How to Fight Sugar Cravings
One of the most common hurdles of the holiday season is how to control sugar cravings. While this hits home the hardest with my diabetic patients, it by all means applies to every single one of us.
Most health advice sets an unattainable goal, which often leads to an “all-or-nothing mentality”. This can be devastating to someone making the gradual changes to a healthy lifestyle. Let’s be realistic and talk about what really works.
How to Fight Sugar Cravings
Ok. Let me be nerdy for a second….if you don’t like the nerdy, skip to the next paragraph
Sugary treats is often treated as one of the most satisfying foods, on a physical and emotional level. Sugar lifts energy levels and alters moods quickly. This isn’t just in your head, well, actually it is…but that’s besides the point. It alters brain chemistry, by increasing your levels of serotonin and endorphins. Sugar elevates serotonin. This happens because sugar is consumed, insulin is released, and it binds with amino acids. Together, they go to the muscles and leave tryptophan, which causes it to travel to the brain and help produce serotonin. Hence, sugar makes you feel “good”.
So what do we do about it?
Here are 5 of the biggest challenges when it comes to battling sugar- and how to stop it for good.
1) Sugar is Sugar, No Matter the Form
Sugar is a sneaky devil. We make great decisions by cutting out cakes, cookies, sodas, and obvious sugar-laden habits. What we don’t realize is that sugar is hiding behind every corner. With an American diet that relies so heavily on processed foods, anything you find in the middle of that grocery aisle is a sugar bomb. EAT REAL FOOD. I always tell my clients, shop the perimeter of the stores and be very selective at picking out anything from those center grocery aisles. Even the growing fads of natural sugars (aka. agave, turbinado sugar, even honey), are causing people to neglect the fact that these are still just sugar. Now, I’m not saying avoid honey. I’m saying be aware that they are not a free pass and should still be used with great moderation. They raise blood sugar just as much as the pure white stuff. With a diet primarily based in vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and whole grains; your sugar problems will fix themselves. Don’t be fooled by branding!
2) Calorie Consumption
This is a huge problem for my clients who are dieting or insisting on calorie counting. You limit yourself earlier in the day in order to have more calories at night. The 3pm itch hits and you find yourself staring down a cupcake and rationalizing that its “ok” because you have so many calories still left over.
Breakfast and lunch, whether your counting calories or not, should always include a healthy mix of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. By limiting yourself early, your setting up for failure later.
Examples of quick meal fixes to incorporate these things include adding an egg, nuts, or protein to your oatmeal or cereal, along with some fresh fruit for some major fiber. This keeps you fuller, longer. For lunch, consider adding a protein like diced chicken or canned beans, and a healthy carb like quinoa or brown rice to go with your veggies. Not only will this make those veggies way more appealing, but it will help control cravings later in the day. Keep the healthy fat too! Adding some avocado, a little olive oil, or some seeds always helps with staying power.
3) Fasting and Floundering
We’ve all been there, no time for breakfast, just coffee and out the door. Or work is slammed, you never even stop to take a break. If you wait until your starving to eat, your going to eat the wrong things and WAY too much of them. By eating small amounts throughout the day, you fight off the craving before it even starts. I’m not nice when I get hungry, and I fixate on food until I get it. If you put a scale to it, with 1 being full/not hungry at all to 10 being belligerent and hungry (haha yeah it happens), I always aim to eat at about a 6 or 7. I never, ever let myself lose control of something as simple as hunger because you can’t fight it. This allows me to make better decisions and avoid the pleasure/guilt cycle.
4) Sleep sabotage
Sleep is so important. We all know losing sleep can lead to serious weight gain and increased calorie intake (remember that nasty little hormone, cortisol). When we sleep, our body repairs. This helps our body control appetite and keep our metabolism moving while we are awake. When you don’t have enough sleep, your body overreacts and tells you to eat more sweet stuff to feel better and wake up. Get plenty of sleep, ‘nuff said.
5) Swap the Habit
Remember how I said we love sugar because it releases serotonin and endorphins? Yeah, well so does physical activity. Train your mind that you can substitute your sugar craving for activity. Want a snickers? Call a friend and head out shopping or to the gym. Can’t stop thinking about the donuts sitting on the counter at work? Take a 15 minute, brisk walk. Come back and be surprised when the donut really doesn’t matter (mostly because somebody else already ate it).
How do you fight sugar cravings?
What are your favorite holiday treats?