How to Survive the High Sugar-Impact Season

by JJ Virgin on October 25, 2022

We are a country that eats too much sugar. This especially becomes apparent during the period between Halloween and New Year’s, which I call the high sugar-impact season. 

“America is a nation of sugar addicts consuming 152 pounds per person each year,” says Mark Hyman, MD, in The Pegan Diet. “That’s an average of almost half a pound of bad stuff per day, and that doesn’t include flour (another 133 pounds a year per person), which is even worse than sugar for your body.”  

Sugar is nearly everywhere. One review found that 66% of packaged food products contained at least one added sugar.1 Worse, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that almost three in four processed foods—74%, to be exact—contained added sugar.2 

Once upon a time, kids and adults enjoyed the occasional sweet treat at a birthday party or holiday gathering, but otherwise minimized sugary, processed foods (at least if they wanted to be healthy).  

Nowadays, gargantuan bags of candy start lining drugstore and grocery store shelves in September (sometimes even August!). For most people, the madness ends on New Year’s Day, when they promise they’ll stop indulging so much and finally commit to cleaner eating. 

You don’t need to become a wet blanket or diligently avoid every temptation during the holidays. But you also don't have to go face-down into whatever gooey, sugary monstrosity your coworker or mother-in-law pushes on you.  

With these seven strategies, you can confidently move through the holiday sugar season without cursing the scales or your skinny jeans come January 1st. 

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Strategy #1: Swap ‘Em Out 

As soon as we hear we can’t have something, that becomes the exact thing we fixate on having, right? Tell yourself that you can’t indulge in peppermint-bark brownies (or whatever your holiday weakness may be), and suddenly that food becomes the pink elephant in the room. 

Deprivation has no part on my watch! I’ve created what I call “lateral shifts,” or simple swaps to upgrade nearly any favorite treat. I’m willing to bet you’ll like the swaps even more for the way they taste and the way they make you feel.  

Once you get the hang of this, swapping out can even become fun. Here are some of my favorite lateral shifts during the holidays: 

You’ll discover a simple swap for pretty much any holiday favorite over on my recipes page 

Strategy #2: Become a Sugar Sleuth 

Manufacturers hide sugar under numerous disguises. Researchers note that there are at least 61 names for sugar!3 As a starting point, any ingredient ending in “-ose” is sugar. 

Thankfully, finding these stealth sugars has become easier. The Nutrition Facts panel was modified a few years ago to include added sugars. These include sugars that are added during the processing of foods, including table sugar, sugar in all its forms (such as sucrose or dextrose), sugars from syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices.4

While you’re reading the Nutrition Facts, pay attention to total sugars, too. These include added sugars and naturally occurring sugars. For both numbers (and especially added sugars), lower is better and zero is the best.  

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Strategy #3: Identify Sneaky Sugars 

You’re probably aware of the massive sugar load in a piece of salted caramel pie or spiked eggnog, and you already know to avoid those. The bigger problem is that, unfortunately, many foods people think of as healthy may also include sugar. 

These sneaky sugars hide in surprising places—including foods you think are safe, like enhanced waters, dressings, sauces, and meats. Even when you’re hypervigilant, it’s hard to know all the places they hide.  

The holidays make a great time to uncover these sneaky sugars, because they may be hiding in “healthy” foods like cranberry sauce and fruit salad. These foods are holding your weight, your blood sugar, and your overall health hostage. I reveal the many places where these sneaky sugars hide in my Sugar Impact Diet book.  

Learn 5 ways to quit sugar and reach your goal weight in this episode of Ask the Health Expert. 

Strategy #4: Eat by the Plate 

You’re likely familiar with the aftermath of warm cinnamon buns wafting in the air while you’re finishing up holiday shopping at the mall on an empty stomach. Or you’re working towards a big year-end office deadline, figure you’ll skip out on lunch, and by 3 p.m. those gingerbread cookies your assistant brought in become too irresistible to pass up.  

That momentary satisfaction comes at a high cost: these foods spike and crash your blood sugar, leaving you tired and hungry for more an hour or two later.  

Eating by the plate is the answer. When every meal focuses on the magic trifecta of protein, healthy fats, and fiber, you sail through any holiday gathering or your favorite bakery without derailing success. 

When you eat by the plate, you maintain steady blood-sugar levels, which keeps you full and focused for hours. You’re not sidetracked by those late-morning pumpkin scones that your receptionist picked up or the Girls Scout Thin Mints® your daughter brought home.  

