04 Jan Ask Jenny: How Can I Beat My Sugar Cravings?
In my weekly Ask Jenny column, I answer all of your health and nutrition questions. Have a well-being concern or question you’d like advice on? Submit your question by emailing email@example.com and have it answered by a Board Certified Holistic Nutritionist and Celebrity Health Coach!
Dear Jennifer, I really struggle with sugar cravings and feel this is sabotaging my attempts to lose weight. Can you help me?
It’s Not Willpower, It’s Biochemistry!
Let’s stop the guilt and shame around cravings! One of the most important things I educate my clients on is that cravings are not your fault, and that if you give in to them it is not a case of lack of willpower or mental fortitude – it’s purely your body trying to correct an imbalance in your biochemistry.
Food Is Information
Yes, food provides fuel for the body, but it also (and just as importantly) provides information. When we eat foods such as sugars and refined carbohydrates they stimulate the pancreas to secrete the hormone insulin. This hormone helps shuttle the sugars (now broken down into molecules called glucose) into our cells where it will either be used as fuel or stored as fat. In the case of sugars and refined carbohydrates this process happens super quickly (as there is a lack of fibre which slows down the blood sugar spike), leaving you feeling hungry (and possibly ‘hangry’ as this process also releases cortisol, our stress hormone) soon after eating. This sharp rise and then fall in blood sugar will leave you craving sugar and high carb food as the body desperately tries to balance your bio chemistry. This is why we call it a ‘blood sugar rollercoaster’!
Wired To Eat
Sugar and sweet foods bind to the same receptors in the brain that opioids do, stimulating a release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes us feel happy and relaxed. It is argued that this response is an ancient survival mechanism for humans – naturally occuring sweet foods such as fruits and honey were hard to come by for our paleolithic ancestors, and their high energy content was a useful fuel for hunter gatherers (for more info on this read ‘Wired to Eat’ by Robb Wolfe)
However, that neurological survival mechanism now works against us, instead of for us in the 21st century – we have unlimited access to sugar and refined carbohydrates combined with an extremely sedentary lifestyle (we can Uber Eats Chik-fil-A for dinner rather than hunting down a buffalo), which is causing the incredible increases in overweight, obesity and chronic (lifestyle) disease that we see today.
How to Conquer Your Sugar Cravings
Beating sugar cravings for good is a key part of my 8 Week Lean and Clean Program (we have a whole module devoted to it), and it is so rewarding to see the participants kick their sugar habit in just a couple of weeks.
We do this using the followings strategies:
- Perform a kitchen clean out – if sugar and refined carb filled foods are in the house you will be tempted to eat them, no matter how hard you try! I’ve lived sugar free (except for birthdays and holidays) for many years, but I still can’t keep sweet treats in my kitchen. If you have unopened products please consider donating them to a neighbor in need or local food pantry. If you still want to keep these foods in the house for other family members keep them in a separate drawer or cupboard that is more challenging to access – even the simple act of having to think about and get to these foods can interrupt the pattern of craving/reward.
- Keep blood sugar balanced – the 3 key foods that keep blood sugar balanced, prevent you jumping on the roller coaster and stop cravings in their tracks are protein, fibre and fat, and this is why they make up the PFF Formula that I use in my Lean and Clean Program.
The Protein, Fibre, Fat Formula
By ensuring every meal and mini meal (my term for a healthy snack) contains the holy trinity of protein, fibre and fat you will stay full and satiated, eliminate cravings, and enable your body to burn its stored body fat for fuel (one of the other functions of insulin, the hormone produced when we eat high sugar/high carb foods is storage – it tells our body to store the food we eat, preventing us from burning fat). This is one of the essential but oft-neglected keys to a healthy metabolism and long term, sustainable weight loss.
- Protein: optimal protein intake is key for satiety, blood sugar balance and a healthy metabolism, and most Americans are not eating enough protein. Contrary to a lot of ‘pop science’ info available on social media) medium and high protein diets are not bad for you, and there is actually no upper intake limit for protein consumption. Protein breaks down into amino acids, not glucose, so does not spike your blood sugar. These amino acids are used for growth and repair in the body, and help to build lean muscle mass which increases your metabolism. When considering that food is information protein prevents the secretion of Ghrelin, the ‘hunger hormone’ and Neuropeptide Y, the hormone that causes sugar cravings, and increases the secretion of Peptide YY, the hormone that reduces appetite. I recommend a 20-40g serving of protein at every meal, and a minimum of 120g a day if you are looking to burn fat, lose weight and boost your metabolism.
- Fibre: I recommend getting the majority of your fibre intake from vegetables and low sugar fruits, especially if fat loss and balancing your blood sugar are your goals. As these are complex or cellular carbohydrates the body takes longer to digest and absorb them, preventing blood sugar spikes and cravings. These foods are also packed full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, of which adequate amounts can help prevent cravings. These fibrous veggies and low GI fruits prevent the release of insulin and promotes the release of Leptin, Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 and Cholecystokinin, hormone that keeps us feeling full and satiated.
- Fat: when digested fat breaks down into fatty acids that can be used as energy for the body, and does not trigger insulin release. Fat is essential for creating a feeling of fullness, and including healthy fats such as avocado, extra virgin olive oil and nuts and seeds at every meal actually helps up to eat less and keep blood sugar balanced. These healthy fats promote the release of Cholecystokinin and prevents the release of Neuropeptide Y, which is why you always feel hungry when following a low fat diet.
Living Lean and Clean
I use the above formula in my 8 Week Lean and Clean Program to achieve healthy, sustainable fat loss with all of the participants. Through specifically designed ‘done for you’ meal plans, over 100 recipes following the PFF formula, weekly workshops and live Q&A’s combined with accountability, support and feedback this science based, evidence backed weight loss program promises to help you:
- lose pounds, inches and body fat
- improve your metabolic markers
- balance your blood sugar and conquer your cravings
- stop you obsessing over food and wondering what to eat
- not feel hungry or deprived
- live a lean and clean lifestyle following the program and keep the incredible results you achieve for life.
Enrollment is now open for the January program. Use the link below for more information and to sign up. Upon enrolling you will receive your Intro Pack, Week 1 Meal Plans and Recipes, and entry into the Private FB Group:
More Advice on Staying Healthy
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