Smart Ways to Curb Sugar Cravings at Gatherings & Parties

As I write this, we’re in the thick of the holiday season, complete with parties, dinners, family gatherings, presents—and, for many Americans, way too much sugar. Unfortunately, this time of year seems to give people an all-season pass to overconsumption. This can translate to everything from eating to spending, but it’s especially detrimental when sugar is the culprit in question.

The good news is, you don’t have to accept the common assumption that this time of year—or any holiday, special event, or season, for that matter—is a reason to ditch your healthy diet. Changing your attitudes about “needing” or wanting sugar is possible with just a few small but effective tweaks to your ways of thinking and behaviors. I’ll outline a few of my go-to techniques below. And, after you get used to eating less sugar (which can happen after just a few days), you’ll be able to taste the true flavors of foods and wonder why you ever wanted it. Read on for my best tips on why and how to curb sugar cravings at the holidays and year-round.

How Sugar Harms Your Health

I’ve spoken many times about how harmful sugar is to human health. Here are just a few examples of the damage it can cause:

  • Sugar is pro-inflammatory. Consuming things like sugar, simple carbohydrates, and processed foods promotes chronic inflammation. That’s right—your body actually creates an inflammatory response. Over time, this low-level but chronic inflammation can play a role in many health issues, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
  • Sugar damages brain health. A Standard American Diet (SAD), including high sugar intake, has been linked to mental health problems, including depression, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and dementia.
  • Sugar slows you down. Avoiding sugar can generate many positive, uplifting effects: more energy, better focus, a better memory, improved moods, and a slimmer waistline.

On top of all these potential downsides, we also know that this toxic substance raises blood sugar, causes rapid releases of insulin, is full of empty calories, feeds cancer cells, and gives you cavities. When we consider all of the ways it harms our bodies, why would we ever consume sugar to begin with? It’s simple: like any other addictive drug, the more you consume, the more you want. It’s a vicious cycle—but one you can climb out of.

Smart Ways to Curb Sugar Cravings at Parties

It can be difficult enough avoiding sugar in the grocery store, where the aisles are stuffed with foods that contain heaps of added sugar. But when you’re away from your normal routines and environment—such as during holidays or at special events—it can feel like even more of a challenge. Whether you’re in the midst of holiday party season, making the rounds at family gatherings, or looking for ways to avoid sugar year-round, I’ve developed great tips to help you avoid the white stuff.

Follow these suggestions to just say no:

Plan and Prepare.

Some people believe that willpower is the key to eating healthier, but I believe in having a plan. When you take steps ahead of time, you help ensure your success. This can mean:

  • Preparing and carrying healthy snacks so you’re never famished
  • Bringing your own homemade treats to parties and dinners
  • Having a rehearsed response to pushy offers of desserts and other junk food (while remembering that “No, thanks” is a full sentence!)
  • Mindfully planning to indulge in three small bites of one specific food that is not going to trigger a binge session
  • Switching out refined sugars and simple carbohydrates for complex carbs in the form of plant foods, like sweet potatoes and apples, to help satisfy your cravings

When you don’t plan ahead, you’re much more likely to give in to any temptation that’s placed in front of you. You could find yourself eating unhealthy foods that don’t even appeal to you—consuming them out of peer pressure, boredom, or hunger. Don’t show up to any event unprepared.

How to Curb Sugar Cravings at Parties | BrainMD

Avoid the Hidden Sugar Bombs.

It’s incredible how many ways added sugar can creep into our diets. It’s not just about the white powder spooned into tea or coffee, or the obvious sugar bombs like cake, candy, and cookies. These days, all kinds of processed foods have loads of sugar, including some you’d never expect. Dressings, cereals, sauces, yogurt, granola bars, canned vegetables, milk (both cow and plant-based), and many more foods and drinks often contain surprising amounts of added sugar. Check the labels of anything you buy. Remember that 4 grams equals 1 teaspoon of sugar. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 24 and 36 grams of sugar daily for women and men, respectively.

Keep in mind, too, that sugar takes many forms. The CDC warns Americans about consuming too much sucrose, dextrose, table sugar, syrups, honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices. But there are dozens more names for sugar nowadays, from agave to brown rice syrup to sorghum. Unfortunately, many artificial sweeteners are awful alternatives that present their own health risks. (The ones I choose are stevia and monk fruit. Coconut palm sugar is also acceptable, but in moderation, as it contains all the calories of regular sugar.)

Finally, be careful about what you drink. Holiday parties are known for sugar-packed punches and eggnog, both with and without alcohol. Not only are alcoholic beverages full of sugar and empty calories, but they weaken your resolve so that you’re more likely to consume unhealthy foods or eat more than necessary. Try sparkling water with a squeeze of lime instead. I like to say “Replace, don’t erase” when it comes to making healthy dietary changes. We don’t need to “go without”—we just need to make better choices, and we’ll never feel deprived.

Remember Your Why.

It can be easy to lose sight of your reasons for healthier eating when everyone else is feeding you excuses. We’ve all heard them: “You can have just one!” or “Why not, it’s the holidays!” Before you know it, you’re buying into the hype—and eating foods you know are going to make you feel terrible, both physically and mentally.

Instead, train your mind to keep your why at the forefront. What health benefits are you going to reap by avoiding the sugar bombs this season and year-round? Maybe you want to live longer so you can spend more time with your grandchildren. Maybe you’re motivated by the mental clarity and the physical feeling of lightness when you’re not weighed down by consuming poisons. Or maybe you’ve noticed how much better you sleep when junk food is off the menu. When you’re clear on your reasons and you focus on what you’re gaining (rather than what you’re giving up), you’ll find it much easier to stick to your guns and say no.

However, if you do find yourself eating foods you’d rather avoid, don’t beat yourself up. Use this as an opportunity to learn about your behavior. Why did you make that choice? Did you forget to plan, or did you feel left out of the festivities? And how did you feel after you ate the food? Did it set off cravings for more sugar? Did you find yourself eating mindlessly? Take note of your behaviors. Awareness is key for making appropriate changes in the future.

No-Sugar Strategies

The power to change our habits lies in the mind. Using the simple strategies outlined above, you’ll find it easier to avoid the sugar overload this season and beyond. Because if you can maintain your focus on healthy eating during the holidays, chances are you’ll be well-prepared for the entire year. Plus, you won’t have to ring in this New Year’s Day feeling bloated, sluggish, and depressed—it’ll be a much happier New Year from the start.

Tana Amen, BSN, RN
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Thank you for sugar article! I needed that! Learned years ago to take my own food to parties, & stay away from danger. Am gluten-free & allergic to any dairy/animal milk. Can’t seem to let go of Almond M&Ms though. I appreciated that article very much!