- trying to eat less sugar made me want it more
- Eat Less Sugar Strategy… that’s delicious
- cautionary tale that would have saved me from wasting YEARS dieting
Before I started dieting, I didn’t really think about sugar.
Even on a Saturday, after:
vacuuming 3 rows of seats in our station wagon
shamWOW-ing the dashboard
turtle-waxing the wheels
soaping up the exterior faux wood-grain veneer
& hosing it down…
I’d walk my pocket money up a few blocks to the bank on Mary Street, while my brother’s descended upon the store next door for candy.
Sure, I would’ve loved some sour soothers or gummy bears from Beckers… but the idea of banking my hard work was so much sweeter.
Then I gained weight.
Went on a diet.
And wanted sugar All. The. Time.
How I tried to eat less sugar
I had no idea how to reach a healthy weight!
So I’d lace up my Nikey trainers and run between 10 and 20 kilometers each day.
Only eat fruit before noon.
Pack an iceberg lettuce salad for lunch.
And move food around my plate with a fork, to give the illusion I was eating dinner.
Trying to eat less sugar made me want it more
After I got healthy I learned that over-exercising and under-eating:
- slows down your metabolism
- primes your body to store energy (as fat)
- & makes you obsess over food and CRAVE sugary treats
Which explains why I was 30 pounds overweight and absolutely certain I was addicted to food.
Why does your (genius) body shift into SURVIVAL mode and bombard you with messages that PROMPT you to eat?
It wants to keep you alive.
What happened when I tried to eat less sugar
After days of hardly eating anything, I’d break my diet.
…It could be as little as one extra bite.
But that bite bugged me.
And I worried about it.
Also, each time I slipped, it shocked me.
My entire identity was based on ONE thing: I was determined.
Devastated, I’d gear into, what my client in Sydney calls: Last Supper Thinking.
You know, when you say to yourself:
Overeating between diets served 5 purposes
By the time I finally ate, I was so hungry that food was all I could think about.
- Motivation by fear
Overeating set a precedent; I thought it would make me scared to break my diet again.
- Easing my anxiety
Punishing myself with food felt proactive while I waited for the clock to strike midnight.
- Drawing a line in the sand
Being completely “off” my diet marked an official fresh start to my new diet—one I believed was full of potential.
- Creating dramatic change
The next day I felt disciplined and like anything was possible when I stuck to my diet, perfectly.
In reality, overeating didn’t help me eat less sugar
For me, overeating was a self-destructive coping mechanism.
It got me building bad habits between diets which caused my overeating to escalate into bingeing and then purging.
(Similar to how I ended up drinking a case of diet pop each day during the same 10 year period my eating was disordered. Oh my!)
Clearly it was more important to me to prove I had the determination to stick to my diet… than actually lose weight.
But being overweight isn’t a character trait!
For years I thought the extra pounds I carried around was a placard announcing I was weak and lacked willpower.
Now I know I simply had:
was using self-defeating strategies to lose weight
Eating less sugar is not about discipline
Eating less sugar (and all the other foods I blacklisted) is about building healthy habits.
So let’s get to it!
Here’s how to eat less sugar—or replace any habit with a HEALTHY alternative—in 3 steps.
Eat less sugar Step 1
Stop saying: “Tomorrow will be different.”
I had 10 years of tomorrow’s before I realized that weight loss is about getting used to making healthier choices more often.
AKA building habits!
So rather than sabotage the day after a “mistake” my goal became salvaging the day by making my next choice one I felt good about.
The first time I did it, this new approach felt weird.
…Like I was lazy for not punishing myself.
But after I woke up the next day and hadn’t binged or purged after a “mistake,” I felt… POWERFUL.
I knew I was carving out a lifestyle that wouldn’t be a secret and one I could feel good about.
Eat less sugar Step 2
Reflect on your previous week
When my eating was disordered, the moment I ate something I regretted, I’d continue eating and then throw my energy into writing out a new (and stricter) diet and promise myself I’d never eat sugar, or break my diet, again!
I’d even tell myself it’s good I made a mistake, because I’d write out my “new diet” with plans to eat even less. That way I’d lose weight faster… and not just catch up but surpass the weight I would have lost had I stuck to my old diet.
Of course that never worked.
I’d be off my new diet even faster, back to eating sugar and other forbidden foods and yup, planning a new diet.
But there’s so much wisdom in pressing pause and looking back to spot patterns.
Then you can work with the facts.
How many treats did you eat last week?
Take a moment to reflect.
