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Small Changes, Big Results

Why you’re craving sugar and how to kick the habit

By Audrey Krafft

As we approach the one-year mark of quarantine life, you may be wondering, “How has a year passed and when am I going to get back to my pre-COVID life?” When the shelter-in-place order was first announced, I remember having to make big changes to my routine, which consisted of a few hours at the gym, showering and sauna-ing at Parkpoint and then working and meeting clients at coffee shops in Sonoma.

During the first month, I wasn’t sure how long this would go on, so my husband and I ordered takeout a lot more often to support local businesses, I was less strict with my macro counting and more lenient with my workout intensity (I was in training for my first fitness competition). Even my bedtime was later than I could justify. Everything was topsy-turvy! Can you relate? But like the rest of the world, I eventually settled into my “new normal.”

While you too have adjusted to a “new normal,” you may not be where you want to be and have resorted to old habits. It seems everyone is finding comfort in the sugary food we loved as kids, but sugar is a major contributor to a weak immune system and increased stress and anxiety — none of which we need any more of right now.

Here are five reasons you may be stuck in a sugar rut and how you can ease your way out of it.

Boredom

If you were used to going to work surrounded by colleagues and now you’re working at home — alone — with a kitchen full of food, there may be a tendency to fill that boredom with a trip to the snack drawer. Before you get up and grab a piece of chocolate-covered salted caramel, allow yourself to step outside for some fresh air, go for a walk, or do some light stretching and movement at home. And if you’re reading this and telling yourself that you don’t have time for that, I bet you’ll be more productive and motivated after a few minutes of movement than if you were to push through the screen fatigue by mindlessly eating sweets, resulting in a sugar crash headache.

Stress

This is in the back of all of our minds no matter how much we distract ourselves. When the cravings strike, stop for just a minute and take a few deeps breaths in and out. See what thoughts pop up and then write them down. Don’t ignore the thoughts — listen to them, accept them, repeat. Just because you hear and accept the thoughts doesn’t mean you have to live with them. This simple act can help you create a mindbody connection of “when I’m craving sugar, it’s often a result of built-up stress.” Each time sugar cravings arise, and you bring awareness to the situation, you’ll more easily be able to call out the con artist for what it really is — stress!

Lack of sleep

The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to eight hours of sleep for people over age 64 and seven to nine hours for ages 18 to 64. Are you at least meeting the minimum? With more screen time than ever before, plus less social interaction and physical activity, you may not be getting into a deep sleep or even feel tired when it’s time for bed. According to Cleveland Clinic, lack of sleep leads to more sugar cravings due to a shift in hormones (i.e., increased ghrelin, the hunger- control hormone) when your body just wants the fastest source of energy — sugar! And let’s not forget about the irritability, stress, and lack of focus we experience when we’re sleep deprived. You can start working toward better sleep patterns by getting into bed 15-30 minutes earlier to read or journal (without screens), to help you wind down and ease into dream land.

Dehydration

This is so common! Not drinking enough water throughout the day can trigger fatigue and hunger symptoms that can magically subside with a glass or two of wa- ter. If you’re drinking less than 64 ounces per day, don’t try to shoot for the moon. Build slowly and begin drinking 4-8oz more than you are now each week. If you struggle with drinking water or your body doesn’t “notify you” when you’re thirsty, as you increase your water intake, you’ll begin to improve that mind-body connection and drinking water will become more natural. In the meantime, make it a tasty experience by adding berries, cucumbers, or lemon to it, or enjoy herbal tea in the winter. Hydration aside, Cleveland Clinic reminds us that drinking water also helps your blood, digestive system, joints, kidneys, skin, and teeth!

Low carb/calorie dieting

Many of us undereat without even realizing it and carbs have been shunned ever since the Atkins era. But I’m here to bust the myth that we have to deprive ourselves of our favorite foods when trying to maintain a healthy weight. Chris Kresser, M.S., says that whole-food carbohydrates don’t affect the body the same way that processed and refined carbs do. So enjoy rice, quinoa, potatoes, and sweet potatoes, and don’t stress so much about reducing your calories; instead focus on consistency and quality. When you’re calorie or macro deficit for too long, cravings, “hanger,” and binge-eating are inevitable (hello, yo-yo dieting.) When life is moving too fast and we feel like we have no say in the matter, remember that we always have a choice. We have a choice to let stress and chaos devour us, or we can make a small but powerful effort to be aware of what our body is telling us. In the words of psychologist Nathaniel Branden, “The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.”

Audrey Krafft is the proprietor of Kraffty Kitchen in Kenwood and is Precision Nutrition L1 Certified.

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