Q: Hi, I have been a heavy drinker for almost 20 years, borderline alcoholic I would say, and was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes last year, a little over a month ago I just went cold turkey and haven’t touched alcohol since then, only problem is since a few days ago I have been craving sweets, which since I am diabetic, are taboo for me. I do indulge because as someone mentioned above, its like a wave which one can’t avoid being sucked under, is there any alternative to sugar which I can eat instead or do I just need to mentally force myself to lay off like I did with alcohol? Thank you for your time!

A: Hi Raina, thanks for your question and WELL DONE! You’ve done absolutely brilliantly to give up alcohol under your own steam.

You’ve obviously read the article so you know that the sugar cravings are totally normal for some of us. Being diabetic, I guess this is about you managing them in a safe and healthy way for yourself. It is possible to surf the waves when they come – it’s all about finding your balance and taking control – just like you’ve done with the alcohol.

I’m going to give you some tips but I want to give you a big, encouraging proviso first… you have done an amazing thing to give up the alcohol. This will already have massively reduced the amount of sugar you’ve been absorbing. This is a great achievement and you deserve lots and lots of pats on the back, hugs and applause. You also deserve rewards, nurturing and you-time. You deserve to celebrate and acknowledge what you’ve done and how far you’ve come.

I also want to make it clear that I am not a medical professional and would advise that you consult with your diabetes doctor, nurse or specialist regarding sugar or alternative replacements in your diet.

Some people find that when they stop drinking, they have extra energy and motivation. It gives them the positivity and the boost to make other lifestyle changes too. And, some find that eating a healthy diet, getting on top of sugar-cravings, getting fit, etc is a great way to keep the motivation going, to keep engaged and focused on taking their lives in the direction they want to go in. When you’re concentrating on healthy lifestyle targets and goals and celebrating each little achievement along the way, it can really help you to stop thinking about drinking and to revel in the alcohol-free life you’ve chosen.

Others find that dealing with one thing at a time is enough. That they need to get confident with living life sober before they can start working on the other things they want to change. They can feel overwhelmed if they start doing too much too soon and find it de-motivating to have to think about too many lifestyle changes at once so they might indulge in their sugar-cravings for a while. If you’re diabetic then this could be a dangerous route to go down but it could be possible to introduce some less harmful substitutes to make life easier on you – again, this is something you would need to consult on with a  medical specialist.

The metaphor that has just sprung to mind is this: you know you get people who go to the beach and want to go for a swim in the sea? And, you get some people who like to dive straight in to the waves and the cold and who just start swimming – and you get others who prefer to inch in slowly and wait till they’re comfortable before they go deeper…

If you imagine that the actual swimming with your shoulders under the water is the way you want to be living your life, complete with all your healthy new sugar-free habits and activities – how you get there is going to be down to you. You’re still going to get there if you’re inching in or if you dive under. No one way is better or worse, they are just different ways of getting in the water that suit different people. We all have to choose the way that works for us. Each method has its pros and cons.

You probably already know whether you’re likely to be overwhelmed or motivated by getting on top of the sugar cravings right now. If you need to inch in to living a full and healthy life sober, If it feels too much work to deal with ditching the sugar on top of staying sober, you might be able to find a way of creating safe, alternative ways to satisfy the desire for something sweet that wouldn’t risk your health - get advice from your diabetes nurse/doctor or medical professional.

On the other hand, if you think that dealing with the desire for sugar and getting a healthy, balanced lifestyle or diet straightaway will help engage and motivate you, go for it. You can employ similar strategies to the ones that worked for you in changing your drinking habit.

Bear in mind that the following suggestions are coming from a non-medical mind and are just my ideas from what has worked for me and other people. Some of them might however, in the right proportions, allow you to satisfy a sweet craving when it comes.

Some of my ideas for sugar “replacements” that might help relieve any sugar cravings and would be less “sugary” than say, a chocolate bar or a packet of biscuits:

  1. a small square or two of dark chocolate as a sweet treat
  2. a hot chocolate drink made with a healthy milk or milk substitute of your choice and cacao powder with enough sweetener, or sugar substitute to make it palatable and enjoyable so it feels like a treat
  3. plain yoghurt with a drizzle of honey, or other sugar substitute
  4. natural coconut water is great for a sweet taste and for providing a plentiful dose of healthy minerals and is very good for hydration
  5. you can make yourself healthier versions of chocolate brownies using all sorts of vegetable substitutes such as beetroot, sweet potato, courgette, etc. Find recipes online and experiment with getting the amount of sugar/sweetener you add in down to the lowest level you can while still retaining the sense of treat and enjoyment you want from it
  6. fruits are a healthy alternative and can give you a sweet taste hit at the same time as giving your body some healthy nutrients and fibre (keep skins on where you can as that is where the fibre is)
  7. make yourself a fruit smoothie – there are plenty of great recipes online. Smoothies are my go-to sweet treat when I want something nutritious and full of fibre
  8. you can find recipes online for healthy chia puddings (chia seeds are full of protein and help to “jellify” liquids)
  9. AVOID “healthy” snack bars – too long to go into here but most of them are just as full of sugar as a chocolate bar

Discuss this with an appropriate medical specialist, try whatever alternatives are recommended and experiment until you find the ones that work for you and then build them into your eating habits.

You might decide it’s just easier to ditch the sugar in the same way you ditched the alcohol. If you do, then I’m confident you have the commitment, strategies and strength to do it.

You also might want to think about how you can “treat” or “reward” yourself in ways that don’t involve food or drink. For example, I consider it a treat to lie on the sofa and indulge in a box set with a cup of lemon and ginger tea when I am relaxing in the evening. It doesn’t have to go in your mouth to be a treat!

Stay in touch and let me know how you get on, Jo

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