Is there a way to stop liking sugar?

by diegocaleiro2 min read11th Jun 201441 comments


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Kurzweil calls sugar the great white Devil. 

Seinfeld contends that cookies should be called chocolate-sons-of-bitches. 


Once upon a time I was paleo, and didn't feel carb cravings. But being paleo all the time is nearly as hard as being polyphasic. 

There must be a final solution. The lone star tick equivalent for sugar. 


Is there any effective way to stop liking sugar, chocolate, cheesecake etc??? Medidation, allergy, neural training, traumatizing, association learning, operant conditioning, transcranial stimulation. Anything that will stop my hands from eating those damn, evil, malignant objects? 

I just don't want to have my Cryo-Lapid saying "Here lies he who was born with one or two standard deviation greater desire for the set CnH2nOn (n is between 3 and 7) than the other members of his species, and whose IQ, many standard deviations above was not able to contain such desire".

I know dozens of others here face the same problem. Can't we solve this? It appears much simpler than world domination, moral uncertainty, FAI and CEV. 


Edit: I know this is unusual, but I'll try to compress my responses to the suggestions given to me in particular (thanks by the way) here:


On inducing nausea and vomit along with sugar:  I tried totally didn't work. Feel free to laugh at me.

On noticing what it feels like later: I totally feel ok after gorging 200 grams of white chocolate. I mean it. I feel nothing. I'll have it with mountain dew and cinnamon if you prefer.

On overeating to get traumatized: When I was 18 I decided to stop eating sugar, I bought about 5 kilos of ultra sugary stuff of all sorts, and I eat them over the course of a few days. I stopped for a bit, but soon regained my strength and desire.

On increasing desire for bitterness instead of decreasing for sweets: Bitter things taste terrible. I hate coffee, beer alcoholic drinks, arugula, scotch, anything that people call acquired tastes. I kind of commit the mind projection fallacy, and somewhere deep down, I alieve that people also hate all that stuff, but they pretend they like it for the same reason they pretend they like suits and ties.

On forgetting system one and just using the classic system two avoidance (not going hungry to supermarkets etc): I do this, but it is insufficient (It's sufficient to avoid making me fat, not to avoid making me unhealthy).

On making deals so that those around you don't expose sugar to you: Yes, I make those deals, and they help.

On munchin and spitting what you want to hate one at a time: Will try, will post results later.

On changing your sense of identity into "I don't like sugar": I do that with other stuff, and it is very effective. I don't want it to fail with sugar and therefore cause me to trust my overall identity less, so I'm not trying it with something with such high likelihood of failure, but others who like sugar less should try.

On having more Sex and Sport: Tried, helps to keep healthy and looking good, makes no difference whatsoever in my desire for the high octane devil.

Slowly progressing to dark chocolate: I don't love chocolate, I love sugar. I tolerate milk chocolate so that I can get that fuzzy sugar deep down my tongue. If all the cocoa in the world disappeared tomorrow, my life would be worse, because on fewer occasions other people would be eating chocolate that is too bitter for me (like chocolate cakes and such) and thus I would have even more occasions to infect myself with the disease agent.  Thank goodness for other (crazy) people liking dark chocolate.

My overall take is, thanks everyone, I'll try the spitting thing, I had already tried nearly all strategies suggested here, and I thoroughly ask for recommendations besides those above.




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41 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 12:40 AM
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I did a ketogenic diet for about 6 months. After deciding to eat carbs again, everything was really sweet tasting, even potatoes and bread. Desserts were just unbearably sweet. I'm on day 2 of starting a ketogenic diet, and my body is definitely craving carbs... but that will soon stop, and I'll be free.

I recall the claim on LessWrong that you can train yourself to hate chocolate by getting a pound of M&Ms, putting each one in your mouth and chewing it up, then spitting it out rather than swallowing it. After a while, all you'll feel is the crappy taste and not the feeling of having eaten it.

Dunno how that would go for sugar in general.

I did a low-carb diet for a while (I have given it up and am revelling in sugar and starch) and anything sugary was like OH MY GOD CRACK on my cheat day.

