How Your Stress & Worry Are Causing Your Sugar Addiction...And 7 Simple Steps To End It!
I'm going to share a secret with you.
When you turn to sugar to get you through the after noon slump...
When you have a piece of chocolate to deal with your bad boss, or just your bad day with your family...
When you eat that chocolate candy even as you tell yourself not to...
More likely than not it is not YOU making that decision, it is your HORMONES.
Stress triggers a hormone chain reaction in our body that you literally can not resist with willpower. You do NOT have a choice.
Stress affects ALL of us in our fast paced, high pressure world. No matter your race, religion, ethnicity, or income level, we all experience stress.
And the biological affects of stress are tremendous.
Stress hormones make us CRAVE calories.
Stress hormones make us choose LESS healthy foods.
Stress hormones make us UNABLE to resist high fat, high sugar, and high salt foods (this is why diets that do not include lifestyle changes always fail).
Stress hormones make our brains SEEK FOOD more than a non stressed brain.
Stress hormones make it HARDER for us to make rational decisions.
Stress hormones cause us to experience the "fight or flight" sensation...
and yet when we can not fight nor flee, we still NEED to calm those hormones down, and FOOD can actually do that for us, especially SUGAR.
In short, stress creates a biological drive for sugar we can not resist.
That may seem bad enough, but SUGAR has it's own cascade of hormones that lead to even more bad effects!
Sugar spikes insulin levels.
Insulin lowers blood sugar - you know that.
Insulin also makes the sugar in your blood turn into fat; insulin makes you gain weight.
Insulin also BLOCKS the message in your brain that says "I am full."
AND insulin DECREASES the desire to exercise.
So you are gaining weight, eating more, and feeling more tired, making you eat more sugar, causing you to gain more weight, eat more, and feel more tired...
That is the stress-sugar cycle.
But enough of the bad news. There is good news!
By gaining the knowledge that your hormones are determining your behavior, you now know you must gain control of your hormones in order to make good choices!
So how do you do that?
The answer is simple (though not always easy).
You have to get to the problem behind the sugar.
This starts with a two fold approach of understanding why you are turning to sugar in the first place and also understanding how sugar is helping you cope with that problem.
1. Start with keeping track for 3 days of the following:
When are you eating sugar?
How much sugar are you eating?
What other macronutrients are you eating with your sugar?
(Is it a drink with nothing but sugar and caffeine? Or is it a piece of cheesecake that also has fat and maybe a bit of protein?)
How do you feel before, during, and after eating the sugar?
What did you worry about today?
(Finances, family issues, work-life balance?)
When do you feel most stressed/worried?
This does not have to be complicated. You can just grab a piece of scrap paper or your favorite note taking app, and jot your notes down. One key is to take these notes without judgment. Just consider yourself an observer, writing impartial data.
Once you have your data collected, you move forward with the following steps.
2. Make a list of all the benefits you get from sugar. Anything from tastes good to more energy to a moment of relief. Spend 5 minutes straight writing all the great things you love about sugar.
3. The next day spend 5 minutes writing all the costs you pay for eating sugar. From feeling guilty, to having bad breath, to extra weight, or whatever it is.
You can just begin to sit with these answers, letting yourself consider what you are gaining and what you are paying.
4. After you have completes the first 3 steps, you can make the simple shift that whenever you turn to a sugar treat / dessert, replace a portion of what you normally eat with a piece of fruit, and put it on a fancy plate.
Fiber slows down the insulin spike that sugar causes. And taking a moment to cut a piece of fruit and arrange it on a plate next to the treat helps us eat it more mindfully. This helps us eat more slowly, which allows us to feel the "Satisfied" hormone, which takes 15-20 minutes to reach our brain.
It can be helpful to check for hidden sugars in your daily foods as well, since these can be contributing to insulin spikes without you even knowing it. Read ingredients and check nutrition information. Sauces, salad dressing, marinades, breads, and all processed/packaged food are often high in added sugar.
5. Next you should make a list of sugar alternatives. (I don't mean nutrasweet!) From going for a walk, taking a bath, getting a drink of water, calling a friend, scrolling instagram, buying yourself flowers, or anything else you can think of. This should be a very long list of anything that makes you feel good!
6. Here comes the biggest shift of all. The next time you are going to get something to eat, take 5 seconds to ask yourself "What am I feeling?"
If the answer is hungry, move forth. If the answer is angry, frustrated, tired, sad, or anything except hungry, then acknowledge that. "I'm feeling ______." It's also okay to say "I don't know what I'm feeling right now."
Too often we have turned to sugar or other distractions to AVOID the feelings. So expect that shift to take the longest.
7. The final shift is actually easier than acknowledging your feelings. Once you are in that habit of acknowledging your feelings, you can begin to replace the sugar with items from the sugar alternatives list. You can even acknowledge the feeling BEFORE you get to the chocolate bar, and take care of the need with items from the list sooner than later.
The beauty of this process is that you simultaneously identify your own needs while gaining the awareness you need to stop the habit. When you acknowledge the emotion, you can meet the NEED of that emotion with another (non-sugar) way of taking care of your self.
So the stress you are experiencing is likely triggering you to eat sugar. By acknowledging the STRESS you can begin to look for OTHER ways to reduce the stress.
The simple change of replacing a portion of the treat with fruit also helps to soften the affects of the sugar hormones, which again makes it easier to reverse the entire stress-sugar cycle.
In short, you begin to live a more mindful life and to eat more mindfully, both of which help you manage stress, which in turn makes it easier to make good decisions, which makes it easier to manage stress.
When you have made that shift you have left behind the stress-sugar cycle and replaced it with the mindful-healthy cycle, a beautiful cycle in which you meet your emotional needs in a way that supports making decisions that continue to support your needs!