ha. It was a great article, take what’s helpful from it, and stop arguing, please!

      • thomas says:

        i suppose i stopped 18 months ago

      • Nancy says:

        Stopped the sugar or the challenging attitude? 🙂 Just kidding. Hope you are doing well with breaking the sugar addiction. Sorry; I failed to look at the dates of the writings – my fault.

  6. Alta says:

    I find that I can’t keep sugar in the house without my wanting to eat it. I’m fine all day, but late at night, when I suppose I should be going to bed, I find myself craving the cookies, cakes, etc. So I keep them out of the house as much as possible. I drink herbal teas to try to get my mind off of the sugar until a few days later, when the cravings stop. I eat very healthily, but I think sugar just draws me in.

  7. Carolyn says:

    Hi Darya,

    Great post! About a year ago I realized I’d had a sugar addiction since I was a little kid, stealing my cousins’ easter candy and hiding it under my bed. When I decided to go sugar free, I was shocked to learn how many of our every day pre-packaged foods have sugar in them! Do we really need sugar in a can of garbanzo beans? Or in our mustard? So I became a big fan of slow-food and label reading!

    I think it’s also worth pointing out that if you want to kick the sugar habit, you need to cut out alcohol and diet drinks and foods.

    I’m not the scientist you are, but from the research I did, I learned that your body metabolizes alcohol and sugar exactly the same way. So if you continue to drink alcohol you will continue to crave sugar.

    I also learned (and have experienced) that sugar substitutes (like those in diet sodas and diet foods) completey screw up your metabolism. When you consume sugar substitutes your body thinks it’s getting sugar- and when it doesn’t get sugar, it makes you crave it even more..

    So when I gave up sugar, I completely cut out alcohol and sugar substitutes and I noticed the cravings subsided and I was eating healthier than I’d ever eaten and I felt great.


  8. Matt Shook says:

    If I get a sweet tooth, I grab some fruit or high-end organic dark chocolate. I find the vast majority of run-of-the-mill sweets like donuts, cake, and candy bars to be wasted empty calories that will make me feel like crap after consuming them. I don’t feel the fruit is cheating, and the chocolate…well, that’s probably bacterial:


  9. James says:

    I’ve never really had what I would call a sugar craving. I guess that’s something that’s unique to me, or at least rare, because in all my years I’ve heard people talk about *really wanting* some coffee, sugar, chocolate, or french fries, and honestly I can’t recall ever having the feeling that I *had* to have a particular food.

    I also don’t smoke or drink, so I can’t really say I’ve ever had anything that amounts to an addiction. I guess the closest thing has been an internet addiction! 🙂

    I have, however, noticed that I have had to work hard to regulate my diet of either fat, carbs or protein. For some reason, when I an deficient in one of these areas my body *knows* and just gets plain hungry, and the feeling is the same no matter which of these nutrients is missing, or I’m too dense to read my body signals. Pretty much by experimenting (or remembering what I hadn’t eaten enough of in the last 24 hours) is hour I satisfy the “empty” feeling.

    This has made it really hard for me to get my BMI into the “normal” range – I’ve been 1 point outside it into the “overweight” range for almost my entire adult life and I can’t seem to really move my weight one way or another. The few times I’ve gotten it into “normal”, I’ve stayed there for maybe 3-4 weeks before a tremendous hunger takes over and I can’t seem to satisfy it with anything, and slowly my weight creeps back up.

    • Darya Pino says:

      I think we’ve all experienced something like that, but like you most of us are not in tuned with our bodies enough to know what is missing. Paying attention, keeping food journals and always trying to eat balanced meals can make a huge difference in keeping hunger in check.

  10. Fatima says:

    While trying to eat healthy and lose weight, giving up sugar is quiet a struggle for me, but the advice in this article gives me a guideline on where to begin. Thank you so much!!

  11. Jeff says:

    Darya, thanks for a great article. I’d like to share some of my experiences.

    Last week I started a six week program with some guys in my men’s circle that includes among other things no alcohol, no sugar, daily workouts, and adjusting sleep and bed-time routines to get enough sleep. I’ve noticed a few things…

    I really want those couple pieces of dark chocolate after lunch and dinner. As soon as I finish the meal I start thinking about the sweets. That’s a habit I’ve had for years and I don’t yet know if my craving is based on the habitual behavior or if it’s physiological in some way.

