Top 10 Strategies To Stay Sugar-Free (or Mostly Sugar-Free) Over the Holidays
This is your ultimate guide to surviving the sugar shock season.
You know the one that bombards us with images and offerings of sugary drinks and desserts everywhere we go, and everywhere we look. Not good.
We know from past experience how entering into the season without a clear roadmap of how we're going to navigate the holidays can end badly. We have learned that ‘just a little’ or ‘just one bite’ can lead to two months of nearly continuous consumption ending in weight gain, stress, disappointment, and fatigue. Not to mention desperation for the New Year to begin so we can start fresh.
It doesn't have to be this way!
This guide is here to arm you with the insights and strategies you need to set and achieve realistic goals around how much and how little baking and bonbons you'll be ingesting this holiday season.
Here are my Top 10 Strategies to help you sail through the holidays and launch into the new year feeling fabulous.
STRATEGY #1 — KEEP YOUR BIG WHY(S) TOP OF MIND
Nobody gives up sugar without a really good reason. Ever. I mean who would give up a black forest cake, cookies, and ice cream without a really, really good reason? No one, that’s who.So… What are your reasons? Take a moment right now and list all your good reasons for wanting to ditch the white stuff (sugar, flour, white rice, pasta, toast, crackers, corn chips, potato chips, tortillas, etc). Hit the pause button, grab some paper, and spend 5 minutes brainstorming right now. Just get this ball rolling. Awesome. Next, add to the list over the next few days and then post it someplace you will see every day. Your fridge perhaps?
The goal is to be brutally honest with yourself about your Big Why. You are going to look at this list every day so you don't forget what you want and why. You need to do this because you will FORGET why you're choosing to abstain from sugar, flour, and processed junk foods. We all get a form of addict brain amnesia. It is a universal thing that happens. There’s no getting around it. Once we’ve been sugar-free for some time, we will no longer be in acute pain, and our limbic brain goes back to romanticizing sugar. It remembers only the good times, the pleasure, the highs, and happiness. It has no awareness of the true pain and misery it brings. This will fade into the background.
So you must do two things every day:
- Say these words morning and night: Say these words morning and night: "I am sugar-free and deeply grateful because…" then list your top three reasons for abstaining. "Thank you God/universe/higher power. Thank you. Thank you."
For example: “I am sugar-free and deeply grateful because sugar in the past has triggered migraines, depression, cancer, and cavities, and in the future, it will bring more sickness and disease and because being sugar-free allows me to be in alignment with my true values around caring for my body and the planet. Thank you, God. Thank you. Thank you.”
Take your full list of reasons for breaking up with sugar, the list you typed out above, and add these words to the top of your page (then paste them to your fridge): "I can eat as much sugar as I want, whenever I want but not without experiencing all of the negative consequences below. Since these consequences are unavoidable, and will only escalate overtime, I joyfully and gratefully choose to not consume sugar. Any desire to eat sugar is not coming from my true self but my limbic brain that does not know better and erroneously equates unhealthy food with pleasure. 'It’ doesn’t know better, but I do.”
I say ‘choose’ in this paragraph to highlight that our sugar-free lifestyle is NOT a sugar-free diet. We ALL know diets don't work. Forcing ourselves to not eat sugar doesn't work. Willpower doesn't work. At least not long-term. Humans by nature dislike rules and restrictions and being left out and feeling deprived. Go figure! A way around that diet, deprivation, binge trap is to nurture the inner knowing that we need and WANT to break up with sugar. It does not serve us and never will. We actually want to be sugar-free. We choose whole foods.
After you have typed up the words above, now insert your list of the darkest, most despairing, most painful and unwanted negative consequences of your sugar consumption, from the past, from the present, and from the future. Imagine yourself in an assisted living facility with somebody having to wipe your butt because you can’t due to obesity. Or imagine having missing teeth, or thin hair, or cancer or severe depression, or a failed marriage. Be as honest as you possibly can with yourself about what sugar has done and could realistically do to your body into the future.
NOTE: This homework assignment isn’t easy. The more honest you can be with yourself, the more impactful this exercise will be. It’s needed because we want to stop equating unhealthy foods with pleasure, and start equating it with the truth. This exercise will help do that.