Got a number?
If you have no idea how many treats you had last week (maybe because you’ve been bingeing and purging?) you could choose a number like 7.
The equivalent to one sweet per day is a good starting point.
Eat less sugar Step 3
Give yourself a treat allowance
After reflecting on how many treats you had last week, aim to eat equal or less this week.
If you had 7 in total, set a goal to eat 6 this week.
If you had 25 in total, aim to eat 24 this week.
And if you had 3 and felt terrible about it. Try to have two and ENJOY them.
Rather than saying NO MORE SUGAR ever
And then eating tons. Try a healthy-happy medium approach.
Then slowly work down to the number of treats you feel good about.
Soon you’ll reach your goal.
(I’m doing a star jump for you and throwing glitter.)
My Treat Allowance
Giving yourself a Treat Allowance, is a work SMARTER, not harder approach to eating less sugar.
Another distinguishing factor?
I’ve been using it for years—ever since I recovered.
But I never put using a Treat Allowance into words, until I started talking to other people about it.
These days I’m happy with 1 to 2 treats a week. And I’d say up to 3 makes occasional treats part of a healthy routine.
When I asked Alex he said 4 treats a week was healthy.
Though he doesn’t eat (or desire) that many.
Like everything, it’s all about what you get into the habit of eating.
I never feel like I’m depriving myself.
During the last 21+ years I’ve been healthy, how I eat sugar has looked different
Though I’ve been roughly the same weight (based on my annual doctor’s appointment when I step on the scale).
I used to eat a few squares of dark chocolate every day.
But then we did a 30 day NO SUGAR CHALLENGE and after that I found ketchup, etc. super sugary!
So I started appreciating the natural sweet taste of carrots, peppers, apples, oranges and so on.
Also, I find food that’s naturally high in fat, like avocados, sour cream, a full-fat latte, peanut butter, etc. much more satisfying than anything sugary.
If I had to pick one lunch for the rest of my life… this would be it! Plus a latte (to make it ROUGHLY balanced).
And yes, that’s a whole banana.
(I was scared to eat a whole banana for years.)
Eating less sugar is all about figuring out what works for you
The key is to:
Start where you are
& cut back by one sweet a week
until you’re eating a more moderate amount of sugar.
Why you’re poo-pooing this Eat Less Sugar Strategy
And why you should NOT!!!
If having a Treat Allowance sounds blasé and boring.
Or it’s just far too Holly Hobby, daaarhling… because you’re used to the idea of dieting being difficult.
And you’re romanced by the idea of dramatic change. (I was for sure.)
“How long have I been trying to lose weight by summoning willpower?”
For me it was 10 years.
10 years I could’ve been doing WAY more exciting things…
…Like meeting a friend for coffee and eating an absolutely allowance-worthy treat from a super-cute, vegan-friendly coffee shop like Wanda’s Pie in the Sky.
Wanda’s is in the ❤️ of Toronto’s Bohemian Community called Kensington Market.
And it was like minus 20 when we took these photos. Sun can be deceiving!
Why this Eat Less Sugar Strategy Works
When I shifted gears and focused on gently improving my habits, things came together pretty quickly.
Sane and simple works!
The best part?
The journey was just as SWEET as the destination because there were thrilling milestones all the way.
And each is rewarding because if you’re patient enough to get over the hump of trying something new, you get that wonderful feeling of investing in a strategy that’s sustainable.
It just feels so good to have a plan
& experience it actually working.
Rather than being on and off and off and on diets… gaining more weight and bad habits and missing out on living.
Still not willing to try this Eat Less Sugar Strategy?
Don’t skip over this cautionary tale:
The years I lost ignoring the Eat Less Sugar Strategy
If you’ve read my book you know this story. But it’s worth repeating here.
At the beginning of October of my first year of university I realized I didn’t know how to live with or without my eating disorder. But I loved life!
❤️ I LOVE life. ❤️
And I wanted to get on with it!
But I needed help…
When Dr. M asked me how many times I purged each week I told him.
And he said:
“Well, why don’t you purge one less time per week?”
So I put on my best poker face while these words raced through my mind:
ARE YOU CRAZY?
I NEED TO GET BETTER NOW!!!
I have to get my grades up.
And I can’t play sports because I’m embarrassed to wear shorts.
I keep cancelling social stuff because I’m planning a new diet.
And I’m afraid of eating food when I don’t know the calorie count. So I’d rather just stay home.
Also I want a boyfriend. But I have too many secrets…
I was living every part of my life at a sub-standard level.
