The holiday season is here! The time of year when we find ourselves surrounded by sweet treats and comfort foods from sun up to sun down. We will inevitably pass through the seven levels of the candy cane forest and through the sea of swirly-twirly gumdrops. It is, after all, the most wonderful time of the year!
It’s so important to keep in mind, however, that just a little bit of sugar can fuel cravings and the temptation to binge. You quickly find yourself in a seemingly never ending cycle of sugar highs and sugar lows and battling that winter weight gain that you promise yourself every year you will avoid. So what can you do to manage these sugar cravings and feel good while still enjoying your favorite seasonal desserts? The first step is recognizing the difference between hunger and a craving.
- Occurs several hours after a meal
- Can be accompanied by a headache, stomach growling, and a feeling of fatigue
- Is not just for a specific type of food
- Typically goes away after eating a healthy snack or meal
- A desire for more food even after having eaten
- A desire for a certain type of food,, sweets, such as chocolate, a salty snack like potato chips, or a food high in fat
- It passes with time or is replaced with a new nagging “obsession”
- A desire for a certain food at a time of stress or while dieting
Plain and simple, a craving has more to do with what your mind wants, while hunger has more to do with what your body needs.
Now that you understand the difference between hunger and a craving, step two is understanding what causes your cravings.
- Dehydration – probably the most common cause of sugar cravings. Lack of water consumption is often mistaken for sugar cravings and hunger pains.
- Your mood – chronic stress, anxiety, and low serotonin levels contribute to cravings.
- Excess carbohydrates – overconsumption of refined carbohydrates can lead to sugar cravings.
- Not getting enough sleep – We get energy from two things – sleep and the food we eat. If you aren’t getting enough of one, you may overindulge in the other.
- Nutrient deficiencies and imbalances – deficiencies and imbalances manifest themselves as sugar cravings and sometimes, salt cravings
Having identified the common causes of sugar cravings, how can you beat these cravings?
- Stay hydrated- drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. We should really be drinking half of our body weight in ounces every single day. The body interprets hunger and thirst in a similar way, so it can be hard to tell the difference. An easy solution is to drink a big glass of water and wait. If the craving goes away, it’s likely you were just dehydrated.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol when you can – both can cause dehydration
- Exercise- exercise is one of the most effective ways to deal with stress and anxiety. Exercise actually causes your brain to release endorphins and helps your body lower stress hormones like cortisol. When you’re less stressed, less anxious, and feeling good about yourself, you’re less likely to give in to cravings and temptation to binge.
- Fill your plate with Whole Foods- increase your veggie intake, and use natural sweeteners. Be aware that you can, and be sure that you don’t, drink your sugar.. to avoid excess carbohydrates
- Reach for healthy snacks when cravings first set in:
Peanut butter and an apple
Cottage cheese and blueberries
Hummus and raw veggies
Healthy snack bars
- Make sure that you are getting enough sleep- the holidays are stressful, so much to get done in so little time, which often results in later nights and earlier mornings. Be sure to make sleep a priority
- Don’t show up to parties and gatherings, starving- Eat a healthy snack before going so you aren’t tempted to stand by the buffet table and graze all evening
Now you know the difference between hunger and cravings, what causes sugar cravings, and some helpful ways to beat them! Be sure to keep in mind that the more you restrict yourself, the more likely you are to get and give into cravings. Those who rely on willpower alone, end up eating about 40% more calories when they do indulge than those who allow themselves occasional treats. So be kind to yourself! Allow yourself to delight in some of your holiday favorites! This season truly is the most wonderful time of the year, so enjoy it!
Remember to schedule your routine dental hygiene cleaning! The holidays are a busy time but it’s so important to make time for your oral health! A commitment to your oral health is an investment in your overall health.