Dr. Bindiya Gandhi is an American Board Family Medicine–certified physician who completed her family medicine training at Georgia Regents University/Medical College of Georgia June 2014. She completed an integrative medicine fellowship at the University of Arizona with Dr. Andrew Weil, and she is also working on her functional medicine training with the Institute of Functional Medicine.
We live in a culture where sugar is virtually unavoidable and oftentimes indistinguishable, carrying cryptic names like anhydrous dextrose, crystalline fructose, and evaporated cane juice. Sugar itself is a refined carbohydrate and source of calories that our bodies use as energy or store as fat. By the way, not all sugar is bad; it naturally occurs in fruits and other foods that provide our body with necessary nourishment. But excess sugar, those hidden added sugars we don't even realize exist aren't so good for us.
Did you know that consuming sugar causes the brain to release dopamine, the same neurotransmitter linked with cocaine usage? It boosts you into a momentary high, drops you like a ton of bricks, and leaves you craving more. A dangerous cycle for sure, and many of us can relate to being in what we affectionately call a "sugar coma." We tend to associate this tag with children, most likely because our adult bodies have become so accustomed to the nasty cycle that we don't even realize we have been suffering our entire lives from excess amounts of sugar. Increased appetite, insomnia, brain fog, mental chatter, depression, and far worse symptoms all generate from sugar consumption.
The World Health Organization first recommended that adults reduce sugar consumption to only 10 percent of their daily energy intake in 1989. And again in 2002. And most recently, in 2015, they are suggesting that it be further reduced to 5 percent of your daily energy intake. This means that we, as a population, have been ignoring their warnings for almost two decades. That, and the food industry has become increasingly stealthy in how they add those hidden sugars until now—almost 75 percent of the foods on the shelf contain added sweeteners. They know that consuming excess amounts of sugar will make you crave even more, so it is to their benefit to continue to find ways to hide it in plain sight.
If after all that, you're looking to get your health and sanity under control, you're not alone. Here's how to best set yourself up for success:
1. Write down what you eat.
There is nothing like accountability when it comes to shaping new habits. Visually seeing what you are putting into your body as well as physically writing or logging the foods into an app are the best way to really see where your food and nutrient loyalties lie. You don't want to obsess over every bite that you put in your mouth, but seeing where the majority of your calories come from as you begin to eat cleaner will help you to build a foundation for your new routine.
I also suggest writing down goals for yourself that you can achieve over time. Don't be too aggressive—rather, set small goals each week that ladder up into one larger one. Read those goals out loud to yourself each day and meditate on ways to achieve them. Every day, find time to journal or reflect on how you have fared. If you had a setback, then you can do better the next day. But keep yourself accountable and make it real by putting it in writing.
2. Properly fuel your body.
In general, you want to get your calories from a balanced diet of the macronutrients protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. If you focus on clean eating—eating unprocessed foods as much as possible—you will be able to refocus your eating plan.
Protein helps your body feel full longer, so increasing it in your diet will help to curb those cravings, especially at that midday snack time. Try snacking on nuts and yogurt and incorporate more eggs and lean meats into meals. Your body will thank you for it.
Carbs fall into three categories—sugars, starches, and fibers—but the body breaks down complex carbohydrates into simple sugars. Find yourself drawn to french fries, bread, and sushi? Your sugar fix originates in excess carbs. Avoid white and refined flour—rices, pastas, breads—and try nuts, seeds, and whole grains instead. If the carb is in its natural, unadulterated form, then it's a good choice. When your cravings hit, try high-fiber foods to fill your belly and keep your digestive system moving like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. And don't get stuck in the meal-label game—switch it up! Have eggs for dinner, avocado for breakfast, or oatmeal for lunch.
3. Utilize high-quality peppermint essential oil.
One of the easiest ways to begin your journey involves utilizing high-quality essential oils to retrain your brain, to curb the sugar cravings, and to revitalize your life. Amazing research has been done concerning cravings and essential oils. The most famous is a study by Dr. Alan Hirsch, who found that peppermint oil is amazingly effective at curbing cravings. Simply inhaling the scent of peppermint also awakens the senses and enables the brain to focus on the real task at hand. While it may be hard to believe that a scent can keep you from bingeing on sugar, aromatherapy can be the key to many of your health care concerns as an all-natural way to reclaim your vitality and wellness.
