I hesitated to write this post, but have decided to let myself be vulnerable. No one among us is perfect and even a holistic nutritionist is sometimes challenged with her own emotional eating! So I share with you my latest struggle in hopes that someone may identify and feel inspired.
I’ve had the January doldrums. The holidays are over, the credit card bills are due, the next holiday in sight is Valentine’s Day and romance is NOT in the air. Although it’s natural to put on a little weight over the Winter, I am unhappy that everything feels a little snug. My workout routine has been sporadic and my body would much rather rest and sleep in than go outside in the dark and cold.
So the other day, I was feeling particularly low and premenstrual. I was REALLY craving something and so I wandered into the Berkeley Bowl grocery store. As I walked through the isles, I slowly began to fill up my shopping cart with “healthy” treats. Being a nutritionist, I try to follow certain guidelines around the foods I eat. No more than five ingredients, things that I can pronounce and recognize, no sugar, no gluten (I am gluten sensitive), decent fiber content, etc, etc.
As I was approaching the checkout line, I scanned the contents of my cart. I had a pint of coconut bliss (agave sweetened coconut milk based ice cream), a couple different organic dark 70% or more cocoa content chocolate bars, several different varieties of gluten free cookies, various “raw” concoctions, and, a bagful of dried mango slices. All “nutritious” foods, but truly sugar and fat in various forms. Suddenly, I panicked. I realized that I was going to go home, probably sample ALL of these tasty treat and feel overly full afterwards. I also recognized that my HUNGER to FEEL BETTER would undoubtably still be there, despite having filled my belly. I turned around, left the shopping cart and walked out of the store. (Sorry Berkeley Bowl employees! I owe you one…)
Once out of the store, I called a friend to talk about what had just happened and we shared a laugh. THAT made me feel better. I took some deep belly breaths and asked myself “What is really going on?” I was feeling stressed out, unappreciated, and slightly anxious, and like I hadn’t had any “fun” lately. I decided to take off my shoes and go walk in the grass in the median right across the street. On the spur of the moment, I tried a cartwheel. THAT made me feel better. Interestingly, there is quite a bit of research suggesting that simply putting your bare feet in the earth can do wonders for your overall health.
Am I suggesting that you walk barefoot and do cartwheels instead of numbing yourself with food? NO. Well, maybe sometimes if that works for you! What I am suggesting is to stay present with yourself. Observe your behavior with curiosity and try to find out what your real motivation is. You may be surprised by what you discover. What I am beginning to feel is gratitude for my seemingly senseless cravings. They are a cry for help. They are my spirit begging for attention. And I am starting to pay attention.
On the flip side, I know that my body and brain need attention too. Serotonin (your feel good brain chemical) drops the lowest during this time of year and the body’s response is to crave sweets. Serotonin also drops dramatically right before a woman’s period begins. Although eating carbohydrates at night will temporarily boost serotonin, doing so on a regular basis will sap your serotonin reserves if you’re not replenishing with the building blocks of serotonin, namely amino acids that come from protein foods. You also need a lot of Vitamin B6 to convert amino acids into serotonin.
With this knowledge, I am revamping my eating plan to include more protein and healthy fats for a happy brain. I am also being gentle with myself and allowing myself to do a little bit of hibernation in this Winter season. What this experience has taught me is how important it is to be present in my body and with my emotions. Feeling connection in the universe and cultivating joy for myself truly needs to come first. Unless I have that, I won’t have the energy to follow through with what I “know” intellectually as far as my nutritional needs are concerned.
So I leave you with this question: What will nourish you today besides your food? What time have you carved out for yourself to do something that brings you joy? I’d love to hear from you…
Yours in Health,
Sylvie Nalezny, MA, CNE
This morning was my second test in my Great Blood Sugar Experiment! Last time, I tested Agave Nectar to see how it impacted my blood sugar. Amazingly, the claims seem to be true! My blood sugar only went up 6 points from having about 2 oz. on an empty stomach. Based on this data, I would recommend the use of Agave for anyone who is concerned about their blood sugar or who is wanting to lose excess weight. This morning I tested myself with raw, local honey. Watch my video to see the results!
