10/31/17

Do you have a sugar addiction?


When I was younger, I lived for Halloween! I loved candy - all kinds! If it was tangy, sweet, salty, sour or peanut buttery, I had to have it.

Growing up, I couldn't eat enough candy. I'm pretty sure I fueled my swim workouts off candy. I craved it, loved the taste of it and I always looked forward to my next candy fix. Oh so good!

Oddly enough, despite candy having a big place in my diet, I nixed my sugar addiction when I was in my 20's.

I don't have anything against candy but it's has no power over me. It's just candy.

But I know this isn't the case for many as it's normal for many people to struggle with some type of sugar addiction. Although I wouldn't call it a sugar addiction, my hubby Karel has a mouth full of sweet teeth and while he is not a big fan of candy made in the USA, he can't get enough of his Czech candies and chocolates when we travel to Europe.

With Halloween as the start of the "holiday" season (which means no shortage of sugary-rich foods for the next 3 months), I wanted to share my tips on how I broke my sugar addiction with mindful eating.

Mindful eating
Life is busy, stressful and exhausting. There's a good chance that most people eat mindlessly more than mindfully. As an example, do you listen to your body when you eat and eat until you are satisfied or do you eat past full? Do you eat with others at set times and places or do you eat alone, at random times and places? Do you eat foods that are emotionally comforting or nutritionally healthy? Do you eat and multitask or eat and just eat without distractions? Do you consider a meal as an end product or consider where the meal came from? Can you listen to your body to know what your body needs to eat or do emotions and cravings dictate your food choices? 

For any individual who has a food addiction (ex. sugar), there's a disconnect between the mind and body as it relates to eating. The addiction may come from the food itself or from lifestyle habits and patterns related to eating. I know that when I was younger, my diet was not very well balanced. I would often go long hours without eating, which would cause sugar cravings and I wasn't very attentive to what I ate. 

Do you find it normal to have a dialogue of thoughts in your head when it comes to eating, especially with sweet?  Do you have thoughts of your body image, fat, calories, sugar, carbs, etc. making you feel guilty, anxious or stressed around sweets?

Slowing down and listening to your body, along with eating slowly is one of the best ways to retrain your body to help you start eating more mindfully. It's important to give your body and brain time to communicate so that you get the right signals to understand when you are full (and hungry).

Once you start listening to your body and its signals, you can start making changes in your diet so that you can create sustainable and productive eating patterns. Many people ignore hunger and eat when they are not hungry. This needs to stop if you want to break a food addiction. Establish set times for eating so that you never eat when you are starving but you avoid eating out of stress, boredom, sadness, frustration or loneliness. Learn to recognize your biological hunger signals, such as when your blood sugar drops, when your energy is low, when you are feeling lightheaded and when your stomach feels empty or is growing. By listening to your body, you can establish a set schedule for when you will eat so that you can mostly eat for reasons of fueling and nourishing your body. Make your diet enhance your life, not control your life.

One of the best ways to eat mindfully and to stop a food addiction is to create a healthy eating environment, which will also help your mood, relationship with food and sleep patterns, not to mention your energy levels with your exercise/training regime. One of my favorite ways of eating mindfully is to take pictures of my food/meals. Instead of grazing (instead of eating a meal or snack) or eating wherever or whenever, I take pride in my meal by taking a picture of it. This also forces me to make a meal, eat with silverware and a plate. I also find that I maintain a great relationship with the food when I am proud of what I put into my body. And this includes indulging too! The holidays are tough because for so many people, there is a change in normal eating habits/routine, which brings new eating habits that are not supportive of mindful eating. Or maybe you have never had an eating routine, which results in indulging and overeating in the presence of food overload. 

Lastly, one of the best strategies for eating more mindfully and breaking a food addiction (like sugar) is to focus on eating a varied diet. With a varied diet, I never feel that any food is off-limit. I am allowed to eat whatever I want, anytime of the year. With no "bad" foods, my taste buds never feel overly excited around the holidays (or deprived), which helps me avoid overeating, especially when in the presence of an overwhelming amount of food. My diet is made up of mostly nutrient dense foods that support my active lifestyle but I also feel very satisfied (and not deprived), thanks to a wholesome and varied, real food diet that has no off-limit foods. My diet is not restrictive so I never feel deprived.

I feel there is something very special about considering where food comes from instead of just seeing food for calories, carbs, fat, sugar, etc. For most people, it's easy to feel disconnected from the food that you eat, especially if it is a food made in a factory and not from a farmer or if you eat according to calories or numbers. A big part of eating mindfully is to feel grateful and connected to the food that you put in your body. I never count calories or measure my food when it comes to meals/snacks as I see food for much more than a number. When someone else prepares food for you (ex. event, holiday party), consider the traditions, culture or love helped bring you the food that is in front of you.

Sadly, people are very distracted when it comes to eating, there is little appreciation for a home cooked meal and there is little effort or time dedicated to eating, which makes mindful eating an afterthought. I encourage you to start listening to your body, create a structured style of eating that works for you and your body and eat in an environment that allows you to taste, enjoy and savor your meals. 

While mindful eating may or may not directly help to cure your sugar addiction (it won't happen overnight!), I have a feeling that it will help you feel more control over your food choices and will help you create a better relationship with food and your body.