Learn more about how to eat by the plate here 

Strategy #5: Don’t Let the Enemy In 

Avoiding holiday temptations is hard enough as it is! Don’t make things more challenging for yourself by keeping treats in the fridge, freezer, counter, glove compartment, or wherever you stash your favorite forbidden foods and beverages. 

I’m not just talking about the usual suspects, either. Healthy food can easily become unhealthy when you overeat it, and we all have that weakness. My kryptonite is almond butter. One spoonful becomes… more than one spoonful. 

Of course, you’re always going to have that family member or significant other who brings home things like cheesecake brownies from the bake sale or eggnog from a local vendor. As much as possible, keep those temptations out of sight and you’ll be far less tempted to devour them in a moment of weakness.  

Strategy #6: Keep My 3-Bite Rule 

Around the holidays, we all encounter that aunt or mother-in-law who insists on trying her red-velvet cheesecake. Or maybe you’ve got an office party to attend where you know your favorite food will appear on the buffet table. 

In those cases, observe my three-polite-bite rule. Once you’ve eaten by the plate to stabilize blood sugar and keep cravings at bay, you can indulge in three small bites of your favorite treat.  

A few caveats. This is an occasional thing, not a habit you should develop every day. I’m talking about what you would eat on national TV, not during an 11 p.m. fridge raid. Also, keep in mind that many indulgences contain gluten, dairy, and other potentially reactive foods. If you’re intolerant, even a tiny bite can create a reaction. Proceed accordingly! 

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Strategy #7: Keep A Food Journal 

I never tire of quoting a study that appeared over a decade ago. Among nearly 1,700 participants, researchers found those who wrote down everything that they ate lost twice the amount of weight as those who didn’t!5 

What you track and monitor, you can improve. After all, you need to know where you’re starting to appreciate where you’ll end up. And a great place to begin is by tracking your food intake along with how you feel after you eat.  

Especially during the holidays, I’ve had clients tell me how shocked they were when “just a few bites” of their favorite food derailed their success, or sneaky sugars were slipping into their otherwise-healthy plan. A food journal keeps you honest, helps you troubleshoot glitches, and creates a foundation for success.  

I also track my blood-sugar levels with a continuous glucose monitor. Learn more about them in this blog 

Break Free of Your Sugar Addiction  

Cutting back on sugar is the secret to fast fat loss, breaking weight-loss plateaus, reducing inflammation, balancing hormones, and improving mood and sleep. And it’s not as hard as you think! 

The strategic, step-by-step approach of the Sugar Impact Diet ensures your success by moving you through the program at your own speed, in tune with how your body responds to the changes in your diet.  

You’ll gently remove high-impact sugars, shift from being a sugar burner to a fat burner, and emerge on the other side, ready to chart your maintenance path forward. 

People who’ve followed the Sugar Impact Diet had amazing results—most lost 10 pounds in just two weeks! And they feel better than they have in years—symptoms we’re all told to believe are the normal signs of aging, like bloating, exhaustion, and joint pain, simply disappeared. 

Breaking your sugar addiction during the holidays might feel like a herculean challenge, but this is the perfect time to become more aware of where sneaky sugars hide. Imagine gliding into the New Year feeling lighter, healthier, more focused, and free from the cravings that keep your weight and health hostage.  

Breaking free of your sugar addiction shouldn’t be a struggle. With the Sugar Impact Diet, I gently, gradually guide you through the process to break free without feeling deprived. Learn more and order your copy here. 

The views in this blog by JJ Virgin should never be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Please work with a healthcare practitioner concerning any medical problem or concern. The information here is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or condition. Statements contained here have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. 


  1. Acton RB, Vanderlee L, Hobin EP, Hammond D. Added sugar in the packaged foods and beverages available at a major Canadian retailer in 2015: a descriptive analysis. CMAJ Open. 2017 Jan 12;5(1):E1-E6. doi: 10.9778/cmajo.20160076. PMID: 28401111; PMCID: PMC5378500. 
  2. Ng, S.W., Slining, M.M., & Popkin, B.M. (2012). Use of caloric and noncaloric sweeteners in US consumer packaged foods, 2005-2009. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics , 112(11), 1828-1834.e1821-1826. 
  5. Kaiser Permanente. “Keeping A Food Diary Doubles Diet Weight Loss, Study Suggests.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 July 2008. <>.