Do you have a hard time putting your body on crave control? Chances are, you're not alone. Years of unwise eating combined with Western cultural conditioning have taught our bodies to crave foods they don't need.
It is important to acknowledge that sugar is a deeply ingrained emotional habit for many of us. According to Pam Bonney, MS, RD, CDN, “taste buds call out for more of what we give them. So, essentially, the more sugar you eat, the more sugar you crave. Habits are hard to break, but you can make better choices.”
Often we experience a lot of stress in the winter months which tend to lead to craving that sweet stuff. Here are a few simple ways that you can do to have a healthy relationship with sugar.
1. Know your sugar habits and plan accordingly
Think about when you're craving sugar: is it usually late at night or during the day after you've had some caffeine? Finals time in university/college? A bad day at work? Meetings didn't go well? Stress is the underlying common denominator here and it does horrible things to your body such as weakening your immune system and raising your cortisol levels. Stress is one of the main causes for those sugary stuff.
One tip from Bonney is to fill up on fresh fruit or a handful of nuts and carry them around in your bag to distract yourself almost immediately when you're tempted to hit up that gelato place around the corner.
2. Exercise regularly
One of the ways to combat stress is to exercise more regularly. When I used to train for a 10-12 mile obstacle race I would work out five times a week while working a full-time job. But now that my goal is to maintain my fitness level, I simply aim for two to three times per week and shorten my workout sessions to 20 minutes each time. I can't imagine spending more than an hour at the gym because, ain't nobody got time for that. Decide on a regimen that's right for you and works with your lifestyle and/or weight goals.
3. Ditch The Sweets
The number one trick to ditching those bad sweets is to make sure you don't have any lying around. Get rid of all your sweet stuff by cleaning out your fridge, freezer and pantry. It's better not to have the temptation than to stress yourself out by pushing against your willpower.
If the bag of chocolate almonds don't exist in your household, then you are more likely to pick those healthy unsalted almonds that you wisely kept within arm's reach. And never grocery shop when you're hungry; you are more likely to buy snacks that are high in carbohydrates.
4. Drink lots of water
Often times what we think is a craving is really just our hunger resulting from dehydration. Drinking eight 8 oz. glasses of water a day will will trick your body into thinking it is satisfied, thereby keeping your stomach full and and your body well hydrated. If you're training, try to drink 2-3 L of water a day because you'll need even more water to flush down those toxins and helping your body to build muscle.
5. Eat a healthy breakfast
Start each day with a balanced breakfast of complex carbohydrates and proteins. These stimulate your brain's neurotransmitters to contribute to a feeling of lasting well-being. Also, people who start the day with a healthy breakfast are less likely to experience a blood sugar dip and carb cravings later in the morning. You're also less likely to overeat during the rest of the day, thus keeping your metabolism in check. My morning ritual consists of an omelette with baby spinach, mushrooms, onions, sweet peppers, and chia seeds for added fiber. Plain and simple.
6. Develop a tart tooth
There's a difference in sweetness between traditional American desserts and those from other cultures. Many American desserts are excessively sweet, which we have become accustomed to. On the contrary, European desserts tend to be more tart. Once you get used to this taste, it becomes more pleasant without the blood sugar plunge that you get after eating dessert.
Once you develop a tart tooth instead of a sweet tooth, not only will your mood and intestines thank you over time, but eventually you'll be able to forgo candy bars, sugar-sweetened cereals, and anything that screams junk food.
7. Cut back on caffeine
Caffeine can trigger a drop in blood sugar, which ultimately leads to cravings. Yes, that morning donut with coffee can leave you desperate for another donut an hour later. Try substituting herbal tea for the coffee, and the donuts won't look so tempting. I normally limit myself to one cup of java per day, since that's all I really need.
If you're still craving sweets, switch from junk sugars to fruit sugars, preferably in the form of whole fruit such as an apple or banana (kudos to you if you already love fruit). Fructose sugars do not cause the blood levels of sugar and insulin to bounce around, and the fiber in the fruit will satisfy your stomach.
8. Compromise a bit
Remember that it's okay to indulge once in a while. In fact, depriving ourselves of the pleasures of delicious food may lead to sporadic episodes of overeating at a time and will drive you crazy. When I travel I'm not always eating the healthiest of foods, but I always carry around a water bottle with me to avoid overindulging. Everything in moderation, right?
Until then, happy healthy eating and safe travels to all you lucky jetsetters!