This winter my consumption of sweets got a little…. well, excessive. With two moves during the first year of being in business for myself, stress was high and I reached for sugar many times, either for convenience or to self-soothe. This spring I noticed a few symptoms start to crop up: fatigue, weight gain, and anxiety or depression. So, over the past 10 days, I’ve been resetting my body with whole foods and damn, I feel so much better already! In retraining my taste buds, the cravings for sweets have just fallen away.
Let’s talk about sweets- how to embrace the cravings, and take back our personal power in doing so!
The amount of guilt that we carry around as humans for craving sweet foods is crazy! We rob ourselves of our power by labeling ourselves as willpower weaklings, but the truth is that we are designed to crave sweet foods.
The craving is not the problem. It’s in our choice.
Instead of mindfully eating foods like grains, tubers, fruits, and goat’s or sheep’s milk dairy when faced with cravings for sweetness we turn to much more extreme sweet flavors like refined white sugar in baked goods, pints of Ben & Jerry’s, or even excessive amounts of whole food desserts made with heaps of honey and maple syrup. Yep, I found myself feeling the affects from these choices made over the past winter, and it ain’t pretty!
The good news is that there is always an opportunity to course correct and find your way back to balance, so that excessive sugar consumption doesn’t continue to rob you of an experience of vitality and hormonal harmony.
What is Driving the Sweet Cravings?
Physiologic Roots of Cravings:
When the body craves something sweet this is the body’s way of asking for fuel for its cells since glucose is the fuel for all cells. We can make wise decisions about how we deliver this to our cells by choosing more wholesome carbohydrate sources.
Many times we intuitively seek out sweet foods that will elevate Serotonin. An optimal level of serotonin allows us to feel relaxed and influences self-control, impulse control, and our ability to plan ahead. When serotonin is low, we may feel depressed, act impulsively, and have intense cravings for alcohol, sweets, or carbohydrates. Our innate wisdom urges us to eat foods that will dissipate, at least temporarily, our physical tension, give us energy, and lift our moods. Squash and tubers are very good food sources for doing so, instead of other refined carbohydrates and sugars.
Intense cravings for sweets can also arise from nutrient deficiencies and hormonal imbalances. They are commonly a signal that we need to balance our blood sugar. Eating wheat, refined grains, and sugar triggers an unconscious, vicious cycle of sugar cravings, increased insulin production, increased appetite, more sugar intake, and more insulin production leading to a cycle of craving, binging and crashing. Eventually this leads to insulin resistance, a major contributor to weight gain and rapid aging.
Lets take a look at this a little bit more closely because this is one scientific nutritional concept that I believe is really important for everyone to understand.
When one eats sugar, the pancreas responds by secreting the hormone insulin in an amount that matches the amount of glucose that was consumed. So think of a cell membrane with its receptors. Insulin acts like the key that opens the door at these receptor sites for glucose to enter the cell. Insulin docks on cell receptors and ushers glucose into the cells. Once in the cells, sugar is turned into energy by the mitochondria, or the cell’s little power plants. With whole foods carbohydrates that are balanced in fiber and with protein and fat, this process is gentle and takes some time. Blood sugar levels are kept stable.
When foods very high in sugar are eaten, especially in excess, the blood sugar skyrockets and an amount of insulin is released that meets the level of glucose in the blood. If this continues over time, because you continue to eat high sugar foods day in and day out, the cells eventually become resistant to the effects of insulin and need more to do their job. With more insulin in the blood your body tells you to eat more sugar but every time you do, insulin levels go up even more, and the cycle goes on.
A rollercoaster of blood sugar highs and lows is created and stabilizing your appetite becomes seemingly impossible. The excess sugar is stored as fat, slows down the metabolism, and promotes heart disease, dementia, and cancer.
Extremes of blood sugar and insulin lead to fat in the abdominal or visceral region of the body. Visceral fat then triggers inflammation. This vicious cycle of increased blood sugar, increased insulin production, increased insulin resistance, and increased deposition of visceral fat ensues.
Emotional/Spiritual Roots of Cravings:
As humans, our emotional needs are deeply entangled in our experience of nourishment. We often use sweets as a symbolic substitute when we are needing more love, pleasure, purpose, and joy in our lives. When we have an overly yang lifestyle with intensely salted foods, excess stress, and lots of contraction around achievement we yearn for the nurturing yin energy of sweet foods.
For many of us, our sugar cravings our defined by their devouring nature. We beeline for the market or the fridge like a possessed drug addict looking for our fix and than eat the most sugary and starchy option we can find ravenously and without any present moment awareness. People who experience these periods of compulsive eating or binging often feel totally powerless to this overwhelming drive to eat. What we don’t usually realize, however, is that this drive, this power is not separate from us. It all arises from within.
Many times when we sit on or hold back our power in different areas of our lives, it finds its way out in the eating experience. For example, we may not be expressing how we feel to our partner because we are afraid they might abandon us if we do, so we push down our anger and the true expression of how we feel. Or maybe you are staying in a job that makes you feel lifeless, while pushing down that yearning to do something that you are really passionate about. Other areas that we might be blocking the flow of power in our lives include expressing our sexuality or femininity, feeling and expressing anger and grief, expressing our truth, our creativity, and our authenticity. Reclaim your power and reintegrate it into your life in a more empowered way.
Julia Child once said, “Life itself is the proper binge.” So if you find yourself overtaken by this devouring appetite in your relationship with food, find out where your sitting on your power and take action. Devour life instead.
Embrace Sugar Cravings in A Healthy Way
We don’t have to fight our sugar cravings. We need to embrace them and choose wisely so that we can take back our personal power, honoring the body and its wisdom in the process.
Start by eliminating refined sugar (except on special occasions, of course). It has a number of damaging affects on the body and it isn’t a smart way of nourishing ourselves. It hinders the liver from clearing toxins from the bloodstream, suppresses your immune function, causes fatigue, accelerates the aging process, and increases the risk of diabetes. Replace refined sugar with stevia, erythritol, and xylitol or very small amounts of raw honey, coconut nectar and crystals, molasses, dates, and maple syrup.
When the craving for sweet arises, opt for carbohydrates like nonstarchy vegetables, legumes, starchy vegetables, and gluten-free whole grains. These burn long and slow as a source of energy, allowing insulin to be generated in a harmonious manner, without triggering metabolic signals that promote hunger and weight gain.
So don’t beat yourself up when you start to crave sweets. Listen to these cravings as your body’s way of asking for something or telling you to course correct. Balance your blood sugar, re-direct your personal power, and find what you are using food as a substitute for. Get curious, investigate, and experiment.