How To Ditch Sugar Cravings & Energy Crashes
By now we all (should) know that we should be avoiding sugar. We’ve realize we need to start reading labels to look for words other than just “sugar” (like dextrose and sucralose). We’ve watched the documentary where they compared rats brains on sugar to rats brains on cocaine (and were shocked to find out that sugar is more addictive). We know sugar isn’t our friend. Right?
So why is it that even when we give up our favourite chocolate bar and sweets we still experience crazy cravings, afternoon headaches and energy crashes?
It all has to do with our bodies ability to regulate our blood sugar.
What is Blood Sugar?
First off, let’s replace the words blood sugar with “energy”, because when we talk about blood sugar we are really talking about the potential to create usable energy in the body!
We get “energy” from the foods we eat! Carbohydrates that break down quickly into glucose (sugar) that give us energy. Proteins that break down into amino acids, that the liver can convert into glucose that gives us energy. Fats that break down into fatty acids that can also be used to create energy.
Glucose is a form of energy you were designed to run on. We store it in our muscles for them to use as fuel, your brain needs it to function and the balance of glucose in our system is constantly being monitored by the body.
Fat is another fuel source that the body can use when it runs out of glucose sources. The body will often break down proteins into amino acids to create more glucose when were in need. However, fatty acids can “jump the line” ahead of amino acid and skip a few steps in the energy creation process, therefore making less work for the body. This makes fats a very stable source of energy of us.
Our bodies were designed to run on both carbohydrates and fats. But what has happened is that most of us are only ever able to use sugar (carbohydrates) as energy and we miss out on the stable, slow burning energy that fats can provide us!
Why is Blood Sugar Regulation Important?
Our body keeps a close eye on all this potential energy circulating and being stored. After all, we need energy for every cell in the body to perform it’s job!
The pancreas, liver and adrenals are responsible for keeping our blood sugar in check and are tied to hormonal feedback loops that do just that. It’s a hardwired system that takes a lot to disrupt it, and yet so many of us have.
Disruption to blood sugar regulation has impactful consequences on:
your energy levels
The integrity of organ tissues and blood vessels
And hormonal balance!
What Does Normal Blood Sugar Regulation Look Like?
It’s important to understand HOW your body creates energy for you in order to solve your energy crashing problem.
After you have a meal and have digested all that lovely food, it enters the blood stream through your small intestinal wall. If this meal had carbohydrates your blood glucose (sugar) levels will raise and your body will immediately signal the pancreas.
This organ is responsible for lowering or elevating blood sugar levels.
When your blood sugar is high (like after a meal), the pancreas secretes a hormone called INSULIN.
Insulins job is to go collect all the glucose and put it away. It brings it to your liver to convert into stored energy and also to your muscles to be stored.
When insulin does it’s job, blood sugar levels will decrease.
A while later when we have used up our circulating glucose for energy and we need more, our pancreas will secret GLUCAGON. This hormone goes back to the liver and muscles to signal them to convert our stored glucose into usable energy again.
When glucagon does it’s job, our blood sugar levels will rise.
Our liver is important in regulating our blood sugar because it does all the assembly work! It’s job is to convert glucose to storable energy, or vice versa. It also needs to assemble usable energy using amino acids and fatty acids when glucose isn’t available.
Oh and the liver has about 500 other jobs to do too that don’t involve blood sugar regulation!!
If the pancreas is not secreting enough glucagon to tell blood sugar to rise…
Or the liver cannot keep up and isn’t turning stored energy into usable energy quickly enough to make blood sugar rise…
Your “fight or flight” glands kick in to (literally) save the day!
Your adrenal glands act as the emergency response team when your blood sugar levels are low. They secret cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline that mobilize proteins from skeletal tissue and stimulate breakdown of adipose tissue to produce fatty acids so that the body can use protein and fat to make more energy.
This is great for emergency situations when we need to ACT FAST.
But not so great as an ongoing recurrence, as our adrenals essential tell our body to break down our tissues to make energy.
What Goes So Terribly Wrong?
When the pancreas, liver and adrenals are working in synch your blood sugar, and therefore your energy levels, rise and fall gradually and naturally. Your body is able to send and receive the appropriate signals in a feedback loop to bring energy up or down according to the time of day or your bodies needs.
