How to Eat the Right Amount of Sugar (It’s Not What You Think)

I ate three pieces of cake last night and I felt completely gross. I realized that sugar makes me feel terrible and I have to give it up completely.

I hear that, not infrequently, from my clients. On some level, I think it makes them feel virtuous: I’m going to give up sugar for “intuitive” reasons!

And, look, that’s totally fine. It’s totally fine to do whatever makes you feel good around food – whether that means eating no cake or 100% cake.

But, in my experience, if you are someone who is frustrated with your eating, you might….just maybe….have a tendency to see things in black and white.

I have to give up cake entirely.

I’m going to stop eating all processed sugars.

I have to get dessert out of my head – I’m addicted and in a sugar fog.

Today, I wanted to give you a loving reminder of something you might be forgetting.

Are you ready?

Here it is:

It’s all about dosage.

For almost everything we consume in life, there is a beneficial dosage and a harmful dosage.

This is a standard concept in the world of medicine. If you want to get really technical, almost every drug has a “therapeutic window” — an amount large enough to deliver a beneficial effect, but not so large that it causes a problem for the patient.

Every substance that you consume has a “therapeutic” window, from prescription drugs to Tylenol to water and milk.

Too little water, for example, and you miss out on the benefits of being well-hydrated. Too much, and you become nauseous and dizzy, and could even die.

The key is to have the right dosage.

This same dosage issue applies to eating and feeling good.

You want enough of an indulgent food to be satisfied. But you don’t want to eat so much that you feel gross or guilty or overstuffed.

Of course, easier said that done, right? Here are two things to keep in mind if you try to put this “dosage” concept into action:

1. You’re going to have to experiment.

When any new therapeutic drug is being developed, no one knows the exact right amount to give to patients until they’ve done some experiments. And even when you start using a specific medicine, you or your doctor may adjust your dosage over time — you start by taking one Advil, for example, and then see if you need another.

Guess what? You need to do the same thing with your eating.

Eat a little bit. See how you feel. Are you satisfied? Do you want more? What does your body want?

It’s often a smart strategy to begin by noticing your minimum dosage — what is the minimum amount that you need to feel satisfied? Then slowly increase the amount you consume until you come just shy of your maximum (the amount of a food you can eat before you start feeling a way that you don’t want to feel).

It’s also worth remembering that you might not get it right the first time. You might think you’re eating an amount that will make you feel good, but then realize too late that you ate too much.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to give up sugar entirely! It does, however, mean that you need to note that you consumed too high a dosage of chocolate cake, and that next time you should eat less of it.

But it doesn’t mean that you’ve been “bad” or that you’re a terrible, indulgent person. It just means that you didn’t get the dosage right this time.

2. Hunger and dosage

It’s worthwhile to note how these minimum and maximum thresholds intersect with “hunger.”

You might still be hungry, but suddenly notice that you feel gross while eating a certain food. At that point, stop eating that food! You can still satisfy your hunger, but drop the onion rings, for instance, and think about what would feel good to eat.

Or, you may be full, but still crave more chocolate chip cookies. At that point, promise yourself that you can have chocolate chip cookies the very next time you eat.

You need to respect your hunger, your cravings, and how your body feels. It’s definitely not an easy task.

But I also know from experience, and from watching clients, that it can be done.

It only works if you start experimenting and paying attention. So that’s my challenge to you this week:

Take a food that you love, and start eating it. Notice when you eat just enough to feel satisfied with the flavor — that’s your minimum dosage. And then keep eating, and notice when you start to feel full, or gross (whichever comes first!) — maximum dosage for today. Notice how it varies from day to day.

And I’d love to hear from you in the comments! Have you ever thought applying this concept of “dosage” to your eating? What would be the right dose of one of your favorite foods?

Are you used to “having it together” in your life, but your eating + weight is the little piece that’s not going right? Check out Katie’s free “What’s Your Eating Style” ebook — a beautiful, 22-page ebook that lets you identify your eating archetype, and offers detailed, personalized practices to try TODAY.

If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

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