Raising Your Sugar IQ – Part 4

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Part 4 – Sugar is everywhere these days and many of us have varying degrees of sugar cravings. My friend and colleague, Lynne Stephens, is a health coach who specializes in helping people move beyond their attachments to sugar and embrace healthier eating. I am so very excited for her to share a series of four posts with us this month on the topic of Raising Your Sugar IQ. Enjoy these eye-opening posts and increase your awareness of how to better care for your health in our sugar-saturated culture! Feel free to post comments or questions, and Lynne will respond.

Previous Posts:  Part 1; Part 2; Part 3

Digging Deeper—The Emotional Connection

When I first began low-glycemic eating (eating in a way that kept my blood sugar stable) in my 50’s, I was very excited. My lifelong cravings for sugar largely disappeared, and I began to lose weight. Wow! I couldn’t believe that my years and years of craving sugar could be “cured” so easily! I lost over twenty-pounds and had more energy than I’d had for a very long time. I was “gung ho” and stuck to this new way of eating faithfully for about a year and a half.

I then began a slow drift back to sugar. Some cookies here, a piece of cake there—my old sugary favorites began to creep back into my life. It was a very slow creep, but also a steady one. Eventually, I found myself back to my old way of eating and gaining weight. What had happened?

I think what happened to me was perhaps what has happened to you a time or two. You discover a new way of eating that moves you toward greater wellness and weight loss, and your enthusiasm and momentum propel you forward. You are high on the fact that “this is working!” and it’s not really very difficult to stick with it. But what finally started to kick in for me was the fact that I had never dealt with the underlying issue of my emotional connection to sugar.

Looking back, I’m not sure when my emotional dependence on sugar actually began. Perhaps it was in my teens. But at some point, sugar became my “happy place.” Candy in particular became the thing that made everything better, if only for a little while. Over the years sugar became more and more the way I’d escape how I was feeling—my “drug of choice,” if you will, to help me cope with life. I didn’t know during those years what my candy binges and blood sugar spikes were doing to my cardiovascular system. I didn’t know I was creating insulin resistance in my body. I just knew I felt better with candy in my mouth and immediately afterwards.

Back to my 50’s. Like a weed that was only whacked off at grass level, the desire to use sugar to numb myself to what I was feeling eventually surfaced again after my year and a half of successful low-glycemic eating. I had been able to suppress it for a while due to the tremendous excitement of seeing my physiological cravings go away and losing weight. But since I had never really faced my emotional dependence on sugar, that piece of my story remained undealt with. Eventually my desire to comfort myself with sugar tugged me back to sugar bingeing and weight gain.

imageBut it also opened a new door in my life—a door that led to a deeper part of me that needed exploring. What exactly was I feeling when I made those special trips to the store for candy? Why could I not be peacefully present to my own emotions? What was I afraid of feeling, and what did I need to escape in the moments I robotically grabbed for sugar?

I have found understanding my emotional attachment to sugar to be a very personal journey. It involves my childhood, my relationships, my habits and my way of looking at the world. I haven’t discovered a formula for untangling this part of myself, no quick and easy solution. Becoming more aware of my emotions in the moment, conversations with others, great books and facing my fears one day at a time have all helped me move forward in this area.

In our journeys away from sugar, I believe both the physiological component and the emotional component need to be addressed. They work together and reinforce each other, and there is an addictive element to both of them. We may experience real success for a while in our efforts to ditch sugar when we change how we’re eating and move to a low-glycemic diet. I don’t want to minimize that—it’s very important. But eventually, because that large root of emotional attachment to sugar is still alive, it will begin to surface again. And like a true weed, it can spread and take over the landscape.

Lynne Stephens is a certified health coach who enjoys helping people break free from sugar-controlled eating to experience new energy and vitality. You can find her at:

http://lynnestephenshealthcoach.com

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Comments

Raising Your Sugar IQ – Part 4 — 12 Comments

  1. Oh, my gosh, Barbara– I whole-heartedly agree–travel is a big challenge this way! It’s funny you should mention staying at a country inn. My husband and I are attending a wedding out of town in a few months, and one of the options for lodging is a bed and breakfast. I thought about that very thing–how we would have less freedom for our food choices at a B & B. Not that I am at all opposed to a yummy gourmet meal at a lovely B & B! I am not–life is to be enjoyed! But again, “know thyself” comes into play, and rather than put ourselves in that place, we chose a motel with a microwave and fridge. There’s more freedom there for us, while we can still opt for a more indulgent meal at a restaurant if we choose. I believe that thinking things through and having a plan really matter.

