Some Simple Sugar Rules To Live By That Your Body Will Thank You For
I'm going to talk more about food here on the blog because food seems to be one topic that us perimenopausal and menopausal women have a lot of questions and thoughts about. The other two heavy hitters are anger and beauty but we'll get to those in later posts. Quick sidebar here: those three things are lifelong concerns aren't they? Some things never change.
So, if you're anything like me, you've always been a CRAVER. Gimme the sweet stuff with a hunk of cheese on the side please. Cookies, cakes, donuts, candy bars...you name it, I was into it. When I dove into the world of "food as medicine/fuel," I had to take an honest look at why my cravings for sugar had such a grip on me. It took a long time to break my addiction to sugar and in order to break it I had to identify what was making the desire so strong. I had to look at my cravings from a habitual or behavioral lens, an emotional lens and physical lens.
Habitually/Behaviorally speaking, cravings can look like that 3pm pick me up people always talk about, "Its 3pm, I'm feeling sleepy, I NEED something to eat," sound familiar? The Emotional craving is really about your frame of mind. "I'm feeling frustrated or blue or really happy about something, so, yes! I will take that cupcake!" The Physical is really intense. It's visceral. It feels out of your control, "the beast must be fed and I'm feeding it!" Each one is really tough and requires the attention it deserves in order to eradicate those sugar cravings and get back to yourself once and for all. Would you believe I had a drawer in my kitchen for YEARS, known as the "candy drawer?" Oh yeah. That drawer checked all the boxes.
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do But I'm Here To Lend A Hand
1-If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
Was that the book title? I can't remember (and I was a kindergarten teacher, shame on me)! Well, here's the thing: if a mouse shows up on your doorstep and you give him a cookie, you can be sure he'll ask for a glass of milk. And if you give him that glass of milk, you can bet he'll ask for a straw. You get the picture, right? There's no satisfying that beast! If you start down the slippery slope of feeding your sugar cravings, you'll crave more. You'll never be satisfied and the desire to indulge will never go away. If you're eating or drinking foods with high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners you become super primed to want more. You likely know of that rodent study that highlighted the intense desire rodents had for water sweetened with high fructose corn syrup over time. Yeah, well, it was stronger than their desire for cocaine and they were given the option! What?! High fructose corn syrup is no good and the fake stuff is no better. It's not your fault, it was designed to get you hooked. How mean is that?! The design was successful, sadly. Side bar: have you guys seen that video of that toddler trying soda for the first time? It's funny and then it's NOT. She has this reaction that literally tosses her head back, frowns her entire face until she barely looks able to breath and then smiles and takes another sip. Honestly, it's creepy. You watch a baby get "hooked" in live time. It's awful. And it makes me think about other drugs that people report make you sick on first try and then you forever chase that feeling right down the rabbit hole. You know what I'm talkin' about.
Try This: Now listen, as much as I'd love to preach NO SUGAR for the rest of your life, I'm not even living that way so how could I push it on anyone? Here's the thing: choose a better option. Coconut sugar, for example. For me, life is not about damning the sugar to eternal hell, it's about choosing something better MOST of the time and then having the other stuff, really rarely. So, like I said, coconut sugar is a great option, but so is maple syrup or raw honey. In the body, sugar is sugar and operates as such no matter where it's coming from. So, that's kind of a bummer BUT, think about choosing sweeteners that give you more bang for your buck. Maple syrup, for example is high in antioxidants. While raw honey is a powerful probiotic. Sweet!
2-Speaking of Probiotics
You will have fewer cravings if your gut microbiome is richly diversified. Pathogenic yeast that lives in the gut LOVE a healthy dose of the sweet stuff to keep it going and growing. Ew. Candida will sing and dance in your gut as long as you keep enjoying those confections. Bifidobacteria, on the other hand, is a welcomed bacteria species living in the gut that you want more of. They like to scarf down fiber rich foods (like fruit), those little devils. Keep 'em fed.
Try This: Consume fermented foods, think pickles (bought from the refrigerated section, not the shelves), kefir (coconut based), kimchi and sauerkraut. I enjoy some kraut with my breakfast in the morning. Also, find a high quality probiotic with at least 12 strains of bacteria. You want to starve the yeast (candida) out, NOT by starving yourself but by NOT feeding it what it so desires. It's a freeloader and will never leave unless you make it!
Hiding In Plain Sight:
What a jerk. Sugar doesn't really get eaten right out of the box, you know? It's hidden, by the buckets full, in all the stuff I mentioned I so loved eating in my past life as a sugar freak. The cookies, cake, donuts, candy bars, breads and cheese. This hefty list actually falls into 2 categories. Sugar-in-flour AND sugar-in-dairy (I'm leaving sodas and juices out of the mix here, but yeah, it's in there too, I know you know). When I used to put patients I worked with on an anti-inflammatory diet, you know what was removed from the "You May Eat" list? Gluten and dairy (among other things). You know why? Because they cause an inflammatory response in the body. Yikes! The more you eat foods that cause inflammation, yes, Sugar, I'm looking at you, the more your brain chemistry is interfered with and the greater your cravings for the darn stuff! UGH!
Try This: Here's a trick I learned years ago. The beast you think you can't live without is likely the one you have a sensitivity to. And if both those fellas drive you wild at the thought of letting go, well, Girlie, it's time to give up the ghost and cut 'em both loose. So, take your pick: cake, breads, donuts? Or cheese? Both? Yeah, that was me too. I gave up gluten, really anything with flour, for a month. And let me tell you, when I enjoyed some ravioli at the end of that month, whoa, I keeled over in pain. It was awful. Sensitivity, right smack in the face. Cut that clown loose, whoever he is, for a month and see how you feel. It may be tough in the beginning, but see if the cravings subside. Also, how did the beast suddenly become a "he?" Rage is back on the menu, ladies! Ha!
Chronic stress messes with your adrenal hormones and the neurotransmitters in your brain will not function and fire the way they should when stress, even a little bit, is ever present. Seratonin will likely be the first neurotransmitter to exhaust it's supply and what do we do when we know nothing about neurotransmitters and Seratonin levels and we're standing in the kitchen looking at the ice cream sandwiches in the freezer? We eat them of course! That sugar provides a false kick of energy to that neurotransmitter and we keep indulging it because we want those Seratonin levels elevated. We all wanna feel happy, right?
A supplement called 5-HTP was recommended to me by a medical practitioner.* I am NOT on a SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor, commonly found in anti-depressants) and so it's safe for me to take. 5-HTP is a precursor to Seratonin and I take one 50mg pill daily. It helps to reduce those sugar cravings and even helps mood regulate too. After all that Rage writing, you know I could use that, huh?
Here's another supplement worth mentioning that helped me a lot when I was getting over the sugar thing: Chromium Piccolinate. This is an essential mineral that helps to support blood sugar levels and I have found it reduces cravings for crappy carbs significantly.
Finally, eat healthy fat! Please don't be afraid of healthy fats and try to eat some with every meal. This means consuming avocado (avocado oil) or coconut oil or fatty fish or nuts or whole eggs, or seeds or olives (olive oil), or chia seeds, or......butter. And no, not margarine or any butter substitute.
*Please speak to your trusted medical health professional for more information on appropriate supplements and any contraindications, as I am not a physician.