The truth is, sugar does not bring pleasure, it’s a narcotic. Sugar makes us temporarily feel good or experience pain relief while making us dumb, blind, and stupid to its negative consequences. And the worse we feel - in large part because of our sugar consumption - the more we want it. I should say, the more we need it. It’s a vicious cycle. And a deadly one. Pain drives us to sugar, sugar causes pain. Then we need a hit of sugar to deal with the pain sugar causes. And around and around we go. We are using the very substance that causes pain to medicate the pain it causes.
That's why we need to remember every day that we are sugar-free by choice. We can eat sugar, absolutely. Just not without ever escalating pain.
This dilemma made us deeply consider the pros and cons of sugar consumption, and decided we cannot live with the side effects of sugar consumption. Instead, we want the benefits and blessings of being sugar-free. We choose to abstain from sugar because we see the truth about it. Getting back to this homework, this is why we need to stay in touch with our truth about sugar and what we want in our heart of hearts. Only you know that truth. Put it in words, remind yourself daily and your path to sugar freedom (during the holidays and beyond) will be infinitely easier.
STRATEGY #2 — HAVE A PLAN (PART 1)
Now it's time to do some more soul-searching. Find some quiet time and ask yourself these questions: "Do I want to be 100% sugar/flour-free over the holidays?" Or "Do I want to be mostly sugar/flour-free with the option to make a few planned, carefully considered exceptions?"
What was your answer? Did the answer come from your heart? Regardless of what you decide, having a plan will be your most powerful ally.
Let's talk about that.
If you're going to choose to make some exceptions to your ‘no-sugar rule,’ you need to make them very specific and well in advance. We don't make spur-of-the-moment choices about sugar, especially in a social circumstance when the pressure to consume what everybody else is eating is so intense. That's a recipe for disaster.
For example, you might decide to make some exceptions at Thanksgiving along these lines… “I will have one piece of pumpkin pie, and/or one serving of mashed potatoes and stuffing and no second helpings."
If, while trying to make a one-off exception, your Sugar DragonTM gets giddy and wants to go hog-wild, you need to have a solid way of letting it know - in no uncertain terms - you will not tolerate bad behavior. Let it know a binge will, in fact, rule out sugar exceptions for the future. (That will get its attention!). Both of you want to have the freedom to choose to enjoy a sugary treat without it leading to a rampage.
It is a good idea to mentally anticipate that your Dragon, when given an inch, will try to take a mile. Anticipating its pestering behaviour can help you observe the urge for ‘more’ and not get sucked into it. Be the boss so you can enjoy your planned exceptions without any hassle or next-day regrets. The truth is… if you have a clear, definitive plan regarding what sugary stuff you will and will not eat, a plan you feel really good about, then your Dragon will give you little to no grief. It knows when to push and when to back off. It knows your heart and feels your intentions.
If your Dragon is trying to talk you into more than you planned, that is on you. Your dragon will call your bluff every time. A half-hearted intention or a wishy-washy no will get you wishy-washy results. Be firm, be clear, this will help you stick to your guns. Treat your dragon like your children, set boundaries, and don’t be worn down by whining, images, cravings, etc. No means no.
Thus, girlfriend, sugar freedom seeker… you cannot skip this essential step.
Tune in to what you want for yourself, what exceptions you're planning * if any * and write them down. Be specific. And stick to it. This is the first step to having a successful holiday not hijacked by spur-of-the-moment splurges followed by self-loathing. And for goodness sake, if you are going to make an exception, you must do it guilt-free or don’t do it at all. You must choose your exception and enjoy it. Stick to your plan, and you will get the best of both worlds – the ability to choose to eat sugar and the ability to choose to not eat sugar. And yes, this applies to sugar addicts too. We cannot do this all the time, nor do we want to, but during the holidays if you follow my guidance, you can eat mostly whole foods with pre-meditated exceptions. You absolutely can. It all starts with knowing your truth, including your exceptions, setting up clear boundaries, and ruthlessly shutting down the Dragon when it begs for more. Let it know if you break your holiday sugar food rules, you will choose to not make any exceptions at all. Watch that rascal smarten right up.
