How to Manage Sugar Cravings
I get asked a lot about what to do for sugar cravings. I wish I could tell you there is a magic pill that will simply make your love of cupcakes and ice cream disappear. Trust me if there was a pill out there I would have tried it and already have told you everything there is to know. But sadly, there is no pill that will make the cravings go away. All there is are daily habits, practiced over time, that will help you be healthier and more in control of what you eat.
Remember, sugar is not your enemy. It’s just not healthy for you. And your goal at the end of the day is to be a healthy person, right? So don’t beat yourself up thinking about staying away from sugar forever. It’s unrealistic to think you will abstain from dessert for the rest of your life or never have a craving again. But, sugar is not something that should be overconsumed either. If you want to feel good about yourself, inside and out, your diet needs to consist mostly of fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat diary, fiber-rich foods, and water. We all know it. The hard part is putting this basic knowledge into practice.
Here are a few suggestions I have to build healthy habits, help manage cravings and tips on how to indulge wisely.
1. Don’t buy sugary treats. Keep treats out of your house because if they are in your fridge they will call to you while you are enjoying TV at night.
2. Plan you treats. Go get your calendar. Write down every special event you have planned for the next year. I’m going to bet there is something special every single month. Let’s look at my year as an example:
January: New Years, National Peanut Butter Day
Feburary: Lily’s birthday, Valentine’s Day
April: Jorge’s birthday, Anniversay
May: Sisters birthday, Mother’s Day
July: 4th of July, Stone’s birthday
August: Dad’s Birthday
September: My birthday
October: Izzy’s birthday, Halloween
December: Christmas, Mom’s birthday
Now factor in office parties, baby showers, bridal showers, summer bbqs, weddings, date nights, etc… That adds up to at least a major cheat meal once a month, if not more. I don’t know about you but I can go without a treat if I know I’m going to have birthday cake in three weeks. In addition, after realizing how many special celebrations there are in a year, you will have to realize you can’t indulge at all of them. You are going to have to just say NO at a few picnics once in a while.
3. Practice saying NO. I don’t just mean saying, “No” at parties. I mean you also have to visualize success. If you have 4 BBQs planned for the month of July, then pick the BBQ you won’t have dessert at and visualize saying NO the entire week before the party.
4. Record how you feel after a treat. This is one of my favorite habits because I often fantasize how good something will be, and then it turns out to be just ok or it makes my tummy hurt. When I take the time to reflect on the reality of the situation I can let go of the fantasy and, thus, the craving. For example, once in a while I’ll have a week where I get a few splurges. After my recent NPC show I had Graters ice cream, donuts, and Easter candy all in the same week. As I journaled, I realized the donuts where not that great and they made my stomach hurt. Of course they were delicious, but in comparison to Graters, I enjoyed my ice cream so much more than the donuts and the Easter candy. This has helped me to stop fantasizing about donuts (thank goodness!)
5. Give yourself a challenge. Stop eating dessert for 30/60/100 days. I know this seems extreme. But you will learn so much about yourself. You will practice saying NO. You will notice how many special (or not so special) events there are where you mindlessly eat non-nutritious food (and remember, this is not about deprivation, it’s about being healthier!) Most importantly, you will realize how strong you are. By putting yourself in a situation to say NO for an extended period of time you will have the chance to see that you can overcome your cravings.
6. Don’t let yourself get too hungry. I eat every two-three hours. However, when I let myself go longer between meals my hunger turns into a craving! And the first thing my mind thinks of is chocolate. Every time. So I plan my meals. I meal prep. I take meals with me wherever I go. I keep healthy snacks in my car. Failure to plan, is planning to fail. If you don’t plan your meals you will inevitably end up standing in front of your fridge looking for the easiest, tastiest thing to eat.
7. Track all food in MyFitnessPal. MFP has helped me so much. Many people think tracking food is obsessive. I think it’s eye opening. When I ate donuts and ice cream in the same day my calories were close to 4,000!!!!! If that isn’t a deterrent I don’t know what is. In addition, once you start realizing how many calories are in treats and how that affects your total calorie count, vitamin and mineral levels, and macros you realize how detrimental treats are to your diet... and it will give you more willpower to say NO at all those parties you have planned this year.
8. Focus on veggies. Instead of focusing on what not to eat, focus on feeding your body nutritious food. I often will try to eat 6-8 servings of veggies in a day. When you fill up on veggies and protein you’ll feel full and this will help mitigate the need to overeat sweets.
9. Cheat clean. Over the years I have come to realize I feel best physically when I don’t eat sugar. But that doesn’t mean I don’t mentally crave sugar. Let’s be honest, most sugar cravings (for me at least) aren’t physical. I see a picture of an Oreo, happy memories flood my head, and then it’s all over. The need for an Oreo will build and build until I eat an Oreo, or at least some chocolate. Craving sugar is a weird mental game for me. Once the idea of sugar is planted in my head it takes root and my thoughts end up like this: “I shouldn’t eat it…. But, I want it so bad…. It’s not healthy for me… But, I just WANT IT SO BAD…. I’ll be better tomorrow if I have just one bowl of ice cream tonight!... Just eat the ice cream so you stop thinking about it!” If you are like me clean cheats will change your life.
A clean cheat is a treat that is made with healthy ingredients. My clean cheats typically include protein powder. Want cookies? Protein cookies. Want pudding? Protein pudding. Want muffins? Protein muffins. I eat clean cheats almost every day. What can I say, I love sugar!!!! I don’t want to live without it and my will power isn't perfect. So I’ve come up with a way to enjoy healthy food and satisfy my sugar cravings. Now I can happily say no at a party because I know there are protein cookies in my freezer for my Friday cheat meal.
My favorite clean cheats:
Protein oatmeal cookies
Lily’s Dark chocolate (You can buy at Whole Foods in the chocolate aisle.)
Protein energy bars
Protein banana muffins
Protein pudding (mix Ultra Peptide casein with a touch of water. Done! You can buy Ultra Peptide on tigerfitness.com)
Halo top ice cream (You can buy it at Krogers. But measure your servings!)
Banana ice cream (Process frozen bananas in a processor. Done!)
Protein pancakes with Lily’s chocolate chips (At Whole Foods in the baking
In addition, search Instagram and Pinterest for clean cheat recipes and try new things! There are endless variations on your favorite cravings. For example, I recently did a taste test between Arctic Zero and Halo Top ice cream. I tried Brownie and Snickerdoodle Arctic Zero and Vanilla Bean and Mint Chip Halo Top. All four had a nice flavor, but the Halo Top was by far the better choice. It was delicious. Now I'm so excited to have a new go-to option for those summer days when I want to enjoy a bowl of ice cream with my kids.
10. Measure Everything. In addition to clean cheats, you can eat fruit, granola, yogurt, raisins, peanut butter and bananas. However, measure everything. It’s ok to even go back for seconds. But I have found measuring my sweets helps me associate my actions with their impact. If I eat three bowls of granola or cereal, I measure each bowl and then log it in MFP. That way I know that 3 bowls of granola put my calories over for the day and then I can make a more informed decision next time. Once I know how much of an impact a food has I can separate fact from fiction, and make a choice that will be most nutritious.
I think it’s more important to cultivate strong habits instead of relying on willpower alone. Again, it’s not realistic to deprive yourself forever. So practice healthy habits, try new clean cheats, and educate yourself about what you put in your body. You’ll be managing those cravings in no time.
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