How to conquer sugar cravings

Health coach Tiffany Burnett talks about the ups and downs of sugar cravings at the June Woman of Wellness event. Lucette Moramarco photo

The title of the Woman of Wellness talk on June 1 was “The Sugar Habit: Why We Start and Can’t Stop, and How to Kick it!”. Certificated health coach Tiffany Burnett gave the presentation at Fallbrook Library.

Burnett started out by describing her own experiences with an uncontrollable craving for sugar, which led her to eat chocolate laxatives at one point, and a bottle of gummy vitamins later on. She realized that that craving was “not normal” when she was almost 40 years old.

The first challenge is “What is causing my sugar craving?”

“After two decades of emotional eating and binging despite living a healthy lifestyle, worked in a health store, was a massage therapist, did not struggle with weight,” she said, she reached a turning point.

She went on to say that she had had high glucose levels during her first pregnancy. Later, after several failed pregnancies, she was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome; one symptom is insulin resistance. After eight years of trying to get pregnant, she gave up at age 39, but then changed her diet, cutting out sugar, and within two months she was pregnant.

She realized that sugar played a huge role in the unbalance of her system. “Depending on who you talk to,” she said, “sugar is not the root cause of every evil in our body. At least, it does inhibit healing.”

For every health issue, she added, recommendations include eliminating or reducing sugar consumption. “We can control or address diet, what we ingest, to improve health which is very uplifting,” Burnett said.

She showed a yin – yang chart of food types to illustrate the energetics of food; opposites balance bliss foods, she said. They yin side is sweet; the yang side is salty. Too much sweet food makes people spacey, forgetful, whereas the yang food “is constricting, makes you feel grounded, solid,” Burnett said.

Eating too much food on one side of the chart throws our bodies out of balance, she explained, “after eating salty food, we crave sweets.”

Challenge number two is “It feels good!”

According to Burnett, yang activities, working or playing too hard, stress us out. Yin activities are restorative, restful – taking a nap or a bath, or reading a book.

When overworked, people will reach for candy or alcohol to relax which can be done without awareness, she said, “sugar feels good, tastes good.”

To gain control, we need to understand the physiology of sugar or we will “end up on a roller coaster which is what happens with processed foods which do not have much fiber, protein or good fat, nothing to slow down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream,” she said.

Furthermore, the brain uses 50 percent of the sugar in the bloodstream, she said; when the brain is on emergency alert, it tells the pancreas to release insulin, a drastic process which quickly elevates one’s insulin level. Often, the pancreas releases more insulin than is needed.

“Now you have a whole bunch of insulin which does its job really well, directing it to different parts of the body and you have a blood sugar crash,” Burnett explained. Our bodies can only process so much glucose, in white bread, pasta, more processed foods which put us on a roller coaster, sugar levels going up and down, she added.

The body tries to balance out this process Burnett said; when insulin takes up the glucose, sending it to the brain and muscles, any excess is stored as fat. At the same time, there is an emotional factor as mood highs and lows are affected by sugar levels.

The third challenge is a quick fix for a deeper need.

Burnett said that people use sugar to fill a need instead of figuring

out what is driving the craving or anxiety. “Look at cravings as messengers that bring awareness to what is going on,” she said. We can turn our attention to the deeper need; rather than being a cross to bear, it is “a call to step into a better version of ourselves,” she said.

How to kick the sugar habit tips:

  1. Drink more water. Sometimes a craving for sugar means “we are just dehydrated, so take a drink and wait five minutes”. Burnett also said that a person should drink half of their body weight in ounces.
  2. Reduce or eliminate caffeine which mimics blood sugar.
  3. Swap in sweet veggies, fruits and spices for sugar. Sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, figs and dates all have fiber with glucose, she said. Cinnamon is a good blood stabilizer she added.
  4. Get more sleep. “If you’re constantly tired, your body looks for pick-me ups like sugar or caffeine.” To get more sleep, she suggested powering down an hour earlier, including computer use, and go to bed earlier.
  5. Check your protein. She said that too much or not enough animal protein can cause sugar cravings.
  6. Sniff out any low or fat free products in your diet; the fat is replaced with sugar.
  7. Move your body. Find what you love to do and bring it into your life more.
  8. Chew. Chewing is fun and releases the sweetness in food Burnett said.

To eliminate dessert/sugar cravings after meals, she recommended creating new rituals like having tea after a meal or doing a family activity. “It’s about the ritual,” she said.

Burnett also approved of eating dark chocolate which is “not too sweet, one ounce a day is good for you.”

She also advised discovering “the sweetness in your life that’s already there; we settle for a cookie or a candy bar when what we need is a hug, a walk, conversation with a friend, a bath, journaling, or buying flowers.”

Another suggestion was to make a sweetness menu. “When you feel an urge to grab a cookie, look at your sweetness menu and grab something off there.”

The July 6 Woman of Wellness program will feature a pharmacist talking about “Drug Interactions and Over-The Counter Implications”. The event starts at 6 p.m. at Fallbrook Library, 124 S. Mission Road.

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