STRATEGY #3 — HAVE A PLAN (PART 2)
Now for the logistics. This is where you need to think about all of your upcoming holiday happenings and map out where you will be, what food will be served, and what you need to do to make sure your nutrition needs are taken care of.
You will need to ascertain the following:
Will there be food I can eat to my satisfaction?
Will there be enough quality, quantity and variety?
- If yes, do you still want to bring one of your favorite dishes or sugar-free/low sugar desserts for good measure?
- If no, do you want to call ahead and see if you can bring a sugar-free dessert or a main dish that you can share with all the guests?
- If no, do you want to eat ahead of time and bring a beverage you can live with and sip that while everyone else is eating, such as sparkling water with a lime wedge?
- If you don't know, can you find out? If not, err on the side of caution, and bring a dish you can share plus whatever extra you want in case you feel deprived which can lead to a binge. If you want, you can bring your own food and a special little treat, and leave it in the car. This will hopefully release any feelings of being stranded, denied, or left out. Psychologically, you will know you have lovely food and a special treat just for you readily available if needed.
Do this for each holiday situation you will encounter. In short, have a plan. As they say, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
STRATEGY #4.1 — HEALTHIER VERSIONS OF YOUR FAVORITES
If you haven’t ruled out some sugary indulgence during the holiday, then be sure to spend some time researching healthier ‘sugar-free’ versions of your favorite foods. And then get in the kitchen and experiment. Put in the effort, be creative. It will pay spades in terms of helping you feel included, nourished and cared for. Plus, our addict brain loves new and different. Give it something to get excited about.
When you search for recipes, you will see that everyone's definition of ‘sugar-free’ is slightly different. Most recipes on the Internet will use some form of Stevia, Monk fruit, honey, or allulose. I am not endorsing these sweeteners. Most experts, however, see them as an improvement over white refined sugar. It is referred to as “harm reduction.” You decide what your truth is. I recommend you learn at least three new healthier versions of your favorite junk foods, and please don't grumble about the work. You are worth it and it will make getting through the season, for some of you, so much easier.
STRATEGY #4.2 — TURN DOWN FOOD ELEGANTLY
A smooth, easy, roll-off-your-tongue ‘no’ to the offer of food you don’t want to eat is an essential life skill. Here is my three-step process to say ‘no’ in an elegant way that sidesteps the usual awkward moments.
- Validate And Express Gratitude — Acknowledge the person, their kind intentions, and the loveliness of the food they're offering. Express gratitude.For example, you could say “Wow, (insert name), those cookies look delicious.”
- Say “No, Thank You.” — Say a quick, clear, unequivocal and unapologetic “Thank you, I'll take a pass today”.
(1) Thoughtful Reason or (2) Thoughtful Change Of Topic — (1) You have the choice of letting individuals know why you're choosing to not eat the food they're offering such as indicating that it gives you heartburn or a headache or bloating or something like that. Or you could say you're working with the doctor on a medical condition and that you’re not eating gluten or dairy or something that is in the food item at this time. (2) Alternatively, you can change the topic by asking them a question about themselves. Take the focus off of you and put it on them or something else. Such as, “It is great to see you. How is your daughter doing at university?”
- “Thank you, those look delicious. I'm going to take a pass for today.”
- "Thank you so much, those look delicious. I’ve discovered that gluten triggers migraines for me, so I’m laying low on cookies right now. I hope you’ll enjoy one for me.”
- “No thank you. I appreciate the offer.”
Often, you'll be able to say a simple ‘no, thank you’ without it feeling the least bit awkward. But, if you’re up against a food pusher who won’t take no for an answer or insist that they made something especially for you, or that “one bite won’t hurt you,” then you have a couple of choices…
- You can take the item, go to the bathroom, and throw it out (or hand it to your friend or family member to throw it away for you).
- You can repeat your sentence over and over like a broken record until they get the hint. “Thank you, it looks fantastic, and I really appreciate the effort that was put into making this for me. I have discovered that (this food) triggers migraines for me, and it's simply not worth it. I'm so sorry to miss out. Maybe next time. Hey, do you have any special travel plans for the coming year?”
STRATEGY #5 — MINIMIZE YOUR 'INTERNAL TRIGGERS'
When women are tired, stressed, overworked and overwhelmed, we overeat. Period. End of story.
