Are your sugar cravings in the driver’s seat?
Does it feel like your sugar cravings are in the driver’s seat, especially before your period? Or maybe you notice times of the day where all you’re thinking about is a delicious cookie, chocolate bar, candy or baked good?
It can be a vicious cycle of being tempted by sugar that temporarily makes you feel good but often leaves you feeling worse. You are not alone. This sugar roller coaster is common to a lot of women.
Let’s take a look at a few reasons behind sugar cravings.
Sugar and fat get used quickly by the body to fuel the stress response. Stress tells the body, through the hormone cortisol, that it needs energy to keep up with the demands of stress. Cortisol ramps up insulin levels leading to a drop in blood sugar. This then causes an increase in cravings for sugary foods to balance the blood sugar drop. And when the stress subsides, your body needs to refuel itself, so it turns to sugar, carbs and fat.
What’s interesting is that an area of the brain that controls willpower is impacted by cortisol, whereby our ability to make decisions easily is weakened, such as whether to eat those cookies or not.
- Practicing stress management techniques, like moving your body (in whatever way makes you feel good), breathing exercises, connecting with your community, etc. will help reset your stress response, lessen burnout and associated sugar cravings.
2. Premenstrual hormones
It’s actually normal to be hungrier before your period. Here’s why:
- Your metabolism speeds up in your luteal phase.
- Your natural appetite suppressants, estrogen and serotonin, decrease in the premenstrual phase, leaving relatively more progesterone, which is an appetite stimulant, and increasing your cravings for simple carbohydrates.
The quick fix of simple carbs (candy, cookies, pastries) can lead to a rapid decline in blood sugar levels and energy, putting you back on the blood sugar roller coaster with more sugar cravings.
- If you’re hungrier during your premenstrual time, eat more! Opt for slow burning carbs (such as brown rice or sweet potato), high-fibre foods (beans/legumes, veggies) or protein-rich foods (nuts, seeds, animal proteins).
I’m sure we’re all familiar with the afternoon slump, where our energy drops and all we want to do is reach for something sweet for a pick me up.
Fatigue and lack of sleep interfere with our decision making, leaving less room for more helpful food choices and increased cravings for those foods (sugar!) that provide quick fuel.
- Sleep helps normalize our appetite, so doing what you can to get adequate sleep is helpful to keep sugar cravings from fatigue at bay. Sleep is also helpful in providing more resiliency towards stress and acting like a reset to make nourishing food choices the next day.
Cravings can sometimes be mental/emotional and arise from an unmet need or desire. We may use food to calm our anxiety, lift our mood, procrastinate an undesirable task or fill the void of loneliness or boredom.
- Take a 5-minute pause. Ask yourself, what am I really craving? Listen for the answer that arises. Do your best to give yourself what you’re needing.
1. Reach for protein, fibre or healthful fat
- Eat regular meals and include a source of protein, fibre or healthful fat with each meal or snack. These foods help you feel full and stabilize blood sugar levels, making you less likely to crave sugar.
- If you really want something sweet, pair it with some protein, fibre or fat. For example, pair dark chocolate with a few nuts or make chocolate avocado pudding.
2. Do a brain game
- Reach for a brain game like sudoku or a crossword puzzle the next time a sugar craving hits. Challenging your mind appears to reduce activity in the area of your brain linked to addictive habits, like overeating, making the habit less desirable.
- Also, cravings typically subside in 10-20 minutes, so engaging in an activity, like a brain puzzle, can also help.
3. Use your opposite hand to eat with!
- Eating with your non-dominant hand forces you to s l o w down, allowing you to feel more full. Because your body is able to release more appetite-curbing hormones when you slow down, your brain registers that you are full faster.
Give these a try next time you are struggling with a sugar craving. If you continue to notice challenges with curbing your sweet cravings, it could be something deeper that needs to be explored further.
Book a visit with Dr. Haarsma here.