The Lesson #3 Balance Your Blood Sugar & Cravings

Part 1: The Gut-Cravings Connection

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Introduction:  In this Bodywise Lesson we’re going to talk all about food cravings and hunger—specifically how your gut influences your hunger, cravings and blood sugar…and how to honor both your hunger and cravings cues. 

We have alot to cover…but this one is pretty juicy so you don’t want to miss anything!

Alright, pop question for ya:  What’s the difference in hunger and a craving?

The terms hunger and cravings often get used interchangeably…such as “I am craving ice cream” or “I am hungry for something sweet”…but there is a difference…

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How do you know when you are hungry?

Technically speaking: Hunger is a physical feeling of discomfort or weakness caused by lack of food, that triggers the desire to eat.

For example, if you eat breakfast at 7 a.m. and then get straight to work…by 1 p.m.—about 6 hours later—your body is hungry for something to eat. 

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A craving on the other hand is defined as a powerful desire for something.

Repeat: a craving is a powerful desire for something—you may not be physically hungry, but your body is still telling you that it’s missing something…

For example, if it’s that time of the month, you may get a craving—a strong desire—for chocolate—your body is craving serotonin…or if you’re anemic, you may get a craving for a juicy steak—your body is craving iron. 

While hunger and cravings are different…they are both a sign of your body telling you that it needs or wants something to feel more balanced.

And, believe it or not, your gut microbiome is one of the biggest influences over your hunger and craving cues!

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Simply put: a healthy gut, hungers and craves a balanced diet…an unhealthy gut sends ALL SORTS OF MIXED MESSAGES about food!

One minute, you feel bloated and constipated or simply no appetite at all…Then all of a sudden, you are starving and hangry—all you can think about is food!…Other times you crave carbs, fruit, snacks and sweets—and sometimes accidentally overeat them when you finally get your hands on them…You can’t help it!

 

All of these are signs something is up with your blood sugar and your biome…NOT your willpower. 

 

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Consider Becca for example—a 26 year old girl I worked with who felt like she was enslaved to her body’s constant bloating, confusing hunger and sugar cravings, and constant thoughts about food throughout the day!

 

Although Becca tried her best to make “good choices” like salads with chicken…fruit smoothies…and fresh fruit instead… no matter what she ate, within an hour or two after eating, she was hungry and craving food again! 

 

By dinnertime, after eating another “healthy” meal—some chicken or salmon and broccoli…she couldn’t help it any longer…bring on the Hershey’s chocolate…granola cereal…and peanut butter and jelly sandwich…causing her more guilt, frustration and angst over food…this cycle continued….until…we helped her tame her gut bugs…

 

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Specific types of gut bacteria send signals to your brain…telling you what they want to eat so they can boost serotonin and dopamine—the feel good brain chemicals produced in your gut!

 

Lightbulb: Our gut plays a huge role in how we feel—and what we crave…and  if our gut bugs are out of balance…sometimes they crave foods that keep us out of balance.

 

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Studies in gastric-bypass patients and pregnant women offer great insights into the gut—cravings connection! 

 

The gut undergoes a HUGE shift after bypass surgery…as a result people suddenly stop craving Wendy’s double bacon cheeseburgers and hiding Jolly Ranchers in their pockets…willpower? Or gut shift? 

 

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Pregnancy also creates major changes in a mom’s gut… Vaginal microbes transform into tons of lactobacillus species that actually mimic the microbiome of an obese person as their body begins to nourish another human—and these gut bacteria often crave funky things  like pickles and ice cream, pimento cheese sandwiches, and Mac and cheese. 

 

Anything goes!

 

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Another example: do you like to eat the same EXACT foods every day? This is totally me if I am not mindful of varying it up! A non-diverse gut biome thrives upon a LOW diverse diet—so people who tend to eat the same exact foods every day have less gut diversity…

 

Or what about cravings for foods that don’t always make you feel great—but for some reason you still crave them anyways! Like cheese! Despite the bloating and brain fog…you can’t help it…because of the casomorphines—drug like chemicals that imbalanced microbes want more of!

 

Gut bacteria can also dictate the foods you dislike.

 

For example “Supertasters”—people who can’t stand vegetables, especially kids—have a completely different gut bacteria profile that tells them not to eat bitter foods like Brussels sprouts and broccoli. 

 

A challenge I often give my patients is to make a list of the veggies they don’t love and nutrient-rich foods they don’t eat a lot of…and eat more of them to diversify their gut!