Thus, you simply must make a point of not running around on no sleep, skipping meals, feeling a need to do it all, and do it perfectly. If you want to be successful at a sugar-free holiday, you are going to have to slow down, prioritize your self-care even when you don't think you have time for it. This means getting enough sleep, exercising, eating healthy whole meals, staying adequately hydrated, scheduling some downtime, and asking for, or hiring help, etc.
If you go, go, go and do, do, do, it's only a matter of time before you find yourself clutching a cookie. If you’re chronically stressed, you need to know right now that sugar freedom is nearly impossible to pull off long term. Get a grip on any feelings of urgency. There’s usually enough time for the most important things. Be ruthless with what you're prioritizing. Plenty of things can actually drop off your to-do list, and nothing bad will happen. When you care for your whole body and not just focus on being sugar-free, you will have a much easier time resisting sweet temptations. Set yourself up for success by making sure you don't cut corners on your self-care. The more stressed you are, and the less time you have to do it, the more you need it. You're stressed and busy because you're not doing self-care, not the other way around.
STRATEGY #6 — DON'T KEEP SUGAR IN THE HOUSE
If at all possible, don't keep sweet foods in your house. If you're hosting a party, send contraband foods and beverages home with your guests. If you have family members that want to keep their snacks in the house, ask them to put them in a box and keep them in their bedrooms, or someplace where you can't see it, don’t know about, or can’t find.
As they say, “out of sight, out of mind” or ‘If junk food is in your house, it will be in your mouth.”
This is a simple and effective strategy, use it. And no, the people around you won’t die. They will adjust.
STRATEGY #7 — CURB CRAVINGS
Cravings are the number one reason most of us fail to peacefully, predominantly and perpetually eat whole foods. We can be cruising along for days and weeks doing wonderfully well, and then out of the blue, a craving can tackle us like a quarterback and take us down. Fortunately, there are things we can do to minimize cravings, and over time completely eliminate them. This makes life sooooo much easier. If we don’t actually feel like eating something (there is no craving), or the tug to do so is very minor, it is so much easier to say “no,” isn’t it? Obviously knowing how to prevent them and ignore them is essential to our success.
Here Are My Top Suggestions to Minimize Cravings:
- Watch your stress, get enough sleep, and do gentle exercise daily. The obvious, I know!
- Make a point of eating enough food especially during the holiday bustle. This means don’t starve, restrict or skimp on portions. Eat high-quality nutrient-dense foods in sufficient quantities between your sugar indulgences. This will settle your body and nervous system, and minimize cravings.
- Eat protein, veggies, and healthy fat at each and every meal.
- Eat more leafy greens (Bok choy, spinach, parsley, cilantro, chard, beet greens, lettuce, basil, collard greens, arugula, etc.). Greens cut cravings. Dramatically.
- If you still have cravings, eat more healthy fat at each meal. Fat curbs cravings.
- Drink more water throughout the day and another glass or two before going out to a party where they'll be lots of tempting foods. Also, bring sparkling water for parties so you have something fun to drink. Add a lemon or lime wedge.
- Take out ~500 mg of L’Glutamine, under the tongue in the midst of a craving. Carry it in your purse. (Check bottle for instructions and contraindications.)
- Take ~500 mg of GABA if you are stressed or anxious, this too can curb sugar cravings. (Check bottle for instructions and contraindications.)
- Drink a glass of water with 1 TB of apple cider vinegar when a craving hits.
- Stop snacking between meals. Snacks spike blood sugar which cause crashes which cause sugar cravings.
- And… the grand poobah of craving elimination is…are you ready for this??
Eliminate the foods that trigger cravings. “The hard truth is, if you want to eliminate cravings, you need to eliminate the foods that cause them.”
Which foods cause cravings? Here are the usual suspects in order of magnitude:
- Quickie Carbs: white rice, gluten, and gluten-free pasta, rice noodles, bread, french fries, potato chips, corn chips, popcorn, and all forms of sugar, honey, maple syrup, etc.
- Artificial sweeteners, yes even stevia, monk fruit
- Chocolate, Caffeine
- Nuts and Peanuts
- Grains and starchy veggies (potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, etc.)
