How to Conquer Your Sweets Cravings While Working From Home A straightforward dietary swap can make a huge difference in your energy, focus and performance.
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Right now, with the world turned upside down due to COVID-19, you probably want to dive into a pile of baked goods or self-soothe with a beer or some ice cream. I get it. And even if you're resisting the siren call of your favorite treat, keeping your business running during this time of uncertainty means you're even busier than usual. You barely have a moment to go to the bathroom, let alone make lunch, so a fistful of granola or store-bought smoothie will have to do. You can't make it through the afternoon without your regular pick-me-up cup of coffee. You keep a stash of protein bars in your desk (or pantry) for nights when you'll be working through dinner.
While these seem like healthy enough options, these grab-and-go foods are probably filling your diet with way more sugar than you realize. Protein bars are often worse than candy bars when you look at the amount of sugar they contain, and coffee drinks and smoothies pack more of the sweet stuff than a can of soda. According to researchers from the University of California at San Francisco, 74 percent of packaged foods contain added sugars, including savory options and products marketed as "natural" or "healthy." Because of this, the average American consumes nearly twice the daily recommended sugar intake of the World Health Organization and the American Heart Association.
And all of this secret sugar is harming your health. A recent New York Times piece urging people to make 2020 the year of less sugar made so many important points about the ways sugar affects you negatively. Physically, it causes everything from faster aging to liver damage to increased risk for Type 2 diabetes, cancer, stroke, heart disease and even Alzheimer's.
Excess sugar is also detrimental to your mental health. And it's probably making you a less effective entrepreneur. Studies show that excess refined sugar may impair memory, lower our ability to learn new things and increase feelings of anxiety. And that's on top of the energy roller coaster we're all familiar with when dealing with constant sugar crashes.
And it's not just table sugar that we should avoid. Before founding my unsweetened, flavored water company, Hint, I was hooked on Diet Coke, assuming it was the "healthier" option. I'm convinced that because I was pounding fake sugar, it gave me acne worse than most teens and made my energy levels plummet. As soon as I switched to water, everything turned around, and I felt more on my game than ever before. That's why I'm not just pushing for a year of less sugar, but advocating that people embrace the #unsweetenedlife.
I'm not saying you have to go to zero sugar entirely. That would be almost impossible. Plus, your brain needs some natural sugars to function. Here are some steps that helped me reduce my intake of added sweeteners and live a sharper, healthier life.
1. Watch out for sneaky sources.
Since sugars and artificial sweeteners go by many different aliases, you might not even realize something sweet is in the ingredients list of your favorite foods. The best place to start is by just watching closely for the areas sweeteners are showing up in your life. My friend and food expert Marion Nestle, whom I've chatted with on my podcast, always reminds me to take any marketing claims with a grain of salt. Instead, get comfortable reading food labels.
"The new food labels require listings of added sugars and give a daily value," she explains. "If the daily value is a high percent, choose something else or share it with a friend."
2. Pay attention to how foods make you feel.
Try to become more aware of how different foods affect your mood, energy levels, concentration and more. Pay attention to how you're feeling in general to establish a baseline. Then look for moments when you feel "off."
Did you feel like your brain was in a fog during that last investor meeting? Have you noticed your energy dips every afternoon? Look at the fuel you're putting into your body leading up to these moments and see if you can identify any trends that might be dragging you down. I'm willing to bet that sweeteners are a common thread.
3. Do some self-experiments.
Once you've got a handle on what you're eating and how it's making you feel, you can start testing out some changes to see if they help. Swap your store-bought smoothie with one made at home for a week, so you know what's going into it and can reduce added sugars. Replace the bars in your desk drawer or pantry with some bags of nuts for energy without the sweetness. See how you feel. This approach feels much less intimidating than just trying to cut out sweeteners indefinitely. (Congratulations — you're now a biohacker.)
When I first ditched diet soda, I considered it an experiment. I was going to do this for a few weeks to see what happened. Once I felt the dramatic effects on my health and mental well-being, it motivated me to keep going. I bet you'll feel the same way. And who knows? You might get inspired to invent something, as I did with Hint in 2005, that changes your life forever.