Imagine a world where there was no sugar. Soda, cookies, candy, ice cream, and so on doesn't exist. Not to mention, the coffee shops no with muffins or croissants , all the gelato shops without any gelato, and every supermarket without candy bars and chips down the isles and at the register. No dessert menus anywhere, no bringing donuts to the office in the morning, no cupcakes for someones birthday, and no cake. No cake ever. Could you live in that world?
Now lets come back to reality and take an inventory of just how much sugar is everywhere. Along with being in almost every packaged food product, it is in every major media outlet that we read, view, and listen to.
I won't dive into the major sugar corporations contributing to this country's obsession and addiction to sugar - ahem Nestle, Coke, Pepsi co, and how these and many more corporations dictate what sugar levels and flavors will keep us buying their products. Rather, I will focus on how to handle sugar cravings (blood sugar dips) and how to thrive in a sugar laden world. Below are a six simple ideas you can incorporate right away to see an improvement in your energy, sugar cravings, and how to lessen the amount of sugar you consume. These will paint a bigger picture for you and your relationships with sugary foods.
1. Don't blame yourself, but do hold yourself accountable.
I love this saying because you can apply it to so many areas of your life. It might not be your fault if you have a sugar addiction. Yes an addiction. Does your mouth water when you see or smell something sweet? Do you get cravings in the afternoon and after you've had dinner for something sweet? Have you found it hard to stop after eating one cookie, piece of candy, bowl of cereal? Guess what? You do not have a "sweet tooth" since such a thing does not exist! A "sweet tooth" is a nice way of saying sugar addiction. This is all OK and you are not going to blame yourself and beat yourself up over it! You are going to take the simple steps to lessen in and not have it control your life. From a young age, sugar has been a way to comfort ourselves, connect and celebrate with others, and has been a reward. I still hear parents tell their kids to behave if they want to get ice cream. All of those connections to sugar are still very deeply rooted in our beings even as adults. Since the fast food and TV dinner movement in the 50's, foods have become more refined, sugar filled, and more addictive than ever.
Hold yourself accountable! Realize you have a sugar addiction and there will be steps, planning ahead, meal and snack prep, and some sacrifices if you want to break away from consuming sugar. Make the choice now to make a change without taking an all or nothing approach. You do not have to be perfect. The less sugar you eat, the less you crave and visa versa. But hey, you have the rest of your life to work on it!
2. Know your triggers
This is a big one that will take time and patience to notice, understand, and change your patterns. Stress is a common trigger for sugar with many people. Lack of sleep, skipping meals, eating too much or too little, lack of protein, dehydration, are even more triggers. Without diving too deep into emotional eating, there are many feelings that can trigger a craving. After following through with that craving to comfort yourself, due to the addictive nature of sugar, you go back for more, and more. In comes the guilt and you know the rest.
I used to go to Whole Food's some Friday nights after work because I got off earlier and they were still open. I would get dinner, eat it there, and then a flood of cravings take over where I suddenly would need to bake cinnamon rolls and eat them all despite not being hungry. When I noticed this cycle repeating itself, I knew I had to find what my trigger was. The routine of me going to Whole Foods on a Friday night, alone, was new to me since I had ended a relationship a few months back. That long term relationship that had brought me to be living where I was at the time. Seeing a ton of couples and families there, really helped the fact that I was the only "single person" there sink in.
Once you identify what your main triggers are, look for them. Finding them doesn't mean you will change overnight - they didn't form overnight. Be curious about them. Be kind towards yourself about them. Then you take action to try to prevent them from happening. Staying hydrated all day by carrying a hydro flask is a great way to prevent a trigger. Keeping healthy snacks in your purse is another way to be prepared. Noticing those emotional triggers and stopping your Friday night single person run to Whole Foods is a great way to keep yourself on the path. When an emotional trigger happens, ask yourself: what is it I could need right now other than food? Then wait. The food will still be there in fifteen minutes.
3. Eat clean
You read that correctly. This simple yet complex step can make or break your relationship with sugar. Keeping your body guessing when it's next meal will be will not only slow your metabolism, but also leave your blood sugar levels unstable. Unstable blood sugar levels = sugar cravings. Getting adequate protein, fiber (complex carbohydrates), and healthy fat at each meal is key to keeping your blood sugar stable.
So many clients I work with tell me how they don't understand why they get these insane cravings at 9 pm at night when they have eating so "good" all day. "Good" indicating they did not eat enough, possibly skipped a meal or two, and/or didn't enjoy the food they ate. It's no wonder that once they had a chance to sit down and relax they were able to hear their body telling them how hungry they are! Can you relate?
