How to break a sugary drinks habit
by Gael Myers, Accredited Practising Dietitian
- September 8, 2022
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Most of us know that sugary drinks aren’t great for our health. They’re packed full of sugar (a hefty 16 teaspoons in a 600mL cola) and give us none of the good stuff that our bodies need to function well. While we may know all the reasons to kick a sugary drink habit, we may struggle to put this knowledge into practice and cut back. Why? For the same reason that it’s hard to change most behaviours – habit.
Habits are those things we do every day without too much thought or consideration. They’re the well-worn paths of behaviour that shape our daily lives. Habits help ease the load on overworked brains by reducing the amount of decision making we have to do each day. But they can also make it difficult to change the not-so-healthy behaviours, like regularly having sugary drinks, that can be detrimental to our health.
While it’s not easy to change our habits, it is possible. And the good news is that what makes unhealthy habits hard to break in the first place can be harnessed to put in place newer, more healthy habits.
Ready to make a change? Here’s how.
Before deciding on how exactly you’re going to cut back on sugary drinks, it’s good to ask yourself why you want to make this change. Health may be a part of your consideration but see if you can dig in more deeply and figure out what being healthier would mean to you. Do you want to be around if you can for your kids and grandkids or feel more energetic in your daily life? Keeping in mind the benefit of making a change helps to balance things out when the negative aspects of working towards your goal inevitably emerge.
You’ve thought about why you want to do this and now it’s time to get started – right?
It’s easy to want to jump into a new regime straight away. You’re focused on the change you want to make, and your motivation is high. But reining in that enthusiasm and taking a moment to prepare can really pay dividends in the end.
Think about when you usually have sugary drinks and if there are any internal or external triggers that prompt this. Do you reach for an energy drink to get through the afternoon slump? Do you grab a flavoured milk when buying lunch at work each day? Or do you automatically pour yourself a glass of soft drink each night with dinner? This is all about getting to know your personal habits and triggers and producing strategies to navigate through them.
Strategies to try:
- Change up your normal routine to avoid or modify situations where you would regularly reach for a sugary drink. For example, don’t walk down the sugary drink aisle when doing your weekly shop, or if you’re often tempted by the display of sugary drinks when grabbing lunch from the café on your way to work, bring lunch from home instead.
- If you regularly find yourself turning to sugary drinks when your mood is low, see if you can introduce some self-care activities that you could turn to instead at these times. There’s no one way to ‘do’ self-care, it’s all about what works for you. Some people find meditation, a walk-in nature, listening to a podcast, calling a friend, noodling around in the shed or garden, or reading a book helpful. For others, it could be as simple as enjoying a hot cuppa or watching funny dog videos on YouTube.
- Avoid buying into the all-or-nothing mindset. Any step in the direction of your goal is a big win for your health. If the thought of cutting out sugary drinks altogether seems like an impossible task, start with something that seems more comfortable. For example, halving the amount you have, or having it on one less occasion. Taking it one step at a time can build your confidence to work up to the end goal.
- Switch to lower sugar drinks rather than going cold turkey. We’ve got plenty of tasty low- and no-sugar drink recipes here to explore.
- Arrange with a friend, family member or colleague to cut back on sugary drinks together. You can share strategies that have worked (or not worked) for you, celebrate successes and keep each other accountable in working towards your shared goal.
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Knowing the situations that might trip you up, planning for how to navigate through these, and even roping in a friend for moral support can help you keep up your goal to cut back or cut out sugary drinks for good. Everyone is different, and it may take some trial and error to figure out what plan of attack works best for you.
When you first start trying to have less sugary drinks it will take some conscious effort and monitoring to stick to your new plan. This is because each time you’re having to actively decide to do a behaviour which is different to what you would normally do by habit. As we do more of a healthy behaviour and less of an unhealthy one, our brain starts to rewire, and reaching for the healthier option will happen automatically.
It's important not to beat yourself up if you find yourself slipping back into your old ways. Setbacks are to be expected and are a normal part of the process. Show yourself some kindness, tell yourself not to let perfection be the enemy of good, and reset your intention – tomorrow is a new day!
Want more? We’ve got a great little worksheet here that takes you through the steps of developing smart goal for exercise and nutrition.