    I’m noticing a really STRONG correlation between emotions and cravings for sweets and alcohol. Last night I had a challenging conversation with someone close to me and noticed that in my mind I was thinking about pouring myself a glass of wine and looking for the chocolate.

    The interesting thing about noticing these thoughts and behaviors is that I was not aware of them before giving things up. I only noticed because I could not have them. I remember when I quit smoking years ago that, even after my body was no longer craving the nicotine, I would want a smoke whenever I had a strong emotion. The cigarette seemed to be an emotional lubricant for the uncomfortable moments in my day. I’m noticing the same things with sugar and alcohol.

    So, with this new knowledge, my job is to find a way to work through the uncomfortable times in a more productive way, or just be present with the discomfort and realize that it will pass and I don’t need to DO anything about it. Simple, though not as easy as opening the candy drawer.

    • Darya Pino says:

      Wow, great insights! I absolutely agree about the tie to emotions. It turns out that sugar induces the release of serotonin, which improves mood temporarily. So in many ways when we eat we are self-medicating for a mild, temporary depression. This sounds like the making of a future post…

    • Elizabeth Mailey says:

      Hi Jeff,
      I could really really relate to your post. Thankyou for taking the time to share this. I absolutely empathise with the dilema you are faced at the end of a meal: to give in to the overwhelming urge, to fight it, to agonise over what is at the root of it…….I too push down many strong emotions(especially those negative, uncomfortable ones), with my drug of choice. Sugar. I currently detoxed from suger very successfully; I was almost elated at the freedom this brought me fro the daily battle. As i find my relationship going through a particularly bad patch, my cravings have returned with a vengeance. The emotional and psychological components, I believe, are at the heart of the sugar addicts’ struggle. I wish us both help and freedom from our cravings….

  12. John O says:

    One thing I’ll add is that the picture at the top of this post sure is inducing some sugar cravings for me…

  13. ben says:

    There’s a great video on sugar that talks the science behind sugar/fructose:

    It’s a bit lacking however, because it doesn’t go over how sugar alcohols, and sugar substitutes (stevia, sucralose, etc) compare. They supposedly don’t raise insulin, so are they healthier? New soft drinks are now using ‘fructose’ (and the inulin polymer) as the sweetener, is this healthier than table sugar, or only better than HFCS (high fructose corn syrup)?

    It’s a long video, but bottom line is that fructose gets treated in the body like alcohol. It’s bad for the liver, and is the real cause of all obesity (not fats, carbs, etc.)

    One point though, I’m not sure if there a difference between fructose and high fructose corn syrup.. I normally use a juicer to make fresh carrot/beet/mango juice (I get plenty of fiber with the rest of my diet… but could my fresh fructose juicing be that unhealthy????

    • Darya Pino says:

      Hi ben,

      We’ve discussed that video before here at Summer Tomato Dr. Lustig is actually here at UCSF.

      As for artificial sweeteners, no they technically should not raise insulin (I’m not convinced). However there has been multiple trials asking if they are beneficial in controlling insulin resistance and obesity and the answer is a resounding no. Generally I would stay away from them.

      Fresh juice is definitely high in fructose and should be consumed in moderation. However it does have other benefits so it is not as bad as soda. Also, carrots and beets don’t have as much sugar as fruits like mango. That makes a big difference.

      Hopefully I answered your questions 🙂


  14. Kelly Lester says:

    Hi Darya,

    What a fantastic and so true article! I am 49 years old and have struggled with weight/overeating issues since I was a teenager. I’ve been about 30 lbs heavier (at my worst) than I am today. For the last 10 years or so, I have tried to eat as healthy, whole, and process free as I can. I exercise regularly. This lifestyle has helped me lose and maintain most of my excess weight. HOWEVER, until I read Sugar Shock by Connie Bennett, I did not understand what a physical addiction/craving sugar sets up in your body and why I was constantly wanting to overeat! Until I read that book (and I thought I knew everything), I thought I just had no willpower. Boy, was I wrong. I experimented and cut out almost 100% of the sugar I had been eating (and it really wasn’t even much at that point) and was shocked to find that, for the first time in my life, the sugar/overeating cravings were (almost) gone!!! I had never felt this powerful over my food addiction. Ever. I lost those last few extra pounds quickly, as I had no trouble eating less/not craving more!!! I have maintained my low-to-no sugar eating style and it is a huge relief (no more obsessing!) and not too difficult. The rewards (tight jeans!) are great and my struggle with food is almost non-existent when I eat this way. Thanks for educating your readers Darya. You do a great job.

