Healthy Choices with Health Coach Liza Baker: Cutting out sugar, continued

Last month, we started that difficult conversation about the role of sugar in our lives. If you missed that column, see link below!

We also started thinking about how in the world we can start weaning ourselves off the stuff.

Crowding out: How’d it go?

Last month, I introduced the concept of “crowding out”—basically adding in more nutritious options with the goal of pushing the poorer choices away over time.

Sooo—how did it go? Were you able to use the idea of crowding out in the past few weeks?

If it went well, congratulations! If it didn’t go well, don’t get all judgy with yourself!

I always tell clients that there are two ways to ask the same question:

  • “UGH!!! WHY DID I EAT THAT?” This is beating yourself up—it’s the end of a conversation that runs something like this: “I’m so stupid. I’m a loser. I’ll never be able to do this. WHY DID I EAT THAT?”
  • “Huh. Why did I eat that?” This is the beginning of a conversation. “Why did I eat that? Did I not have a healthy choice available? Was I hanging out with people who would look at me strangely if I made the healthy choice? Was I trying to stuff down some uncomfortable emotions?” And once you’ve identified a reason, you can set yourself up for success the next time.

Another reason crowding out works

Once upon a time, we got our sugar from whole foods: fruits, dairy products, whole grains. All of those foods also happen to contain a lot of vitamins and minerals along with the natural sugar.

Over time, crowding out poor choice foods with healthier ones works for two reasons:

  1. Having an apple before eating a piece of cake and drinking a glass of water before having pop can fill up your stomach, making you eat less cake and drink less pop, especially if you’re checking in with your body and feeling into whether you really are still hungry or thirsty for that sweet treat. Fun fact: very often, what we think of as hunger is actually thirst, so try drinking a glass of water when you’re hungry and checking in with your body as to whether it’s still “hungry.”
  2. Making better choices actually increases your nutritional status: as Americans, we are energetically overfed—we get too many calories from protein/fat/carbohydrates—and nutritionally starved. Forget those National Geographic pictures of the starving kids in developing countries: nutritionally speaking, many Americans are not much better off—we’re just overweight/obese, and we don’t associate that with malnutrition! We don’t get enough micronutrients, specifically vitamins and minerals.

So think about it this way: if you eat one quarter of a chocolate cake (oh come on, now, I’ve done it without breaking a sweat!), you’re getting a whole lot of calories from fat and sugar; if you eat an apple and “only” one eighth of the cake, you’re getting less fat and sugar (fewer calories) AND you’re getting the vitamins, minerals, water, and fiber from the apple (more nutrition).

If you keep making that choice—having the apple and less cake—over time, your body’s nutritional status will improve: you may still be energetically overfed (too many calories)—and you’ll have more vitamins and minerals in your system.

And that’s when the magic happens: if your craving for sugar is physiological (your body craves sugar because it imagines that it will come with all the vitamins and minerals that delicious ripe fruit comes with), you will notice your cravings lessen—and you will be healthier.

So keep trying to crowd out the poorer choices with healthier ones this month! We’re now going to add another challenge to the mix.

This month’s challenge: swap out your beverages

As I mentioned in last month’s column, our largest source of added sugars (47%) is sweetened beverages: pop, coffee-drinks-that-are-really-dessert, smoothies, bubble “teas,” sports drinks, fruit juices.

This month, I challenge you to cut down on any of those: you don’t have to give them up entirely—just cut back by one portion a day for a week and see what happens!

The next week, cut down by two portions a day; the third week by three portions a day, etc.

 What can you drink, then?

  • First and foremost: plain old water! Drink it hot, cold, room temperature, whatever you prefer.
  • Don’t like water? (I find this so hard to imagine, but I have a lot of clients who tell me they don’t, so I’m believing them and not judging them.) Try flavoring it: slices of lemon, orange, lime, grapefruit, or cucumber, chunks of melon or pineapple, berries, peaches, cherries, parsley, mint, basil. Frozen fruit works beautifully. Play around with combinations! In the summer, I keep a pitcher of flavored water on my desk—one handful of fruit is enough to flavor it for the day.
  • Herbal teas—hot, iced, room temperature—are another great option. Find a flavor you love and stick with it or mix it up over the course of a day. Be careful of “functional” teas—those that make health claims like detoxing, energizing, sleep-inducing: many of these can interact with medications and/or need to be limited. Stick with simple fruit-flavored herbals.
  • Coffee/tea with caffeine act as diuretics (they make us pee!), so limit these beverages to 1–2 cups a day, preferably in the morning.

This column comes out once a month—plenty of time to practice crowding out AND replacing some poor choice beverages for better choices for the next four weeks or so!

I’ll be back next month with a few more suggestions; in the meantime, I’d love to hear your progress! Email me at to check in.

WLAA health columnist Liza Baker is a health coach, cookbook author, blogger, podcaster, nonprofit consultant, and woefully underpaid COO of a busy family of four spread across the globe. Liza lives in a half-empty nest in Ann Arbor and is passionate about health and happiness, education and empowerment, SOLE/SOUL food and social justice.

Healthy Choices with Health Coach Liza Baker: What’s the big deal about sugar?