It’s Valentine’s Day today, and a day where many of us give and receive gifts of candy and chocolate. It can feel like the whole world is covered in sugar and for some of us, sugar addiction is real. This time of year can be extremely difficult for those of us who struggle, whether we are bingeing on the stuff or whether we are trying to steer clear of it…because it is everywhere.
For some of us, we are just better off avoiding it or else we end up craving more and more of it…like a drug. For others, a little chocolate or candy once in a while is no big thing.
I lie somewhere in the middle now–I have developed a lifestyle where I know my limits with sugar and I work hard not to cross the line. It can get tough, when I become stressed and want to eat my anxiety rather than deal with it, but with practice and time it gets easier.
Last week, I shared my top 5 tips for dealing with sugar addiction. I hope they served you if you are struggling with food and sugar. This week, we keep the conversation going with my remaining 5 tips.
My story with sugar goes back to when I was a kid. My mom had us eating healthy in our home, and treats were a rare occurrence, but whenever my parents would entertain and receive chocolate as a hostess gift, I would get excited, knowing that it might end up in the downstairs freezer where I could sneak it. I would skulk down the stairs, reach up and open the freezer door and carefully remove the package, hide behind the door and eat several pieces (my favourites were Ovation and After Eight), and once I was done, I would quietly replace the box and sneak back up the stairs.
While I was an extremely active and healthy child, sugar was definitely something I craved. At the age of about 9, I vividly remember waking up and patting my pillow to find the candy bar I had been dreaming about. My heart absolutely sank when I realized I wasn’t going to be having chocolate for breakfast!
As a young teenager, I discovered alcohol, and as my craving for alcohol increased, my penchant for sugary foods decreased.
Until I got sober.
When I got sober, all of a sudden, all I wanted to do was eat sugar.
Lots and lots of sugar.
I knew I had to figure out ways to heal myself and so I went on a journey inward. A journey towards greater self-awareness and self-care, and I feel so fortunate to be able to now, finally, share what I have learned with you.
So let’s keep going! Let’s get to the remaining tips that served me when I got sober and started craving sugar. If you missed numbers 1-5, you can check them out here.
#6. Getting Sweaty! I schedule my exercise, knowing that I can release feel-good endorphins just by moving my body. It’s amazing! We all want to feel better and we sometimes forget that we can do so in the simple act of moving around. I found things I liked such as yoga, pilates, strength training and kick boxing. Find what YOU like to do, and get moving! I always like to nourish my body with good food after I have exercised, as well, so I use exercise as a “hack”, if you will, in order to keep me wanting to make the choices I know I want to make.
#7. Setting Up For Success. I created an environment that supported my goals. If I have a bunch of junk food in my home, I will eat that junk food. I will be thinking about it, obsessing over it, and even if I am not actually hungry, I will find myself getting “munchie” and I will reach for the easy fix. It’s that simple. Having junk food around means that when I get hungry, I won’t grab the apple, I’ll grab the chips.
Keeping my home a “safe haven” is one of the easiest strategies to maintaining the lifestyle I want to be living. Note: I realize that there are people who want to improve their health who are living with others who don’t share that desire. If that’s you, hopefully by you making changes, they will be eating better by default. But if they have bags of snacks around, I highly recommend having a designated spot where all junk food goes and it is a place you just choose not to go.
#8. Cheat! That brings me to #8. I am not saying I never, ever eat junk food! I do! While my desire for junk has certainly diminished over the years since feeling so much better and gaining more time in my lifestyle, there are times I go out and have what I call a “cheat” meal. I use the word “cheat” because I am not eating to nourish my body…I am eating for entertainment. Which is ok! Some of the time. I choose to go out and have something I wouldn’t normally have because I want to kill a craving or just “go for it” and eat that chocolate cake or deep dish pizza or burger and fries or popcorn at the movies. But I have eyes wide open about it. I know what I am doing. I am doing it consciously. I am planning for it. I also choose to leave it there…I don’t like to bring it home.
#9. Be Gentle. That brings me to #9. When I do make choices that I haven’t planned for and I have gone off track a little, I don’t beat myself up. If I grab the cookie or order something off the menu I would have otherwise avoided, I am gentle with myself. I am ok with it. I move on and I don’t spend the rest of the day saying, “Well, I had that pizza at lunch so I may as well have this three cheese burrito for dinner!” No. I just pick myself back up and move on, usually with a nice meal I’ve already made and have left over in the fridge.
#10. Being Mindful. This list wouldn’t be complete (although I do have several other strategies which I will continue to share) without including the impact that practicing mindfulness has had on my life. Being present in all areas of my life, but certainly when making food choices, has been a game-changer for me. Making food choices from a place of hunger, not craving; a need for nourishment, not entertainment; and placing a heavy focus on being mindful of my emotions and my actions has dramatically shifted my relationship with food. And, in particular, with sugar.
