Getting off a sugar train is one of the most difficult things for many of us. There are good reasons for that – drug-like nature of the sugar impact, and gradual loss of sensitivity to the sweet taste, leading to ever-increasing dose . There is no lack of advice how to diminish cravings for the sweets, with various strategies, replacements etc. In this post, I would like to focus on the logic underpinning all these approaches and tricks; understanding of the mechanism will help you pick those that work for you or construct your own approach.
First, let me cite a quote from The Time Machine Diet:
An unexpected discovery was that while the taste of healthy foods became intensified and more pleasurable, the taste of unhealthy foods became less appealing. The starkest example of that would be sweets. Many of those treats we used to like became almost unbearably sweet. You are familiar already with this effect; we discussed this same kind of experience in the part devoted to cutting down and replacing sugary foods. Now this experience multiplied in intensity and spread to some other foods.
Do you like chocolate cake? So do I. In one of the local stores there was the chocolate cake of chocolate cakes. King of chocolate cakes. They don’t get any chocolatier. It was called Chocolate Eruption, and it was a massive bomb. Real chocolate cream, rich and smooth; chocolate layers of different colors and varying consistency with pieces of hard chocolate to provide a crunch. Did I mention it was also full of chocolate?
At the beginning of our new weight loss regime we put two large pieces of it aside, to reward ourselves for some significant achievement should such occasion present itself. For two months we felt a great temptation walking past the baking section in that store and seeing that cake on display. We waited patiently for the time when we would deserve the prize. Finally, in mid-May, that moment came. They were rather large pieces, mind you – the reward should be generous and leave you fully satisfied, not craving for more. We ate it all… and were surprised by just how incredibly sweet it was, beyond the sweetness that would have been pleasant. We were cured; walking past that section has become, well… a piece of cake!
This phenomenon of changing tastes has been noticed by many who embarked on the similar path. How and why does it happen? It’s quite simple, actually.
Here is how we develop the taste for sweets beyond all reasonable limits: our taste buds gradually lose sensitivity to sweetness. Put a teaspoon of sugar in your tea, and it tastes fine at first. In a while, this level of sweetness becomes a base level, so to speak – you don’t notice it anymore, and to experience intense kick you’d have to add another teaspoon. So you do, and experience burst of sweet flavor. It’s a pleasant kick, to be sure – we are evolutionary programmed to enjoy the taste of quick and easy energy influx, and what delivers energy faster and metabolizes quicker than pure sugar? It made sense a million years ago; not so much these days, with energy-dense food available 24/7. You’ll have no troubles to forecast what happens next; surely enough, two teaspoon of sugar become base level, to which our sensitivity once again gets diminished. Allow this spiral continue, and in a while you consume without blinking the sweets that would make you cringe a year ago. In fact, anything less sweet than that feels tasteless to you. Sweet replaces all other tastes and becomes THE taste; word “tasty” means “sweet” now. You don’t sense the native taste of tea or coffee anymore – they are tasty to you as long as they are sweetened. Heavenly butter cream (REAL cream, not the whipped cream) doesn’t satisfy you anymore unless it’s combined with mind-boggling amount of sugar. Dark chocolate (dark is the way this gift from another Universe was intended to be consumed) becomes too bitter for you, and you want its pathetic sibling, containing little if any chocolate – I mean, 33%? Forget all those articles about health benefits of chocolate, they meant actual one, not this abomination.
So, what is the way out of this death spiral? Now that you understand its mechanism, you’ll have no trouble to devise the plan. It uses this same mechanism in reverse, and proves to be quite easy in practice – much easier than many expect. Just don’t try to quit sugar cold turkey; while it would give you bragging rights and feeling of being hardcore, it’s more failure-prone way. Simply start cutting down on sugary stuff step by step. Using that same example with tea, go from four teaspoon to three; sensation of it not being as tasty will quickly dissipate as your taste buds adjust to a new base level. It takes just two-three days; after that you are fine with this amount and ready for the next cut. When you drink it sugarless, you start re-discovering the taste of tea itself; what felt completely void of taste at first, suddenly reveals subtle and very interesting flavors. It turns out, there are many tea flavors; some you like, some not so much. Same goes for coffee – all beans are not created equal. Who knew? Sugar used to cover it all, taking over and being the only taste to notice; drinks and food were nothing more than a sugar delivery devices. Now, it’s not too long before 72% chocolate starts tasting too sweet for you, and you reach for darker stuff.
Welcome back to the word of many tastes!