Unless you live under a rock, you know sugar is bad for your health. We eat roughly 152 pounds of sugar a year per person. To put that in perspective, a hundred years ago we ate just 3 pounds per year. Back then, poor health was linked to causes such as poor sanitation, communicable diseases, and malnutrition. Meanwhile diet-linked diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s were relative rarities. What do these modern illnesses have in common? Poor diet, one high in processed foods and sugar.
If you want to do one thing to change your health for the better, cut down on sugar. But where to start? Many of us would like to cut down on our sugar consumption but the very idea often leaves us feeling like we’re abandoning all that is good and worthwhile in this existence.
When it comes to changing our diets for better health and greater energy, we would like to wave a wand and immediately have the willpower and knowledge for eating right for the rest of our lives – and enjoy it. Sadly, diet changes take time to take hold. We’re changing lifelong habits and addictions after all, as well as venturing into the realm of new foods, tastes, and recipes. This takes time and effort to navigate but even though our health is worth it, we usually burn out and give up before getting far. Why not reverse that outcome using the pantry method to cut down on sugar?
Here’s how to take back your life from sugar and put it in its place of moderation.
The Pantry Method
What is the pantry method? It’s a technique where you eat your way through current foods in your cabinets and fridge, replacing them with better foods when they run out. This has a number of benefits when changing your diet for the better:
– You wean off foods one by one rather than going cold turkey and facing immediate withdrawal or being overwhelmed by a completely new repertoire of recipes.
– You get to experiment with new foods and recipes in a way that lets you adjust to the changes and incorporate theme more seamlessly into your meal rotation.
– You don’t waste food or money by throwing out foods currently in your cabinet or buying tons of new unfamiliar foods that rot in your fridge because you don’t like them or know how to prepare them.
– You can focus on meals or specific food items to change eating habits one at a time.
– You don’t feel overwhelmed or like you’re abandoning everything you love all at once.
– You have time to say farewell one by one to those things that have hurt your health.
– You have time to experiment with new foods to find those you love.
The bottom line is that we do what we love and detrimental food is oftentimes something we love. In order to succeed in lessening our sugar intake, we need to find new foods that we love enough to eat them instead of the old ones that are harming our health. We’re breaking up with sugar and the best way to move on is to find something new to replace it in our hearts.
Reduce & Replace
This is where the pantry method is your friend, introducing you to new foods to fall in love with. With the pantry method, you can go item by item and select what you want to phase out or you can focus on meals and decide what you want to replace and with what new foods.
I always recommend starting with breakfast. As the first meal of the day, what we eat here sets up our energy, alertness and blood sugar levels for the day. What are you eating for breakfast? If it’s nothing but sugary food products, this is the place to start taking back your plate and health.
Maybe you decide to forgo donuts for omelettes or replace that chocolate pastry with yogurt with nuts and fruit. It could be as simple as swapping your sugary latte for black coffee or for a latte with no sugar or maybe even a green tea. You’re in the driver’s seat and you can make changes as you see fit, one meal or ingredient at a time.
A second great place to start is focusing on cutting down on sugary drinks. You can swap your cola for flavored seltzer, tea, juice, coffee, smoothies, or a snack. It can be time specific too, such as having a cola at lunch but forgoing one at 3pm or at dinner in favor of tea, flavored seltzer, coffee, a snack, etc.
Thirdly, our snacks are usually our downfall. Many cabinets and fridges spill over with sugary snacks. Replacing them one by one with better but still tasty options as they run out can only help your health. This doesn’t mean you have to eliminate them completely from your life, just give them less space in your pantry and less time in your snack rotation. Swap out candy for chips and salsa or guacamole, whole grain crackers and cheese, or other snacks that are a bit better for you.
With the pantry method you can also ratchet down on the sugar by moving from a really sugary addiction to a lesser one, using it as a stepping stone to a healthy option you enjoy.
For example, I loved ice cream or cookies for snacks in the evening. To cut down on them, I ate bowls of Honey Nut Cheerios. Both the Cheerios and milk were sugary so my sweet tooth was sated. The snack still wasn’t the best for me since it was moderately loaded with sugar, if to a lesser degree, and laden with chemicals. From there, once my sweet tooth had lessened some, I switched out the Honey Nut Cheerios for snacks like whole grain crackers with cheese or a tapenade. I even made my own chocolate snacks using a fraction of the sugar but with phenomenal taste.
Sometimes it’s simply too hard to go from a deep addiction to a fully healthy option. Stepping stones retrain our tongue and body to adapt to less sugar and less intense blood sugar swings. This ratcheting down can ease us into healthier lifestyles that become habits more easily than trying to force ourselves into new habits we find too hard or unpleasant to maintain.
Cleaning Up the Pantry
We are chemical beings and what we eat matters. Sugar disrupts our chemistry, not just our waistlines, and our health invariably suffers. Take back control using the pantry method. Replace your cabinets and fridge item by item over time with more and more healthy options that you love to eat. You’ll be crowding out sugar’s place in your heart and allowing in tasty nutrition. Your future self will thank you.
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