I’ve started the Great Blood Sugar Experiment!
Final results: Agave Nectar only raised my blood sugar by 6 points. However, at around 4pm (which is when blood sugar typically dips the lowest) I was seriously irritable and needed to take a nap, which hasn’t happened to me in a while.
At the turn of the 20th century, the average sugar consumption per person in the US was 5-10 lbs per year; in 2001, it was 170 lbs! During this time we have witnessed an alarming increase in obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and conditions related to a compromised immune system (immune function is suppressed for up to 5 hours after eating sugar!). Is it coincidental that these ailments were quite rare in traditional cultures before the introduction of white sugar and other refined carbohydrates, such as white flour and white rice?
Everyone knows that sugar causes tooth decay; but what many don’t realize is that dental problems are almost always an outward sign of a systemic problem. For example, thinning tooth enamel indiactes mineral depletion, while gingivitis may be a precursor to heart disease. Additionally, sugar and refined carbohydrates feeds bacteria (including those that cause acne), viruses, Candida albicans (a yeast-like microorganism that can cause digestive problems and yeast infections), and even cancer cells. An overgrowth of Candida, which is quite common, especially among women, will itself create more sugar cravings.
So why can’t everyone just simply give up sugar? Unfortunately, it can be one of the hardest habits to kick, partly because it is so pervasive in our culture, and partly because, for some people, it is highly addictive. Beyond simply tasting good, sugar affects the physiology of the body in several ways that keep us hooked. Sugar and refined carbohydrates cause the blood sugar to rise rapidly, then quickly crash back down, leading to more sugar cravings and an endless roller coaster effect. Sugar stimulates the same pleasure pathways in the brain as alcohol and many drugs. At the same time it ends up depleting us of the co-factors needed to make our own feel-good brain chemicals (neurotransmitters), leading to a dependency on sugar or refined carbs to feel good.
There are, however, many things that can be done to overcome sugar cravings. Following are some guidelines that will help reduce cravings and ensure better overall health, steady energy, a stronger immune system, and better weight control.
Check all labels for added sugar, especially salad dressings, mayonnaise, breakfast cereals, soups, and canned foods. Get rid of anything with added sugar.
Stop drinking soda! Regular soda contains a whopping 8-12 teaspoons of sugar, while diet sodas contain aspartame which blocks the production of serotonin, causing more sugar and carbohydrate cravings! Instead, try drinking low sodium mineral water with a splash of unsweetened fruit juice.
Switch from refined flour to whole grain products. Remember, refined grains and refined grain products affect blood sugar in the same way as white sugar.
Use alternate sweeteners. Use stevia, xylitol or lo han, none of which significantly affect blood sugar levels.
Lighten the glycemic load. If you need to drink something sweet, dilute fruit juice with water. Try to avoid eating anything sweet on an empty stomach; add some protein and/or fat into the equation (e.g. some nuts with fruit) to ease the glycemic load. This way your blood sugar won’t go up, or crash down, so quickly. Crashing blood sugar leads to more cravings.
Don’t skip breakfast. Eating breakfast helps to stabilize your blood sugar, whereas skipping it tends to unbalance it.
Include protein at every meal. Protein is made up of amino acids that your body uses to make feel-good brain chemicals, short-circuiting cravings. It also keeps your blood sugar steady.
Cut back on alcohol. Alcohol is itself another form of sugar. If you are going to drink, try to limit your consumption to one glass of wine or beer a day.
Get enough sleep. Research shows that when people are sleep deprived, they are much more likely to reach for sweets or other refined carbs.
Tune into your emotions. If you are craving sugar because of an emotional upset, try to deal with it through direct communication, journaling, talking to a friend, or counseling.