Do I have tips? Of course! This is a great question, because I think all of us have at some point suffered from a sugar low in the afternoon. And in that moment when you are ready to fall asleep at your desk or over your child's artwork, the only thing to keep you alive is a big coffee with a muffin, and a cookie, and a chocolate bar. Before you know it, you are soaring on a sugar high being the most productive you've been all day, only to crash back down just before dinner, and start the viscous cycle all over again.
Our body is very strict when it comes to regulating our blood sugar levels. Too low, and there is no energy to maintain basic functions, and our body could fall into a coma. Too high, the sugar could poison our brain, and fall into a coma. Either way, it's not pleasant.
There are endless reasons for cravings. It could be the composition of prior meals, a lack of minerals in your body, hormone imbalances, yeast, bacterial or fungi infections, leaky gut, stress, the beginning or ending of a relationship, and so much more. As you can see, not all of them have to do with food. When I work one-on-one with clients in the 4 week Health Kickstarter program, we can often easily identify the reasons for cravings, and eliminate these "traps". Today I want to give you my top 8 tips, so you can help identify your reasons for cravings, eliminate them, and replace them with better habits:
1. What did you have for breakfast and lunch?
When we eat simple carbs (this means flour products, sugary cakes, cereals, granola bars) our body responds with insulin. This is our sugar controlling hormone, which signals to the body to open up doors to organs, such as the liver, and to other storage facilities, like your fatty tissue. Once the sugar moves from our digestive tract into the blood, these open doors help to eliminate the sugar from the blood quickly, so that the above mentioned coma doesn't happen. While some of the sugar may hit the brain to fuel the cells there, and give us a moment of energy, most of this excess sugar gets stored. First, it gets stored in our muscles in the form of glycogen. Once the muscles are full, the sugar gets sent to the liver and to our fatty tissue. This is where excess sugar gets stored as body fat. Yes, sugar turns to fat. What this all means for our energy level is that we have a quick rise of blood sugar and energy, followed by a quick drop of our blood sugar and energy. Because our body over-compensates, our sugar levels will probably crash down more dramatically than where they first started before our meal. This means we suddenly feel lousy and exhausted, hence making us crave more sugar.
We often get on this viscous cycle with our breakfast, and then continue to go through this all day, ending in the extreme low of the afternoon. What I just described to you doesn't mean that carbs are evil, and that we should be avoiding them. Eating whole grains will with a lot of fiber will help to slowly raise our blood sugar, supplying us with enough energy to make it through the day. Then the blood sugar will slowly drop, and it's already time for our next meal. This means, no cravings between meals.
2. Eat a balanced plate
In all my programs I always talk about the balanced plate. This means we should fill half of it with vegetables and/or fruit, the other half is a combination of whole grains, protein of your choice, mixed with a healthy fat. For example this could be a brown rice bowl with black beans and avocado, plus tomatoes, corn, and lettuce for the veggie half. The balanced plate is super flexible, and you can incorporate everything that you like on to this plate, while making sure you get the optimum amount of nutrition. Carbs, protein, and fat are all part of nature, and we are not meant to exclude one of them. We need all three to feel energized. If we constantly cut one out (or sometimes unconsciously when we only choose the salad for lunch), we set our body up for cravings. Cravings are a signal that something is missing. Eating a balanced plate at every meal helps to eliminate cravings.
3. Drink more water
I know I always come back to this one, because it is so essential. Every single cell in our body needs water to make energy. Without water, there is no energy. Most of our cravings have nothing to do with a lack of sugar in our body, but everything to do with a lack of water. So the next time you experience an afternoon low, drink a lot of water - around 1 liter/ 33oz. This helps to flush your body through, and gives you plenty of energy.
4. Wean yourself off of coffee
This is a deep emotional topic for a lot of people, because coffee is just part of their life. I have written about coffee and its effect on our stress hormones. Coffee artificially puts us into a high, and then makes us crash again. A sugar craving can also mean a caffeine withdrawal. Weaning yourself off coffee, and sticking to herbal tea instead, also means you can get those sugar cravings under control.
5. Get up and move
If you sit a lot during the day, then often cravings are just a sign for your body needing to change its state of energy. Sitting hunched over a laptop means your energy is closed and down. Get up, open your arms, take a deep breath. This will immediately change your physiology, and raise your energy level - without the need for a muffin!
6. Are you bored?
Cravings often happen because of boredom. Perhaps it is the end of the day, and all you want to do is go home. So you are sitting at your computer, staring at the screen, and bored out of your mind. That is when cravings hit. Maybe this is the end of a tantrum filled day with your child, and you just want it to end. You've turned on Mickey Mouse, the only thing that will help calm this child down, and now you are starting at the clock willing it to be bedtime. Boredom. Cravings.
7. Are you treating yourself?
Do you know this saying: "You're not a dog, you don't need a treat". Often we use sweets to treat ourselves. If we have made it through a very tough meeting, maybe we got ourselves up out of bed at 5am to attend bootcamp or whatever else you think deserves a treat. You absolutely deserve to give yourself a high five, but don't rely on sugary treats, because then your body will get used to them, and immediately ask for them. This means you are setting yourself up for cravings. Maybe you can "treat" yourself with a hot bath, some new yoga pants, or an hour of talking to your girlfriend instead? Find something else that gives you joy and doesn't require you to dive into the muffin display.