I've tried this with chocolate chip cookies and it worked, but only for that specific brand of cookies. I think it's because my mind remembered that box very clearly, so a lot of the disgust became associated with it and now the actual cookies. If someone wants to try it, try to avoid this mistake.
Also, spitting it out is not enough. You have to actively feel disgust as you are looking, smelling, touching, and tasting the cookie. "Oh my god, looks like squishy it is. Looks like shit. Argh, that nauseating fake-sugary smell is so disgusting. Do I want a bite? Oh god, no, how revolting. I'm about to puke." I'd go through that for each cookie in the box (about 2 dozen), then crumble it in my fingers, and throw it in the trashcan.

I'd like to pitch the identity angle, which worked for me very well (your mileage may vary, of course). I ate very little processed sugar foods (chocolate, cookies, etc) at various points in my life due to what I saw myself as:

  • "I'm not the kind of person who eats processed foods, because processed foods are yucky" is part of our family lore and works to this day
  • "I'm not the kind of person to waste money on things like cookies if I can make them myself for less" arose during a low-income but savvy time. It works because when you bake cookies/cakes yourself you're free to use much less sugar.
  • "I'm the kind of person who enjoys simple foods/Sugary foods are an indulgence, so of course I don't eat a lot of them", my current one.
  • "I can get addicted to substances very easily, so better not overdo it" (also works for alcohol)
  • "I'm the kind of person who doesn't snack between meals, because it's uncultured" - trying to incorporate into my identity at the moment.

Once something is part of your identity, following it becomes a joyful, self-affirming activity rather than a willpower drain.

I also found that when I'm eating common supermarket sweets, I eat a lot because I try to satisfy a craving for flavour that these foods lack. If I substitute them with home-baked flavourful cakes or good chocolate, I tend to eat much less, since my craving is satisfied with the first bite. I'm not sure how making a calorie-rich food (that you don't eat a lot of) flavourful influences your body fat setpoint though (

I have a reputation for not liking sugar and thinking that most desserts are too sweet. The degree that I would have disliked sugar, sans my reputation for disliking it, has become blurry. Not sure where other people's expectations of me stop and my own preferences begin.

I also find the response from others, is generally more positive in their opinion on why you are refraining from sweets, if it is because you don't like it. There is something about people that likes to tempt others in to failure, and not maliciously. For example, if someone is having a cookie and someone else is in the room who also likes to eat cookies, but is controlling their impulses, you will might hear "come on just have one with me" or even guilting them or mock their diet. No one does this to me because they know me as a person who does not like sugar.

To address your point of

On changing your sense of identity into "I don't like sugar": I do that with other stuff, and it is very effective. I don't want it to fail with sugar and therefore cause me to trust my overall identity less, so I'm not trying it with something with such high likelihood of failure, but others who like sugar less should try.

I totally see how you don't want it to become a negative spiral. For the sake of completeness, a thinking pattern that helps me in such cases is to "try on" an identity for 2 weeks or so. This feels very non-committal, so if it fails, there is less of "I'm bad at this method/my other identities must be unstable as well" but rather "well, this identity needs tweaking at the very least, but my method is still fine" sort of feeling.

What you did with summarizing the suggestions is really cool by the way. It's not a lot of added effort for you since you make a summary for yourself anyway, and I really appreciated a short summary of all the comments.

Become a snob. Eat really good desserts infrequently instead of crappy ones often. This has worked really well for me. I still get to enjoy homemade donuts made with real butter but can't stand the supermarket garbage. I'll second the identity tricks mentioned as dovetailing nicely with this.

From anecdotal evidence, it is quite common to give up sugary sodas while still eating other sweets. If you currently drink soda, consider starting by trying to replace them without worrying about other sweets.

Also, I recently changed up a sugar-purchasing habit - there's a shop along my typical walking route to work where I got into the habit of buying candy. I switched this habit to buying sunchips, and then eventually dropped it.

I've gradually inched up the %cocoa in the chocolate I eat. Now 85% dark is my go to for chocolate cravings, dessert/sweet snack cravings etc, and I find sweeter deserts less appealing. I go through A LOT of 85% dark now though, so if anyone knows of associated health concerns, you should probably let me know!

