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Craving sugar is not easy to overcome. Not when we live in a world surrounded by sugary substances; in a world where the food industry creates food and beverages deliberately so we crave their products; when convenience foods, sauces and even bread contain sugar, yes, craving sugar can be a difficult experience.
Read the labels. Anything ending in -ose is a sugar – glucose, sucrose, dextrose, fructose and so on. The worst one of all is HFCS, High Fructose Corn Syrup. This causes massive swings in your blood sugar levels and is really addictive, which is one reason the food manufacturers use it.
I am 3 months into my sugar detox and still I get cravings, not as much as I initially did but they are still there. One thing I have noticed is that certain foods make the cravings worse (salty foods always make me want sugar after eating them) and alcoholic beverages mess with my blood sugar and causes my moods and energy levels to fluctuate. But there is often more involved in cravings than simply detoxing. Some people crave refined carbohydrates all of the time. It could be sweet cakes and biscuits, to bread and pasta sauce. If you have given up sugar and are still craving heavily, you may want to find out if something else is lying beneath your cravings, something biological. For me, awareness is key, once you know, you can do something about it. So let’s take a look at what causes sugar cravings.
Are you stressed, irritable when hungry? Do you sometimes feel dizzy or lightheaded when you stand up? Do you get reoccurring swollen glands and sore throats? Are you thirsty and have to urinate frequently?
If this is the case you may be experiencing adrenal overload. When we are stressed or under pressure, the job of our adrenal glands is to pump out the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. However, if we are overwhelmed by the stresses of modern life, these adrenal glands become sluggish and when this happens we reach for something sugary to get energy. Unfortunately, the effect is not long term and so the sugar-induced high will always be followed by a low which adds to the already stressed system by causing us to feel anxious and jittery.
What Can I Do?
If you are experiencing adrenal overload it is important to start grazing on food. Focusing primarily on high-protein meals throughout the day (cheese, eggs, nuts, sliced chicken). This will help keep your energy levels in balance and this in turn will make it easier for you to cut back on sugar. Also try and reduce your stress levels through some form of ‘me time’ through relaxing massages, to warm baths, to meditation or yoga.
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If you are super busy and you can’t go without your morning coffee to get you going and you crave coffee and sugary foods and drinks throughout the day and are still tired, experience regular headaches and aches and pains, are putting on weight, you could have thyroid issues.
If this sounds like you, you could have an underactive thyroid. Speak to doctor and ask for blood tests.
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What Can You Do?
If you are overworked, stressed, tired all the time, and suffering from headaches, it would benefit you to reduce your caffeine intake. Gradually reduce your coffee, as going cold turkey giving up coffee can sometimes cause headaches and other side effects. Try gradually reducing your consumption until you are onto one a day. Choose alternative drinks like herbal tea or coffee substitutes that can be found in many good health food stores.
To flush out your system drink more water, cut out refined sugar and refined flour products. Cut out processed foods for a while. Instead, eat more whole foods like brown rice, wholemeal bread and pasta, and use flours like wholemeal, spelt or kamut in any baking you do. By changing your eating habits you will begin to level out your blood sugar preventing huge highs and lows from excessive sugar and coffee consumption
If you are stressed, find some kind of relaxation technique like meditation or yoga. The main thing you need to change is getting a better sleep, and reducing your caffeine intake will help you do that. If you get a better sleep you will be less tired and less likely to crave stimulating foods and beverages to provide you with artificial energy boosts.
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Do you have a strong need for bread or sugar? Have you taken a course of antibiotics in your life? Especially in the last 2 years.
Your digestive system is home to a wide variety of bacteria and funguses (yeasts). This is fine so long as they are in balance. The ‘good’ ones keep the ‘bad’ ones under control. Antibiotics kill all bacteria, so you lose the ‘good’ ones as well as those causing your infection. This allows the funguses in your body to grow out of control. One particularly dangerous fungus is Candida Albicans which can cause all sorts of health problems if it’s allowed to grow unchecked.
Yeasts live on sugar – it’s their food source, so if you are eating food containing high sugar levels, you are almost certainly suffering from the effects of candida overgrowth, and because the yeasts need sugar to survive, your cravings are triggered.
Also, antacids neutralise the stomach acid that would normally help control bad bacteria and funguses, so instead of popping antacids, and believing the adverts, just eat something. The best way to control acid indigestion is to eat little and often – grazing.
What Can I do?
The first thing you need to do is cut back on all forms of sugar, as well as caffeine. You will then need to transform your way of eating to a low-GI diet. There are many books and resources on a low GI diet and you can live very well on a low-GI diet. It is also one diet that conventional doctors recommend for most people anyway. And to get your body back into balance you can then take a probiotic supplement to support a healthy gut (speak to your healthfood store manager – sometimes the yogurts are not enough). Take this for the recommended time. It normally takes some months for the balance to be restored in the body and by then the cravings will be less and easier to manage.
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Menopause or PMT
Are you aged 35 or over; do you suffer from low mood and low libido? Have your periods changed or are getting more irregular? Do you experience insomnia, headaches, fatigue and hot flushes the week before your period comes?
If this is the case you may be experiencing the menopause or perimenopause. This is the category I fall into. And the perimenopause and menopause can occur a lot earlier than many people think. I experience hot flashes, hirsuitism (excess hair) and many of the symptoms menopausal women have. And this is one of the reasons I am changing my eating habits and lifestyle.
You could also be experiencing pre-menstrual tension, now called PMS, (pre-menstrual syndrome).
Women become prone to insulin resistance when the levels of oestrogen and progesterone drop. Every cell in your body uses sugar (glucose) as its source of energy, but to get the sugar from your bloodstream into the cells, to get through the cell wall, needs a key, and that key is insulin. If you have high sugar levels in your body, your pancreas pumps out lots of insulin to get this sugar into the cells and out of the blood, where it can cause problems. But if there’s too much insulin floating around, your cells get tired and the key doesn’t work, so the cells are starved of energy, and tell your brain to eat some sugar.This causes your sugar cravings to soar, leaving you tired, irritable and miserable when you eat sugar.
As the hormone levels change, the body tries to raise the levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin and since sugar triggers a serotonin release this can then cause you to crave sweet things.
What Can I Do?
When this is happening it is time to cut sugar out as much as possible, and if you have PMT you may benefit from taking the vitamin B6, which helps ease the lack of the feel-good hormone prostaglandin E1. And, prostaglandin E1, if low, can cause irritability and sugar cravings.
If mood swings are the main issue, you may have too much sugar blocking your ability to change the substance GLA (gamma linoleic acid) into DGLA (dihomo-gamma-linleic acid). This is needed to produce prostaglandins that improve your mood. By reducing or removing sugar from your diet, your body can then make prostaglandin more efficiently.