  15. Brid Carter says:

    Hi Darya – havent time to go through all the replies to check if someone has already submitted this suggestion, so forgive me if I am repeating a previous one! I have found that the amino acid ‘glutamine’ is very helpful in stopping carbohydrate cravings (sugar, alcohol etc) and can help make the withdrawal process relatively painless. I found it in one of Patrick Holford’s books and it has been mentioned in others as well. The role of amino acids and vitamin/mineral supplements in addressing dietary change is one that I think is still evolving, but the use of glutamine on a personal level by me has been very helpful!

    • Darya Pino says:

      That’s interesting. Glutamine is a very common amino acid and should be abundant in most foods that contain a significant amount of protein. Maybe that is one of the mechanisms by which protein suppresses hunger. Generally I am skeptical of supplements, but always interested to hear new ideas.


  16. Canuckette says:

    Hi, Darya!
    I can’t help but butt into this discussion. Darya, you offer some very good advice which will help many people. However, I feel that I need to share my experience, which relates somewhat to the posts by Jennifer and Jeff. For years, without understanding why, I ate compulsively, usually in secret. I could eat sweets, salty munchies, bread, popcorn, even dry noodles until I felt sick. I knew I shouldn’t be eating this stuff, I knew I should stop, but I couldn’t– my reaction was akin to that of an alcoholic, who knows he’s had enough, but simply can’t stop. I was pretty good at keeping most of those trigger foods out of my house, so instead I would overeat healthy foods: wholewheat crispbreads, popcorn with olive oil, carrots, grapes, etc. And when I was at work, I’d be gorgeing myself with whatever sweets or fingerfoods colleagues would leave in the staffroom. So keeping trigger foods out of my house really didn’t help much. At the same time, I was interested in healthy foods, and tried to eat healthy– when I wasn’t stuffing myself silly with a lot of junk.
    Last year, I was telling a friend about my “bipolar” eating habits, and he suggested I look into Overeaters Anonymous. I did, and it has changed my life. I’ve learned that I have an addiction to certain foods, and that I can’t stop eating them once I start. I’ve also been following a Twelve Step program, which is helping me to deal with a lot of emotions and personal issues, so they don’t get the better of me and bring me back to my old eating habits.
    Since I’ve been in OA, I’ve developed a much healthier relationship with food, and I’m discovering that healthy cooking and eating can be a joy.
    OA isn’t for everyone, but for those people who truly have an addiction to food, it can be a life-changing experience. I’m including this link to the website, so that anyone interested can quickly figure out if OA is for them or not.
    I hope that this can be helpful to a few of your readers. Thanks for posting it, and keep up the good work!

    • Darya Pino says:

      Thanks for sharing your story. I definitely support what you’ve done by finding professional help for your condition, and I’m glad to hear you’re getting it under control. Definitely this site is geared toward people without clinically diagnosed eating disorders, but it is always good to remember that some people need a little more help than others.

      Thanks again for chiming I wish you the best in managing your healthstyle 🙂


  17. Simba says:

    Sorry for posting on an old article, but I find that if I have chocolate in the house it means I eat less of it. Somehow having it there means that I don’t need any, and I shouldn’t eat it today because I might need it tomorrow. It still has this effect long after it’s inedible- I have to periodically clean out my room to get rid of the out-of-date stashes (easter eggs especially: I still have my easter eggs from last year, I’ll have to clean it out soon).

    On the other hand, if there’s no chocolate in the house, I go out and get some and I generally eat it before I get home. This only works for chocolate, not biscuits or anything else. Anyone else feel the same way or am I an aberration?

  18. Corey says:

    Hi Darya,

    Thanks very much for this article, and also to all the previous posters for their comments. I’m a fairly young guy, slim and relatively healthy, but I’ve been slowly coming to the realisation that I need to cut a drastic amount of sugar out of my diet – and quickly. Three of my grandparents are diabetic and I don’t want to go down that road.

    As a kid, I refused to drink water and would only have sugary cordials and soft drinks for fluids. I kicked that habit around 17 and now plain water tastes quite sweet for me (rain water is a revelation!). However, it’s the inocuous sugars in the mayonnaise on my sandwich, in stir fry sauces or in the English muffin for breakfast that continue to slip into my diet.

