4 Ways to Reduce the Sugar in Your Diet and Lose Weight

August 26th, 2020  by  Emily Barker, Health Coach at Hinge Health, NBC-HWC

Our approach at Hinge Health goes beyond just prescribing physical therapy exercises. Health coaches, like me, also work with our participants to look at their chronic pain more holistically. For example, we looked at other factors like weight, diet, and lifestyle to tackle chronic back pain more effectively.

Hinge Health participant, Brian, came into the program with persistent back pain. As Brian’s Health Coach, I helped him address his back pain by building a daily habit of movement through Hinge Health’s clinical care model involving virtual 1-on-1 physical therapists and clinicians, behavioral health coaching, and sensor technology.

During one of our coaching sessions, I discussed with Brian other lifestyle and diet issues that might also be affecting his chronic back pain. We honed in on Brian’s goal to lose weight. Brian shared, ”I’ve already been trying to make a conscious effort to avoid fried food. I was thinking that maybe I need to cut back on sugar, too. I drink coffee, but I usually just freehand how much sugar I put in it.” He wanted to cut back on his sugar intake, but he wasn’t sure how to get started.

Though using small amounts of sugar in your diet is okay, many of us are eating far too much. Sugar is abundant in our food supply and shows up in many places including sodas, coffee drinks, energy and sports drinks, juices, condiments, processed foods, baked goods, and yogurt. It is easy to eat too much without realizing how it contributes to weight gain.

Sugar, sugar-sweetened beverages, and refined carbs (like white bread) can also cause inflammation in the body and lead to higher pain levels. By working towards a goal of cutting back on the amount of sugar he was consuming, Brian was also making progress towards his goal of reducing his chronic back pain.

4 ways to reduce the sugar in your diet & lose weight

Sugar is naturally found in foods like fruits, vegetables and milk, and this is considered healthy. The danger lies in the added sugars found in processed foods. If you want to reduce your sugar intake it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Here are four tips that worked for Brian to help reduce his sugar intake.

1. Measure it. As Peter Drucker says, “What gets measured, gets managed.” When you’re trying to make a diet change, it is important to first be aware of how much sugar you are consuming. Once you have an accurate measure of how much sugar you are consuming, you can work to make improvements.

Step one for Brian was to track how much sugar he was consuming each day. He had a hunch that it was a lot. It turns out that he had been eating far more than he realized!

  • 2 cups of coffee with 1 Tablespoon of sugar each = 25 grams of sugar
  • Energy drink = 27 grams of sugar
  • 1 can of soda = 33 grams of sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons of Nutella = 21 grams of sugar

Brian discovered he was eating a total of 106 grams of sugar each day without knowing. The American Heart Association recommends men consume a maximum of 150 calories or 36 grams of sugar per day, and women consume a maximum of 100 calories or 24 grams per day for good health. As you can see, Brian had exceeded the recommendation by 70 grams a day!

2. Reduce Sugary drinks. With the awareness of just how much sugar he was consuming, Brian was able to make some small adjustments to his daily beverages. He started by cutting out the sugar in his coffee and eliminating his daily energy drink and soda. When I checked in with Brian a few weeks later he was happy to report, “I've kept my sugar intake way down. Not having an energy drink helped quite a bit. I have been drinking my coffee in the morning nearly black, which isn’t my favorite, but it's doable. I’ve also consumed a ton more water too!”

Low-Sugar Drink Options to Choose Instead:

  • Water
  • Sparkling water with fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice
  • Herbal teas (both hot or iced)

3. Read food labels. Sugar can hide in a variety of places and processed foods are a big contributor to the sugars in our diet. By reading labels you can become more aware of how much sugar is contained in the product. To see if a food has added sugars, you will need to do some detective work. Check the ingredients list and note the order in which sugar appears in the list. Skip tems with sugar in the top three ingredients. Ingredients are listed in the order of highest percentage first, so you know if it is listed in the top three, it contains a high amount of sugar.

4. Cut back on sugary desserts. Brian was also going for a heaping spoonful of Nutella to cure his sweet tooth after dinner. When he measured the amount, he realized he was eating 2 tablespoons a day. While it may seem like a healthy choice since it is made from hazelnuts, Brian discovered that sugar is the first ingredient on the Nutella nutrition facts label. Brian decided to swap his Nutella habit for a handful of almonds and a few dark chocolate chips.

Lower Sugar Dessert Ideas:

  • Freeze a cup of grapes or other frozen fruit like cherries or mango, they taste delicious frozen!
  • Try dark chocolate. The higher the cocoa content, the lower the sugar
  • Unsweetened Greek yogurt with frozen berries and a dash of cinnamon

These small changes led to big results for Brian in reaching his weight loss goal. He said cutting back on sugar also gave him more energy. He felt so good that he started making even more improvements to his diet. Brian was pleased to share: “I am now keeping the fast food to a minimum and if I have to eat something out, I'll try to choose something on the more wholesome side. As a result I woke up this morning at 198 lbs! It is the first time in 5 years I've been under 200 lbs and I’m feeling great!”

At the same time, Brian shared, “I’ve also gotten to the point where doing my exercises is part of my routine now and I notice my back feels a lot better.”

Brian’s story is just one example of how virtual 1-on-1 behavioral health coaching can make an impact on lifestyle changes and help relieve chronic pain over the long-term. Working with me as his coach, I was able to support him every step of the way so he could make sustainable changes to both his diet and exercise to accomplish his goals of weight loss and reduced back pain.

Through virtual 1-on-1 physical therapists & clinicians, behavioral health coaches, and sensor technology, Hinge Health offers a holistic approach to reducing chronic back and joint pain from the comfort of your home. If you are an employee, ask your employer or health plan if they offer Hinge Health. If you are an employer or health plan, find out how Hinge Health’s virtual clinical care model and Digital MSK Clinic drives long-term member outcomes by requesting a demo below.

Emily Barker, Health Coach at Hinge Health, NBC-HWC

About the Author

Emily Barker is a Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach at Hinge Health with a Bachelor's degree from Santa Clara University. She is passionate about helping others to live a healthy lifestyle, avoid chronic disease, and reduce persistent pain. Boise-based, Emily enjoys riding her bike on the greenbelt, exploring farmers markets, and spending time with her three teenagers and husband.

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