In The 6 Week Sugar Freedom eCourse, I share a Food-Mood Journal that must be filled out as homework each and every time my students put something in their mouths. While they won’t likely want to do this forever, it is a practical tool that helps them become more mindful of their food choices and it shows them how unconsciously we can often eat.
If you are struggling to make the connection between what you eat and how you feel, A Food-Mood Journal is an amazing tool to help you uncover patterns and pitfalls. When you can read, in black and white, that eating those cookies or that candy or pint of ice cream gave you a tummy ache, you can begin to raise your awareness about your choices…and perhaps make other ones, if you choose to.
It’s amazing what happens when we track what we put in our mouths (in the moment) and then be present with our body to acknowledge how it’s truly feeling after eating. If you are someone who is looking to understand your eating behaviour, I highly recommend this practice, and if weight loss is a goal for you, it should be a non-negotiable! Studies show that those who track their food intake, on average, lose 3 times as much weight as those who don’t track. While my program is never about weight loss, it is a common side effect from becoming more mindful and making more whole-food choices as a result. It feels good to write down a whole bunch of awesome food choices and the way we feel about them rather than a list of junk food along with the way we feel about those ones.
So that’s it! My top tips for dealing with sugar addiction when you’ve quit drinking (and even if you haven’t). You’ll notice that I don’t share any specific diets or supplements because I am not a proponent of strict protocols or supplement regimens. Diets and supplements don’t help us if we haven’t uncovered what is truly going on inside of us. I choose to develop a lifestyle that feels proactive, not reactive. A lifestyle that I want to be living, and one that is tailored to me as an individual.
That said, Vitamin D has shown to help people with cravings because there are receptor cells in the brain that control metabolism and hunger levels. Research shows that they may need vitamin D to function properly.
Vitamin D acts as a hormone that helps release neurotransmitters including serotonin, otherwise known as “the happy hormone”. Low blood levels of vitamin D have been linked to depression. When people feel down, they often remain sedentary while also reaching for sugary foods to give them a boost. This can lead to more sugar cravings and weight gain, as well as the risk of developing diabetes.
I always recommend people get their blood work done, but most of us are deficient in vitamin D. Personally, I take 3,000 IUs daily.
The Bottom Line
I want to feel freedom around food and I realize that takes effort on my part—I don’t feel free when I just say, “Screw it! I’ll just eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full!” That approach doesn’t work for those of us who don’t understand the basics of nutrition, the law of hunger and the science of our body. Once we know how our bodies actually work, and when we learn to treat them the way they want to be treated, everything changes.
We can become experts in our own lives…and with our own bodies.
Let’s face it, we get manuals for every single appliance we own, and yet we often have NO CLUE how our own body actually works!
Let’s do all that we can to live a lifestyle we want to be living. Let’s find more, not less, freedom around food when we understand what food’s real purpose is. Yes, we use food to celebrate, but we can also celebrate using nourishing foods, can’t we?
Can we take a veggie tray with all sorts of yummy home made dips like hummus, Tzatziki and guacamole to the party instead of the chips and store-bought dip?
Can we make a tasty h’ors d’oeuvre that people will gobble up and leave them feeling great rather than feeding them snacks that have them craving and feeling drained?
Can we bake a delicious cake using whole foods instead of using refined flour and sugar?
Can we make crowd-pleasing meals that call for ingredients our bodies know what to do with instead of loading our carts with bags and boxes of powders that we mix up and call dinner?
And can we celebrate Valentine’s Day with things other than candy and chocolate? Because I believe we can do better than that…
Let’s keep opening our eyes to what’s really going on.
Awareness is always, always the first step.
Because I want you to live with more freedom in your life.
Because I want you to have a less complicated relationship around food.
Because I want you to love your life.
Because I want you to love your life one bite at a time.
P.S. Did this post serve you? If so, I want to hear from you! Comment below and let’s keep talking.
P.P.S. On April 22 & 23, my team and I are running The Healthy Brain and Body Show at the EY Centre in Ottawa! If you live in the area, it is going to be an amazing opportunity for us to learn from, be inspired by, and purchase amazing products from experts in the health and wellness industry. We have hand-selected many of the exhibitors we want at our show, but if YOU are in the wellness space and you want to be a part of this exciting event, we want to hear from you! Feel free to head over to the website, HealthyBrainAndBodyShow.com and download the Exhibitor Package or email me at Sarah@SarahTalksFood.com. I will happily answer all of your questions!