    I think learning to cook and bake would have to be one of the most effective ways to discover just how much sugar goes into many items in the pantry such as biscuits, cakes and pastries. You think twice about going for a cupcake knowing that the frosting is almost pure sugar with a bit of butter and the cake had a cup of sugar poured into the batter before it was baked. Suddenly, it becomes very clear why such foods are rightly regarded as treats. The same goes for condiments such as mayonnaise that perhaps require just a pinch of sugar to balance the tang from the vinegar instead of the many teaspoons that commercial varieties have in their own.

    In any event, I’ll stock up on veggies, potatoes, some nice fruit and good meat and give your suggestion of a 4 day sugar fast a go. I kicked cordial before, next on my list is the barbeque sauce and ‘yoghurt’-topped muesli bars!

  19. Chris says:

    Thanks for addressing this very important subject. I am a former sugar addict, but now sugar-free because of my battle with cancer. My last blog post Interview with a Former Sugar Addict, is a valuable followup read to your post.

  20. When I did a sugar detox in the fall, I found that one of the most helpful things was to find another go-to dessert that would satisfy me. I started to enjoy rooibos chai tea with unsweetened almond milk and some stevia. That really helped me because I could at least have SOMETHING sweet.

    Because of that detox, I’ve never gone back to certain foods, such as sweetened almond milk (which I was using before), because my taste buds adjusted. I’m also much more conscious about how much sugar I am consuming.

  21. Satu says:

    I think the quality of your diet is a key in trying to get rid of sugar cravings. I have first-hand experience. 🙂

    A couple of years of ago I tried improving my diet (eating > 50% of my calories before 4 pm, increased the amount of protein to 20-25%, ate more vegetables, fruit etc ) and in two weeks I noticed my daily cravings had disappeared. Poof!

    I wasn’t trying to get rid of sugar cravings, it was just a side effect. My suggestion is to find out how you’re eating right now and try to improve your diet first.

    Unfortunately I didn’t stick to the changes, so now I have to do it again. 🙁

  22. Nathalie C. says:

    Great article, I know I am like 200 years late on this post but I guess it never loses its relevance. Anyway, when you say cutting sugar, I assume you also mean all fruit etc…

    • Darya Pino says:

      I don’t mean fruit, actually. I’m just referring to added sugar and concentrated sugar sources. I’ve seen a bit of data that fructose bound up in fruit doesn’t have the same negative effects on the body as processed fructose. Also, I’ve never seen any evidence that eating fruit contributes to more disease. Just the opposite in fact 🙂

      • Nathalie C. says:

        Thank you for your response! What about red wine? That contains sugar too. I promise to stop asking questions now 😉

      • Ally says:

        What do you think about less refined sugars, say for baking and the like? Are there any natural sweetners you think are ok?

      • Darya Pino says:

        With sugars, quantity is far more important than quality. The reason is that no matter the source you are consuming a concentrated form of sweetener, which is bad for you. Sure things like molasses can also contribute vitamin D etc., but that doesn’t make them a good source of calories (fish and sunlight are better ways to get vitamin D).

        That said, small amounts of sugar can’t do much damage. So if you’re baking just use whatever tastes best to you, and try to use as little as possible (remember that the flour and other things you’re baking with aren’t good for you either). Then just enjoy your treat and understand you can’t have it every day.

    • Darya Pino says:

      The data on red wine is overwhelmingly positive, so I don’t think the residual sugar is an issue.

  23. Tanel says:

    I grew up not eating a sweet in my life. And in my teens never touched one and if i eat one it sounded like i am eating poison. i dont know what happen to my late twenties i am a sugar junk the are sweets all over the house but now i am having headaches. i think its time for me to change. i will start tomorrow with one week juice diet….God help me!!!

  24. sylvia couch says:

    I have a 6 year old grandson that will eat nothing but sweets. We try to place food such as scrambled eggs, hamburger patties, chicken, salads (he will eat chicken nuggets (fried) and french fries (fried). He is overweight and I am worried about childhood diabeties. When we try to make him eat regular food, he throws up!! Can you help us?

    • Darya Pino says:

      Sorry, I don’t have kids and don’t know much about them. However, it seems impossible for him to eat sweets if they aren’t available.

      • Regarding the six year old who won’t eat anything but sweets, that is so dangerous. I feed twin boys every day. I limit their sugar so they will eat good food. They need to take all sugar and juice away from him, start replacing with slices of apples, maybe raisins, in moderation. He needs to get to a state of feeling hungry. Eventually good food will start tasting good. ALSO NO cereal which is all sugary except for oatmeal. No fast food either. After a few days, he will start craving real food. Of course, he should see his pediatrician first. I’m no doctor. But I know how to feed children.