 

Part 2: Blood Sugar 101

 

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Ultimately, your gut bacteria primarily dictate your cravings, hunger cues and energy levels by affecting your blood sugar levels!

 

As a quick refresher, blood sugar is your body’s primary source of energy that you get when gut bacteria break down the foods you eat…

 

Basically blood sugar like fuel you put into your car tank…as long as you stay nourished with well-digested fuel your car (your body) will be able to go.  

 

On the flip side, if your gut bacteria are out of whack and you can’t digest your food appropriately…you blood sugar gets out of whack!

 

You’re probably familiar with what happens when blood sugar dips too low— you get hangry…light headed…and all you can think about is food. This is called hypoglycemia

 

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On the flip side: you also know hyperglycemia—that blood sugar high you got as a kid on Halloween when you ate an entire bag of Skittles…3 mini Snickers bars…and a handful of gummy bears—in one setting. 

 

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These ups and downs in blood sugar really happen by 3 primary ways…

 

#1. You’re not eating enough fuel—especially proteins and healthy fats

 

#2. You’re not absorbing and digesting your fuel

 

#3. Your body is stressed out! Cortisol—your stress hormone—feeds off blood sugar…if you’re sleep deprived, dehydrated, over-trained or overly-anxious, then bring on the Reese’s peanut butter cup cravings!

 

Basically, the more balanced your gut and less stressed you feel, the more balanced your blood sugar overall. 

 

Unfortunately, at least 1 in 3 people have some type of blood sugar imbalance—even thin, fit people like Cat Woman Superstar Hallie Berry who has a newer type of diabetes—type 1.5…moreover, approximately 90% of people don’t even realize they have blood sugar issues!

 

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See if any of these signs of blood sugar and gut imbalance ring a bell for you…

 

#1. You’re Tired…All the Time

Simply put: if your gut is not absorbing and digesting that food, then you’ll feel zapped… Even if you are eating plenty of calories!

 

#2. You Wake Up in the Middle of the Night

This is often a sign that your blood sugar is dipping in the middle of the night…to help rescue you from a crash, cortisol and adrenaline spike waking you up.

#3. You Need Coffee to Function

Coffee boosts cortisol, which in turn boosts blood sugar levels so you can have more fake energy…

#4. You Think About Food…A lot.

When your body is hungry at a cellular level due to poor digestion or nutrient deficiencies, it innately makes you think more about food—even if you feel bloated or full in your stomach. 

 

#5. You Get Food Cravings…A lot

Especially for carbs, sweets, juice, smoothies, fruits, artificial sweeteners and salty snacks. These foods are the fastest burning fuel and easiest, most rapidly absorbed sources of glucose to quickly bump blood sugar up. 

 

#6. You Binge…Especially Later in the Day

We call this the “hypoglycemic binge”—a habit that strikes as blood sugar levels begin to dip, especially when meals have been skipped, restricted or delayed. 

 

#7. You Skip Breakfast & Don’t Love Meat

People with hypoglycemic tendencies often have poor digestive fire—lower stomach acid enzymes—making breakfast and meat sound BLAH…ironically, meat and breakfast actually help balance blood sugar… 

 

If any of these sounds like you…your blood sugar and gut bacteria are off!

 

If you’re a numbers person, you can also test your blood sugar with a glucometer —like the Freestyle Lite on Amazon—to figure out your blood sugar patterns.  I’m including a handout for you this week on how to do that!

 

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What to Do About It

 

So what to do about imbalanced blood sugar? 

 

  1. Number one, eating ENOUGH food is essential. While I am not a big calorie counter, most moderately active women—not marathon runners or those with high training intensity— need at least 1600 to 2200 calories per day—and I often see half of this in food logs…calories don’t equal “weight gain” or “fat”—they equal energy and a faster metabolism—something we will talk about in another lesson.

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  1. Eat at least 20-30 grams of protein within the first hour or two of waking—this sets the tone for blood sugar for the entire day, even something like some bone broth or a paleo protein powder

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Between meals—reach for a protein or healthy fat based snack—if you’re feeling hangry or snacky, a protein or healthy fat based snack will help level out blood sugar over a granola bar, fruit or another cup of coffee…also if you experience insomnia in the middle of the night, try eating a small protein snack like a cup of bone broth before bed to prevent the hypoglycemic crash that often wakes people up between 3 and 5 am. Check out your cheat sheet for all my snack and gut love treat ideas!

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