“If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles.” –Sun Tzu, Art of War
Of all the obstacles capable of derailing your dreams of a perfect paleo lifestyle, there’s one that (for many of us) looms far larger than the rest. You doubtless know it.
It jumps out at you when you’re least expecting, wiping out weeks of hard-won discipline in seconds, or relentlessly nibbling away at your resolve over hours or days, until you find yourself, zombie-like, not only breaking your paleo diet, but doing so uncontrollably and in shockingly obscene ways. (Half a gallon of Ben & Jerry’s, anyone?)
Yes, it’s that sugar demon at work. The Enemy.
The fight against sugar cravings is not a battle, it’s war. You’ve got become even more merciless about beating them down than they are about driving you insane .
Just like real war, victory depends a lot on knowing both your enemy and yourself. In this guest post, Rachel Albert, The Healthy Cooking Coach, sheds light on some of the sugar demon’s deepest secrets – and then reveals some ‘heavy artillery’ strategies you can use to whip those sugar cravings into a pulp and send them packing.
Testing is necessary, no one size fits all. Give ’em a try and see which ones help you keep the upper hand next time that sugar demon threatens to raise its ugly head.
You’ve decided to adopt a super nutritious, vegetable and fruit-based whole-foods diet. You’ve cleaned out your cupboards, revamped your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry and donated unopened cans, bottles, boxes and bags of refined, processed, artificial, and sugary products to a food bank.
You stocked up fresh, frozen, and dried fruits and vegetables, refreshed your herb and spice racks, replaced commercial animal products with organic and grass-fed versions after upgrading everything else. You’re primed for success.
But wait! You’re missing a critical ingredient. To create your own success story, you need sound strategies for dealing with the demon that causes the demise of most diets: the sinister sweet tooth monster!
To get a handle on your deepest, dark desires, you need to understand what makes your body call out for sugary comfort foods and what you can do differently this year!
1. Problem: Irregular or missed meals.
Skipping meals or eating on an unpredictable schedule catapults your body into a state of starvation, depriving your brain and body of fuel. This sets you up to crave starchy or sugary foods for energy.
Solution: eat at regular intervals throughout the day.
Plan to eat a nourishing meal or mini-meal every 4 to 5 hours until 7 or 8 pm. Most people find this stabilizes their energy and prevents impulse and binge-eating. Eating before you run out of energy can prevent sugar cravings.
2. Problem: Lack of sufficient dietary carbohydrate.
Low-carbohydrate diets often create cravings for starchy foods and sweets. The reason: the brain prefers running on glucose, supplied by carbohydrates. When you don’t consume enough carbohydrate to fuel your body, you get hungry, which many people experience as a craving for sweet food.
Solution: Build meals and snacks around one or more carbohydrate-rich whole foods.
Examples include baked or roasted (not fried or instant) potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, dense root vegetables––such as carrots, beets, rutabaga, or parsnips––fresh fruit. Add colorful fibrous vegetables, particularly greens (steamed or sautéed leafy greens, a tossed green salad, or coleslaw) at least twice a day, a dash healthy fat or oil, and a small portion of protein to each meal.
3. Problem: Lack of sufficient protein and fat.
If your diet is carbohydrate heavy, particularly if you rely on refined carbohydrates, you may experience cravings for sweet foods. Your body requires a balance of nutrients. Protein and fat slow the release of carbohydrates into your blood stream, stabilizing your energy. Protein-rich foods also pack important nutrients and healthy fats and oils improve nutrient absorption, boost immunity, and increase satiety at meals.
Solution: Eat mixed meals.
Meals containing a mix of complex carbohydrates, protein, and fat work best to stabilize energy and avert sugar cravings. Here’s why: Carbohydrates digest quickly, providing fuel immediately after the meal. As the supply of carbohydrate drops off, protein becomes available. When that drops off, fat provides the long term energy. Including a small portion of lean protein, such as fish, skinless poultry, lean, wild or grass-fed meat, or one or two eggs, and some friendly fat (nuts, seeds, olive, coconut or flax oil, butter, or avocado) at each meal (or at least twice a day) will retard the return of hunger and can help stave off sweets cravings.
4. Problem: Excessive salt intake.
Restaurants, bars, fast food eateries, and processed food companies liberally season with salt to stimulate your palate, pique your interest in processed foods, and motivate you to eat more. Chips, crackers, cheese, cured meats, commercial dips, condiments, and canned soups can make your salt intake and desire for sweets soar. Surprisingly many commercial cookies, cakes, pies, pastries, frozen desserts, and candies also host a hefty dose of salt.
