Emily Pereira from Melbourne Nutrition Services

How to control those pesky sugar cravings?

We are nearing the end of September, which means we can almost eat sugar again!! Yay!!

…No? You don’t want to fall back into your old sugary habits? Are you worried that if you have a tiny bit you’ll be addicted again? Don’t worry, I’m going to help you re-introduce sugar back into your diet in moderation. If you enjoyed avoiding sugar this month, you did not feel deprived and you are confident that you can to continue to avoid added sugar for the rest of your life, then good on you – go for it! But if you really love chocolate or ice cream or birthday cake and are worried that after one small bite you will be addicted again, continue reading to discover why it doesn’t have to be that way.

Sugar is not the devil. There is no evidence to suggest that a small amount of sugar is detrimental to our health. The World Health Organisation recommends a maximum of 6 teaspoons of sugar per day to avoid negative health consequences. So don’t feel guilty about enjoying coffee and cake with your mum on her birthday or ordering dessert at your favourite restaurant! Enjoy it!

Obviously consuming too much sugar has serious health consequences and currently the average Australian consumes more than double the recommended maximum intake each day. However, dieting and demonising sugar can also cause serious issues and lead to increased sugar intake. Feeling guilty about eating a sugary treat can lead to a vicious cycle of yo-yo dieting, self-loathing, emotional eating and even disordered eating.

If you have participated in being more sugar conscious this month, you will hopefully have noticed that your cravings for sugar have significantly reduced. This is because sugar is addictive – the more you eat, the more you crave it. Challenging yourself to eat less sugar for a month may also have helped you to break the habit of eating something sweet after meals. Think about it. When do you crave sugar? After lunch at your desk? Or after dinner on the couch? I bet it is at the same time and place each day. And if your schedule differs for that day, you don’t think about it. Right??

If this sounds like you, then your sugar cravings are not true cravings. They are a HABIT. And since you have made such fantastic progress with breaking this habit throughout September, we now need to learn how to re-introduce sugar back into our diets in a controlled way. Why? So that we don’t fall right back into our old bad habits and revert to self-loathing because we couldn’t stick to our sugar free “diet”.

Understanding WHY we crave sugary treats is the first step in managing control. This will be different for everyone. Is it a habit as described above? Are you stressed? Upset? Tired? Bored? Is it that time of the month? Is it just because you know the treat is in the house?

Does eating sugary treats make you feel good while you’re eating them and after you eat them? If you feel guilty and upset with yourself for eating the treat afterwards, it is unlikely that you truly enjoyed every mouthful of that treat.

Once you have recognised the reason for your craving, think about whether or not you are truly craving the treat;
Will you feel deprived if you deny yourself the pleasure?
Or are you likely to forget about it if you have a glass of water or an apple, or busy yourself with a task instead?
If you decide that yes, you are truly craving the treat and that yes, you will feel deprived if you make yourself have a glass of water instead, go ahead and eat it – as long as you have had this conversation in your head and eat the treat mindfully. Asking yourself these questions will help you to make the mindful decision to eat the treat, weeding out those times that you mindlessly snack without even enjoying or remembering what you ate.

If you have identified that your craving is more of a habit, try to wait 30-60 minutes before allowing yourself to indulge. You may find that the craving passes! If you’re still thinking about this treat after an hour and have identified that you are indeed craving it, go ahead and eat it, but eat it mindfully. Practising mindful eating will help you realise you do feel satisfied after eating a smaller quantity of a treat. Eating mindfully is a more positive way of helping you to eat less sugar. Rather than only allowing yourself to eat a small amount because you’re telling yourself you need to lose weight (consequently you will undoubtedly feel deprived), you’ll realise you actually do feel satisfied and content after eating a smaller quantity and can happily save the rest for a time when you are truly craving it again.

Follow these steps to help you practise eating your sweet treats mindfully:

  1. Take the time to look at the treat in front of you. Is it nicely presented? Is it something that looks beautifully homemade? Is it your favourite chocolate? Is it making you salivate by simply looking at it?
  2. Smell it. Does it have a strong smell? Can you smell the sugar? The cocoa? The spice?
  3. Go ahead and take a small bite. What is the texture like? Soft? Crunchy? Does it melt in your mouth?
  4. How does the texture and flavour change as you hold this bite in your mouth and chew it?
  5. It’s time to swallow. Is there an aftertaste? Is this different to the initial flavour when you first took the bite?
  6. Now think about how much you truly enjoyed that bite. 100%?

As you take more mindful bites, you will most likely notice that at some point (generally after 3-5 bites), you’re not enjoying the treat to the same extent that you enjoyed the first mouthful. This makes it easier to say “you know what? I’m satisfied! I’m going to put this away to eat again when I truly feel like it”. This may be later that day, or it may be in 2 weeks’ time (or more). Learning to eat mindfully without depriving yourself allows you to have the confidence that you will feel satisfied (not guilty) after eating a small amount of a treat. Once you let go of the idea that there’s no such thing as “forbidden” or “naughty” foods, you will not crave them as often.

With our crazy busy lifestyles, mindful eating isn’t possible to employ every time you eat, but the more you practise it, the easier it will become to use as a tool when you’re out with friends, or when you’re stressed or upset. Practise when you are calm and are able to avoid all distractions.

Article by Emily Pereira from Melbourne Nutrition

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