Weaning off sugar, now that the holidays are over

Bouncing back from the holidays and into a healthy eating and exercise routine is always easier said than done.

On the bright side, getting back on track doesn’t have to be difficult. However, you may feel discouraged if you try to go back to your usual routine all at once. Instead, it’s better to wean yourself off the sugar and ease yourself back into an exercise routine.

Even for someone who is in shape, taking just a week off of exercise can decrease your fitness. Thus, jumping right back into your usual routine can feel difficult or be tough on your body, potentially causing injury or a lot of soreness at the very least. Remember that getting back in shape won’t happen in just one day.

Instead of hitting the treadmill and running until you can’t any more, or struggling to lift heavy weights,take it slow. For example, take a few extra minutes to warm up–stretch, walk on the treadmill, or do a light jog. If weights are more your thing, start with something lighter than you’re used to, and do extra reps rather than bumping up the weight.

Some other post-holiday sweat-session examples include a home workout, a gentle yoga class, keep it short (30 minutes or less), and walk as much as possible (around the neighborhood, at work, in town, etc).

Saying No to Sugar

Good news: You don’t have to quit sugar cold turkey. In fact, cutting out sugar all together might make you more likely to indulge in unhealthy eating habits, such as bingeing. Instead, you want to wean off sugar for the best results. Here’s what you should do:

  1. Find out what is triggering you to eat sugar. Is it an afternoon slump? Are candies and cookies lying around your house? Once you recognize these triggers, you’ll already be able to make better decisions and ask yourself, “Do I really need this?”
  2. Manage your portion sizes. Instead of depriving yourself of sugar, limit your portion sizes. One tip is to portion out your treats ahead of time if you can, by separating amounts in Tupperware or plastic baggies.
  3. Out of sight, out of mind. Instead of leaving holiday treats around the house or out in the open, put things away in drawers or in the fridge. Sometimes we don’t have cravings for a treat until we physically see it.
  4. Make healthy snacks available. This step is extremely important. Typically, we grab sugary treats because they are easy and readily available. Buy pre-cut veggies and fruits with healthy dips like hummus or guacamole to store front and center in your fridge. Leave fresh fruit on the counter so it’s the first thing you see when you enter the kitchen.
  5. Make sure you are getting a balanced diet, and use a supplement. Even when we are trying our best to eat healthy, we can’t always eat in the proportions that we need to get the correct amount of vitamins and minerals that we need to feel our best, so taking a supplement is key.

Sugary Swaps

Finding yummy alternatives to your favorite treats will be a huge help when it comes to kicking sugar to the curb. Here are some ideas to start implementing when thinking of reaching for one of your holiday favorites:

  • Candy canes: Peppermint tea
  • Chocolate or fudge: One or two ounces of dark chocolate, preferably 70 percent cacao or higher.
  • Cookies: Chopped apple with cinnamon and raisins.
  • Candies: Grapes (fresh or frozen).
  • Hot chocolate: Make your own with one cup hot water, one tablespoon cacao, one-quarter teaspoon vanilla extract, and two teaspoons maple syrup.
  • Alcohol: Fruity, herbal tea or seltzer with lime.

Dr. Nicole Avena, who wrote this article, is an assistant professor of neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and a visiting professor of health psychology at Princeton University. She is a research neuroscientist and expert in nutrition, diet and addiction, has written several books, andblogs for “Psychology Today.”