I'm a psychotherapist and wellness coach, and founder of The Calm & Happy Gut Solution. I specialise in gut directed hypnotherapy and CBT for IBS, helping my clients to beat their symptoms without restrictive diets or being medicated the rest of their lives.
Sugar cravings can be relentless, with the pull to eat something sweet overwhelming to both your thoughts and actions.
Do you ever feel as though someone else is controlling you and you’re powerless to walk away?
Don’t worry, you’re not going crazy and I promise you there is hope.
When it comes to regaining control over sugar we need to address the trio of cravings – physical cravings, mental cravings and emotional cravings.
The simplest place to start when curbing that sweet tooth is by looking at the foods you are eating regularly, and working to get your physical sugar cravings under control.
In this post I’m going to focus soley on why your body is physically craving sugar, which is closely tied to the effect that the sugar you eat has on something called your blood sugar levels.
When you eat something with sugar in it, whether it’s a cake, bar of chocolate or sugary drink, the sugar contained within it, is turned into glucose in your bloodstream.
In fact any foods containing carbohydrates will cause glucose to be released into your bloodstream, but highly refined sugary and starchy foods (e.g. pasta, breads and rice) will often cause the sharpest rise in your ‘blood sugar levels’.
When your blood sugar levels start to rise and then spike, you experience what many of us call a ‘sugar high’ – a jolt of energy. This sugar high or sugar buzz is even more obvious if you haven’t eaten anything for a while and your blood sugar levels where on the low side prior to eating.
But here’s the thing. Too much glucose in your blood can be dangerous, so your body works to move this excess glucose out of your bloodstream with the help of something called insulin, and into your cells. Problem solved.
Although now you are faced with a sudden decrease in blood sugar – which causes what many of would describe as a ‘sugar crash’. Have you ever experienced the post lunch slump? or the 3pm crash? That feeling of tiredness and the inability to concentrate after a big lunch of pasta or pizza, or after you’ve indulged in something sweet?
As your body works to move glucose out of your blood steam, your blood sugar levels rapidly drop. So not only do you now feel sleepy and irritable, you can also feel weak and shaky.
But because your body needs to keep your blood sugar levels constant… it’s at this point that you start to crave sugar again in an effort to combat the now low levels of blood sugar… and so the cycle continues…
Remember what they say? ‘What comes up must come down’. This is why if you rely on sugary foods for those energy highs it’s easy to get locked into a cycle of sugar highs and crashes.
Clearly a diet of sugar highs and sugar crashes is not sustainable over time. This is a fast track to type 2 diabetes, so we need to find a way to get you off the sugar high-low rollercoaster for good.
If your body could talk to you, it would tell you that it needs to keep your blood sugar levels constant. Stable and consistent blood sugar levels help break the physical hunger cycle. You remove the sugar highs and take away the sugar lows. Your energy levels start to even out, and you’re not a slave to the effects sugar has on your blood stream.
So where do you start?
There are many steps you can take, including switching to foods with a lower glycemic index, increasing your fat intake and including a healthy source of protein in your meals. All of these strategies work to slow down the amount and rate at which the sugar from the food you eat is being released into your bloodstream.
Meaning you start to get off the physical craving rollercoaster.
Not only will protein help fill you up (meaning you won’t find yourself snacking as often), it also has a beneficial impact on your blood sugar levels. This is good news.
The research suggests that not only does protein not increase blood sugar levels, but if eaten in combination with carbohydrates can actually positively influence the effect that the carbohydrate (let’s use the example of white rice) would have had on your blood sugar levels (also known as the glycemic response).
What does this mean in the real world?
It means that if you add a source of protein to your white rice at lunch time, you will delay how fast your stomach empties, and in turn slow the rate at which those carbs from the white rice can be digested and absorbed. Meaning you lower the rate at which your blood sugar levels rise, and even out the sugar highs and sugar lows.
In summary, eating protein will help get you off the sugar rollercoaster!
So now you know why protein is important, let’s look at the best sources of protein to start adding to your breakfast, lunch and dinner to help control those sugar cravings.
Eggs are among the healthiest, most nutritious and versatile foods out there. Perfect for breakfast, lunch and diner, or even as an afternoon snack. If you’re a morning toast person, one simple way to slow down the rate at which the sugar is released from the toast, is to make eggs on toast! This way you’ll feel fuller for longer, and avoid the mid-morning sugar rollercoaster.
One egg has 6 grams of protein.
Chicken can be easily added to lunch and dinner, and is great to through into a salad or a bowl of pasta to help fill you up and keep away that sugar crash.
One 170g chicken breast contains around 54g of protein.
Tinned or fresh, Tuna is a great option to help increase the protein content of your meals. You can even keep a small tin of tuna in your desk drawer at work to add to salads or as an afternoon snack. Just make sure if you opt for the canned version that you choose Tuna in Spring Water to avoid extra sugar and preservatives.
One tin of Tuna provides 20 grams of protein.
Lentils are not just for vegetarians or vegans. You can use lentils as the foundation of your main meals, or simply add them as a side dish.
One cup of lentils has 17.9g of protein.
Almonds, Walnuts, Pumpkin Seeds, Sunflower Seeds.. the list is endless. A wonderful source of protein (among other nutritional benefits), a handful of nuts or seeds is an easy way to increase your protein intake, especially when you’re out and about.
A handful of pumpkin seeds contains around 8.5 of protein.
Oats can be a great breakfast option, and can be easily added to homemade granola bars for a healthy afternoon snack. Oats are considered by many as being among the healthiest grains available, and one cup of oats contains 11 grams of protein. Just make sure you don’t get carried away with adding sugar to your morning oats!
One cup of oats provides your body with about 5grams of protein.
Many people don’t actually realise that vegetables are a source of protein too! And broccoli is actually one of my favourites. Broccoli can be added to soups, stir fry’s, salads, and even steamed or roasted as it’s own side dish.
One cup of chopped broccoli has 3 grams of protein.
So there you have it!
Learning how to regain control over your sugar cravings does involve some changes. To help set yourself up for success, it’s important to keep these simple, and to make small sustainable changes over time.
A key component of change is to not overwhelm yourself. So start small, and ladder up over time.
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