…Then I told Dr. M I’d try his strategy.
But walked out the door knowing 100% there was NO WAY I was going to take it that slow.
I needed to get better… tomorrow!
(Not sharing my concerns wasted his time and mine. If I’d told him what I was thinking, he could have helped me understand WHY the, what I call, Eat Less Sugar Strategy works.)
If I had a crystal ball back then, I would’ve seen the sad truth
Turns out using my DRAMATIC change, everything-will-be-different tomorrow when I exercise WILLPOWER approach… meant it took me around 5 more years to get healthy.
5 more years wasted!
1825 more days…
And that’s not even including the money I threw away on:
- diet pop
- bingeing and purging
- new diaries and silver rings to mark a new start…
And worse, all the:
parties I missed,
people I didn’t meet,
conversations I could’ve had,
paintings I would have at least attempted by mucking around with the art supplies I kept under my bed…
But if I’d followed Dr. M’s advice?
I would’ve stopped purging by the end of my first year of university.
…Less than 150 days after my appointment with Dr. M, when he suggested his version of the Eat Less Sugar Strategy.
Where do you want to be in 150 days from TODAY?
Eat less Sugary Strategy in action
Ok, so here’s what it looks like.
Once you decide how many treats you plan to eat, you’re ready to start your week.
Then as you go through the next 7 days and find yourself in sugar situations you can decide how you want to spend your Treat Allowance.
Like when I was a Grade 1 teacher at Forest Hill Public School in Toronto, it felt like it was one of my student’s birthday every day! There was always something to celebrate and the cupcakes kept coming in.
And these weren’t ordinary cupcakes.
Can cupcakes be called bespoke? Because these were one-of-a-kind and simply divine.
But the Treat Allowance choice was easy when I asked myself:
“Do I want to have a cupcake on a Tuesday morning… or a piece of cheesecake when we have friends for dinner on Saturday Night?”
This Eat less Sugar Strategy works everywhere
When you have a Treat Allowance, you’re less likely to want to spend it on the:
- stale cookie you find when cleaning out your kid’s lunch box
- store-bought tea biscuits (sell-by date 2031) passed around at your staff meeting
- coughed on sugared sausage samples served in corrugated cupcake paper at your members-only warehouse club
- foiled candy that comes with your cappuccino at your favorite coffee house (every morning!)
- soft-serve cone from the ice cream truck (paid for by the real estate company) parked outside the new condo building on your block
Know what I mean?
Eating unplanned sweets unintentionally adds up
Sugary treats are everywhere.
Even our pharmacies are full of them!
But when you choose a treat and look forward to it, that decadent dessert just tastes so much better!
One of my clients orders truffles from France and enjoys one a night. (Her idea.)
If you deprive yourself of something, you're going to crave it more.— Megan Markle
It’s far less sweet food than she was eating before, a fraction of what she was previously spending and she enjoys this hand-crafted chocolate much more.
Being “all” or “nothing” keeps you “on” and “off” diets.
Moderation is the key to unlocking your H 🙂 PPY weight.
And don’t eat a half-assed treat.
Pick something you LOVE.
Eat Less Sugar Strategy leads to real change
If you start this Eat Less Sugar Strategy on Valentine’s Day…
(Which is the sweetest gift you can give to yourself.)
…or whatever day you’re reading this post, what number of sweets will you be down to by April 1st?
(Or 7 weeks from today.)
You’ll find this Eat Less Sugar Strategy (aka: healthy mindset) seeps into other parts of your life. From gradually adding more fruit and vegetables to your meals to cutting back on exercise (if you’re doing more than the healthy 3 twenty-five minute workouts per week).
Change is always internal first.
Then you see the external results.
Get started on this Eat Less Sugar Strategy!
You don’t need to have a beautiful past to have a beautiful future.
Everybody can eat less sugar!
All this talk of treats made me pop into Timmie’s dog shop to get Rocky in on the action.
This rainbow heart was HUGE.
(And despite the dog ingredients… I kinda wanted to eat it! I mean, it really does look good.)
And perfect for Valentine’s Day.
When Rocky took a bite and cracked it in half, I saved the rest for another day while he was occupied with the crumbs.
Even dogs can benefit from the Eat Less Sugar Strategy
Dogs are actually more interested in the quantity of treats they get, than the size of each treat.
So I usually break his cookies into a few pieces.
You can eat less sugar and enjoy it more
And the heart-shaped cookie (below) I used as a prop for this post?
That adorable frog?
