Going Dry January? How to avoid those pesky sugar cravings
Going Dry January? Let me show you how to avoid those sugar cravings…
Well done for setting a great intention to give up alcohol for January – or longer. You may be thinking it’s just about the alcohol habit that is hard to overcome but you may also be finding you are craving sugary foods.
Let’s explore what’s going on in the body and how you can ease the transition without replacing alcohol with sugar!
But first well done for getting this far into the New Year- almost two weeks in (if you’ve just started this) -or maybe you quit alcohol some time ago? It can be so difficult to navigate the social scene or even spending evenings at home if you’ve had a stressful day. But what you may not have expected was the sudden craving for sweet foods.
What causes sugar cravings after quitting alcohol?
Dopamine, the feel-good chemical
When you drink alcohol it creates a feeling of calm and relaxation and makes you feel good. This is in part due to the release of dopamine – a neurotransmitter chemical in the brain. So you give up alcohol and this feel-good feeling disappears. Your body will do what it can to find a way to replace this with something else. This is one potential reason why you may now reach for sugary foods as it drives the same dopamine pathway.
Blood Sugar Imbalance
Alcohol consumption can upset your delicate blood sugar management system. Some alcoholic drinks contain higher amounts of sugar which can send blood glucose levels high quite rapidly. This can result in a corresponding sudden drop.
And in addition to this, alcohol affects the liver- a key organ for blood sugar regulation – from releasing glucose from proteins. This can send blood glucose too low (that feeling of wanting starchy carbohydrates the day after a night out).
The bottom line is that giving up alcohol after a period of intense drinking can cause low blood sugar resulting in this craving for sugary foods.
Why Sugar Consumption won’t solve the problem
Eating excess starchy foods (like bread, crisps or potatoes) or sugary foods will perpetuate the cycle of high and low blood sugar levels. These types of foods lead to a rapid spike in blood glucose followed by a rapid fall. The fall is due to the action of the hormone insulin trying to utilise the glucose to keep the body in homeostasis.
It’s time for a rethink! A rethink about the types of macronutrients you are consuming to bring the body back into balance. Once you’re able to stabilise your blood glucose levels, the cravings will start to fade.
How to stabilise blood glucose levels
Create awareness about the contents of your meals.
First, keep an honest food diary for a day and include all your drinks too. Do your drinks contain sugars?
Second note the protein, fat and starchy/sugary content of each meal:
Proteins are meats, fish, eggs, soya, lentils, pulses, nuts and seeds.
Fats are oily fish, olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds. Yes there is an overlap with proteins (it isn’t a mistake).
Starchy carbohydrates are rice, pasta, bread, crackers, potatoes, other root vegetables like potatoes and swede, oats (porridge), crisps
What proportion of vegetables and salad do you eat with each meal?
Third, are you topping up meals and snacks with sugary fruit? Most fruits contain high amounts of sugar – especially grapes, bananas, dried fruit, tropical fruits, fruit juice and fruit smoothies.
Rebalancing your Meals
You can quickly get the upper hand of yo-yoing blood sugar levels by increasing the protein and fat content of every meal and every snack. These foods help to keep you full. They also really help to slow the release of sugars from carbohydrates and this helps to keep the glucose in the blood more stable.
Reduce your portions of starchy carbohydrates with every meal and always eat complex (not refined grains). In fact ask yourself- do you need to these at all? Sometimes we include this food group out of habit.
Slowly increase your plate size of non-root vegetables. The fibre also has a positive effect on the release of glucose into the bloodstream.
Other Positive Actions
Once you have rebalanced your meals, start to reduce your snacks as they can also upset blood sugar levels. You should find you have less desire to eat snacks.
Take a close look at your drinks and choose less caffeinated drinks and choose more herbal teas and coffees or just plain water.
It doesn’t take long for the body to re-adjust to this new dietary approach. You should quickly find the difference in how you feel and the types of foods you reach for.
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