Are you a sugar junkie? Learn how to kick the cravings in a flash!
JJ Virgin: The other day I was talking with a friend who is a mom of an 8-year-old boy. She told me how she has cut out so many foods that she barely eats anything, but she isn't losing weight because of her "habit."
"JJ, the one thing I can't kick is sugar," she said. "I try to stay away from the cookies and candy, but my cravings for sweets get the best of me. Don't I deserve one little treat a day? I need a little sugar in my life."
There's nothing wrong with considering rocky road ice cream to be one of life's true pleasures. You just got Junior to sleep all night without coming out of his room? A few bites of chocolate cake -- why not?
Here's why not: It's time to break your sugar habit, and I'm here to help. Let's start with why you've always probably had a yen for the sweet stuff. The craving for sweets has been hard-wired into your brain since you were a little kid. Remember when you got good grades? Maybe your dad took you out for an ice cream sundae. If you ate all that disgusting mystery meatloaf that Aunt Sarah cooked up, then your reward was her absolutely yummy homemade chocolate-chip cookies.
It's not just your mind that makes you crave sweets. When you eat sugary treats, your body has a chemical chain reaction that leads to a temporary increase in your serotonin levels. (That's why many of us "medicate" breakups and fights with our loved ones with Ben ... and Jerry.)
Remember that serotonin is the "feel good" hormone that helps you unwind and relax while your mood gets a nice little boost. Your sugar cravings might be directly related to low levels of serotonin in your brain, which is something you might want to explore with your doctor.
The bad news here is that your serotonin "high" will be short-lived -- and soon you will hit bottom again, but you will have even more sugar cravings, and then eat more and store more fat. The point is, you NEVER want to use sugar to feel good, because you will never sustain the feeling.
What can you do when you really want to break the sugar habit, but feel like it's a losing battle? Here are a few tips:
Move It. When you crave sugar, head directly for a walk, run, dog-walk or your home gym. When you move and increase your oxygen consumption, then you will naturally raise your serotonin levels -- and you won't need the Hershey bar.
Drink Water. When you crave certain kinds of foods, it might be a wrong message being sent to your brain. The truth is, you might just be thirsty. So put your sugar craving on hold and drink a large glass of water with some lemon in it. Now, get busy doing something else. Yes, you forgot about that sugar craving, didn't you?
Protein Up. By eating protein at each of your three meals, you will stay fuller longer and not crave anything, including sugar. But if you have a breakfast that's just cereal and milk, this will cause your blood sugar to take a roller-coaster ride midmorning that will make you crash and crave sugar. Protein stops this vicious cycle.
Watch the Caffeine. If you drink too much coffee or indulge in other caffeinated beverages, then you will lower your serotonin levels over a period of time and crave sugar. Avoid the caffeine as well as alcohol because they make those levels dip.
Watch the Sugar Substitutes. Xylitol is my sweetener of choice, so get rid of all those other blue, pink and yellow packets. Xylitol is a naturally produced sugar that tastes sweet and it's not you eating chemicals. It's easier to control yourself with Xylitol, too, and not overindulge -- because too much can cause gas. You can easily use way too much of the other fake sugars. So just avoid them, because their chemical content really messes with your system -- and when you eat sweet, you crave MORE sweet!
Stop Stressing. Many busy moms race for that half-a-doughnut or 100-calorie "diet" cookies after a tough day. Stop and find other ways to manage your stress, like drinking a cup of herbal tea, reading a good book, taking a Saturday off without the kids or even soaking in a hot bath. Remember that stress raises your cortisol levels, which in turn lowers serotonin -- and that will make you crave sugar.
In the end, think of sugar as your drug of choice. Just say no ... and soon you will really break the habit as your tastebuds learn to love other types of foods. Then one day you will take a bite of something sweet and say words that you never thought would come out of your mouth: "Take it away. You know, this is just a little bit too sweet."