Sugar is my vice. I love biscuits, chocolate, cake - it's what was responsible for me being a size 16 a few years ago. After lots of exercising and re-evaluating how I eat, I've managed to drop to a size 10 now and I couldn't be prouder of myself, but sugar has kept that progress slow.
This past year has been the most successful in terms of eating well, and I've been working hard to keep my eating under control as best I can. Sometimes I slip up, tempted by an oversized cookie - and that's not a slip-up on its own, but if I let that single oversized cookie tempt me to another, and then to a chocolate bar, and so on - that's the slip-up. I used to cave and crumble like that all the time; one taste of chocolate would turn into a steep sugary slope.
But, fortunately, a couple of months ago I got smart, and I want to share that with you right now. I suddenly realised that a treat every now and then, even if it is an oversized triple chocolate cookie, is not a failure, and neither is it going to undo all of my hard work. If I string together lots of treats over a day or two, that's going to become a problem - and it's true what they say about the more sugar you eat the more your crave it, and equally that the less you eat sugar the less you crave it.
Now, admittedly this giant cookie might set me back a day or two of progress if it was really that decadent, but that's when deciding if something was 'worth it' comes into play. If I think something is worth the empty calories, and I've behaved really well for a long while, then why the hell should I not have one? I don't think you should reward yourself with food, but that's not the mentality behind this, it's not something I'm working towards, it's something I decide upon in the moment - and, believe it or not, this kind of mentality has actually gotten me off of rubbish food and onto a healthier diet with far more dedication than saying "from now on, I'm not eating sugar at all." The promise of something amazing at an undecided point in the future keeps me from eating chocolate and biscuits and the like that I don't really love. In short, things I don't feel are worth it; things that aren't particularly delicious or satisfying are the kinds of things that make me feel guilty, and sometimes, if I'm having a bad day, that guilt can actually lead to me doing it again rather than picking myself up and letting that silly guilt slap a little bit sense into me and getting me back on track.
It's all a mental thing and it's not necessarily easy, but it's made easier by not buying sweets. You can't eat it if you don't have it - but the same is said for healthy snacks. So, throughout the year, I avoid most sugary things. It's so much easier to find the willpower for the hour it takes to do the weekly shop to not pick anything like that up than it is to find the constant willpower needed to not open the sugary things you did buy. And if you're not going to open it, why did you buy it? So the solution is simple: find the willpower to not reach out and put the biscuits or chocolate in your basket, and then there will be no temptation throughout the rest of the week.
But it's not wise to go without snacks - ideally the best way to eat yourself slim, along with exercise, is to eat little and often, around 5 times a day rather than just the main 3 meals, and aim for about 300-400 calories for breakfast, 150 for a snack, 300-400 for lunch, 150 for a snack and 300 for dinner. So rather than opting for a standard chocolate bar (150-200 empty calories), buy nakd bars, nuts, fruits and so on and snack on those instead. You don't go hungry; you're replacing instead of cutting out.
The idea is simple, really, and works with your blood sugar levels as well as basic psychology: eat well, say 'no' to the things you could have any time like custard creams or chocolate bars, and then, when something like a triple chocolate cake is offered on a rare occasion, you can say 'yes' without the guilt because you know you've been healthy and well-behaved for the past two weeks - and remind yourself that there's no reason why one slice of that cake would suddenly undo all of your efforts, especially if you exercise regularly, be it HIIT or pilates.
But the mind can be a powerful ally or your greatest enemy, so it's important to phrase things correctly for yourself. Such as never saying "no, I can't," but rather "no, I shouldn't." It might sound silly, but that distinction tells yourself that you could have said 'yes' but you made the responsible decision and chose not to, and believe it or not, that can be empowering enough that when they say "are you sure?" you can respond in the affirmative without feeling regret. Food isn't going anywhere. Bourbons, jaffa cakes, mars bars, they're not going anywhere. You could have them any time - they're mundane and nothing special; you know what they taste like. But the things that are rarely offered, rarely eaten, rarely available and certainly more interesting - these you can have, and if you've said 'no' to the boring stuff offered before, there's absolutely no reason to feel guilty about this instead.
Try it. And remember that the less you eat sugar, the less you truly do crave it. And this can happen at an astoundingly fast rate. I went from a bad few days of high refined sugar and constant cravings to cutting sugar down (not out; that's a quick way to withdrawal and caving back in at the next sight of it), and after three days of little refined sugar I found myself barely thinking about it. It's all about blood sugar levels really, and refined sugars play havoc with them. The less refined sugar you eat, the more your blood sugar stabilises on its own, and the less you crave it.
If you're trying to cut your sugar down but struggling, one trick that works for both your blood sugar and your mentality is adding a little bit of cinnamon to your food, especially your breakfast. Cinnamon is a great natural blood-sugar-balancer, so it can really help. I believe dates are, too, and dates are at the heart of the raw food market - pretty much every fruit bar is made 50% of dates. Nakd bars and both Aduna's moringa and baobab bars are all made with dates as their base, and these can have a simiar effect as cinnamon - not to mention that they're delicious, don't taste like dates, and most even count as 1 of your 5 a day!
And the reason these boost your mentality is simply because you know what they're doing to you - I just told you that they're helping to balance your blood sugar - and that fact will also help your dedication, sort of like a placebo, except that it is actually doing something at the same time.
For me, sugar is my biggest vice. I don't drink coffee or alcohol because I simply don't like them, and sugar is one of the leading causes of obesity, largely for it's apparently addictive qualities. Just a few days of weening myself away from it and adding a pinch of cinnamon to my breakfast every morning (oats also help to stabilise blood sugar and release their energy much more slowly, making them the ideal ingredient in breakfasts) has had a massive impact on my weight loss results as well as my mood and mentality. I started keeping a close eye on my refined sugar intake - biscuits, chocolate, cake; the things you know are unhealthy - and swapping them more often for natural sugars like fruit and the occasional oat biscuit has been a huge help, and it's helped me to get my eating on track for the long-term - as well as letting me avoid guilt when I do indulge in the occasional decadent dessert! After all, what's there to feel guilty about if it's only once in a while?