I don’t know whether it’s the colder weather, the fact that my joints hurt and I am not able to exercise very much, the stress of parenting, or all the temptations of the Holidays and birthdays, but I have been craving sugar….stress eating one could say.
I don’t stress eat. I teach others how not to stress eat. I am a Dietitian, that’s my job. I don’t have these kinds of issues.
But ever since my son’s birthday week I have been out of sorts. I have been overdoing it on birthday cake, cookies, you name it. The other night I hit a low. I was so exhausted from going to bed very late the night before which I think contributed to my behavior: I went into the pantry looking for a snack and stood there eating Halloween candy after Halloween candy (yes I opened the bag too early), then totally unsatisfied chased it with a glass of chocolate almond milk. Oh my goodness, I was totally stress eating.
It’s embarrassing because I know better. I already feel I am gaining too much weight this pregnancy but the last week or so food had become my friend at night, something to look forward to after I put the kids to bed. For once I can honestly empathize with past clients. I know how terrible you feel after eating something out of stress or boredom, excitement or exhaustion.
Even though it was just a temporary behavior, I am telling you all because it’s easier to break the habit if it’s not a secret. I chatted with my husband last night over Skype and he admitted to having a similar occurrence with a bag of ginger snaps and peanut butter. Sadly, that made me feel better. I had a good pregnancy cry, then a good laugh and in the end, acknowledged that it was just a short phase and agreed I’d do better.
I have been staying up way too late by no choice of my own really. I know being tired can lead to making poor food choices so I know once I get back on schedule it will help. Although this has only affected me for the last 4 or 5 nights, I know some people go through this on a regular basis.
Sugar can be an addiction. The problem at hand is not a treat or dessert in moderation (which is what I usually do). The problem is those intense cravings and high sugar diets that lead you down the negative path day after day.
Research suggests that sugar can lead to changes in dopamine receptors, such that tolerance develops and more of the substance is needed to get an response. I totally felt my tolerance increase just after 4-5 days of eating sweets.
Eating too much sugary foods can lead to cravings, withdrawal, tolerance and preoccupation with finding the right food.
Here are a few other things you should know about how sugar affects our bodies:
- Sugar ages you- it literally ages cells which can result in anything from wrinkles to brain aging, such as deficiency in memory and overall cognitive health.
- Sugar can be toxic to your liver- much like alcohol in excess, sugar can damage your liver
- Sugar has been linked to cancer- there has been a well documented link between insulin resistance and cancer and since sugar has an effect on our insulin resistance, the two are related
- An overload of sweetened beverages can shorten your life- 180,000 deaths (due to chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer) worldwide are associated to diets high in sugar-sweetened beverages
- Sugar makes you fat- of course it’s packed with calories, but it also leaves us feeling empty and longing for more, thus even more calories are consumed.
This article suggest that based on recent research, sugar can be more addictive than cocaine.
Here are some tips for cutting those cravings and food addictions (don’t worry I am taking notes too):
1. Balance your blood sugar: low blood sugars result in bad choices. Start your day with a healthy breakfast. Make sure to eat enough throughout the day, not going too long in between meals before having a snack or your next meal (3-4 hours tops). Try to avoid eating a couple hours before bedtime.
2. Eliminate sugar and artificial sweeteners: Eliminate refined sugars, sodas, fruit juices, and artificial sweeteners from your diet. Unfortunately these all help to fuel your cravings, not curb them.
3. Determine if hidden food allergies are triggering your cravings. We often crave the very foods that we have a hidden allergy to. If you suspect this is the case, consult with your Doctor or a Dietitian.
4. Get enough sleep. Research shows that lack of sleep increases cravings so try to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night.
5. Make sure you are getting enough of these substances:
- Vitamin D: According to one study, when Vitamin D levels are low, the hormone that helps turn off your appetite doesn’t work and people feel hungry all the time, no matter how much they eat.
- Omega 3s: Low levels of omega three fatty acids are involved in normal brain cell function, insulin control and inflammation.
- Other natural supplements: L-tryptophane, L-glutamine, Chromium and zinc are just some of the amino acids/minerals that can affect our cravings.
Stress eating can happen to anyone and although I can honestly say this behavior is very atypical for me, it’s always a good reality check when it comes to counseling others.