Ate Too Much Sugar? 9 Tricks to Help Reverse the Binge
If you overindulged your sweet tooth, use these simple, nutritionist-approved tactics to reclaim your healthy eating routine today.
You drink a flavored latte. One moment you’re wired; the next, you’re making a beeline to the couch. What gives? You’ve just downed too much sugar. Your body goes on a physical and emotional roller coaster after having too much of the sweet stuff. “The minute you put a sweet in your mouth, you get a surge of dopamine, a feel-good hormone with addictive properties,” says Amanda Bontempo, RD, a nutritionist at NYU Langone’s Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center. But the high doesn’t last.
Step 1: Realize what’s going on
As sugar floods your bloodstream, the pancreas releases insulin to control blood glucose levels. This suppresses the “fullness” hormone leptin, which makes your brain give you the green light to grab more candy. Glucose is rapidly digested, and your spiked dopamine and blood sugar levels fall quickly. “The crash depends on the person. It can be 15 minutes to a couple of hours after eating,” says Bontempo. “Your instinct is to eat more sugar to get another jolt of energy, but it’s really important to resist. Once your willpower bank is tapped, it becomes increasingly challenging to make healthy choices.” Here are more scary things sugar can do to your body.
Step 2: Have a spoonful of peanut butter
After a sugar binge, you may want to swear off all calories. However, eating food with other nutrients helps ward off that undesirable sugar crash caused by quick digestion. “A spoonful of peanut butter or handful of nuts gives you fat and protein to slow digestion,” says Jennifer Powell Bolton, PhD, RDN, a professor of nutrition at Metropolitan State University of Denver. “Or try hummus with vegetables, which have fiber that helps slow the absorption of simple sugars.” Not sure if you’re nearing the limit? These are the 9 clear signs you’re eating too much sugar.
Step 3: Take the stairs
Resist the temptation to nap after eating too many sweets. “Get moving,” says Bontempo. “This will help your muscles use the blood sugar instead of just storing it.” It doesn’t have to be a sweaty, hour-long cycling class. Simply walking up the stairs or taking a walk around the block will help. In a 2016 position statement, the American Diabetes Association notes that walking for 15 minutes after a meal lowers blood sugar levels. Here’s why blood sugar matters so much to your health.
Step 4: Drink tea with lemon
Green tea and lemon are both diuretics, which means they’ll make you take more bathroom breaks. “You’re not directly eliminating the sugar, but you are forcing your blood to pump through your kidneys faster,” says Bontempo. Remember to also stay well-hydrated with H20, which helps you feel full and counteracts suppressed leptin levels.
Step 5: Plan tomorrow’s breakfast
A low-sugar, balanced breakfast is imperative the day after a sugar overload. “The ideal breakfast is high in protein, moderate in fat, and low in carbs,” says Bontempo. “The protein and fat keep you full, and fewer carbs encourage you to burn yesterday’s stored-up sugar energy.” Try a vegetable omelet topped with avocado slices or have a cup of whole fruit. Fruit has sugar that is far less concentrated than a sugary cereal or breakfast pastry, and it’s bundled with fiber, fluid, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Another tip nutritionists stress: Don’t go overboard on coffee. “It’s a no-calorie drink, but we often add a lot of creams and sugars to it,” says Jason Ewoldt, MS, RDN, a wellness dietitian the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program. “What starts off as a 0-calorie option turns into several teaspoons of sugar before you even start the day.” Consider tea or have coffee with just a dash of cream, or try these calorie-free tea and coffee hacks.
Step 6: Put the kibosh on condiments
Dressings, sauces, and other condiments may hinder your healthy-eating efforts. One tablespoon of ketchup, for example, has 4 grams (1 teaspoon) of sugar, according to U.S. dietary guidelines. “Many condiments can be high in sugar, but it’s tricky because there are essentially more than 60 different names for sugar,” says Ewoldt. So get to know foods with hidden sugars.
“When you’re looking at the label, it might not say sugar, but it could say high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, rice syrup, or molasses, which are all essentially sugar.” In fact, there are at least 40 sneaky nicknames for sugar you might not recognize. Drizzle leafy greens with olive oil or spread avocado on a turkey burger to avoid going overboard with sugar.
Step 7: Have a smoothie
Blend a veggie-rich smoothie the day after a binge for satiating fiber, but go easy on the fruit and eliminate the juice. It’s easy to drink several servings of fruit in one sitting when making a smoothie with juice, which is more than you need in a single meal.
Mix one part fruit to two parts vegetables, like spinach or kale. Add protein, such as unsweetened yogurt or nut butter. Skip a juice base, and instead use unsweetened soymilk, unsweetened almond milk, or unsweetened green tea (it’s flavorless in a smoothie, but sneaks in healthy antioxidants). Need more ideas? Check out these sensible superfood smoothie recipes.
Step 8: Banish temptation
Your brain may still be craving that dopamine rush after eating too much sugar, so remove any temptation. “Get rid of the candy,” says Bontempo. “Donate it or bring it to work.” In a 2015 International Journal of Obesity study of 100 participants, researchers found that those who kept food in plain sight were more likely to be obese and ate more sweets and less healthy food than participants with a normal weight. Another way to reign in the temptation: Make these easy food swaps to naturally reduce sugar intake.
Step 9: Forget the guilt trip
Take a deep breath and go easy on yourself. “Conventional research tells us it takes about 3,500 calories to gain a pound of fat,” says Bontempo, adding that that’s the equivalent of about 44 Fun Size Snickers bars, or nearly 60 Fun Size Skittles bags. “Even if you ate a lot of candy, it doesn’t directly translate into weight gain.” The next time you have a treat, practice savoring and enjoying it. A 2015 study found that people who associate eating chocolate cake with guilt reported unhealthier eating habits compared with those who viewed it as a celebration. Try having a square of dark chocolate, which is healthier and less processed than other sweet treats. “Being mindful and eating things like that provides a lot more satisfaction than just chewing it once or twice and then swallowing,” says Ewoldt. If mindful eating of sweets is helpful, check out more ways to kick a sugar addiction.
- Amanda Bontempo, RD, nutritionist, NYU Langone Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center, New York, NY
- Jennifer Powell Bolton, PhD, RDN, professor of nutrition, Metropolitan State University of Denver, CO
- American Diabetes Association: "Physical Activity/Exercise and Diabetes: A Position Statement of the American Diabetes Association"
- Jason Ewoldt, MS, RDN, dietitian, Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program, Rochester, MN
- Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: "Cut Down on Added Sugars"
- International Journal of Obesity: "Home environment and psychosocial predictors of obesity status among community-residing men and women"
- Psychology & Health: "Associating a prototypical forbidden food item with guilt or celebration: relationships with indicators of (un)healthy eating and the moderating role of stress and depressive symptoms"