Not quite what you are asking for, but I got in the habit of having whole fruit for dessert after most meals instead of soda, juices or sweets. It seems that over time, if you avoid soda and sweets, fruit tastes better and better.

I'm not going to lie and say that I enjoy fresh berries more than I would enjoy a chocolate milkshake, but I find I can live with the substitution.

Of course fruits still contain sugar but it's probably a much healthier way of consuming sugar than with more refined/concentrated sweet foods.

I have played with this (successfully) a decent amount.

It's about the associations, and there are a few ways to get there. Perhaps most importantly, you don't need to "hack" anything in. Excess sugar gives you plenty of bad experiences with which to condition against excess sugar consumption - you just have to make the connection.

For me, it happened automatically as I started reading into nutrition stuff. When I read things, I tend to read slowly and take a moment and really think about the implications. That imaginary association was enough to start me on the path of eating less sweets. I got my girlfriend to eat less sweets which gave her the opportunity to notice how much better she felt when not eating sweets - and how much worse she felt when she would eat them again. Paying attention to the expected and actual outcomes while eating is enough. Neither of us abhor all sweetness now, but it's much toned down and my taste is exactly where I want it. For example, a few black berries on the top of a paleo waffle? Mmmm! Syrup? Ew. Gross.

Since then, I've been able to change my tastes more deliberately. It's a bit weird to describe to someone who hasn't had similar experiences, but I basically imagine eating the food and focus on "exploring the taste" while also imagining the good feeling "qualia" of knowing something is going to be good for me and help me feel good. I used to hate pickles, but when I realized that they were fermented and that I should probably like them, I started imaging what it would be like to enjoy the taste of pickles, and by the time I got my hands on a pickle, I thoroughly enjoyed it (and have since).

Also, I've used hypnosis to tweak peoples tastes. You have to be a bit mindful of 'ecology of fit' if you want a change to be lasting, but it's a great way to explore new experiences. I can't remember exactly why I didn't try for a permanent change at the time, but it was a pretty eye opening experience being able to toggle my girlfriends taste for sweets with literally the snap of my fingers. She went from craving and about to eat a piece of milk chocolate to throwing it on the ground and laughing about how she almost put that disgusting thing in her mouth.

I've been thinking about this problem recently, and one idea I had is to make something like Alan Carr's book The easy way to stop smoking. This book seems to be surprisingly effective at helping people stop smoking, from what I gather, it somehow makes the idea of smoking painfully disgusting and unappealing - I assume it is in the same vein as hypnosis. I was planning on checking it out at the library sometime, and trying to write a sugar version. Perhaps also do some preliminary experiments with hypnosis, to see if it can work for this.

I used Carr's book to stop smoking, worked like a charm (~19 years smoke-free now). He's written a book about dieting too, but that didn't work at all for me.

What was different?

I'm not sure, because I don't remember the diet book very well. But one major difference is that even if you're on a diet, you've still got to eat – you can't just quit food, like you can with cigarettes.

even if you're on a diet, you've still got to eat – you can't just quit food

You can. :)

I am waiting for when they start selling outside of US.

Maybe there is no way to stop liking sugar, but there may be ways to like other things ''more'', thus avoiding the need to satisfy the need/want with sugar by filling the time and desire with another want.

It is much easier to shape a behavior toward another behavior instead of stopping the unwanted desire (I posted a review of an application of this method to parenting). So one way might be to shape toward liking bitterness more (as recommended in another comment - but somehow I don't think that would be strong enough.

I'd rather guess that sex and sport (those kinds that produce your own drugs like long distance running), a demanding but satisfying family life can be ways to shape away from the habit of eating sweets. I also notices that significant life changes (however they come about) pose a chance to totally alter ones habits (for example I totally quit tv when starting my first relationship - I had better things on my mind and nevel looked back).

Not having sweets at home and not being able to buy them (e.g. by having someone else do the shopping or shopping seldomly) could also help.

I have a deal with my girlfriend that if she buys some sweets, she is supposed to put them in a specific place, where I am supposed to never look (as opposed to leaving them in a visible place).