  2. Yes, you are so right, Barbara! Great observation! We often learn to associate sugar with celebration and happy times too. In fact, I think cravings can become attached to almost any emotion–it’s very unique to the individual. I’ve found that exploring this area to be a great opportunity to get curious and know myself better. And from there, I can decide if what I do with sugar serves me well and if I want to make any changes in that area. But it is such a journey for most of us, and discovery and change don’t happen overnight.

      • Yes, for sure–there can be MANY special occasions, and we can also begin to look for those “occasions” as an excuse to eat poorly. There are no easy answers, and we are all so different. For example, if I indulge in lots of refined carbs/or sugary foods, it can so incite my cravings that I begin a slide that lasts for weeks. For others, they may be able to enjoy one meal like that and get right back to healthier eating. Knowing ourselves is key. It’s also worth exploring other ways to celebrate. It’s so often about food–but does it have to be? Could I expand my picture of what celebration looks like? Could it be more about the people I love or the beauty of the location, for example? Could I come to an event with the goal of “celebrating” someone there–by listening with my whole heart to him or her (a lost art) or letting them know something I appreciate about them? The ways we choose to “celebrate” can be many and varied, and again, unique to each of us. We might need to begin making conscious shifts in that area.

        There are also eating strategies that we can learn and adopt when we know that we’ll be wanting to enjoy that cinnamon roll, piece of cake or bowl of chips. One is to eat plenty of protein and fiber before or during that meal (see the previous post) to slow down any rise in blood sugar. We can also eat something healthy before we attend an event, so that we don’t arrive ravenous and ready to gobble up everything we’re offered. Another strategy that works well is to offer to contribute a plate of vegetables or a salad (or another healthy choice that fits) so that we know there will be at least one option there that will help us stay on track. And lastly, portion control can be a lifesaver. I have heard that the first bite of anything tastes the best. I think that is something to consider. Sometimes all we need is one or two bites of that brownie or piece of pie to satisfy a craving. We need to get over our shame about leaving something behind. We really don’t have to “clean” our plates! 🙂 It might be good to instead think about how we can keep our insides “clean” and reduce the number of free radicals we’re creating. 🙂 (See the 2nd post on the blood sugar roller coaster.)

        • You said it all, Lynne! Thank you! Personally, I often use the strategy of never going to a party starving. And….one or two bites only, of the goodies. Although, that can be hard for many. Excellent suggestions to ponder.

          • Yes. I have learned not to go starving, or if I am hungry, to make sure I eat the veggies and fruit first. It’s all about figuring yourself out. I agree. I find trips, back to back ones especially, even more of a challenge. Stay at a fun country inn and have breakfast, and you’ve eaten almost all your calories for the day by nine in the morning.

        • Lynn, I really like your reply. I have used “all of the above” eating strategies. And I applaud the “less is more” smaller cakes and petite portion sizes at some stores like Whole Foods. I have no qualms about ordering one piece of a delectable goodie and splitting it 4 ways so everyone gets a ‘taste,” Of course it is followed by giggles and the fun of sharing with friends, which is really what I “craved” in the first place.

          • Yes, Min, and you are very wise to have that insight for yourself! We are relational beings, and I think sometimes relationships are part of why we eat the way we do. When we crave sugar, might we really be craving something else? I love your reminder to look deeper within . . . and SHARE dessert! Sounds like a good tagline for me. “Look deeper and share dessert!” haha! Thanks for your thoughts!

  3. I remember thirty years or so ago, when Oprah first talked about the connection between weight gain and emotions, being somewhat taken back. What? I had never connected the two concepts before. I often crave sugar in happy times. It’s not always about frustrations etc. for me, and so that makes it even trickier in some ways. Thanks for this thoughtful post.

    • So true! For me, as well, it has a been a journey of self discovery. Over the last several years I have replaced sugary foods with more substantial and healthier options. The change in mood is the motivating factor now. I just do not want the sugar/energy low and consequent downer/grumpy mood anymore! There are so many reasons we want sugar, even boredom!

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