The festive season is upon us. A time filled with extravagant meals, freshly baked goods and free flowing alcohol. Maintaining self control can be difficult when we want to enjoy ourselves during this time of year. This can become a hurdle to overcome for our health and may lead us down the wrong path of overindulgence. The beginning of overindulging can lead to a vicious cycle that is difficult to escape if you do not have the right tools.
The Blood Sugar Cycle
Consumption of high glycemic foods and beverages, refined starches, sweets, caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol lead to an upward spike in blood sugar. When blood sugar is high, the body’s reaction can include hyperactivity, loss of concentration, anxiety, headaches, hunger up to 3 hours after eating, blurry vision, and fatigue. In response to high blood sugar, insulin is secreted from the pancreas to lower it back down. Once the body releases an upward spike of insulin, blood sugar plummets, often times falling too low. When blood sugar is low, symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, headache, irritability, shakiness, sweating, chills, impatience, confusion, nausea, easily lost temper, cravings, and depression.
In an attempt to self-regulate and stabilize blood sugar, the body either signals a craving for simple sugars, or triggers to adrenals to release cortisol, the stress hormone. When this happens, blood sugar can increase too high too fast, triggering insulin response yet again, and leading into a vicious cycle of blood sugar highs and lows. This is known as dysglycemia.
The Role of Cortisol in Cravings and Overall Health
The secretion and rise of insulin due to dysglycemia triggers the secretion and rise of cortisol. The secretion of cortisol also triggers the secretion of insulin. Other things that raise cortisol and insulin levels which can trigger cravings include:
• lack of sleep
• emotional connections
• lack of nutrients
• lack of exercise
• over exercising
Cortisol signals fat to be deposited in the abdominal area. Known as Visceral Fat, it is stored in the abdominal cavity to surround the internal organs. This happens innately to protect them from danger. As this visceral fat grows, it gains MORE cortisol and insulin receptors than other areas which allow it to continue to grow. The more cortisol, the more visceral fat, and the more we see and feel the effects on our bodies.
Fatigue is almost always associated with dysglycemia and high cortisol secretion.
Other conditions that are associated include:
-cardiovascular disease, stroke
-diabetes and insulin resistance
-adrenal fatigue and other hormonal disruptions
-Depression and anxiety disorders
Take Control of Your Cravings
Here are 10 nutritional guidelines to reduce cravings and overindulgence:
1. Reduce intake, strictly limit or completely avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine. Herbal teas should be caffeine free- try peppermint, chamomile or rooibos! These substances act as stimulants, which naturally increase the body’s cortisol and blood sugar secretion.
2. Increase your water intake to 8-10 glasses per day. Begin your day with two large glasses and consume the rest in between meals- minimum 20 minutes before each meal or snack. If you feel an incoming craving, drink 1-2 glasses of water and wait 20 minutes. Sometimes the body can mistake hunger for thirst and by consuming enough water, it will eliminate any cravings caused from lack of water intake.
3. Consume 5-7 meals/snacks per day. Eat every 2-3 hours when you begin to feel hungry. Smaller, more frequent meals are an excellent aid for blood sugar stability and increasing metabolism. Keep snacks such as a bag of nuts and seeds or an apple with you for easy consumption. Avoid skipping meals!
4. Avoid eating while rushed and avoid grazing. Take 3-5 deep breaths before your meal or snack and enjoy while sitting down. Eat slowly and chew your food to a paste (20-30 chews) which will break down your food optimally and have you feeling fuller, faster.
5. Avoid distractions while eating such as watching television, reading or using a smartphone. Focus on your food and enjoy the appearance, smell and taste to its entirety. This will aid in the release of enzymes and other chemicals in the body that will break down your food optimally and allow for better absorption of nutrients.
6. Pair carbohydrates with proteins, fats or fibers. Include protein, fat or fiber with every meal which maintains a slow and steady release of blood sugar, minimizing spikes and keeping you fuller for longer. For example, pair apples with almond butter or carrots with hummus.
