Sugar Cravings and Getting Back on Track

I received this question from a CGB reader named Esther (not the Esther from Esther’s Weight Loss Journey – a different Esther!) Guess lot’s of Esthers frequent this blog…

Question: I am having carbohydrate and sugar cravings. I have over eaten many foods in the past couple of months and gained 8 or 9 pounds. I lost 13 lbs last year simply by cutting back my caloric intake. Now it seems like I am in a rut and do not eat healthy as I am always on the run. HELP. Depressed in Jackson…esther

Martha: You are not alone! Many of my clients have gained weight in the past few months. My guess is that holidays as well as  stress eating due to the economy may have something to do with it. But it sounds like you did a great job losing weight last year and you can do it again! You will just need to take a closer look at your diet and start by setting some small goals as how to improve it.

Let’s start by talking about your carb cravings.  Carb cravings are very common. The good news is that there is usually a reason as to why you are craving carbs. By making some changes in what and when you eat, you may be able to at least lessen these cravings.

Common causes of carb cravings:
1. Going too long without eating. This will lead to low blood sugar which will increase the urge to eat carbs. I doubt many of you crave broccoli when you haven’t eaten for 8 hours! My guess is that you would be looking for something starchy or sugary.

2. Consuming too many processed low fiber carbs. Foods such as white rice, white bread, sweets and other sugary food are low in fiber and have a high glycemic index. Eating high glycemic foods (especially larger portions) can cause a quick spike in blood sugar, followed by a quick drop. This stimulates hunger and can cause the urge to eat more carbohydrates.

3. Not eating adequate protein at meals. Eating meals that contain only carbohydrate (i.e. a jumbo bagel, big bowl of pasta or frozen yogurt with granola) will cause a more rapid rise and fall of blood sugar. This can exacerbate cravings. Protein helps to keep blood sugar levels and promotes satiety. Therefore, you feel full longer when you include protein at meals.

4. Not eating adequate fat at meals. Many of my clients are fat phobic and will go out of their way to avoid eating fat. Fat free butter spray, fat free salad dressing, etc.  Fat takes a long time to digest, helps to prevent rapid peaks and drops of blood sugar and helps keep you full longer. Of course, the key is not to overdulge in fat as loaded with calories. I will talk more about how fat you should eat a day in a later post.

5. Taking your caloric intake too low. When your consume too few calories, your hypothalmus produces extra NPY (neuropeptide Y),  a chemical messenger that encourages you to eat more carbohydrates. In addition, the hypothalmus secretes another chemical called galanin which increases cravings for foods rich in fat and carbs. Take home message: eating too few calories = cravings for high carb foods.

6. Getting inadequate sleep. Sleep affects hormones that regulate satiety, hunger and how efficiently you burn calories. Too little sleep can lower levels of leptin and raise levels of ghrelin, which can increase hunger for sweet and/or starchy foods.

7. Consuming inadequate carbs, especially if you are an active person. Exercising on a regular basis and not consuming adequate carbs will cause you to have powerful carb cravings as well as low energy levels. This is because carbs are the major fuel used by exercising muscles. Your body likes to keep your energy stores full of energy (called glycogen). If you exercise on a regular basis and don’t eat enough carbs, your body will go into “carb seeking mode” as it tries to replete its glycogen stores. In addition, you will likely find your energy levels plummet.

8. Having high stress levels. High levels of stress can cause chemical imbalances in your body. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands in your body when you are under stress. Cortisol will increase production of a neurotransmitter called neuropeptide Y, which as I previously discussed, can increase cravings for sweet or starchy foods.

Tips to help get you back on track:
1. Start by keeping a food record of the time you eat and what you eat. This will help you to identify problem areas in your diet and make you more aware of what you are eating.
2. Follow my above tips
3. Each week, set several SMALL goals to work on. Setting small goals is important to help you from feeling overwhelmed. Check out my Tips on Goal Setting under the Newsletters
4. Follow my above tips for controlling carb cravings.
5. Keep all problem foods out of the house
6. Get back to a regular exercise program

Esther, feel free to post what your goals will be for this week and CBG will give you support and encouragment! Thanks for reading CGB.


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I especially love problem-solving, whether it’s helping women defeat issues plaguing them for years, helping a busy executive find practical ways to get heart healthy, or providing tips to help you reverse diabetes. That’s why I’m on a constant quest to expand my knowledge by staying on top of the latest research.

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