      • emi says:

        I also have a son who loves the sugar stuff. He always wanted to delay bedtime by claiming to be hungry. This was after a good dinner, so I knew he wasn’t really hungry, just “hungry”. I started letting him eat a vegetable at bedtime. He didn’t like any, but agreed to try a cucumber. I peeled them for about a week for him. Then the next week, I told him the first one had to be unpeeled (aren’t they healthier that way?), and then he can have them peeled. Now, months later, he is willing to eat cucumbers during the day too, and carrots, and sometimes salad. That is like a miracle for me, that he is eating this stuff. He still eats sugar, but so do I, so I can’t expect more from him than me.
        Great article and love the varied feedback. It really enhances it for me.

  25. Charlotte says:

    Great post, we need all the help we can get with our sugar addictions!

    I have a question about quitting sugar that you didn’t address. I don’t keep sugar in the house and the only sweet things I have on the shelf is fruit. My problem, however, comes during social events. Regularly the girls night in serves ice cream, the birthday party has a cake, the holiday party has cookies (and a million other sweets), a dinner date wants to share some creme brulee and yoga serves free post-workout energy bars (which of course have added sugar). It is these circumstances that make quitting so hard for me. And regularly there are at least three (if not way more) social events per weekend. This is more then enough to ruin my sugar free plan.

    I’m great when I cook for myself and pack my own lunches. It’s just when all my friends decide to go get milkshakes after the movie, it becomes too difficult (and even anti-social) to refuse. Any suggestions (especially with all those holiday parties looming)?

  26. Erica says:

    Busted! I was munching on coconut m & ms while reading this post. I think it’s entirely possible to eliminate sugar for 4 days. Thanks for the tips.

  27. I broke it unknowingly until one day I realized something was different. As a child I LOVED my candy and cake. When I went on a diet in my early 20’s and they had a cake at work, I felt deprived and cried. Many years later, I can barely eat a dessert. I have the ability to take one or two bites. After that I feel sick. So what happened between crying for cake and turning it away willfully? Good question. Lots of exercise and lots of carb fasting in between regular good food eating. For me to quit sugar, I had to also quit bread and pasta. Now I can eat bread and pasta in limited amounts. After a certain amount, the carbs don’t taste good. Crazy. It’s everyone’s dream, so I should donate my body to science for testing maybe. All kidding aside, the carb/sugar thing is powerful. I think it must change body chemistry and somehow with enough practice I changed my body chemistry back to normal. If we could bottle this, we would be rich.

  28. Nate says:

    just commented on your other post about sugar and here’s a whole one about how to get off it, totally awesome! Just discovered you and am amazed at the clarity and to-the-point-ness of your writing. Thank you!

  29. Brian says:

    Another helpful hint: get a good night’s rest. Our minds crave sugar the more sleep deprived they are. And I do have to say that this Lindt 70% cocoa almond brittle bar has tasted great while reading this article!

  30. Amy Zinc says:

    No alcohol, but red wine is okay? How is that possible?

  31. Onyinye says:

    Hi, good article!
    I was wondering if homemade hot chocolate drinks would be considered as a source of sugar. I make my own hot chocolate from cocoa powder, milk and a teaspoon of agave syrup which i crave a lot in the winter. Would I need to stop drinking this in a sugar fast?

  32. Mali says:

    I am beating myself up (literally punching myself) because
    I have done this way too long… I just finished a binge and
    feel like I could puke (but I never do)…
    I am long past the using it as a comforter…I do it for anything
    and everything…my mind is not the only addicted thing
    just like every otherbinge eater our bodies are addicted to!
    Literally our body needs the sugar/salt/fat high it’s a drug.
    Actually proven to be equal to cocaine in the way the body is
    addicted…plus your body ends up anticipating a carb/sugar
    overload so it overproduces insulin majorly
    But say you resolved to quit…but you normally binge
    between 4-6 when you come home…your body will EXPECT
    the food but if you don’t give it the food your body will have
    all this insulin and nothing to do with it (which would normally
    be dealing with the food overload) so thus your BODY goes into
    withdrawal like symptoms (serious cravings in which you loose
    all desire to quit)
    So not only is the snapses in your brain winding round and round
    becoming thick and unbreakable but your body is revolting
    and then there’s your emotions!! Crap we binge eaters are scre-wed..

