Say you start off your morning with a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal with rice milk and a banana. You’re probably thinking, “What a healthy choice I’ve made!” 2 hours later, you’re feeling a dip in energy. For these moments you keep a Clif bar in your desk, as it keeps you from grabbing candy from your coworker’s candy stash. Then you have a light lunch of a veggie salad and a diet soda. This seems like a great idea since recently you noticed some weight gain and figure this is the best bet at keeping those extra pounds at bay. In the afternoon you have a packaged smoothie and another diet soda before hitting the gym. Then you come home feeling exhausted and reach for the easiest food possible- a frozen vegetarian meal, followed by another bowl of cereal and ½ a pint of frozen yogurt. It was so hard to resist that dessert, and besides it says healthy choice right on the side of it. You’ve been counting calories and you’re staying at an adequate level to slowly lose some weight. Yet ironically, the scale has gone up!
Let’s look at the above scenario in depth a little more. I’m going to give the breakdown of the sugar content of the day.
Breakfast- 1 tsp of sugar in the coffee (4 grams), 1.5 cups of Kashi Go Lean cereal (18 grams), 1 cup regular rice milk (10 grams), banana (17 grams), Clif bar (22 grams)
Lunch- salad: 1 oz dried cranberries (18 grams), low-fat honey mustard dressing (7 grams).
Snack- Odwalla Superfood (37grams in 12 oz).
Dinner- frozen veggie meal (9 grams), repeat of breakfast cereal & milk (28 grams) and health-food store frozen yogurt (34 grams).
Let’s take a moment to add this all up = 204 grams of sugar!
I bet that was far from what you thought you had eaten, especially given that so much of this was apparently healthy.
This is actually how I ate at one point of my life, and I felt awful. I’d even go on massive food binges and couldn’t understand why, when I was eating so healthy. Now I know, sugar was the guaranteed ingredient to trigger my system into the abyss of cravings. There were some major key ingredients missing from the above plan: protein, eating meals while sitting down, meals with other people, and minimally processed food.
Let’s look at the science of what was happening here:
- You have coffee & carbohydrates at breakfast with little fat or protein to balance it out. The blood sugar goes up, then comes plummeting down, followed by a rise in cortisol. Cortisol is a great hormone that we need, however when released under stress, it spikes the hunger. Hence, the desire for mid-morning sugar-dense snack.
- Lunch is basically a repeat of breakfast with this rise in blood sugar after eating, a crash, and then a spike in cortisol, followed by craving for the afternoon sugar.
- Dinner, again a repeat of the main meals.
- Diet soda- because this is not actual sugar, it confuses the neurochemistry, mounting desire for more food.
So how do you break this cycle?
- Eat! Eat real food (not packaged) and eat regularly. Have protein with your breakfast & lunch, and the chances of mass cravings diminish substantially. My breakfast is often a free-range chicken sausage & vegetables or 2 eggs with salsa & avocado on a corn tortilla, which guarantees no sugar craving.
- Eat enough fat and your body will crave less food overall.
- Check food labels for added sugars or total sugars. I bet you wouldn’t have thought a 12oz smoothie would have 37 grams of sugar.
- Sit down to eat, and put your food on a plate. This can take time in our daily go-go world, yet it allows the body to send strong signals of satiety to the brain & body, minimizing cravings.
- Make dessert a special occasion and make it count! I recommend dessert no more than 1-2 times weekly for keeping a balanced system. Go for the full-fat version and serve a single portion on a fancy plate or in a martini glass. Then, most importantly sit down and enjoy it.
- Eat with others. Truly, this makes a difference. When we spend time with others, our serotonin levels go up and this lowers hunger levels. Eating with others is a celebration and time to connect.
- Taste your food. Take time to delight in each bite or sip and you’ll get a boost of digestive enzymes to break it down and prevent bloating and other digestive discomforts.
- Sleep. A poorly rested body will crave more food for energy than a revitalized body.
For more Naturopathic support with balancing sugar in your life, make an appointment with Dr. Lisa Valent, ND LMP!
A great video on identifying “hidden sugar,” submitted by Dr. Lisa!