My Sugar Story
My Sugar Story
It must have been about seven years ago that I found myself at a family get together, knee deep in a chocolate fountain. Like for real, you guys. I may have even pushed a small child out of my way so I could dip my pretzels and strawberries in there. Maybe it was one of my own small children that I ran over to get to that stream of chocolatey bliss. That was when it hit me. Houston, we have a problem.
The truth is, my sugar addiction was so bad that I must have been hooked to the stuff before I was born… in utero, even! Growing up in Chicago, we were known as THE best house for THE best junk food. We seriously had everything from Twinkies to Doritos to Pop Tarts. Our pantry was bursting with sugary and salty confections at all times, and the snacks weren’t even relegated just to our kitchen. Our living room coffee table proudly supported boxes of chocolate Frango mints from our beloved department store, Marshall Field’s, 24/7/365. No joke, we always had a million kids over because WE had all the junk that no one else’s parents, in their right minds, would ever buy. It wasn’t until I was 35 years old, after having my three children, when I finally realized I was sick of feeling exhausted, foggy, groggy and just awful! And so began my personal journey to better health and wellness.
Now I am not saying I have all the answers, but here is what I have found so far. And the good news is, calming down a raging sweet tooth can be achieved with just a few daily tweaks that you may not even correlate to stopping sugar addiction dead in its tracks.
Sleep – Research studies show that insufficient sleep ramps up a person’s appetite by increasing amounts of the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin and decreasing levels of the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin. What does that mean? Sleep-deprived people are hungrier and less likely to feel like moving around the next day, so it’s a double whammy, people. Studies also show that sleep-deprivation leaves people more susceptible to food temptation and overeating than they are when getting more quality sleep. So instead of watching “just one more show,” take your beauty rest more seriously. You will not only benefit from the melatonin surge (making you look and feel younger and refreshed,) you will minimize the chances of grabbing a sweet treat the next day and actually up your chances of following through on your workout. A win/win/win, I say!
Nutrition – Most of were raised in the sugar-free/fat-free/100-calorie-snack- pack/stripped-of-nutrients era. Hello? Who remembers buying as many of those green boxes of Snackwell Devil-Food Cake Cookies that you could fit into your shopping cart? We were basically eating chemicals, wondering why we were always hungry and why we weren’t losing any weight. If you cannot pronounce the ingredients, your body has zero clue what to do with them! Our bodies need quality fats, non-processed carbs and lean protein to run at full-throttle. For a breakfast that is sure to keep your blood sugar levels even, fill up on a cup of full-fat (yes, I said it) plain Greek yogurt, a splash of real maple syrup or honey, top with fresh berries, cinnamon, flaxseed and slivered almonds for breakfast. Add half of an avocado to a smoothie or on top of a salad. Enjoy eggs (yolks and all) in a colorful veggie omelet. Making sure you sit down to an actual meal filled with protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, healthy fats, antioxidants and other nutrients is the key to satiety and keeping those sugar cravings at bay.
Hydration – The majority of us walk around dehydrated on a daily basis. Drinking more water is one of those totally un-sexy habits that is proven to support weight loss, but it’s also one of those things that people struggle with the most. We should be drinking at least half our body in weight in ounces of water, every single day. Even more if you factor in water-loss during a good sweat session at the gym! You may remember to wash down your meals with a slug of water or two, but are you drinking in between your meals as well? The trick is to make it an easy habit to follow; you can’t drink water if you don’t have it with you! Fill a water bottle with you before you head out the door and keep it in plain sight. Use a water reminder app, like Plant Nanny or ??? or set a reminder on your phone to go off every hour. Leave a water bottle next to your tooth brush and anchor the new habit to one you already have down pat, like brushing your teeth. Most of the time, what feels like hunger is actually dehydration.
Natural Sweeteners – Now I am not saying to put the full kabosh on making things sweet, but instead of adding the devil’s fairy dust, try a natural sweetener instead. Swapping the white stuff for raw honey, real maple syrup, dates, or bananas is always the way to go. Your blood sugar won’t spike quickly and then send you on a crash when you go with a natural option. Since Mother Nature created them, your body knows what to do with them. They are released more slowly into the bloodstream and help to keep your sugar levels even.
Emotional Cravings – Last but not least, practice self-awareness and mindfulness. Ask yourself, “What am I actually craving? What am I truly feeling?” Cravings stem from the brain, not the stomach. They are triggered from a feeling, a memory or one of your senses. You crave that jelly donut because you are feeling sad or lonely. You crave that chocolate cake because it reminds you of the cake your Grandma used to make and it brings back happy memories that make you feel warm and cozy. You crave that apple pie because you took one whiff of the apple-cinnamony-goodness and it immediately made your mouth water. Recognizing when you are actually feeling hunger versus feeling other feelings is key to staving off sugar. This one, I find, takes the most practice so don’t beat yourself up over it. It’s like a muscle and the more you flex it, the stronger it becomes.
Since the day that I found myself face to face with the chocolate fountain, I actually love drinking juice that’s green and CRAVE big salads. I can’t forget my roots, but these days I am ALL about balance and practice what I preach. I live my life by the 80/20 rule – 80% of the time I choose healthy foods that make me feel energetic and nourished and 20% of the time I mindfully indulge in things that I truly enjoy. That way, I don’t feel like I am on a restrictive diet, rather practice a healthy lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong – my sweet tooth still likes to flex ITS muscles and test me from time to time. In fact, I just had a “cannoli situation” a couple of weeks ago, and I don’t even LIKE cannolis! I was struggling with my emotions and the damn cannoli won. It’s how long we choose to stay in that place or bounce back that matters. When you take the “all or nothing” diet mentality away, and debunk the idea that foods are “good” or “bad,” you can mindfully enjoy treats guilt- free and then move along with your day.
If you struggle with sugar addiction, what tips or tricks work for you?