The American diet is loaded with sugar. Mostly, it's in hidden places where it's hard to keep track of. It's in our children's cereal, our soft drinks, fast foods, packaged foods. But, it certainly makes food tasty, so why the concern?
Simply put, it's because of health and weight. Eating a lot of sugar makes you want to eat more in general and eat more sugary foods in particular. This, of course, leads to weight gain and, potentially, other health problems. The high sugar content of the American diet is a big factor in our society's obesity problem.
There are plenty of articles written for the public that warn of the dangers of eating too much sugar.
And professionals in the field try hard to inform about the hidden nature of sugar in our diet. Much of this information gives the reader accurate instructions on how to calculate the total and hidden sugar content of foods using seemingly simple formulas. For example, it might be suggested that you multiply the number of grams of sugar stated in the Nutritional Facts label by four (the number of calories in each gram of sugar). Or you might be told to limit the amount of added sugars in your diet to a certain number.
From my experience as a psychologist, I find that such instructions, though well-meaning and accurate, often are not heeded. While most people have good intentions and try to reduce their sugar intake by following the step-by-step formulas, they often stop following through. A small few may continue to use such calculations, but they're usually the type who keep close track of things in general and probably use these methods in other areas of their lives.
Overall, most people quickly stop and revert back to their old behaviors.
The reason for this is that, although the steps and formulas seem simple to the professionals, the average person will find them overwhelming, confusing or burdensome.
People respond better to methods that are more simple, don't involve numbers and calculations, are flexible enough to fit in with most lifestyles and don't require a lot of focus.
In other words, the more automatic you can make the steps the person has to follow, the more likely they will be to follow those steps.
Everyone has a desire to be healthy, fit and at a weight that feels and looks good. So, let's explore some less rigid and more automatic ways of reducing sugar consumption:
• Gradually lessen the number of packaged or convenience food products you buy.
• Start drinking more water and fewer soft drinks, or eliminate soft drinks entirely. Watch out for energy drinks, which can contain a lot of sugar.
• Buy more produce and start eating more fresh veggies and fruit.
• If you're going to eat a treat or dessert, don't bother with something mediocre. Save the calories for your true favorites.
Serve yourself a reasonable portion and eat it like a king or queen, slowly savoring every morsel to reach total satisfaction more quickly.
• Start eating more meals at home. It's the only way you'll know what's in the food.
• Reduce the amount of sugar you add to beverages and cereal. Do it as gradually as it takes so that you barely notice the difference, but continue to cut down until you've eliminated or greatly lessened your intake.
• Ignore the amount of sugar called for in any recipe and put in less. Experiment until you find the least amount of sugar required for tastiness.
• Have healthy sweet snacks around (like fruit with yogurt and nuts) so that when you get a craving you'll have better choices to satisfy that sweet tooth. With time you'll find you prefer to eat the healthier versions rather than the syrupy sweet, processed, empty calorie-filled, tooth-decaying standbys.
• Keep unhealthy sweets out of your home. That doesn't mean you'll never have a sundae or candy bar again, but it will greatly reduce the number of times in a year that you'll eat such things.
Dr. Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa psychologist and expert in weight management. She is the author of "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management." Send questions to her at [email protected]