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Here's How To Nurture a Healthy Relationship with Sugar

Check out the signs you need some help and where to start

It’s spooky season, and what’s scarier than all the sugar around?!


You probably have already heard all the bad things about sugar. Things like, sugar is bad for you, toxic, poison, dangerous, addicting, the root of all evil, causes diseases like obesity and diabetes, ages you, and must be avoided at all costs.


But at the same time, sugar tastes good, feels good, is in fun foods, and is in our food system. It is thought that humans evolved to prefer sweets because it was an advantage: sugar is a source of energy and back when food was scarce, eating them would help us survive. We also know that tastes and preferences can be learned, and how we learned to eat growing up is an important factor too. So don't blame yourself if you like sweet stuff!

But now that it is easy to get enough energy, and definitely enough sugar since it seems to be in everything, on average, we are eating much more than we used to, and above healthy levels. More and more studies have linked excess added sugar to chronic diseases. So yes, it is still a good idea to keep your intake of added sugar to a moderate amount, and be mindful of what’s in the food you consume.


Still, you might be someone who does enjoy some sweet stuff, I definitely do, and it doesn’t mean you are ruining your health unless you swear off them forever. The key things to note are that excess amounts of added sugar are what’s problematic (so let's leave fruit out of this). Going zero sugar might actually make you worse off, especially if it’s not that doable and you decide to give up trying to reduce your intake all together. 


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Here are some signs that you could actually use a healthier relationship with sugar, which can benefit both your physical and mental health.

  • You restrict sugar, but then eat large amounts and feel like you can’t control yourself 
  • You stress about avoiding desserts, restaurants, or social events where there might be sweets
  • You are too obsessive about food labels and ingredients
  • Eating food with sugar causes you anxiety, guilt, shame
  • You punish yourself for eating sugar by restricting more or compensating with exercise
  • Sweets are the only way you can cope with negative emotions like stress or sadness
  • You have a health condition that involves reducing your sugar consumption but you are unwilling or unable to do so


If these sound like you, don’t give up! Here are a few thing you can try to reduce your intake instead of just going cold turkey:

  • Start reducing sugar slowly, theres no need to cut yourself down to zero sugar. Your palette can adjust and get used to less sweetness.
  • Learn what role sugar plays in your life. For some it might be habit or emotion, or just lacking convenient, healthier alternatives.
  • Remove deprivation and scarcity, you might actually feel more in control about sugar if you know you can have some more if you want
  • Address nutrient imbalances or health conditions that might be causing sugar cravings. I find that not eating enough carbs or food in general can contribute to cravings, as well as some health conditions.
  • If you want to eat something with sugar, eat it and enjoy it instead of eating it and feeling guilty which ruins your experience of the food.
  • Consider how you learned about sugar growing up. What did your parents teach you?
  • Our society is used to restrictive eating practices: if you can resist, you are good, and when you give in or cheat, you are being bad. Let go of those beliefs, what you eat doesn’t make you a good or bad person.
  • Don't make sweets a treat or a reward. It just makes them more special, more powerful, and even harder to resist.


At the end of the day, you really don’t need to avoid all sugar for the rest of your life. Yes, it is a good idea to stay within the recommended amount and learn about your relationship with sugar, but it’s okay to include sweets for fun. Don’t forget to pay attention to what else you are eating and focus on the big picture too.


Chella Po, MS, RD is a New York City-trained US registered dietitian who can be found on Instagram as @betterbeing.ph. She uses science to back up her professional advice for clients seeking to create a sustainable, healthy diet without counting calories, restrictive plans, or stress! Contact her for a free discovery call today.


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