It’s 2 PM in the afternoon and you are feeling sluggish and tired. You see a bowl of Starbursts, Hershey’s Kisses, or M&M’s and you can’t resist and grab a handful! Or if you are willing to make the extra effort, you walk down to the vending machine in your office looking for that quick pick-me-up, which ends up looking a lot like a pack of cookies or a “healthy granola bar” with 15 grams of sugar. Either way the result is the same – you get a small burst of energy and feel good for an hour if you’re lucky, before feeling that infamous mid-afternoon sugar crash.
Imagine this second scenario: you used your willpower and ate a healthy lunch and dinner (go you!) but after each meal, you have this nagging craving for something sweet, no matter how full you may be. And when you decide to indulge, the craving is so strong that one bite just isn’t enough. Before you know it, the entire brownie or chocolate chip cookie has mysteriously vanished.
Sure, sugar tastes good and certainly gives us that temporary high. But to understand why it is so important to reduce our sugar consumption, we need to look at it from a variety of perspectives:
- Sugar has zero nutritional value. In fact, excessive consumption can result in reduced immunity and premature aging of our bodies.
- Sugar has an addictive nature, similar to some kinds of drugs, and can even cause withdrawal symptoms if we drastically change our diet.
- Continuous moderate to excessive sugar intake can result in increased risk of serious chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and autoimmune diseases.
Sometimes, we can make significant improvements in our diet by simply changing our habits and through the sheer force of will power. But sometimes, despite our best intentions and efforts, even these attempts at change are unsuccessful, begging the question: where are these cravings really coming from? The answer lies in the makeup of our meals. Essentially, cravings are signs of a blood sugar imbalance in our bodies.
Whenever our meals are not comprised of a variety of macro-nutrients (fats, proteins, and complex carbohydrates), we end up with an imbalance. If our meals are overly high in simple carbohydrates, this will cause a quick rise in blood sugar followed by a sharp drop soon afterwards (causing the all too familiar sugar crash). After consuming this kind of diet for some time, our bodies look for that “high” again, resulting in sugar cravings. In addition, if we are not consuming enough calories due to an overly restrictive diet, this can also result in sugar cravings to encourage more calorie consumption.
Ultimately, it comes down to changing our mindset about sugar and changing the environmental circumstances that set us up for failure. We have to attack sugar cravings by improving our diets and by bringing mindfulness into our lives. From a dietary perspective, the best way to curb those mid-afternoon brownie cravings is by diversifying our nutritional intake, which means increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetables so that we are satisfied by the natural sugars in them, and don’t crave processed items. Plus, these natural foods have the added benefits of fiber, vitamins, and other minerals that help slow the absorption of sugar by our bodies.
Building this healthy diet is certainly not always as simple as it sounds – over the years; the food industry has made sugar a key ingredient of most ready-made, processed foods that you will find in a regular grocery store. It’s not impossible, but sometimes it can be hard to get in the mindset of paying attention to what we are putting in our body, especially since even the healthy, no-sugar items that we buy with the best intentions can still be problematic. Awareness is the first step, and the second is making a plan that you can actually stick to.
You can check out some of my recipes for healthy, low-sugar meals to get started, as well as some quick recipes for items that we usually buy processed (like hummus and salad dressing). And as a health coach, I am equipped with the tools to help you build this change in diet into a lifestyle, not a temporary fix. Over-consumption of sugar has so many negative health effects, but ultimately you have control over your life and your diet, and the first step is to understand that before moving forward.