Let’s talk about less than ideal habits such as reaching for sugar filled and nutritionally empty snacks every time our stress levels are elevated. We know the temporary rush that comes with a sugar high can feel like a comforting hug in a moment of an emotional low, however it also leaves us crashing down to earth when our blood sugar levels dip again. And what do we do in that very moment? We reach for refined carbohydrates and other comfort foods that serve us very little in the way of weight management and weight loss and more importantly don’t feed our body with vital vitamins, minerals and nutrients.
Here at Happy Way, we are all about balance and treating yourself from time to time. But when it comes to refined sugar, not only will it undo all your hard work at the gym, it has the ability to affect your overall diet considerably. By promoting unstable blood sugar levels, snacks filled with refined sugar will leave you feeling hungry throughout the rest of the day.
Now, if that is not enough to convince you to cut back on the white stuff, perhaps the fact that it depletes your body of essential nutrients and damages your immune system may be the winning argument. If you are reaching for the cookie jar a little too often, here are the steps you can take to break up with sugar once and for all.
Check your bloods
The first step to getting a grip on your sugar cravings is identifying what may be causing them. The bad news is that this may require a quick visit to the doctor’s office for a blood test. However the good news is that the full tray of muffins you consumed at work during the week may have less to do with your inability to practice self control and may have more to do with science.
Trace minerals such as calcium, zinc, chromium and magnesium all serve an important purpose in your day to day functioning such as helping keep your body hydrated and regulating important hormones and enzymes in the body. These minerals also involved in glucose metabolism and insulin production, with deficiencies often manifesting themselves in sugar cravings. Having your bloods checked will help determine if you are missing any key trace minerals in your system.
Now check your diet and find what’s missing
Although your sugar cravings have as much to do with old habits and the reward centre in your brain, they also have a lot to do with your diet. Studies have consistently shown that a diet low in protein triggers sugar cravings. Foods high in protein and fats promote a slow release of sugar into the bloodstream, keeping you feeling fuller for longer. Studies have consistently shown that adding more protein in your diet is set to minimise your sugar cravings significantly. This is because protein not only helps stabilise your sugar levels and keeps you feeling fuller for longer, it also triggers the reward hormone dopamine in your brain. Begin your morning with a protein rich breakfast such as eggs or yoghurt to help minimise your mid morning cravings.
Cut back on the culprits
While foods rich in protein and fats will help regulate your blood sugar levels, foods rich in processed carbohydrates enter the bloodstream faster, raising your blood sugar levels and subsequently raising the hormone insulin. Though it may be tempting to think that cutting carbohydrates out of your diet altogether will fix the problem, it may in fact have the opposite effect.
Spend more time in bed
How many times have you woken up after a few hours sleep and reached for a sugar-filled cereal or something sweet to get your morning started. When it comes to managing your cravings, your sleep matters as much as your approach to food. Research has consistently linked lack of sleep with poor diet. In fact, even one night of bad sleep can decrease the upper brain function of the cerebrum. This is the part of the brain responsible for decision-making. The same study found that participants who lacked consistent and adequate sleep consumed on average 600 more calories from junk food than those who had good quality sleep. A lack of sleep also messes with your internal clock and the production of hormones ghrelin and leptin, which act to promote and suppress your cravings. Your ability to say no to office donuts and Friday cake may be severely hindered if you haven’t pressed pause and hit the snooze button.
Set goals and form new habits
Reprogramming your brain and reward centre will take work but can be made easier if you set attainable and fun goals. Every time you crave sugar or reach for the office cookie jar, why not challenge yourself to go for a 5 minute walk or drink a glass of water instead. Track your progress. Once you see that the odds are stacked in your favour you will be less willing to break your progress.
Seek serotonin from other sources
Low levels of serotonin in your brain may lead not only to irritability, low moods and depression but are likely to lead you down a yellow brick road towards sugar filled snacks and starchy comfort foods. Boost your serotonin levels with a HIIT class, or quick bursts of exercise. Drink and food sources such as green tea, walnuts, eggs and cheese are also shown to boost your serotonin levels and prevent you from making poor food choices.
Fix your gut
Did you know that your gut microbiome has a lot to do with your sugar cravings? Over 90% of serotonin reserves are located in your gut. Read that again and let it sink in. Incorporating foods with good bacteria into your diet can help balance out the delicate ecosystem in your stomach. This means incorporating less kit kats and more kimchi, raw sauerkraut and live cultures into your food repertoire.
Balance your macros nutrients during every meal
Keeping your blood sugar levels in balance also requires you to balance your macros during every meal. Ideally this means balancing your snacks as well. As a guideline, this means balancing veggies and leafy greens with high quality proteins and fats. Leaving a particular macronutrient out of your meals such as protein or healthy fats will leave you feeling hungry and craving a snack in next to no time.
Set yourself up to succeed with a delicious and healthy smoothie.