Like a drug, sugar can be addictive, causing weight gain and multiple health issues. Here’s how to say goodbye to the sweet stuff for good.

Based on this research, some people—or perhaps many people—simply can’t have just a little sugar. Due to their addiction to sugar, these individuals are repeatedly unsuccessful when they try moderation, according to Avena, coauthor of Why Diets Fail (Because You’re Addicted to Sugar). Just like alcoholics must completely avoid alcohol, these individuals need to completely avoid simple sugars, including natural sweeteners such as agave nectar and honey, and greatly reduce all complex carbohydrates, such as bread, cereals, and pasta, that are quickly converted to sugar. Here’s what you can do now to stop cravings and kick your sugar addition.

Breaking the Sugar Habit

The World Health Organization recommends limiting calories from added sugar to less than 10 percent of daily caloric total. About 71 percent of U.S. adults get more than 10 percent of their calories from added sugar, primarily from sugar-sweetened beverages, grain-based desserts, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, and candy. One in 10 Americans get a full 25 percent of their calories from added sugar.

How do we cut sugar from the diet? One way is to eliminate all sugars and flours, and sometimes even grains, which convert to sugars, all at once. This is initially difficult: People tend to experience withdrawal symptoms, such as cravings, headaches, and/or irritability, for the better part of a week when they cut sugar cold turkey. However, if they can get through them, the unpleasant symptoms typically disappear.

Another approach is Avena’s Sugar Freedom Plan, a five-phase program to gradually reduce and eliminate sugars and carbohydrates fueling addiction. It starts with a period of a few weeks of getting rid of sugary beverages, followed by periods of cutting sugar-rich junk foods, complex carbs that quickly turn into sugars, and hidden sugars, such as those found in salad dressings and marinades. Protein such as lean meats, nuts, seeds, eggs, and beans, and non-starchy vegetables should be emphasized, and a little whole fruit often can be eaten because the fiber offsets the effects of the natural fruit sugars.

Seven ways to kick sugar for good

Sweetness is a compelling and powerful taste sensation. You aren’t weak, craven, or a bad person because you enjoy the taste of sugar. But, like a drug, sugar can be addictive. When you eat sugary foods, your blood sugar spikes, and then crashes, which makes you crave even more sugar. What’s more, sugar that is not burned as fuel by the body gets stored as fat—triglycerides specifically, which have a predilection for your midsection. To conquer sugar cravings, lose weight, and reclaim your health, try these interventions:

1. Stop buying it.

An easy rule of thumb—don’t keep food in your home that comes in a box, as it will likely be processed and contain added sugars. Focus on fresh, low-glycemic fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats.

2. Plan your meals ahead.

It’s a lot easier than you might think. Experiment with healthy foods that you’ve never cooked before. For recipe ideas, try the following websites: 

3. Be sure to stay well hydrated.

Whenever you experience sugar cravings, immediately drink some water. It will help stifle the sugar urge. If water doesn’t do the trick, try eating a spoonful of protein: egg, tuna fish, chicken, or organic tofu. If that still doesn’t work, try apples, pickles, or grated cabbage (kimchi is also fine). You need to build up your resistance to sugar. If you blow it occasionally, that’s OK.

4. Take Supplements. 

The trace mineral chromium (use the picolinate form) can also help reduce sugar cravings for most people, usually within a week. Take 200–300 mcg every morning. Chromium works because it helps insulin get glucose into your cells—where sugar can produce energy, not love handles. Most health food stores carry “sugar balancing” formulas that combine chromium with other helpful ingredients, such as vanadium (another trace mineral) and the herbs Gymnema sylvestre and cinnamon.

According to Kat James, author of The Truth About Beauty, blood sugar-stabilizing nutrients help counterbalance blood sugar changes that create cravings and mood swings (not to mention weight problems). In addition to chromium and gymnema, cinnamon, alpha-lipoic acid, and maitake SX fraction also help the body use insulin and metabolize sugar more efficiently. Zinc, another blood sugar-stabilizing mineral, can actually resensitize the taste buds, reducing the need for sugar and salt in order to taste real food, says James. Abstaining from sugar itself reduces cravings of all kinds dramatically.

James adds: Sugar and carb cravings, as well as depression, anxiety, insomnia, and even compulsions such as bulimia and gambling, have been linked to imbalances in the “feel-good” brain chemicals, such as serotonin and dopamine. Supplementing with the amino acid L-tryptophan or its derivative, 5-HTP, as well as L-tyrosine, has been shown in numerous studies to increase serotonin and dopamine, respectively, without side effects.

 5. Sweeten Smartly.

Completely ditching processed white sugar as soon as possible is a good idea for everyone. Don’t spoon it into your coffee, and don’t buy or eat foods that contain sugar, glucose, fructose, sucrose, maltose, and/or dextrose—especially if they’re listed as one of the top five ingredients on the label.

On the other hand, unless you are diabetic or prediabetic and your doctor advises otherwise, it’s OK to have about 1 Tbs. per day of other sweeteners that have nutritional value (mostly due to their high mineral content). These include honey, maple syrup (use only real Grade B stuff), and traditionally extracted agave, which is hard to find. (Most agave syrup is just as bad for you as high fructose corn syrup.)

6. Save Sweets for Saturdays.

Michael Pollan, author of Food Rules and several other books, recommends eating sugar or sweets only on days that begin with “S,” and that’s a good idea. You simply don’t need dessert after every meal. And we’re talking one dessert here—it’s not a license to consume sugar all day. 

7. Get Moving.

In addition to altering your diet, try to exercise a little bit every day, and ramp it up 2–3 times a week. Find movement you enjoy.