How to Heal Your Sugar Cravings
Food cravings happen for one of several reasons:
- You’re tired and your body and brain are looking for energy.
- Your blood sugar is low and your body and brain are looking for energy.
- You have an overgrowth of yeast in your gut or other problems with your microbiome and those pesky little organisms are making you crave sugar or carbs (yes, they can do that!).
- You have adrenal overdrive or adrenal depletion and this stress response is causing you to crave sweets, carbs or salt.
- Your body is missing nutrients that lead to cravings (e.g. low magnesium makes you crave chocolate).
- You’re experiencing emotional cravings due to stress, boredom, frustration, anger or sadness.
- You’re just plain addicted to sugar or carbs because that’s how most of us were raised and you haven’t kicked the habit yet.
Here are my 10 top tips for kicking the cravings and overcoming sugar addiction at the same time:
1. Practice Stress Reduction
Your entire being needs to know that you are not at a four-alarm fire! Even five minutes of mindfulness meditation twice daily can calm your nervous system, help your levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) return to normal, and transform your life. I practice a “quickie” meditation whenever I feel my stress level mounting. It goes like this: While inhaling deeply to the count of four, say to yourself “I AM” and on the exhale to a count of four say “AT PEACE.” Rinse and repeat four times.
2. Practice Food Mindfulness
To do this, simply take a moment before you eat something to really check in with yourself, from a place of centeredness. Ask yourself whether this is optimal for you and take a moment to think about what your body really needs right then. Eat only when you feel relaxed. Eat slowly so that you can enjoy and savor your meals. Food should be one of our great pleasures in life. Mindful eating can help you break free from the grip of food addictions and feel better about your choices so that you can enjoy eating once again.
3. Keep Your Blood Sugar Steady
Blood sugar balancing is a key to alleviating food cravings. Eat a healthy breakfast with a good-quality protein every day. Eat only nutrient-rich foods, emphasizing proteins, high quality fats and vegetables. Sugar sends your body on a roller coaster ride of highs and lows. The lows (hypoglycemia) trigger your brain, which depends on sugar for energy, to think you are in a state of emergency and causes your stress response to get activated full tilt boogie. Stable blood sugar = stable stress hormones, smoother emotions and healthy weight.
4. Restore a Healthy Microbiome
This can be done a number of ways, but the quickest for most otherwise healthy women is to take all sugar, fruit, grains and starches/grains (sweet potatoes, winter squash, quinoa, and millet are okay) for one week, and start taking a probiotic and continue the latter for 6-12 weeks. The probiotic should contain strains of Lactobacillis and Bifidobacterium.
5. Keep your Fridge and Pantry Health-Friendly
Simple logic: If you only have healthy food choices, you’re more likely to eat well, so adios to anything that makes it easy to make unhealthy choices for yourself.
6. Supplement Wisely
If you aren’t getting the nutrients you need, you will crave more and more food as your body tries to get the nutrition you are really craving. This takes you back to points 2, 3, and 4 above. Taking a good multivitamin and multimineral supplement can also provide missing ingredients for optimal health.
7. Sleep Well
This means getting seven to eight hours each night. Less than this also leads to activation of the stress response and increased cortisol levels. We’ve all experienced fatigue leading to sugar cravings. Back to the same vicious cycle of stress, cravings, weight gain and so on.
8. Support Your Adrenals
Since fat, sugar, and salt “feed” us when we are in a stress response, calming the anxiety that arises when we feel fight-or-flight feelings, or depression, these are what we tend to crave when we feel empty emotionally. Tending and mending the broken parts of us is a step toward becoming whole and healthy. Herbal medicines called adaptogens, like ashwagandha, rhodiola, maitake and reishi mushrooms and American ginseng, are especially helpful for restoring adrenal health, healing burn out, regulating blood sugar, and nourishing the immune system. They can also help with “brain fog” and memory problems that also accompany stress, fatigue, and sugar cravings, and they boost mood naturally. They are safe except if you are pregnant, on SSRI antidepressants, or medications for your immune system.
9. Don’t Overly Restrict
Overly restricting foods and setting to many food rules actually makes your brain want to rebel and is more likely to make you crave and binge on the things your trying to avoid. Instead, try this: Reward and pamper yourself with two ounces of dark chocolate everyday (72% or darker). Women who do this are more likely to be slimmer and also happier than those who restrict themselves. Can’t go wrong with that! Don’t tolerate chocolate? Allow yourself another small treat, like 2-3 dried apricots, 1/4 cup of raisins, 1-2 dates, a 1/2 cup of fresh or frozen blueberries or a delicious smoothie.
10. Find ways to feel full other than food.
Feelings of emptiness, sadness, loneliness or boredom can activate our stress response and trigger hormones and chemicals in our brains that stimulate cravings — a need to fill ourselves. Also, sugar-laden and carbohydrate-rich foods can give us the same feeling of calm that certain drugs can provide—thus they give us a quick hit of relief from emotional stress. Have a plan for other ways to support and comfort yourself when emotions threaten to blow your best food intentions. Phone a friend, take a walk, turn on some loud music and dance – and keep a list of ideas somewhere obvious to turn to, like on your fridge door, because in the heat of the craving moment it might be hard to call on your willpower to get you through the way a best girlfriend or a dance party can!
Food cravings are one of the easiest codes to crack and following the above 10 steps can get you there in less than a week. I’ve seen this thousands of times and while it may seem daunting to take on your cravings at first, you’ll be amazed at how effective these tips are. And if a craving comes up and you cave, don’t beat yourself up. Give yourself a dose of self-love and just pick back up on your path. There’s no blame and no shame. Nobody’s perfect and that’s not even the goal. Life is a journey and the goal is to live the life you love and feel really good about it.