Mindful Tips to Manage Sugar Cravings (Part 2)
If you read my previous post on sugar, you should now be familiar with the difference between added vs naturally occurring sugars. It is the added sugar (or refined sugars found in packaged or processed foods) we need to be especially cautious of getting too much of.
For the general population, the goal (set out by the World Health Organization) is to limit added sugar intake to 5% or less of our total calories per day. For the person consuming around 2000 calories a day, this would be about 6 tsp (25 g) of added sugars. For many, this number might seem unachievable.
While it is true that a large portion of added sugars in our diet come from hidden sources (like sauces, snacks and other packaged foods), a major contributor of our added sugar intake is from the obvious foods like desserts, candies and chocolates. Of course, having the occasional baked good at the coffee shop or a slice of pumpkin pie at a holiday dinner is nothing to concern over (after all, treat yourself sometimes!). But, if you tend to rely on sugary foods for a quick energy fix, you may want to consider breaking the habit to help you achieve your health goals.
Here are some simple tips to help you adjust your eating habits and patterns so that you aren’t relying on refined sugars & sweets for a boost on a regular basis.
1) Eat regular meals throughout the day.
Sounds basic but it is often overlooked! Skipping or delaying meals can you leave you ravenous, resulting in unruly cravings that often have you reaching for things you know you shouldn’t. Keep your cravings at bay and your blood sugar balanced, by eating your meals before you are starving and about 3-4 hours in between.
2) Space out your protein.
This one ties into the above point; every time you eat make sure you include a source of protein. This macronutrient is a key player in satiety, and therefore appetite regulation. Aim for 20-30 grams of protein at each meal, and 10-15 g at snacks. Good sources include eggs, chicken, fish, beans & chickpeas, cottage cheese, greek / skyr yogurt, edamame beans, tempeh, tofu, and unsalted nuts.
3) Ask yourself: why am I craving this food?
Sometimes it helps to take a step back and think about why you might want a certain food at a particular point in time. Is it hunger? Boredom? Stress? It may be helpful for you to keep a symptom journal to help you track patterns in your food choices and cravings. Perhaps stress is the culprit, so what can you do to get around that? Find other ways to cope and practice self-care, like talking to a friend about how you are feeling, taking a bath, making some tea, yoga, exercise, etc.
4) Don’t restrict your carbs.
This is a trend I often see in my clients; the all or nothing approach. They try to be “perfect” and avoid carbs at all costs thinking they are doing themselves good. But soon enough their body starts to crave a source of sugar (after all, our body needs carbs to function!) and it leads to a binge. It’s a common mindset I see – we think that we need to completely avoid eating bread, potatoes, pasta, and other starchy foods because they will contribute to weight gain. The problem with this restriction is that but our body becomes deprived and this can lead to cravings for sugary foods that can result in binges.
Here’s the key: eat most of your carbs around the times that you are most active, and choose carbs higher in fibre and nutrients like brown rice, sweet potato, squash, or quinoa most often. If you want a sweet treat such as a muffin or cookie, then have it after your workout so that those quick carbs (aka sugar) are put to good use to refeed your tired muscles.
5) Add natural sweetness to your meals.
This plays into the suggestion above. By using small amounts of natural sugars to add flavour to your meals, your body and taste buds won’t feel so deprived if you are trying to consume less sugary treats. Try fresh fruit slices in your salads, dried fruit to flavour your morning oatmeal, or adding sweeter vegetables like squash or sweet potato to your dishes.
6) Enjoy Treats in Social Company
As I said, enjoying treats sometimes is normal and completely restricting enjoyable foods like desserts is not healthy either. Something that might help us enjoy the times that we do want to treat ourselves is to enjoy it in the presence of others. Perhaps you might ask your good friend out for a cupcake date, and make the most out of it! Another option is to bake for a friend group, or family, and enjoy the sweets together. We are often able to control our intake of foods like sweets and desserts when we are in the presence of others.
7) Practice Mindful Eating
How can we be more mindful with the food that we do consume? Sometimes rushing to eat or distracted eating can lead to a lack of satisfaction, and we might feel like we need something to fill the void (like a treat later on). Make eating your meals a priority, and think of it as a time-out in your day. Whether you eat in company, or on your own, put away the distractions (yes, shut off the Instagram, email & mindless TV!), and enjoy each bite of food. Slow down and savour the taste and flavours, making every forkful count, and stop when you recognize that you are full. You might be surprised at the stress-relieving effects, and the increase in satisfaction.
Wondering about sugar substitutes and whether these are a better alternative to added sugars? Read my blog post on the topic here.
Hope you enjoyed these tips!
Until next time,