I used to be pretty fat and eat lots of junk food. Then I started playing sports really competitively. I worked out every day and started eating a healthy diet with zero junk food. This was a few years ago, so I don't recall how long the transition to zero junk food took, but certainly now, the only food I ever have cravings for are dried magoes, dried dates, and 85+% Dark chocolate. Cookies, cake, etc just don't look like food to me. It's like I don't even have an affordance for eating them.

I supposed during the process, I used the "identity" strategy to avoid junk food, since I saw myself as an uber-disciplined athlete.

I have zero will power for the things I do crave. I avoid eating them by:

  1. Not buying them. (mostly)
  2. Keeping them out of my sight. (as soon as I see them, I'll probably want to eat them).

In summary, just eat really healthy for a while, and see if your cravings just disappear. After I became healthier, I basically trusted that whatever my body was craving (more dried fruit) was probably good for me.

Also, since I was working out a lot, I ate lots of carbs in the form of fresh fruit. I've heard paleo people say that you're allowed to eat more carbs the more you workout.

Try the sugar substitute xylitol. From what I have read it is healthy. Unfortunately for me, although I love the taste of xylitol candy, it does unspeakable (in a too much information sort of way) things to me.

As far as chocolate goes, simply opt for dark chocolate with a high cacao concentration. It doesn't have much sugar and is actually healthy.

I don't have myself cravings for sugar, so I can't speak from personal experience about how to get rid of it. As far as I know there are however many new agey people who do develop a taste for healthy food.

If you want to go down that route I would recommend you to get better at tasting more complex favors. If the only thing you can taste is the amount of salt and sugar than you will use those variables for food selections. If you can taste a wide diversity of different flavors than you don't need those simply flavors. Mindful eating an exploring how different healthy food tastes like can be your adventure.

I eat 85% and 90% dark chocolate as part of my paleo diet and to reduce sugar cravings.

I trained myself to loathe sugar and other carbs with the full range of the "Im/purity" component of morality (see Moral Foundation Theory). Since one aspect of religion is morality and especially the Impurity aspect, I gathered all Scriptural references to the evils of carbs in an essay.

I really had it bad (e.g., my hand would reach out for a cookie, as if my instinct) before, and I have actually been off sugar and most grains for two years or so, though I have not lost weight.

Summary: Think or say "vomit" whenever sugar is mentioned or seen, and you'll eventually come around.

I like sugar a lot less now that I eat it more rarely. I switched from liking milk chocolate to 88 percent dark.

My biggest tip to stop your hands from eating carbs is to stop your wallet from paying for them. It's a lot easier not to buy a box of donuts in the grocery store than to not eat them once you have them in your house.

One thing that helps me maintain low carb most of the time is to have cheat days. I know these are definitely slowing down any weight loss effects I gain but they make it much less depressing whenever I do happen to crave sugar on no carb days.

My biggest tip to stop your hands from eating carbs is to stop your wallet from paying for them. It's a lot easier not to buy a box of donuts in the grocery store than to not eat them once you have them in your house.

To make that easier, try and go shopping when you're not hungry. My husband says it doesn't make a difference for him, but for many people (like me) it totally does.

For me, I stopped craving sugar after I stopped eating so much of it. Why did I stop eating it? Well, that's because I think I changed my identity from "Someone who eats whatever they want when they're hungry" to "someone who only eats what he has decided is optimal" (and sugary foods are often not in that category).

By the way, I'm going purely by simple observation and self-observation, but I think it's a fool's errand to try to reprogram System 1. System 1 is like a petulant, nasty, gluttonous inner child who will never ever grow up.

The better strategy, in my opinion, is containment, i.e. to come up with strategies to limit and control System 1's impact on one's actual actions and decisions in life.

[-][anonymous]6y 1

It might be worth examining why you found paleo so difficult and attempting to mitigate those factors before looking for an entirely different solution.

Paleo is difficult for me for the same reason that polyphasic is. I'm an extremely social creature. I hang around nearly 40 people a week, and I share meals with random people in random places at random times all the time. I just can't afford a constraint like napping times or not eating high glycemic index carbs (go to a restaurant, then to a bakery, then to a dhelli then to a burger place, and see the percentage of low carb dishes. It is way below 3%, also, in parties and dinners at people's houses, you just don't have a choice).