Solution: Slash your salt intake in half.
Halving your salt intake may help normalize your appetite, making it easier to tell when you’re hungry and when you’ve had enough of any particular food. Read labels, even in natural food stores and make lower-sodium selections. Add half as much salt to recipes. Replace high-sodium supermarket broth with lower sodium broth from a natural food store; better yet, make salt-free chicken and vegetables stocks and broths at home.
At the table, replace the salt shaker with lemon-pepper, or sea vegetable sprinkles. Try dulse, nori. Keep sprinkles, sold with and without spices in shaker bottles. Also try gomashio (sesame-salt), an Asian condiment made from toasted sesame seeds ground with unrefined sea salt in a 16:1 or 24:1 ratio. Look for these in natural food stores or consult a macrobiotic cookbook for recipes.
5. Problem: Consumption of refined carbohydrates.
Refined foods don’t satisfy your body because they lack the nutrients and filling fiber found in whole foods. It’s easy to over consume cookies and confections, but who binges on bananas, baked sweet potatoes, or roasted onions?
Solution: Replace highly refined foods with nourishing whole foods.
Incorporate at least one sweet vegetable––long-cooked, caramelized onions, carrots, parsnips, beets, long cooked sweet potatoes, winter squashes––or cooked, or dried fruit into each meal and snack. Satisfy your sweet-tooth at meal-time and you won’t have to hunt for dessert after or between meals.
6. Problem: Habitual use of sugar.
Sugar stimulates your appetite. The more you eat it, the more you want. Think of your cravings as stray cats. Feed them and they keep coming back. Stop feeding them and eventually those stray desires will disappear!
Solution: Find healthy ways to satisfy your sweet tooth
For the calories in two Oreo® cookies, you could eat 1 cup of grapes, 1 1/2 cups of melon, 2 cups of strawberries, or 1 small apple. Pack a homemade whole-fruit smoothie for an intentional snack. For dessert, prepare ginger and fruit juice poached pears or a cooked compote of fresh and dried fruit infused with pie spice. Instead of ice cream, purée frozen fruit with a dash of fruit juice concentrate. Or, blend sliced, frozen, slightly thawed bananas with diluted almond, or cashew butter in a food processor or Vita-Mix, adding 1 tablespoon nut butter and 1 tablespoon warm or cool water per banana, plus 1/4 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract. Replace sugary pumpkin pie with naturally sweet baked winter squash or sweet potato; drizzle with flax oil or a dab of butter or nut butter at the table. When baking or making puddings pies, or custards, replace granulated sugar with pure date sugar made from dried powdered dates.
7. Problem: Chronic under-eating.
Over-controlled under-eating usually leads to out-of-control overeating. Your body needs energy. If you don’t consume enough food throughout the day or week, your hunger will eventually win out.
Plan and consume smaller, more frequent meals and intentional snacks throughout the day to stabilize your physical and mental energy (see 1, 2, and 3 above). Choose bulky, high nutrient, low-calorie density foods––vegetables, whole fruits, and lean meat––which allow you to eat a large volume of food without over-consuming calories.
8. Problem: Trying to soothe emotional pains with with sweets.
No amount of dessert will satisfy your emotional needs or take away your troubles. Reaching for cookies, cakes, pies, pastries, ice cream, candies and other high-sugar foods when you feel fearful, angry, lonely, bored, depressed or stressed will usually give you more grief: bodily aches, pains, indigestion, excess body fat, and health problems that can make you feel even worse..
Solution: Find healthy ways to satisfy your needs.
Explore non-food ways to release pent up energy and create balance in your life. Unwind with a yoga audio or video, a walk, a nap, a sauna, a swim, or a relaxation tape. Treat yourself to an herbal bath, therapeutic massage, or weekly session with a life coach. Oust anger by running, riding your bicycle, taking a martial arts or other vigorous exercise class. Dance the blues away. Take up thai chi, chi gong, collage making, painting, journaling, drawing, or meditating.
9. Problem: Physical depletion.
Adrenal exhaustion can contribute to cravings for stimulants, such as salt, sugar, alcohol, coffee, or drugs. Does the food or drink your crave contain caffeine? Does it drug you, numb you, take you away from the truth, or keep you going when you’d otherwise collapse from exhaustion?
Solution: Discover what your body really needs.
What do you want more of and less of in your life? You may benefit from extra sleep, a day or weekend off, gentle exercise, meditation, relaxation tapes, massage, psychotherapy, or acupuncture and herbs. Search for the root cause then commit to your own healing.
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