Other essential oils that may help to curb cravings include black pepper, bergamot, cassia, cinnamon, clove, fennel, grapefruit, lemon, marjoram, and wild orange. While you may prefer scents that smell like your favorite sugary treats, I prefer to stick with ones that invigorate the senses, like peppermint and citrus oils.
4. Distract yourself from cravings.
Chances are those sugar cravings hit you around the same time every day—midmorning, midafternoon, and late night before bed. Be in tune with your body and try to recognize if it really needs food for fuel. Drink a glass of water to see if that curbs the craving. Sometimes, people can crave sugar because of stress, adrenal fatigue, hormonal imbalance, or Candida, and you should always consult your doctor if you feel like you’re concerned about one of these symptoms. Even if you’re just simply trying to cut back, it's time for some self-care.
Reach for the essential oils! Putting a drop or two on a cotton ball, on your scarf, or on diffuser jewelry will help you have a rescue plan ready in action. Peppermint and grapefruit, alone or layered together, are my favorite go-to's for curbing those cravings.
Exercise! Go for a walk. Get up and move. Incorporate regular exercise into your life and involve your friends so that social time isn't just eating and drinking. That peppermint and grapefruit may also help to motivate you to get moving. If you haven't tried yoga, I recommend utilizing it for not only stretching out your body and toning your physique but also for giving our mind and body a specific time to connect and become in tune with each other. Adding essential oils like cedarwood, patchouli, or frankincense will help to ground and center your body and mind, allowing for deeper awareness.
Meditate! Find some time for yourself and focus on what really matters in your life. Chances are that sugar won't be at the top of that list. Find your passion, establish balance in your life, and seek peace and happiness by loving yourself enough to break the sugar habit. If you focus on a positive affirmation while doing yoga, such as "I am enough" or "Sugar has no power over me," you're priming your body to react as well and get the message.
5. Uncover your sugar triggers with these three questions.
For many of us, sugar has been a reward since we were little. Obey and get a lollipop; finish your dinner, and get dessert; let's celebrate with ice cream. Our minds have been conditioned to think that for every good thing that we do, we deserve some sort of instant gratification and, for many people, that is sugar.
Even more common is associating sugar with your social life. When you go out with your friends, do you have a mixed drink? Do you treat yourself with dessert or indulge in something you wouldn't normally fix at home? Indulge occasionally, not habitually.
What about times of stress, times of grief, or specific times of the month? When we make sugar a comfort food, we train our bodies to crave it every time we find ourselves in these emotional situations. Allow yourself to express emotions instead of masking them with sugar.
Essential oils can also help you to combat tense moments. Lavender and ylang-ylang contain amazing calming properties that help the body to release pent-up stress and anxiety. Grounding and balancing oils such as patchouli, cedarwood, and frankincense can help your body to find calm, rebalance, and reclaim control over other distractions. And for that favorite time of a woman's month, reach for the clary sage to ease your symptoms and regain control of your hormones.
Remember that journal we talked about before? As you write down what you eat, you can begin to notice patterns of sugar indulgence. Look for them and see if you can pinpoint the underlying triggers for the sugar cravings. Then write an alternative for each trigger. What will you do when you find yourself in these situations again? Make a plan, and work that plan!
Here's the truth about kicking sugar.
We all have things we can change in our diets, our lives, our mindsets. Sugar can be just the start of retooling your life. Don't drastically cut out sugar from your diet and cause uncomfortable detox. Take it slow and let your body adjust. Start with a habit of awareness—being aware of labels, of what you put in your mouth, of your triggers, and of your personal wellness. Utilize high-quality essential oils to refocus your mind and body to rely less on sugar and more on the power of aromatherapy. Only you can make this change in your life and break up with sugar by replacing it with a positive lifestyle that fuels your mind, body, and soul.
Ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE web class with nutrition expert Kelly LeVeque.