    • Fi says:

      Hi Mali, I too can relate, i have binged since as long as i can remember but I don’t want to do it anymore so am trying hard to learn and understand why i’m doing it and try heal from it. I strongly recommend the books “Potatoes Not Prozac by Kathleen DesMaisons” (talks about how dopamine, seratonin and beta-endorphine (amongst other neuro-transmitters) can play havoc on ones bio-chemistry dependent on the person and the substance (eg. sugar, alcohol ect) the consume); the book “Getting Better Bit(e) by Bit(e): A Survival Kit for Sufferers of Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorders by Ulrike Schmidt and Janet Treasure” and the book “Awareness” by Anthony de Mello. I never normally am good for reading books but I think these have helped me become more aware of whats going on, helps me understand more and encourages me stop blaming myself for bingeing, but instead, encouraging ways to understanding and learning from it. It’s a journey but with a little help, support, information, understanding and determination, anything is possible. I also followed operation transformation, , where i ate only healthy nutritional foods and followed an exercise plan for 7 weeks and noticed that when i was craving chocolate and icecream and stuff, there seemed to be a link with that and an emotion a lot of the time. I think doing it was a great opportunity because i could look at this in a more detached, objective way (as the craving for junk subsised a lot after been off it for a while) and now am trying to learn if i need to feed a physical or emtional hunger. Although last week i binged for 4 days so its an ongoing battle, but if it aint worth having, it aint worth fighting for, and i fight for freedom! The best of luck to you, and believe it, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

  33. Nia says:

    I think this is a wonderful article and kudos to you who wrote it! I really appreciate your honesty and personally evaluated tips – It means so much! I am looking for a way to completely kick the habit myself..I have come a long way, but the battle still ain’t won! I eat predominately whole foods (even make most of my milk from nuts). I still use sugar in baking and hot beverages though (at least a tablespoon to every 8 oz of tea, coffee). I have noticed that replacing sugar with Xylitol helped a lot and my only addiction is the taste. I actually had a stint with a raw foods diet and this fixed so many things, including sugar cravings. I would like to be able to curb my cravings regardless whether I’m eating primarily raw foods or not. I have poor digestion now and do not have the “digestive fire” to break down a lot of raw food. And sugar does not help with digestion, so I’m more desperate than ever and you have reminded me that redirecting habits is very helpful (will be trading in morning coffee for morning smoothie). Thank you so much:)

  34. Barry says:

    I started juicing a few times a week making juices using my Breville juicer with green apples, kale, cucumbers, carrots, etc., and I have found that my desire for sweets has pretty much vanished without me doing anything other than drinking the juices. Sounds weird, I know but that’s what happened. Give it a try.

  35. Jelena says:

    I’m a sugar addict since early childhood and recently I have made two changes to my diet which appear to have greatly diminished my desire for sweet foods. The thing is that I’m not sure which of these two things took away my desire for sugar. Firstly I cut out grains. I still eat the occasional bit of sushi and some legumes every now and then, but the grains are largely gone from my diet and I don’t miss them. In place of the the grains I’m eating a lot more vegetables and a lot more fish, eggs and meat. At the same time I decided to try and eat more bitter foods. I started eating grapefruit (with no sweetener of course!). At first I could only tolerate a little bit but gradually my tolerance for it has built to the point where I can easily eat a whole grapefruit and actually enjoy it. I also started eating bitter greens – a leaf or two of radiccio with my evening meal (as part of all of those other vegies I’m eating) or some endive. Of course I’ve cut the sweet foods out (apart from 2-3 serves of fruit a day -including grapefruit) as well. For some strange reason I seem to think that eating the bitter tasting salad leaves and growing to tolerate grapefruit has helped me to be largely free of sugar-cravings. However the cravings come back (but not as violently as before) if I don’t get enough sleep. Good luck to all out there battling a sugar addiction.

  36. Lanna says:

    Excellent article and responses! It didn’t even dawn on me that I had a sugar addiction until recently. Listen to Jerry Seinfeld’s bit on kids and candy. It is both hilarious and true. We learn very early on to turn to sugar for that buzz. We want it, want it, want it and will do anything to get it – even wear a ridiculous costume. Don’t get me wrong – I love Halloween and the whole costume thing, but it’s the candy connection that is interesting. I’ve been trying to lose the same 5 – 10 pounds for years and I think it’s the sugar addiction that is my problem. As some folks mentioned in their responses, I crave it when times are tough or I’m having a stressful day. I’m otherwise a very healthy eater. I want to join SA! Glad to see some tips on avoiding sugar as I do find it terribly addicting. Thanks all!