Everyone is different in terms of how often they should eat to keep their blood sugar stable. Some folks go with the basic three times a day. Others do three meals a day with two snacks in between. Personally I go with five times a day, or so. Time is often the number one reason that people say they skip meals. The idea of having to eat five times a day is unfathomable to many. We make the time for things that are important. A snack doesn't require you sit down and prepare a fancy meal. A snack can simply be reaching into your purse or desk for a small handful of food. Adjust your eating times to when you wake up, go to bed, workout, etc. Space out meals about every 4 hours.
Just as important as your frequency of eating, is what you eat. As I mentioned earlier, each of your main meals should have a balance of protein, fiber, and fat. Of course keeping in mind portion control is important. However, expecting a 100 calorie snack bar or a bowl a Special K to hold you over longer than an hour won't happen. Have a real meal at every meal. Sit down to eat - I know at work or with kids running around this can be tough. Do so as often as you can.
4. Quit calorie counting. Focus on ingredients.
Take some time to read the ingredients of some of your favorite foods. Food companies are geniuses at marketing. They will blast the front of the package with key phrases like "high in protein", "packed with antioxidants", "gluten free", "all natural", "more vitamin C than a dozen oranges", etc. Lurking behind all these catchy terms is false advertising. Most often the ingredients are nothing your body can recognize and are synthesized to replicate a whole food. A protein bar is the perfect example.
Here's the basics on reading ingredients on food labels:
- the first few ingredients are the main ones
- if you cannot pronounce it - it shouldn't go into your body
- check for artificial sweeteners that will leave you craving more sugar
- beware of stabilizers and emulsifiers in health foods like gluten free foods - these could potentially lead to leaky gut
- sugar has many other names so look out for them - corn syrup and words ending in "ol", "ase", and "ose"
- look for all and avoid the yellow oils: sunflower oil, canola oil, safflower oil, soy bean oil, corn oil, and vegetable oil - I will delve into why at another time
As mentioned in number three, meals should have a balance of protein, fiber, and fat. That should include as many single ingredient foods as possible. A single ingredient food is a food with one ingredient. For example, an apple has only one ingredient = apple. Sweet potato has one ingredient, and I think you know what it is! Giving your body real food that it can metabolize, digest, feed your brain and cells with will allow it to stay healthy and not be confused about if you are hungry or not.
5. Add sweetness to your life
What brings you joy? What makes you laugh? What do you enjoy? If you're wondering why I am asking these questions it's because a constant sugar quest could tell us something deeper is lacking. Every day stress and being constantly on the go might leave little to no time for fun. Yes, you are allowed and NEED to have fun as an adult. Having time to do a hobby you enjoy or simply relaxing will add sweetness to your life - relaxing without your phone.
I haven't met one woman who hasn't admitted she can be an emotional eater from time to time or even frequently. Stress, loneliness, or boredom are all things that can trigger a need for sugar. What is the opposite of stress? Relaxation. What is the opposite of loneliness? Contentment and joy. You get the idea. Ask yourself what you could need more of the next time a sugar craving rolls around. Maybe that something sweet you need doesn't have anything to do with food.
6. Be smart about sugar
Wondering if you can ever eat sugar again? Yes, you can. It's time to be smart about sugar, when to eat it, and what kind to eat. Knowing your limits is important. For example, I can have a smoothie with a half a banana in it, protein spinach, and some cashew butter, which will hold me over for about three hours. When I make a smoothie with a banana and a half, though it's more food, I find I'll crave something sweet an hour later. A small amount of sugar works for me as long as it's paired with some protein and fat. I usually have a small piece of dark chocolate or one of my protein balls after a meal. Since I have a balanced meal in my tummy already, I know that tiny amount of sugar won't spike my blood sugar. Be smart about shopping. Buying sugary foods for the house usually isn't the best idea. This is hard when you have a family that likes sweets. Should they really be eating them too though?
If you enjoy something sweet, have it around your most active time of day. For many people that is their workout. Maybe you are most active in the afternoon when you pick up your kids and bring them to the park. This doesn't mean you can eat a whole tub of ice cream pre-work out (I wish it worked like that). This means if you have something small and sweet, your body can utilize that sugar for your activity. I love acai bowls! If you have seen my Instagram, you know what I mean. I love having one either before or after my workout. I am still cautious of how much fruit I use since an influx of sugar, even from fruit can still spike your blood sugar. Also, an abundance of anything into the body, like sugar, will get stored as fat. Blueberries are fairly low in sugar but still sweet. I use them as the main base along with the acai. Blueberries are great with oats, on yogurt, or alone for curbing the sweet tooth.
We have all fallen into that cycle of craving sugar and then crashing from it. Like with any food, there are so many more layers than just avoiding it or quitting it cold turkey. Be patient with yourself! Hopefully these few tips helped you view sugar in a different way. Please comment with any questions or if you want to hear more about sugar!