We are probably all well aware that cravings for sugar are incredibly common and extremely hard to fight. The more sugar we consume, the more we want it and so the cycle continues. This makes it incredibly difficult to stick to any healthy plan to feel better or lose weight as an iron resolve is needed to beat these cravings. Mix in the emotions of eating for love, sadness, anxiety or guilt and that’s a mountain too high to climb!
So what's going on?
When we eat sugar in the form of sweets, biscuits, cakes or fizzy drinks (high GL or Glycaemic Load foods) - the reaction in the brain is to stimulate the release of dopamine - dopamine is the neurotransmitter that makes us feel pleasure. The brain recognises this and makes us crave more sugar in order to achieve satisfaction every time a craving hits. This reaction is not much different to some addictive substances, as the same receptors are being stimulated in the brain.
What happens in the body is that as soon as our blood sugar goes up to too high a level - as happens with the consumption of these high GL foods - insulin, the hormone responsible for bringing down our sugar level, comes into the bloodstream and excess sugar will be stored as fat. As this cycle continues the body loses blood sugar control and weight gain becomes inevitable.
British Medical Journal (BMJ) Research
It is no surprise that research carried out by BMJ shows that there is a direct correlation between an increase or decrease in sugar consumption with an increase or reduction in body fat percentage. What we are now finding is that the focus on low fat diets has actually contributed to us becoming fat. This paradox has occurred because products that have been labelled as 'low fat' often have lots of sugar added, for example, a low fat yoghurt may have up to 4 teaspoons of sugar added - the calories may be low but the effect of the added sugar is to raise your insulin level and that is the reason why you both gain fat and find it impossible to get rid of those cravings. For many years, we have been advised to avoid fat containing foods such as avocado, nuts and seeds and butter. On the contrary, the body and brain needs fat and when starved of fat, will crave the wrong sort to compensate for the deprivation (usually deep fried and combined with sugar).
Other effects of sugar addiction:
When we are on the roller coaster of sugar addiction, we may also suffer from tiredness as our bodies are working overtime to cope with the imbalance in blood sugar, using up vital B vitamins and chromium. Ironically we need these nutrients to metabolise sugar. We may also experience low mood and concentration in conjunction with the crash in blood sugar. These feelings alone are enough to make us want to reach out for another pep me up.
How to put it right in one week:
During the first week of my Refresh Programme we will be working hard to help you kick that sugar habit as our primary aim is to set you on the track to maintaining habits much more effectively and easily. Here are 7 easy steps to help you break the sugar craving cycle, take them one at a time over a week and reflect on how you feel.
1. switch from white carbohydrates to brown, for example brown rice instead of white, wholegrain bread instead of white bread. Add quinoa, sweet potato, beans and lentils to your meals. This means starting with an audit of your kitchen to remove any of the tempting sugary foods and replacing them with wholesome fresh food, wholegrains, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, fish, lean meats and and vegetarian proteins.
2. include a small handful of nuts combined with berries, apple, or an orange between meals instead of crisps and sweets
3. always start the day with a protein rich breakfast - oats, eggs, smoked salmon, yoghurt with berries and pumpkin seeds fill you up and keep blood sugar even for longer
4. include a portion of oily fish twice a week (choose from salmon, tuna, mackerel, tinned sardines)
5. get your sugar fix from whole fruit (not juice) and go for low sugar fruit - apples, pears, oranges, berries. If the craving is strong, choose a couple of squares of high cocoa chocolate which is low GL. Other low GL snacks are a smoothie with nut butter, oat cakes and hummus, or guacamole and carrot sticks.
6. when you feel a craving coming on ask yourself - what am I craving? Would a cup of tea or a glass of water be ok? Am I hungry? - when did I last eat a balanced meal or a snack? Would a walk help to distract me if stress or anxiety is the driver? Imagine a craving coming in like a big wave and eventually drifting into the distance so by allowing some time to pass, the craving gets smaller and smaller until you don’t feel it so strongly any more.
7. read the label: often sugar is disguised as fructose, high corn fructose syrup, honey, maltose, treacle, dextrose - if any of these ingredients are first on the list of ingredients, then you can guarantee it's mostly sugar! There's 4g in a teaspoon so read the section 'carbohydrates of which sugar' this tells you how much is in a portion. Some yoghurts contain 4 teaspoons and always read cereal labels as they can have 3-4 teaspoons of sugar per serving.
Finally for killer cravings that just won't go away, try adding a tsp of cinnamon to yoghurt or porridge. Be safe with supplements recommended for curbing cravings and controlling blood sugar, check in with me first in the event you are taking medication and under the care of your GP.
And think about how you will feel when you focus is on what to include in your diet - not what to exclude. There are so many ways to get natural sweetness into your diet.
Of course, there are many more steps you can take (whether it be foods, exercise or vitamins and minerals) to help achieve blood sugar balanced, however by putting these initial 7 simple steps into place, you are bound to achieve success!.
Let me know how you get on and I am happy to help you achieve your health or blood sugar goals! Email me should you wish to chat about how my nutritional coaching support and menu planning service could help you knock sugar on the head for good! Good luck!