Or the ladybug!?
(Alex calls them Ladybirds, as does all of Britain.)
I’m looking forward to eating one of these cookies on Valentine’s Day.
Eat Less Sugar on Valentine’s Day
Another way to cut back on sugar is to think of all the other decadent things you can do to celebrate Valentine’s Day… or any day of the year.
Here’s some ideas:
Get lost in a book
Block off 2 hours to be left alone to read that book you ordered but haven’t cracked open (I have tons of those). Buying a book isn’t the same as reading it!
Soak up some time for yourself
Turn off your phone, play some classical music and have a bubble bath; my niece is all about the classical music—last year it was rap!
I gave Alex this record player a few Valentine’s Days ago and we found this record on a dog walk.
Try a gourmet recipe
Find a sugar-free recipe that’s full of whole foods and a little bit special.
Often my clients say they enjoy something like a smoked salmon bagel better than a sugary dessert.
And I gotta agree.
Plant some art
How about painting some pebbles with hopeful messages to leave around your hood? This is fun especially with kids. Old nail-polish you have kicking around is a fantastic substitute for paint.
Post a Thinking of you box
Put a care package together and send it to someone who needs some sunshine.
A friend of mine just surprised me with this gift. Snail mail is the best!
Make Today Count
How many treats did you have in the 7 days leading up to today?
Write that number on a post-it note and pop it in your purse.
And have fun choosing how you’ll spend your treats this week.
Look forward to them, make them special and enjoy without guilt.
Then slowly decrease the number of sweets you have over the next few weeks until you hit a healthy number.
Get off the “all” or “nothing” roller coaster and build a lifestyle you love.
Build healthy eating and exercise habits. A healthy weight will follow.
Simply by giving yourself permission to eat treats makes you desire them less often. It’s human nature to want what you can’t have! Empower yourself by acknowledging that willpower doesn’t work. Unlocking your H 🙂 PPY weight is all about building healthy habits. And that includes enjoying occasional treats.
Where you do find yourself suddenly faced with sweet food you weren’t expecting?
What’s your favorite way to spend Valentine’s Day that doesn’t involve sugar?
Let me know in the comments below.
And I hope you’ll try the Eat Less Sugar Strategy.
You’ll find yourself eating fewer treats and enjoying them much more.
Be kind to yourself!
Happy Valentine’s Day.
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Sharing what I learned makes the 10 years I STRUGGLED worth it
Incredible post! So timely for my husband and me, Kelly– Gonna do it!! Thank you so much, Kelly!!
Happy Valentine’s Day Kathy!
Excited you’re going to try a Treat Allowance.
Have a relaxing winter day walking around your beautiful lake and hanging out with your fluffy guys,
My problem is diet sugar, spends! Not cokes, but it had been so hard to stop using this. In coffee, and tea,
How about trying the “Eat Less Sugar” Strategy for diet sugar?
Start by just keeping track of how many times you have it over one day or one week.
And then aim to cut back just a tiny bit per week.
You’ll be surprised how natural the process is, which makes it so much easier and lasting because you’ll be building healthy habits you can keep up.
Here’s another post about how to break unhealthy habits and make habits that help you unlock your H 🙂 PPY weight: https://www.the10principles.com/break-habits-in-3-steps/
Thanks so much for your message Elizabeth!
And Happy Valentine’s Day,
Thank you very much for your article. I find your approach very useful and I’m all about maximising pleasure and not eating stale/unsatisfactory foods just out of habit, boredom or only because they’re there. However, I find the concept of counting, calculating and planning the number of “treats” (don’t like that word very much) a bit counterproductive, as for me it still feels controlling, restrictive and pretty much the same as I did in the depths of my ED. I have honestly no idea how many “treats” I had last week and I couldn’t be happier about it, because it shows that I’m able to concentrate on something else and also share moments with other people without being too fixated on food. The chocolate bar I shared with my bestie on Sunday when we went picnicking near the lake shore, at the nearby town? Yes! The (several) delicious white choc chips brownies I ate with her and my family on my birthday, straight-out-proper nigella recipe without any substitutions? Yes yes yes! The fresh bun I picked from a bakery when I was out and about and hungry, so I could concentrate on what my date was telling me, instead of thinking about food and what I’ll be able to eat when I go back home? That’s a win for me! And I don’t think any of these amazing life experiences would’ve been possible had I been busy counting and calculating in my head if I was “allowed” them or not. Anyway, these are just my thoughts, let me know what you think!:) Have a nice day, lots of love xx
When I was bulimic I NEVER ate any treats at all, unless I was bingeing.
