Has your doctor told you that you need to cut back on sugar or else? Maybe it’s because you’re at risk for diabetes. Or perhaps you’re at risk for some other health issue. Hopefully you’ve not already developed health issues because of it. Either way, you know you should eat less sugar, but you just can’t do it. Is it impossible? Not if you don’t think it is…
Blood sugar is usually measured by an A1c test. This is a common test that’s used to measure blood sugar levels. It can help to diagnose whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. An A1c test reflects your average blood sugar levels over the past 2-3 months or so. For all the science geeks, it measures the percentage of hemoglobin proteins in your blood that are glycated, that is, coated with sugar. Learn more about ideal A1c ranges in one of my blog posts entitled: Better Understanding Your Blood Sugar Lab Test Results.
Henry Ford once said “whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” That means that you will get or manifest whatever it is you believe. If you think that losing weight will be challenging, then it will be hard for you. I know what you’re thinking: it’s not that easy. And you’re right. You need to take steps to lose weight and repeat them again and again until they become a habit. However, not having the right mental attitude will get in your way. This is where you start and build from.
Another popular expression is that: the road to hell is paved with good intentions. This means that having a good intention or plan isn’t enough. You need action and follow through. But what is that action when it comes to sugar?
Too much sugar?
The first step when it comes to anything is awareness. You may be well aware of your sugar intake, but to what extent are you aware of it? For example, how much sugar did you have today? Could you easily quantify it? Probably not. This might sound cliche, but I agree that knowing is half the battle.
Let’s take the case of a client I will call Sarah. Her blood sugar was at the level where her doctor told her she had prediabetes. That meant she was close to becoming diabetic if she didn’t change anything. She felt somewhat powerless given her family history of diabetes. In fact, compared to type 1 diabetes, type 2 is more strongly linked to family history and lineage. How much more do genetics influence it? Well, the lifetime risk for developing type 2 diabetes is about 40% if you have 1 parent who has it. It almost doubles to 70% if both of your parents have it. If these percentages seem discouraging, then read on. They aren’t the entire picture.
What about the environment?
There is also a strong environmental component to diabetes. This is the part we can control. Studies show that higher levels of walkability and green space are associated with a lower risk for type 2 diabetes. On the other hand, studies also show that there’s a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes where there is higher air pollution and more noise. Some of these things you can control, and some you can’t.
High blood sugar isn’t something that develops overnight. It takes time and persistent, unhealthy dietary habits. Unhealthy eating is as much of a habit as going to work. We consider the latter more important for our survival and may write off the former. This doesn’t help if we have a stressful job or if we’re short on time to prepare our meals. It could also be that we live and/or work in a food desert. There are more than 6,500 food deserts in the US alone! In short, food deserts tend to have the following characteristics: smaller populations, more abandoned or vacant homes, residents with lower levels of education, lower incomes, and higher rates of unemployment. Again, this is only part of the equation.
Making small changes
Part of keeping your blood sugar levels is to get creative. This is something that anybody can do. Your thoughts will try to work against you. Unhealthy foods will be tempting and it will feel good to eat them. However, healthy foods can be tasty too. Think about your favorite food and come up with a way to decrease the sugar content. These days, there are many alternatives. A simple Google search, or replacing ingredients with healthier alternatives is a great place to start. For instance, you can get waffles that are low in sugar and add a maple syrup alternative. And they taste just as good.
Your thoughts may be your biggest enemy when it comes to cutting back on sugar. Temptations may surround you. Cravings may be strong. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to navigate these waters. Part of this process is to realize that you don’t have to listen to your thoughts. You have thoughts, but you aren’t your thoughts. We have strange thoughts all the time. That doesn’t mean we have to entertain them, much less act on them. The main challenge is that you will likely keep having thoughts that work against you. Know that thinking is a habit too. What are your typical thinking habits like? Do you feel like you have any control over them?
Some thoughts are distorted. These are known as cognitive distortions in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. Simply put, cognitive distortions are negative thinking patterns. They aren’t based on reality or fact. Coming back to Sarah, she realized that she was reinforcing her thinking patterns. These thoughts told her that it was genetics that led to her condition. When it wasn’t that, it was thoughts that cutting back on sugar was really hard and not something she could sustain. You can see how she psyched herself out right?! Sarah never really gave herself much chance to succeed. Her cognitive distortions kept her from believing in herself and making small changes that could improve her blood sugar levels. Once she realized that she could choose which thoughts she reinforced, she got her power back. Her life didn’t change that day, but with time, she was able to more consistently ignore the thoughts that weren’t serving her. Instead, she programmed her mind to do what she wanted: whatever it took to decrease her high blood sugar. I’m happy to say that she significantly lowered her A1c levels. Sarah is no longer at risk for diabetes. She’s also happier too since she eats better and feels better about herself. If she slips up (which she does from time to time), it doesn’t derail her. Sarah is able to get back on the bandwagon. If you were to ask her, she’d say that keeping a few simple words in mind was of tremendous value: progress, not perfection. It’s all about the small victories. If Sarah can do it, then you can too!
What are your biggest mental blocks when it comes to decreasing your sugar intake? Please tell us in the comments…