- Other individual binge foods
If you looked at this list and freaked out, don't get your knickers in a knot. You may not need to give them all up, nor do you have to do so all at once. Go slowly. Until trigger foods are removed, and your cravings disappear, you will need to learn skills and lean on support to ride out your cravings. They do pass. In short, eat exceptionally well and slowly phase out your individual binge foods. This will give you the superpower you need to say no to unplanned sugar consumption. Plus, you’ll have more energy, sleep better, reduce stress, all of which we know reduce thoughts about sugar.
PS I appreciate these suggestions are a tall order. Baby step yourself in the direction of doing everything on this list and in no time, you will be a craving-free, sugar-free ninja.
STRATEGY #8 — DON'T TELL ANYBODY THAT YOU DO NOT EAT SUGAR
Never say these words, "I don't eat sugar."
Speaking these words out loud, especially in social settings where people are eating, drinking and enjoying sugar in all its many forms, can make things can go sideways. At worst, those eating or offering sweet foods can feel judged, defensive, or guilty. It's awkward all around, and totally unnecessary.
Do this instead…
Say ‘no’ in a way that lets those who might hear you know that you're not judging the food being served nor are you judging the people enjoying it. If pressed you can always give a thoughtful reason for your desire to not eat their food, but don’t make it about the sugar. Saying “I don’t eat sugar” makes people go ‘wiggy.’
How you choose to eat, how you feed your body, is your business. It is private. How anyone else chooses to eat and feed their body is their business. Keep your preferences to yourself and people will barely notice how you eat, and will not be triggered, upset or feel judged by your food choices.
The exception to the rule is when you're going to an event serving food that you'll need to eat. In that case, call ahead indicating you have food sensitivities/allergies and are wondering if you could get a sense of what is going to be served and whether it would be possible to eat food without _______ and ________ and ________. List your exceptions as if they are the most natural and reasonable things to not eat in the whole world. Do not apologize. There's no need to.
Doing right by your body is your job, others are welcome to judge you, but just let their opinions roll off your back. Don’t get defensive, don’t explain yourself, don’t justify your choices, and don’t get into dialog or debates about food. All of that is detrimental to your sugar freedom. Not to mention utterly unnecessary. If it's not possible for them to accommodate your food preferences, ask if they would mind if you brought a few dishes you could share with everyone, for example: salad, a chickpea stew, or a soup, or whatever floats your boat.
Sometimes when I eat out and the waiter needs to know my dietary preferences/restrictions, I will say the following in a calm and matter fact tone:
"I don't eat wheat, dairy, sugar or MSG. Can you recommend a dish for me?"
What you eat is your business. Only share it with those who absolutely need to know to accommodate your needs and only do it in the context of a private and respectful conversation, hopefully in advance of the event.
STRATEGY #9 — DON'T FREAK OUT IF YOU SLIP UP
If you eat or overeat unhealthy foods you didn't plan to, don't freak out. Don't let your Sugar DragonTM jump in and say “you blew it, so let’s eat more sugar, let’s eat everything in sight.” And don’t let your ‘inner critic’ lash out and make you feel like a failure. There is no such thing as failure. There's only feedback. There's only personal research. When your inner critic is calling you names, ignore that voice. Giving it space in your mind will create nothing but pain and drama. Nobody grows or gets better through criticism. In fact, quite the opposite. It actually blocks our ability to get back on track quickly and easily. It blocks our ability to learn and course-correct. It amplifies our internal distress and exaggerates our need for the comfort of food. It directly works against us.
Do this instead…
Tap into your ‘curious mind.’ This will stun and silence your ‘inner critic.’ You tap into it by replacing judgmental thoughts with curious thoughts.
Ask yourself when things go off the rails…
- “I wonder why I went a little overboard today?”
- “I wonder what I could do differently next time to avoid that outcome?”
- “I know I don’t need more food, I wonder what I do need right now.”
If you are feeling uber ambitious, mine your slips for fabulous insights and precious lessons, using the following ‘Sugar Slip Curious Questions.' Print up the questions and complete them after each slip. Watch how much you grow and deepen your connection to yourself and what is really going on. And watch your inner critic get less loud. Double good.
