This week I had several people ask me about sugar and carb cravings, so I figured it might be a good blog post! If you are experiencing these cravings, keep reading. I’ve got a few tips and tricks that can help you squash those cravings and reset your taste buds.
In addition to cravings, do you have energy spikes and dips throughout your day? Do you have trouble concentrating? Perhaps you have fatigue, anxiety or depression? Have you ever been HANGRY or had hunger go from mild to strong very quickly? If you answered yes to any of these questions, a sugar addiction may be to blame. It’s not your fault though!
Humans have evolved to crave sweets. Back in the hunter-gatherer days, we needed those calories to give us the energy needed to carry out our daily activities. Our lives now, however, are much more sedentary and those calories are just not needed to peck away at the keyboard while sitting in our cushy office chairs all day. To complicate this further research suggests that sugar is addictive and it stimulates the same pleasure areas of the brain as cocaine and heroine. Similar to these hard-core drugs, getting over your sugar addiction may require a detox, the process of which may cause withdrawal symptoms! No wonder it is so hard!
In addition to weight gain, recent studies have linked excess sugar intake to obesity, diabetes, dementia and even an increased risk of cancer.
The fact is, sugar is not just making us fat; it’s making us sick!
Here are some helpful tips that can help you get your sugar addiction under control:
- Focus on having a balanced meal each time you sit down to eat:
Focus first on quality protein. Protein contains essential amino acids that are crucial for brain function and will help you control those cravings. Second, focus on incorporating a healthy fat into the meal. The fats help you absorb nutrients from the food we eat into our bodies and help give us that feeling of satiety. Don’t be afraid of fat! Lastly, focus on incorporating nutrient dense sources of carbohydrates, from real foods such as squash, carrots or sweet potato. We need GOOD carbs, good carbs are not the enemy.
When we eat REAL FOOD we are not just FED, we are NOURISHED.
- Track your food & mood:
Journaling has proven to be a very effective tool for those looking to make lasting dietary changes. Play around with how many carbs you are including at each meal, and take note of how you feel immediately and a few hours after. There is no magic number for how many grams of carbs you should eat per day; it all depends on YOUR body and YOUR activity level. When you journal your food and mood, it is easier to recall why you have made certain dietary choices and stick to them.
- Be prepared:
Even the most well-intentioned folks will find themselves reaching for the high-sugar, high-carb options when they are hungry in a pinch. If you plan ahead and prepare snacks ahead of time you are much more likely to reach for a healthier option when you are in need of a quick fix. Try making hard-boiled eggs or cut up vegetables to have on hand when you get hungry between meals. Having healthy snacks on hand will make it much easier to say no to those donuts at your weekly staff meeting. Also, clean up your pantry. If you don’t have that bag of potato chips to binge on before bed, you won’t.
- Determine if it’s a craving, or a habit:
This one I can certainly relate to. Many times when we think we are having a craving, we are really just making a choice out of habit. Do you have the same cup of coffee with cream and sugar every morning? And then again in the afternoon? Are you really craving that, or is this cup of coffee just a part of your daily ritual? Is it something you just do without really thinking about it? If so, it’s probably more of a habit rather than an actual craving. Try to change your habit… in this example you could try having a cup of herbal tea in the morning instead. You would still get to have that time sipping something warm, but without the added sugar. Perhaps in other circumstances, it is a REAL craving. I’ve been there!
- If you are having an actual craving, a nutrient deficiency may be to blame:
Are you craving chocolate in particular? This may be a sign of a magnesium deficiency. In our modern society we have severely depleted the natural magnesium in our soils, and stress further depletes the stores in the body. To replenish your magnesium stores, try eating more dark leafy greens, take an epsom salt bath a couple times a week or try taking a magnesium supplement (if you get loose stools, back off the dosage a bit). You may also have an issue of malabsorption of nutrients. Check out Diane Sanfilippo’s four part guide to troubleshooting digestive issues to see if this may be an issue for you. You may need to visit a naturopath to have certain testing done.
- Swap out your treats for healthier options:
I am of the belief that anything can be enjoyed in moderation. Treats are fun and are something to look forward to. In order to squash your sugar cravings however, you will want to make some smart swaps when it comes to treats, especially if you are trying to detox off your sugar addiction. When baking at home, try using natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup in your recipes. Another option is to sweeten your dishes using fresh fruit.
Be sure to check your ingredient labels for added sugar. Food companies are clever and will add sugar under many different names in an attempt to fool consumers. Below is a list of synonyms for sugar from http://www.sugarfreebarry.com that you may find on ingredient labels. This is just a sampling, there are many more.
Exercise will give you those same feel good hormones that are released when you consume sugar. Also, you may think twice about eating that sleeve of Oreos because you won’t want to undo all the good you did while you were working out. So go for a walk, swim or bike. Have a dance party in your living room… whatever it takes to get your body moving.
8. Distract yourself:
If you absolutely cannot shake that craving, try a distraction technique and wait for the craving to pass. One of my favorites is to paint my nails. Have you ever tried doing anything with a fresh coat of polish on? It’s virtually impossible if you want to keep your manicure from getting all banged up.
9. Give up the artificial sweeteners:
Artificial sweeteners are not real food. They are chemical toxins. They are processed by your liver and stored in your fat cells so they are not able to enter your bloodstream where they can do more damage. Artificial sweeteners are many times sweeter than anything you will ever find in nature. Splenda is engineered to be 600 times sweeter that natural sugar! Once you’re hooked on artificial sweeteners, the natural stuff just can’t compete. Artificial sweeteners cause a hightened insulin response in the body. Insulin is needed in the body, but too much is harmful. High blood levels of insulin keep fat from being broken down for energy, making it hard to lose weight. Chronically high insulin levels can lead to insulin resistance, a precursor to type-2 diabetes. Yikes!
Research published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health found evidence suggesting that sucralose (aka Splenda) may interfere with metabolism and cause problems with the body’s ability to absorb certain medications.
The problems with these fake sugars go on and on, I could write a whole blog post about it (maybe I will.) In the meantime just avoid them.
10. Give into your cravings!
This tip may be surprising to some, but the fact is there should be no food that is off-limits for you forever, unless you have some sort of allergy or reaction to it. When we tell ourselves that we can never have a certain food again, it leads to feelings of guilt and disappointment. Also, when you go to eat the food (because you will) you are more likely to binge on it when you tell yourself you will never have it again. If you know you are going to be able to enjoy this food again sometime in the future, it makes it much easier to have a normal serving size. When you give in to your cravings, do it mindfully. Make the affirmative decision that you are making this choice for whatever reason, not out of habit. And then… don’t feel guilty about it! One “bad” meal isn’t going to totally throw you off the good path you’ve been on; just the same way that one salad isn’t going to undo all the bad either.
The good news:
Once you’ve detoxed from sugar and reset your tastebuds, your favorite natural foods might taste sweeter! You won’t need the same level of added sweetener to get the same sweet satisfaction. You will be free from cravings and be able to take charge of your health!
Hungry for more? Check out this recipe for Salted Chocolate Freezer Bark from Cassy Joy over at Fed & Fit. This is a healthier swap if you want an occasinal sweet treat with no added sugar.