If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone tell me, “I crave sugar” or “I crave sweets” when the topic of nutrition came up, I’d be a rich woman.
It’s an epidemic as widespread as craving water when you are thirsty.
This time of year, more than ever, people are more aware of what they are eating and how they are feeling in relation to food. While eating healthy and balanced wasn’t ‘cool’ over the holidays, its as if a complete 360-degree turn has occurred as of January 1 with the copious amounts of weight loss advertisements, gym promos, and people asking, ‘What are YOUR goals?’
I made a trip by Target yesterday and I was not shocked to see the end aisles clad with products and advertisements that go hand-in-hand with a ‘new year, new you’—weight scales, diet cookbooks, organizational tubs and binders, at-home fitness equipment—anything to help you conquer those demons you wish to conquer.
Over the past few days, I have talked to more than a handful of people who have confessed, “I am going to eat better this year” or “I am going to lose a few pounds” or “I am going to be healthier”…”but the only thing is, I really crave sweets—how do I get over this?”
You more than likely are aware, sugar is everywhere in our society—both real and fake.
It’s no wonder so many people admit to the ‘struggle’ of craving sweets, diet products and/or artificial sweeteners—and are stumped about what to do about it!
After all, if it’s something you’ve been eating the majority of your life (even without always knowing about it), then of course, your body is going to be sending you some pretty funky signals when it comes to trying to moderate your intake.
Take a glimpse of a day in the life of the typical, standard American diet here:
Breakfast: Bowl of cinnamon apple oatmeal, Yoplait mixed berries yogurt cup
Lunch: Subway turkey sandwich (6” on whole wheat bread with provolone, lettuce and yellow mustard); Baked Lays; Small bite size candy bar
Snack: Granola bar
Dinner: Small dinner salad with tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers and Italian Dressing; Bowl of turkey chili with beans and dash of cheese
Dessert: 1 cup of sherbet ice cream
What you may not realize is the amount of hidden sugars in many of our everyday standard grocery store foods, such as: Yogurt, salad dressings, condiments, granola and protein bars, crackers, breads, deli meats, bacon, sausage, cereals, nutbutters, sauces, juices, smoothies, soft drinks (yes, even artificial sugars in diet-sodas and packaged goods)—you name it, sugar has a sneaky way of finding its way in there.
If this is how you ate for most of your life, your body has become highly adapted to using glucose (ie. Sugar), instead of fat, for energy. When you’ve been eating sugar throughout your lifetime (even unbeknownst to yourself thanks to so many hidden sugars in our food supply), you’ve been supplying a constant dose of glucose (ie. processed carbs) into your blood stream. That being said, when the glucose is all gone for energy, your body can’t remember how to make the shift to using fat for energy. Glucose is all it really knows. That leaves just one option: It screams for more glucose! (ie. Cravings!).
Does that mean you are ‘fat’ if your body is not using fat for energy? By all means no—it just means your body is out of sorts in the type of energy it is using—and more importantly that it WANTS to use (sugar!).
No wonder, if you struggle with any sort of sugar cravings, it may seem like an uphill battle to physiologically conquering those. Eating this way for years has (chemically) taught your body (and brain) that this is normal and now you want to change the rules with proper nutrition. Our brains and bodies respond to pleasurable, tasty foods by secreting opioids – brain “morphine”– that, together with dopamine, cause you to want more of whatever food triggered those secretions. Chocolate, Diet Coke, Quest Bars, ice cream, cookies, brownies—you name it, your brain can be addicted to it.
Aside from being ‘addicted’ to certain foods, sugar cravings can signal that you aren’t feeding your body properly in other ways. Lack of sleep, stress, dehydration, caffeine crashes and plain hunger go hand in hand with sugar cravings, as does protein and fatty acid deficiency. In fact, research has shown that a deficiency in your omega-3s (fatty acids), can dull a person’s perception of sweetness, encouraging him/her to crave more sugar to satisfy the natural taste.
Been there, got that t-shirt!
For years, in my eating disorder, I lived off of artificial sweeteners in everything—Crystal Light by the pitcher-full, diet flavored drinks, Quest Bars, protein powder based shakes as my meals, chocolate protein bars, Splenda to sweeten my oats every morning, ‘sugar-free’ Jell-O—my taste buds and brain were addicted to these fake foods as a large basis of my diet. These were primarily the foods that I craved and supplied my body with, and consequently, I missed out on a ton of key nutrients that it really needed. It wasn’t until I stopped eating these artificial sugars—cold turkey—and replaced them with foods that contained real nutrition that I realized the horrible stomach cramps, headaches and even blurred vision I occasionally experienced completely went away!
Wherever you come from, in order to correct any of your cravings, your body needs to be retrained. Often times when you are craving sugar or artificial sugars, instead of reaching for that little sweet or even piece of fruit, try opting for more healthy fats, and, potentially, even some more protein in your diet. You can begin to silence those ‘crazy’ cravings.
Think: creamy avocado, a tablespoon of raw almond butter, a small handful of raw cashews or walnuts, a spoonful of coconut butter, veggies sautéed in coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, black olives, sunflower seed butter, flaxseeds, wild-caught seafood, grass-fed butter or ghee on your sweet potato, pasture-raised eggs (with the yolks!), grass-fed, organic meats (skin and some fat on your meats are not a bad thing)—just to name a few fats to incorporate in your diet.
That doesn’t mean you can NEVER have a sweet treat again—or that it’s a “bad” thing to eat chocolate or a piece of birthday cake on your birthday. What it does mean is that in order to conquer your cravings (and not let them conquer you)—you must first take a step back and rewire the machine.
Easier said than done?
It may feel and seem that way—but you can’t do any swimming until you get off the bank, and there’s no time like the present than to dive in.
While you’re at it, check out this awesome chicken recipe I made last night.
Disclaimer: I typically hate cooking my own chicken. I’ve been eating chicken for years, and for some reason or another (since I don’t have an outdoor grill), I’ve always associated my own chicken as ‘boring and dry.’ NOT SO now with this one. The secret? Boneless, skinless chicken thighs AND a cast-iron skillet. I bought chicken thighs for the first time (instead of chicken breasts) and I swear they are more flavorful. While ‘chicken breasts’ are the standard ‘lean’ version of chicken, I’ve definitely come to terms that animal fats in particular do a body (and the tastebuds) good. Fear not, a new standby staple recipe is here. In addition, if you don’t have a cast-iron skillet, I’d strongly encourage you consider investing in one—brings out flavorful tasting meats from right inside the comforts of your own home.
Best (Simplest) Chicken I’ve Made
1-2 lbs. organic boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons stoneground Dijon mustard
sprinkle sea salt, pepper & garlic powder (to taste)
- Mix chicken and seasonings in bowl
- Spritz pan with coconut oil cooking spray & heat cast iron skillet to warm
- Throw chicken in pan and cook on both side until no longer pink in middle
- Serve alongside sides of your choice–mashed cauliflower, sweet potatoes (with coconut butter on top!), sautéed kale and rainbow chard, roasted broccoli or asparagus. You choose. Bon apetit!