Sugar Slip Post-Mortem:
Pull out a piece of paper and write your answers to the following questions:
- Did you eat sugar you did not plan to eat? Or… Did you eat more than you intended?
- Were you overly hungry or did you skip a meal prior to the slip?
- Were you adequately rested prior to the slip?
- Were you adequately nourished and hydrated in the days prior to the slip?
- Did you bring some food you could enjoy to the situation where the slip happened?
- What were you feeling and doing just prior to the slip?
- What were you hoping eating sugar would do for you?
- Did it?
- On a scale of 1-10, how satisfying was the sugary food?
- Did it make you want to binge eat?
- What post-consumption negative consequences did you experience? For example cravings, aches, pains, headache, fatigue, weight gain, bloating, sore throat, low mood, irritability, etc.
- What did you learn from this slip?
- What could or would you like to do differently next time?
Brainstorm all your ideas.
The bottom line is this… we all slip. How we handle our slips is the issue. Do we get curious, learn from it and move on? Or let our inner critic beat us up and make us feel worthless, hopeless, and helpless? Obviously, if you slipped it means you need to up your game around self-care and planning. This is great information. Mistakes are how we learn, grow and get better. It’s all good. The truth is, you are making progress and doing great. Slips are mere reminders we need to take good care of ourselves if we want to get sugar-free and stay sugar-free. After a nosedive into not-so-good-food choices, focus on your next steps, not your missteps. Those are done and gone. Look ahead and KNOW you can and you will get this. Make a point of listing 5 things you did do right that exact same day with food, or self-care, and celebrate and appreciate yourself. This is the ONLY way forward. Self-criticism will keep you stuck. Don’t do it.
STRATEGY #10 — USE A MAGIC QUESTION FOR MOTIVATION
I am so excited to share this last strategy. It is one of my favorite coaching tools. The tool is based on a book by Bart Baggett called The Magic Question.
Here’s how it works…
Craft a question around positive feelings and desired outcomes that you would like to experience as a result of not (or mostly not) eating sugar during the holidays.
- ‘I wonder how fantastic I will feel when I start the new year feeling ridiculously proud of myself for sticking to my sugar-free intentions?"
- "I wonder how much more peaceful, calm, and present I will be with friends and family over the holidays by choosing to not eat sugar?"
- "I wonder fantastic I will feel if I lose weight over the holidays, instead of gain weight, by not eating any sugar or mostly not eating sugar?”
- I wonder how easy it will be to stay sugar-free over the holidays this year?"
- "I wonder how happy and satisfied I can be just eating my healthy whole foods instead of indulging in sugar and junk foods over the holidays?"
OK, you get it. Now it's your turn…
I want you to stop right now and brainstorm 3 magic questions of your own. Think about what you want, and how great it will feel when you get it.
Don't hold back, dream big, dare to think about your most inspired and positive vision and how fantastic it will feel when it comes to pass. Specifically, think about how fantastic you will feel if you do not succumb to sugar cravings, and about all the beautiful benefits and blessings you will experience as a result.
When you write out your magic question, follow the simple formula.
- Use adjectives to describe how wonderful you will feel when your happy result comes to pass.
- Clearly state what you want, your desired outcome.
- Use adjectives to describe how that thing will come to pass for you, for example, quickly, easily, joyfully, gratefully, happily, etc.
Let me share another example:
“I wonder how fantastic I will feel and how grateful I will be when I easily and effortlessly pass up sugar over the Christmas season, and I feel calm, centered, and headache-free the entire time."
After you’ve got your magic questions crafted, you need to do one more thing. Write your top 2 or 3 favorite magic questions on cue cards. And paste them around the house, in places where you can see them every day. Whenever you spot one of those cue cards, I want you to pause, read it out loud, and feel the feelings. Feel it as though that exciting wonderful thing that you want is already right there. Feel the excitement, gratitude, and joy of having what you want. Then relax and watch the magic happen. Watch your dreams and desires come true. Because they will.
Well, that’s a wrap. I hope you find these tips helpful, empowering, and encouraging. I hope they set you up for wonderful success over the upcoming holiday season. Remember, you can do this. Every slip is a lesson, and every great food choice is a gift. It is a gift to your body, to your soul, to your family, and to the planet.
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