  37. Linda says:

    Thank you for this terrific article! Love your style of writing 🙂
    I have successfully managed to cut out all added sugar from my diet (including flour, most starches etc.) but I still crave sugar occasionally. I wonder if this could be related to the fact I haven’t cut out wine from my diet? I study wine — it’s one of the things I can’t give up (unless I had health issue, then I would!). Is it possible that my wine consumption (which is very moderate, mostly just wine tastings, both red and white) induces a craving for sugar? Thanks so much!

  38. Paul W says:

    I have not been successful with any of these. I cannot kick this addiction

  39. Mary says:

    I have a problem with bread and butter, pasta and butter. More of a carb addiction. I have no problem not eating desserts or sweets.

  40. Nick says:

    Darya, Great article! I have tried (more than once) to break my addiction to sugar and to eat healthier, and know its not easy. One area you don’t discuss is what to do when not everyone in your family is trying to make “the change”. Finding some common ground on ways to meet your goals to eat healthier without alienating your family can be one key to success. I know my wife and kids can be a great motivator for me to eat healthier, but they don’t always want to come along on the journey…..

  41. Caitlin says:


    Don’t you think that this way of dealing with sugar could make people even more addicted? I do believe that when you deprive yourself of something, you want it even more. Then, as even a bit of sugar fuels cravings, I find you tend to binge on it more easily, which is arguably worse than indulging in one’s cravings for sugar. Wouldn’t a healthier perspective be to avoid cutting anything entirely, even for a few days (apart from packaged foods)?


    • Darya Pino says:

      Unlike some other foods that people crave (like fatty foods), sugar actually has addictive properties in that your body can acclimated to it and needs more to be satisfied. Cutting it out completely (but temporarily) helps recalibrate your body and restore sensitivity (both to insulin, and to your taste buds). Most people find that the less sugar they eat, the less they feel like they need.

      I’ll get to your other questions next week 🙂

  42. John L says:

    First. Nice blog. It looks good. I stumbled onto it somehow.

    I have a better method for sugar addiction. Try a substitute like Splenda. This is what I did. It’s easier then going cold turkey. Sugar is like a drug that you need to remove gradually. For example I had a soda-sugar addiction so I replaced soda with a brand that uses Splenda. Currently there’s only one, “Diet Rite.” It’s was little hard at first but you get used to it over time. And then the sugar craving gradually disappeared. Didn’t take too much will power. I just had something to distract my craving.

  43. Arizona says:

    Every cell in our body runs on sugar. Everything you eat your body converts it to sugar. Breast milk is extremely sweet so that we crave it as infants. My kids love candy and I did see withdrawl symptoms from not having it. There was only one thing that solved this. dates! It has that massive sugar load to replace the refined sugar so they wouldnt be so moody from not having candy. They can eat dates all day and it is a happy day, they get along, well behaved, etc. I love dates!! Not to mention all the fiber and vitamins, iron, etc. Please look into dates, they are truly a miracle food.

  44. Katie Kobelinski says:

    Hi Darya,

    I just found your website and love it! I can’t stop reading. I have made some huge lifestyle changes in the last 6 months and have lost about 35 pounds. The biggest change was remving gluten (I have celiac disease) and dairy (lactose intolerant). I feel better, but removing those items make you drop weight fast!

    I am trying to cut sweets/sugar down. I already don’t eat many of them, but I think sticking to 1-2/week is a good goal. My question is about dried fruit. I know it is loaded with natural and sometimes added sugars. On Tuesday I started with no sugar for your recommended 4-7 days, and on Wednesday I had 2 dried figs. I ate them without thinking and looked at the back of the box they were in and noticed that 2 figs contained 20 grams of sugar! Holy smokes! So, what is your take on dried fruit being a desert? Thanks again for a great website!!


    • Darya Rose says:

      I view dried fruit as something in between dessert and health food. It is very calorie dense and does contain high amounts of sugar, but it is still natural and much better for you than, say, cheesecake. I view it similarly to dark chocolate: healthy in small, but not large quantities.

  45. laura says:

    Damn why are the best things bad for you?? and why is it ALWAYS CHANGING??