7. Increase intake of fiber. Try to have 2-3 tbsp of psyllium, flax, chia, or hemp seeds. This will help with stabilizing blood sugar, eliminating toxins in the body and overall weight loss. Add to shakes, salads or simply in water.
8. Provide your body with nutrients and avoid processed food. Vegetables or fruits are filled with essential vitamins and minerals that the body needs to function and strive. Incorporate more unprocessed foods into your diet. Increase intake of dark, leafy green vegetables. Swap refined grains like pasta, bread and cereal for lentils, beans, chick peas and quinoa. Avoid refined sugars, baked goods, refined grains, concentrated juices, soft drinks and swap dessert with low glycemic fruits like berries. Minimize intake of dairy, as lactose can also spike blood sugar. Reduce intake of high glycemic fruits including tropical fruits such as bananas. Try to choose fruits and vegetables that are in season and grown locally. Your cravings will decrease when the body absorbs a high amount of nutrients.
9. Avoid artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose and saccharin. Artificial sugars tend to increase blood sugar MORE than regular sugars. They also increase hunger and cravings, have no nutritional value and can act as neurotoxins.
10. Include supplementation including B vitamins, vitamin C and a multi vitamin to ensure you are getting enough essential nutrients that you may not be able to obtain from the food you are consuming.
Lifestyle Changes to Help Maintain Control
While these nutritional guidelines can make a big difference, it is also extremely important to consider lifestyle factors. Here are 7 lifestyle guidelines to reduce cravings and overindulgence.
1. Exercise regularly- but don’t exercise too much. Include a mix of weight training and cardiovascular exercise into your weekly routine and allow yourself 2-3 days of rest per week.
2. Go to sleep earlier. Going to bed later in the evening increases cortisol production and decreases release of serotonin. Serotonin is meant to be produced in the evening and cortisol is meant to be produced in the morning. When these hormones are imbalanced, it can lead to many health problems including adrenal fatigue.
3. Practice guided meditation, deep breathing or yoga to reduce stress. You can also listen to soft, soothing music in times of high stress. By practicing these techniques daily, you will be able to manage stress and cravings with ease.
4. Create a food journal incorporating time of each meal, food and beverages consumed, and symptoms relating to digestion and dysglycemia. Write down anytime you have a craving, the time of day and the emotions you are feeling. This will help you pinpoint a particular time of day or particular emotion that may evoke cravings. Take note of emotions like fear, tension, anger, and shame. Doing this will help to you become more aware of your emotions when you get cravings and help you understand why you may be overindulging. Is it comfort food? Do you get extra hungry when you’re stressed out? Do you overindulge when you’re happy or sad?
5. Seek the help of a certified Holistic Nutritionist or Health Coach. They can help guide and educate you with meal planning, specific recommendations and grocery store tours.
6. Emotional freedom technique (EFT) can help reduce emotional attachments to food. You can see a practitioner that focuses on this modality or similar modalities to achieve emotional releases and help end your emotional overindulgence from the source.
7. Consider discussing your eating habits with an experienced counselor if you need someone to talk to. They can help guide you to finding out the root cause of your emotions and help you overcome them.
8. Seek guidance from a holistic Medical Doctor, Naturopathic Doctor or Holistic Nutritionist. They may recommend supplementation, cleansing and/or other specific recommendations based on your symptoms and health history.
Now that you have all of the necessary tools to survive this festive season it’s time go out and ENJOY! We can enjoy our holidays and take care of our bodies at the same time. Remember if you ever get off track that you have the power to regain control.
Christina Rosso is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and a Certified Bio-Physical Resonance Practitioner from Toronto, Canada who specializes in helping her clients creating a positive, healthy and harmonious lifestyle. As a Holistic Nutritional Consultant, she understands that the foundation of health begins with homeostasis and energetic balance of mind, body and spirit. This way of life has become her passion, which is represented by her eagerness to educate and promote natural living. Known for her hands-on approach, Christina truly cares about the health and well-being of her clients and believes that, with the proper guidance, we can all achieve optimal health.
For more information: www.christinarosso.com – Facebook @ChristinaRossoHolisticHealth – Instagram @IGNutritionist
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