Sucralose works for me as a replacement of actual sugar.

I dunno. Maybe you can exploit classical conditioning and give yourself a taste aversion by consuming something sweet along with something that will make you nauseated and vomit?

I have successfully not liked sugar, candy, sweets, sodas, etc. for many years. I did this by noticing and then focusing on the cruddy sugar drop feeling one experiences after eating something like a large portion of ice cream. After a while you train yourself to feel revulsion when you see ice cream (or whatever). I actually sort of regret doing this, but not entirely, because then I look around at how hard other people have to struggle against these super stimulus foods.

I've never heard of anybody successfully training themselves to genuinely dislike the taste of sugar, as opposed to the idea of eating it. I've been succesfully avoiding sugar for years and on the rare occasions when I do eat some I thoroughly enjoy it. It might be easier to train yourself to enjoy bitter tastes. This is releatively easy, because drugs are often bitter. Strong unsweetened black coffee on an empty stomach might be a good place to start. You'll associate the bitterness with the caffeine high and eventually enjoy bitterness even without the caffeine. If you have high caffeine tolerance then taking a break to reduce it first might help. If you don't enjoy caffeine then other drugs could work, eg. drinking heavily hopped American IPA style beers.

Sugar is often used to mask bitterness, so enjoying bitterness should help make sugar avoidance easier.

I don't promise this will work, but I found my desire for sugar significantly reduced by trying to go cold turkey on refined sugar specifically.

It's a pain to do, because it's in an amazing variety of foods, but after a few weeks of cravings I found sugar desire decreased massively.

I can't tell you a magic, silver bullet cure. The boring old advice: go shopping on a full stomach, buy only non-sugary foods. Make the deadly sins of sloth and gluttony work against each other by keeping sugar an annoying distance away from you. Shop at health food stores to avoid temptation. If you drive, pay at the pump rather than going into the gas station, etc.

When I was about 12 years old, my parents took me on a cruise to Alaska. Drinks were not included, but they offered an "unlimited coca-cola brand drinks" for like $30 or so. My parents bought it for my little brother and me and I drank nothing but coke products for 6 days, then the last day swore off of soda forever. Now, over a decade later, I still don't drink soda at all and have no desire to.

It reminds me of Morgan Spurlock from Super-Size Me who says he now only eats a hamburger maybe once a month, and not the fast-food kind. You could try doing something similar for sugar, though there's probably a better way.

I have eaten a version of the Paleo diet on and off, for a combined total "on" of probably about 2 and a half years and I agree that once you've made the "fat as primary fuel source adaptation," you really don't crave sugar at all. If you don't want to do a full paleo diet, I wonder if starting on a paleo diet, you could re-introduce complex carbs like beans and brown rice without reverting all the way back to craving sugar. Might be worth a shot.

I do not think there's no effective way to rewire an instinct as basic to our physiology as liking simple sugars. (Also...for me, the hardest part of paleo was the cooking, not the eating. Were you getting enough fruit and animal fat?)

Have you tried substituting cheesecake with peaches? They're both equally sweet. If so, what was your aversion?

Cheesecake can be a rather low-glycemic dessert. I don't know whether some people way overdo the cheese when some sugar is added.

The operative word being can... I'm going to hazard a guess that most people buy commercially prepared, high sugar cheesecake.

(I think the simplest way to stay healthy is to insist on cooking everything you eat from scratch or almost-scratch. You'll start eating mostly fruits, veggies, nuts, meat, rice and legumes out of sheer laziness. Grounding up wheat into flour and baking cakes? Ain't nobody got time for that! The main danger is the possibility of skipping meals for laziness or procrastinating until you get into the "too hungry to cook" stage and are forced to order out.)

Becoming diabetic will provide an extremely strong and immediate incentive to control your sugar intake.

Unfortunately, I do not know anything with fewer health implications that will help you.

There are, of course, plenty of sometimes-effective tricks for dieting in general.

Also, not all diabetics give up sugar/simple carbs.