    I was diligently stuffing myself with fruit (quite an effort) – now I hear THATS wrong. I became a veggie, (great sacrifice) but I got used to it, was veggie for 15 years and felt so smug…then I heard that, dang, wrong along. (although at least I was eating humanely then I guess..) Then I went Lo-fat (great sacrifice), got used it, until, oh guess what, freaking WRONG. Only my dr still says lo fat is right, but my personal trainer sister says its Paleo all the way…meat and lo/no carbs.

    but doesn’t meat give you colon cancer? thats what they used to say when I worked on a gut ward when I was a nurse. Oh and I heard meat gives you diabetes too…somewhere or other.

    Hell,I’m starting to think that I will just eat what I fancy and take my chances. Im so fed up with the food obsession, and its not like i’m fat or anything. Its just to bloody confusing.

    • Darya Rose says:

      I know, right? I explain all the confusingness in Chpt 4 of Foodist.

    • Allana says:

      Just starting to address my ‘Sugar Addiction’ and Laura I’m in the same boat as you. I read so much and then back myself into a corner of total confusion!!! Sometimes I think knowing too much is a disadvantage. I keep telling myself that ‘Moderation’ is the key but every week on the idiot box something that use to be good for you is going to kill you. Just bought myself some ‘Organic Coconut Palm Sugar’ hoping this will help me wean myself of the horrible white sugar train.

  46. Robbie says:

    It’s great to read everyone’s successes with their diets/food theories. I wonder if anyone can figure cure my dilemma?
    I own and operate a deli/bakery/candy store. I am here about 12 hours a day and I love sweets! Needless to say I have increased my size by 40 lbs in the last 14 years of business.
    I have tried fruit, only to find it wets my appetite for sugar. I’ve tried nutritious snacks ( ex:celery and natural peanut butter)want sweets afterward, I’ve tried diet pills ugh…. You don’t want food, but those things will kill you. I have not opted to have my mouth wired shut yet but I think it would do the trick.
    How do you stop eating all those sweets, they are sooooo good. My other half says (“just don’t eat them”) Right! You spend 12 hours a day in a place that smells wonderful and see how your will power is.
    Any suggestions, something I have not thought about.
    Even ridiculous ideas will be pondered. Thanks!

    • Darya Rose says:

      Hey Robbie, I think my book Foodist would help you a lot in figuring out how to break it. I spend two chapters on how willpower is too weak and what to do instead. One little trick you might find useful is reminding yourself that the treats are never off limits, but you there’s no need to eat them now because you can “have them later.” This trick is psychologically freeing (there’s research on this), and is known to reduce cravings for up to a week.

      Best of luck!

      • Robbie says:

        Thanks Darya, I’ll check that out.

        You always here to do what you love and you will be successful. True, but they forgot about the side effect:)

  47. ANONYMOUS says:

    its pretty bad when i have about a centemeter high of sugar at the bottom of my cerial bowl. literaly eating spoon fulls of sugar with my cerial.

  48. Rayca says:

    Your balanced diet approach is spot on, in my view. But then you drift off into stopping sugar for 4-7 days? And then reintroducing it? I’m not sure you can put the word addiction in your heading and then write about it in such a cavalier way. It doesn’t sound like you know what addiction is or the D2 gene that addicts possess. Cravings are not the only component of addiction. Would you tell an ex-smoker or alcoholic to reintroduce it in small amounts? Of course you wouldn’t. Please call your plan (and it’s a good one) something other than addiction because it’s not addressing addiction. It’s addressing cravings.

  49. I struggled with cravings and food compulsions for most of my life, so much so that I set out to find the answer. For many people, it’s not so much about the food as it is what’s underneath – our subconscious programs. I am a coach and EFT practitioner and I have found the best way to eliminate cravings is by using EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique or tapping) to clear them. When you clear them from the core (what’s really at the heart of the cravings, obsession, addiction), the cravings are eliminated permanently. If you just “tap” on the symptom (the craving), then you’ll experience a shorter period of relief, but still relief. Eating healthy, delicious foods are a given! Your body is your temple!

  50. Evelyn says:

    This might seem bizarre but it worked for me: I took advantage of a week where I was sick with a cold/flu combination where I wasn’t eating much of anything other than healthy food that was easy on the stomach. During that time of illness I had been away from sugar for a week so I figured my body had already dealt with the worst of the “withdrawal” while I was sick. Whether that was true or not, it DID help me to kick sugar that time for almost a year than any other time I tried. (Now I’m battling it again after holiday indulgences.)

    Just thought that sort of kick-start might help someone. 😉

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