by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
Have you ever been with a group of friends or co-workers and had someone say they just have to have something sweet? Does a family member talk about her sweet tooth? Do you?
Some women are fully aware of their cravings for sugar and their sugar intake – and some are really surprised when they start talking about it – or even tracking it. For many years I listened to women who talked about how strong these their cravings were and how difficult it was to remove sugar from the diet. It became so evident that sugar cravings were not about willpower. I came to understand that there are real physiologic reasons. Sugar affects our brains in many of the same ways as drugs and alcohol – it’s an addictive substance! As a Functional Medicine Practitioner, I know that sugar can contribute not only to weight gain, diabetes, dental issues, but hormone imbalance, osteoporosis and some forms of cancer.
If you find that you’re craving sugar on a regular basis, there may be physical causes! For many women hormonal fluctuations can disrupt insulin, which is one of our major hormones. Estrogen and progesterone imbalances may soon follow. Hormones which are out of balance may cause anxiety, irritability, fatigue and much more!
Internal yeast may be another culprit and stress, which causes our body to produce increased levels of cortisol, may also be a contributor.
We also have to remember that carbohydrates and extra sugar that aren’t used by your body are stored in the liver as glycogen. When there’s more glycogen than is needed, your body will make fat from the extra sugar. This fat is stored and you’ll see the results in the mirror and on the scale.
Understanding why cravings exist is only part of the puzzle – how do you keep your sugar cravings in check?
One of the easiest first steps I recommend to my patients is to have protein with every meal or snack. A piece of lean protein, cheese or nuts will help balance a carbohydrate filled (or sugary!) snack. The protein will help balance your blood sugar and avoid a sharp peak and crash after. Apples with cashew butter, cheese with crackers or even a slice of lean turkey with crackers are all great ideas.
You may want to investigate food sensitivities. So many of my patients find that when they remove foods they are sensitive to from their diets, their sugar cravings all but disappear. Food sensitivity testing is one option, but you can also remove the most common allergens from your diet or keep a food journal, tracking your reactions to certain foods. The most common allergens are gluten and dairy. Other foods to consider are citrus, eggs, peanuts, soy and corn.
For some women, removing sugar from their diets is worth the first difficult days. If you aren’t sure if sugar is a culprit for you in some of your underlying symptoms, then you may want to consider a break from sugar for five to seven days. If you find you can’t stop ‘cold turkey’, then gently cut back over a period of three to five days. Some patients tell me that they will see a relief in symptoms in those first few days! Many women report feeling more clear and energized after being off sugar for just a short period of time.
You may want to consider adding a dietary supplement and omega-3 to your diet. Omega-3’s can help with calming inflammation and mood regulation. B Vitamins, vitamin C, chromium and other micronutrients can be helpful in calming sugar cravings as well.
Keeping your diet balanced can also calm cravings. Choosing foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, eating foods that are alkalizing (like vegetables and fruit and limiting red meat) and refined carbohydrates which increase inflammation can help keep cravings at bay.
An overgrowth of yeast can lead digestive issues, fatigue, fuzzy thinking and intense sugar cravings. Yeast thrives on sugar – your body will crave the very culprit exacerbating your symptoms! Eliminating sugar from your diet is the first step toward regaining balance.
Stress – a body under stress craves fuel. When you are stressed and tired, it’s difficult to maintain healthy eating habits – often times we’ll reach for the quick fix – and many times carbohydrates and sugar can be the choice. It’s important to remember that stress will increase cortisol production which affects our hunger hormones. Maintaining healthy stress levels is so important! Be sure to carve some time out of your day for stress relief – even a few minutes a day can make a difference!
Remember to keep emotional sweetness in your life! Saying goodbye to sugar may be hard – but the physical effects are definitely worth it. Be sure to keep sweetness in your life every day. Be sure to find something you enjoy every day – a phone call with a friend, a walk outside, meditation to relax or reading a few pages from a good book!