Starting the autoimmune protocol can be incredibly hard. Remembering what to include, what to exclude, and focusing on nutrient density can feel downright overwhelming. One of the hardest parts for me was overcoming sugar cravings on the autoimmune protocol (AIP). In time, I found some resources and tools that helped me better understand and overcome sugar cravings, and find success on the autoimmune protocol.
Grin and Bear It
My first approach to overcoming sugar cravings on the autoimmune protocol was pretty straight forward – grin and bear it. I knew that if I were to give the autoimmune protocol an honest shot, I needed to take a break from sugar for a minimum of 30 days.
Digging deep, I mustered all the determination I could, and just powered through. Sheer willpower worked for a few weeks, but looking back now, I feel like I made it so much harder on myself than it needed to be. As I took time to learn about taste buds, cravings, and coping mechanisms, living without sugar became a breeze!
Giving Taste Buds Time to Change
Did you know taste buds change? I sure didn’t! One year ago, I would have happily bet you $100 that I would never eat fish. I hated the taste and the texture, and even the thought of eating fish grossed me out. Above all, I never thought I would write or say the words, “I eat fish. I like fish. I even cook fish.” Alas, it is true.
How is this even possible? It is actually simple. Taste buds change. The secret? Giving your taste buds opportunities and time to change. For example, do not try a new food one time, and declare, “I hate it! I will never eat that.” Likewise, if the food is a nutrient dense, healing food, chances are it is worth trying again.
Within weeks of being on the autoimmune protocol, I realized if I was going to be successful, I needed to expand my palate. As a result, I began to branch out and try new vegetables and fruits. Further, I bought unfamiliar meats. A new family favorite? Bison! In fact, when asked what his favorite food is, my son answers, “Bison burgers!” This time last year, we never considered eating bison.
In her book Paleo Principles, Dr. Sarah Ballantyne explains, “…it takes only a few weeks for our taste buds to adapt to big shifts in our diets. Studies looking at taste adaptation to one of a low-sugar, low-salt, or low-fat diet have shown that over the course of a few weeks (4-12, depending on the study), participants develop a preference for the healthier foods they’ve been eating.[…]Studies show that with repeated exposure to foods that we innately dislike, we can not only lose our aversions to those foods but actually develop a preference for them” (Ballantyne 176).
Understanding a Craving
We often hear the word “craving” in association with sugar. Sugar cravings often lead to poor habits.
In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear focuses a chapter on “How to Find and Fix the Causes of Your Bad Habits.” In it, he relates the story of a man who quit smoking, and how he did it. The man reframed his cues associated with smoking. Further, he found new meaning. He would repeat his newfound meanings over and over to himself.
For example, he said things like,
- “You think you are quitting something, but you’re not quitting anything because cigarettes do nothing for you.”
- “You think smoking is something you need to do to be social, but it’s not. You can be social without smoking at all.”
- “You think smoking is about relieving stress, but it’s not. Smoking does not relieve your nerves, it destroys them” (Clear 126).
Likewise, we can reframe our cues associated with sugar consumption. Let’s go ahead and use this example, and apply it to overcoming sugar cravings.
- You think you are quitting something, but you’re not quitting anything because sugar does nothing for you.
- You think consuming sugar is something you need to do to be social, but it’s not. You can be social without ever eating sugar at all.
- You think eating sugar is about relieving stress, but it’s not. Sugar does not relieve your stress, it increases it.
Then, remind yourself of everything you are gaining by giving up sugar: health, freedom from cravings, self-respect, confidence, and quality of life.
Sugar Consumption as a Coping Mechanism
Taking a closer look at the “why” behind my sugar consumption was essential for me to continuing on my wellness journey.
After closer examination of my habits, I identified that I was not only addicted to sugar, but I was also using it as a coping mechanism. For example, I turned to ice cream and chocolate covered almonds when life felt too overwhelming. Which was around 1:00pm in the afternoon every day, like clockwork.
If, like me, you are using sugary desserts as a coping mechanism, I encourage you to brainstorm some ways to reduce stress in your life. While stress is inevitable, experiment with some healthy coping mechanisms that you can turn to when feelings of overwhelm surface. Need some ideas and tips? Here is an article I wrote about how to overcome unhealthy coping mechanisms.
“Caffeine and sugar both give you a boost when energy levels dip and not being able to go without them can be a sign that your natural energy reserves and resilience to handle stress are lacking.”Mickey Trescott, NTP and Angie Alt, NTC, The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook
Keeping an Eye on the Prize
When all else fails and you find yourself in a dark place, reaching for that Ben and Jerry’s, remember why you started. Remember how it feels to be addicted to sugar. Think about not just your health goals, but also your life and travel goals.
After being diagnosed with autoimmune disease, I found myself in a place where I would do anything to get my life back and find wellness. To be able to get out of bed, take a shower, and take care of my children. To not have to call my husband in tears because I was too sick to get out of bed.
Eliminating sugar from my diet was, and continues to be a piece of my wellness journey. I remember what being so sick felt like. I am determined to do everything in my power to not go back. I discovered that nothing tastes as good as my newfound wellness feels. Nothing.
Thinking Outside the Box
Looking to enjoy a “treat” now and then? Looking to have a little something at a party while dessert is served? I feel you! My favorite dessert go-tos are fresh fruit, smoothies, and green juice. Even better? Those options help my health, rather than hurt my health.
There are also many tasty desserts you can make with AIP approved ingredients. Just be sure to avoid replacing one bad habit with another. In other words, be mindful to eat AIP desserts occasionally, rather than daily. While AIP desserts are made with natural sweeteners, they should still be limited.
Still struggling with giving up sugar? No worries! The struggle is real. There are many resources that can help you. Some of the tools available include meditation, essential oils, and acupuncture. Also, working with a professional can help clear away buried emotions and work through emotional trauma that may be triggering emotional eating.
Progress, Not Perfection
As you move forward and work on overcoming your sugar cravings, focus on progress not perfection. If you slip up one day, forgive yourself and move forward. Resist the urge to turn back. You are human. It is okay.
Sending you lots of love, support, and healing vibes as you work on overcoming your sugar cravings on the autoimmune protocol!
Other Blog Posts You May Enjoy
Ballantyne, Sarah. Paleo Principles. Victory Belt Publishing, 2017.
Clear, James. Atomic Habits. Avery, 2018.
Trescott, Mickey and Angie Alt. The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook. Rodale, 2016.