So when I got into a healthy routine of:
-eating balanced meals (vs starving myself)
-eating healthy snacks when I was hungry between meals
-exercising less (vs over-exercising every day)
…I had no idea how many treats were healthy.
This blog post is for people who are:
a) learning to incorporate treats back into their life without bingeing and without feeling guilty (eating occasional treats is healthy!)
b) having a lot of treats, want to reach a healthy weight and aren’t sure how to gradually cut back so the change is lasting
Like all the information I share on my blog and any healthy habit you build—whether it’s how much you study each day or how much tv you watch—once you build those healthy habits everything is natural and you don’t really think about it.
When something is a habit, it becomes automatic!
Then you can spend your precious time focusing on the people, animals and projects you care about instead of being preoccupied by food choices.
I also can’t recall which treats I had last week because I’m in a healthy routine and eating moderate amounts comes naturally.
Just like training wheels help people ride a bike and water wings help people learn to swim, having a little accountability helps some people build healthy habits. And being aware of the number of treats you’ve eaten doesn’t involve a lot of calculations.
Exercise is another great example.
For many people if they don’t have a goal to aim for each week, exercise just won’t happen. But exercise is KEY to our health, from getting a good sleep to fighting chronic diseases. Having a plan of action can make all the difference.
IN SHORT: I overcame my eating disorder by building healthy eating and exercise habits. When you have healthy habits, a healthy body and mind will follow.
The ideas I share won’t be for everyone. Nothing is for everyone!
And it sounds like you’ve found a method that works for you, Lu. That’s fantastic! So I say stick with your method.
On my blog I love to share strategies that work for me and ones that have helped my clients (who are all very different) build healthy habits that create a lifestyle they love, while unlocking their H 🙂 PPY weight.
PS I’m with you — I’m not a big fan of the word “treat” either!
Hi Kelly – I love the idea of a treat allowance for sweet treats and am going to start using that (up to 3 a week as you suggest). I’d be interested in your thoughts on savoury snack foods like potato chips (or crisps as we call them in the UK) – should they be part of a treat allowance or should I simply enjoy them as part of my roughly balanced meals/snacks? For health reasons, I would rather limit the amount I eat savoury snack type foods,
Hi Pam, great question.
We talked about this in my group program, What the F do I eat? last night. I consider anything that isn’t packed with nutrients a treat. Homemade fries like these are made of natural ingredients and therefore have tons of nutrients. But potato chips are processed, so much of the “good stuff” is removed (like the fiber in the skin). And a lot is added, like salt and unnatural oils, etc. These additives make it easier to eat more potato chips than you need. Potato chips are high in calories and low in nutrients (just like candy!) So if you eat potato chips more often than an occasional treat, it’s easy to become overfed and undernourished (which makes you gain weight and keeps you feeling hungry). So… in summary, whether sweet or savory I’d consider anything that is high in calories and low in nutrients to be a treat. And something to enjoy occasionally if your goal is to get into a routine (you love!) that unlocks your H 🙂 PPY weight without dieting. Getting into a healthy routine also gives you tons of energy and helps you be super productive between meals. Let me know if you have any other questions! xoKelly
Thank you for the incredibly helpful reply – this makes total sense. Luckily I really enjoy eating nutrient rich foods and am learning a lot from building a 3 meal a day routine. Your writing is excellent and so easy to relate to. I am so pleased to have found your website. Putting a specific maximum number on how many treats to allow myself each week does make me feel a bit diet-y and so I for now am focusing on the word “occasional” and thinking about making choices that I will truly enjoy (like eating good quality dark chocolate with a mug of tea!)
Yay! So glad that info clicks, Pam. The idea is to enjoy your treats and not feel guilty. You can always start by just seeing how many treats you naturally eat in a week and then aim to slowly decrease the number over time. That way the transition is natural vs. diet-y. And I’m so with you re: the good chocolate. For me, I enjoy high-quality ice cream once or twice a week much more than eating the cheapie stuff every day, that just tastes watery (vs. creamy!) Another way of looking at this is that I truly enjoyed 2 diet cokes a day MUCH better than when I was drinking a case a day!! Now I don’t drink any diet pop for this reason: https://www.the10principles.com/is-diet-pop-bad/ Great questions Pam, enjoy that dark chocolate and I LOVE that you’re building a 3 meal-a-day routine! You’re on track to unlocking your H 🙂 PPY weight without dieting. xoKelly