Do you want to eat this scrumptious pastry?
If you’re like me, than yes! This was a pastry I enjoyed the other day when taking my mom out for Mother’s Day (shout out to my amazing madré!)
Is it on my typical healthy diet? Nope.
Is it gluten-free? Also no.
But did I enjoy every minute of eating it? You bet!
Today’s post is about learning how to balance healthy foods with your favorite foods. If you’re anything like me, you probably have a sweet tooth. And I’d by lying to you if I said I ate clean, gluten-free, refined sugar-free 100 percent of the time. Because frankly that’s not just exhausting—it’s impossible. That’s why today, I’m going to share with you some tricks for managing sugar cravings so you can have your cake and eat it too (literally!).
1. Understand the Cycle of Sugar and Sugar Cravings
There’s a reason sugar tastes so good. I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty of things, but sugar literally does sh*t to your brain. There’s a reason why sugar tastes so damn good each and every time you eat it.
First off, it’s important to remember that your brain does operate on glucose. In other words, your body prefers sugar as its dominant energy source. So every time you come into contact with sugar—whether it’s a brownie or a banana—your body sees this sugar as an opportunity to fuel up and take in energy (even if that energy isn’t going to be used immediately).
But sugar also does other funky things with your brain. The latest research shows that sugar consumption activates the same part of your brain as cocaine and other amphetamines. This explains why you can’t seem to stop at one cookie, slice of cake, or dish of ice cream. And this is why for a lot of people, once they start a sugar cycle, it becomes incredibly difficult to stop. Conversely, once you stop a sugar cycle, the longer you stop eating sugar the easier is becomes to stay off of sugar.
2. Remember, Sugar is Aging
Am I saying you should never eat sugar? Absolutely not. Again, I realize it’s nearly impossible to completely avoid sugar for your entire life. But in my experience with my clients, I personally believe that knowledge is power and that you more education you get with a subject, the more likely you are to make good choices. Sugar is aging and can contribute to premature aging. This doesn’t mean you should completely avoid it, but that when you do decide to indulge, realize the potential consequences of your behavior.
3. Sugar Isn’t a Best Friend or Frenemy: It’s a Food
Another topic I want to go into is when you actually DO eat sugar. So many of my clients will say something along the lines of:
“I’m so sorry Taji, but the kids and I went out and had ice cream the other day.”
It doesn’t upset or disappoint me that the client went out with his/her children and enjoyed some ice cream. But the fact that they associate guilt with this behavior is what’s troubling.
Sugar isn’t a best friend. It’s not going to make your breakup with your boyfriend any less painful, and it won’t make your birthday any better. Conversely, when you do indulge and have a dessert or some chips (remember, chips are carbs which eventually get converted in sugar), you shouldn’t beat yourself up over that. Sugar isn’t a best friend or frenemy. It’s a food.
4. Focus on Your Version of a 80/20 Diet
Surely you’ve heard about celebrities saying they follow the 80/20 diet. In my opinion, this is just a fancy way for these celebrities and models to say they eat healthy most of the time, but make room for occasional indulgences.
I say follow your own version of 80/20. Eat right 80 percent of the time, but make room for treats and foods you truly enjoy. You could do this calorically, or macros if you could those. I have a client who makes takes 20 percent of her plate every night at dinner and allow for something fun (usually a square of high quality chocolate).
The point is, working sugar and other treats into your diet 20 percent of your time isn’t going to derail you from your goals. In fact, because you’re rewarding yourself accordingly, you’re actually MORE likely to stick to your plan and achieve your health goals.
5. Plan Your Sugar Meals Strategically
Got a big wedding coming up? A holiday function? One tip I like to give clients is if they are going to have sugar, plan it accordingly around a specific event or meal. Why waste your calories and time on a crappy granola bar when you can have a slice of your aunt’s key lime pie that you only get once a year? If you’re going to have something sweet, make it count. Enjoy it, savor it, and then move on with your life and back to your healthy choices.
At the end of the day, we’re all human. And sometimes, we all crave something that’s maybe not the best nutritional choice for us. But that doesn’t mean we need to A.) constantly deny ourselves or B.) constantly indulge. Finding the right balance for treats and cheats in your life is something that can take weeks or months to master. And just when you get the hang of things, things might change! Our bodies are always changing and just when we find something that works, we find ourselves having to change our routines and health habits once again.
Do you struggle with sugar cravings? What personal strategies do you use to beat your cravings?