However, in today’s world we tend to have WAY more ways of increasing blood sugar than decreasing. This tips the scale and suddenly we find ourselves on this major rollercoaster ride of highs and lows of energy all day long.
This roller coaster leads us to CRAVINGS, especially for sugar and sweets.
We feel like we need a “hit” of instant energy in order to bring our blood sugar back up again.
This makes us feel better in the moment, but ultimately sends us back down into a crash later.
How Do We Get Off The Ride?
Most of us have been on this ride for much longer than we think. This can lead to major blood sugar issues like insulin resistance, high blood pressure, overweight and obesity, and diabetes.
Also, because your blood sugar is regulated through endocrine glands and hormones, it can also major upset the balance of OTHER hormones in your body (hello lady hormones I hear you).
How to fight back against cravings and energy crashes:
1. Break Up With Sugar
Cut the b.s. and the negotiations and just do it already. I’m talking the white stuff and the fake white stuff.
If going cold turkey just doesn’t work for you, I get it. Use stevia, honey, pure maple syrup as a replacement as your body learns to adjust.
Look for sugar in your sauces and condiments, your packaged food and of course drinks and juices!
Think of it this way. Every time you have something with sugar it buys you a VIP pass to a rollercoaster ride from hell.
2. Cut Out Refined Carbohydrates
But Lexie, you said we need carbs as fuel.
Damn right I did! However, you need carbs that your body can digest and use properly along side fat and protein.
Refined carbohydrates are foods that have been, well, “refined” and processed. Often times this takes out the fiber as well as vitamins and minerals that we would normally get from those foods. It also means that you can pretty much guarantee that they have added a lil something something back in after taking things out.
Refined carbohydrates include: breads, rolls, pastas, pastries, cakes, cookies, cereals, flavoured oatmeals, potato chips, etc.
If giving up pasta and bread is literally like death to you: try switching to sprouted versions, those made locally with few ingredients. I hesitate to say look for gluten free options because many times they’re loaded with crap as well!
3. Say Goodbye to the Snacks
Snacking, especially on sugar and refined carbohydrates is messes with the rhythm of your bodies natural blood sugar balancers. Now you’re not only spiking your blood sugar at meals, but also every time you grab that muffin, bread roll, granola bar, fruit and yogurt parfait (that probably had sugar added to it) and more.
If you’re hungry between meals, reach for a snack that offers you protein and fats. Try nuts and seeds, meat, cheese, if you can do dairy. Eggs are my favourite. If you’re having a treat, go for it girl. But focus on the end game here: cutting out possibilities to get on the rollercoaster ride.
As your body adapts and starts being able to burn fat as fuel, you’ll find you won’t need a snack at all between meals! This is the ultimate goal because it keeps your blood sugar stable and allows your body to really run its feedback loops efficiently.
4. Eat More Fat and Protein
Take a look at your meals throughout the day, including snacks. What percentage of that was good quality fats? What about proteins? Chances are a majority of it is carbohydrates. Carbs are quick fuel sources but they’re also programmed into our brains as being quick to grab (like something out of a package).
Build your meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) to include good oils like coconut, avocado, and olive oil and a big piece of protein! Then load up with veggies (which are also carbs by the way).
5. Stop Skipping Meals
Fasting has a time and a place, and it’s place is NOT for those who have out of control energy and blood sugar. Chances are you are skipping meals, feeling lousy and then binging later on anyway.
FOOD IS FUEL. FOOD IS ENERGY.
The more you eat consistent meals, the more your body will learn that it’s going to receive this energy and be able to regulate your blood sugar better.
When you skip a meal and crash into very low blood sugar, you put stress on your adrenals (which by the way are already working over time for you and your stressful lifestyle).
If 3 meals a day doesn’t work for you, that’s totally fine. Divide one into two meals and have 4.
Balancing your energy levels and getting rid of your sugar cravings is all about balancing your blood sugar!
If you can work WITH your body, rather than against it, I know you’ll start feeling energized in no time. And then magically, those annoying cravings and snacking needs will just disappear!
I want to know, which one of these do you struggle with the most?
What kind of resource would be helpful to you while conquering your blood sugar monster?