By Debra Soufleris, B.S., DTR
Is it possible to get through the holiday season without gaining weight? Yes—and it is even possible to drop a few pounds. Follow these simple strategies that can help you stick with your fitness goals. Furthermore, you’ll avoid giving in to your holiday sugar cravings.
The holiday season can be a very challenging time to stick with your nutrition goals. Neighbors stop by with a freshly baked batch of cookies, clients at work send gift baskets filled with delicious chocolates, and friends and family gather for cocktails and dinner parties almost every weekend.
All of these extra events centered around food and drinks can cause us to throw in the towel. It’s easy to just give in to temptation. However, if you are serious about getting through this holiday season without packing on the extra pounds, you’ll need to understand why all those treats are so irresistible. Here’s how you can easily control your cravings and still enjoy the festive season.
It seems the holidays are a perfect excuse to dust off the mixer and get baking. Some of our most cherished memories are deeply rooted in food. Holiday treats are typically loaded with extra fat, white flour, and sugar. Many traditional holiday meals and cocktails are also laden with these same ingredients. Thus, our cravings go through the roof this time of year.
Sugar cravings stem from blood sugar imbalances. When blood sugar levels spike, like when you eat or drink foods that contain a ton of added sugar, you start to feel hungry again a short time after eating. So we turn to food again to fulfill this craving, and the vicious cycle repeats itself over and over. Our brains are hard-wired to consume sugar, making this a very challenging situation even for those with superhuman willpower.
The key to balancing blood sugar levels and controlling cravings is to monitor your blood sugar levels. It’s easy—just prevent them from spiking too high or too low in the first place. Foods such as high-quality protein sources, healthy fats, and high-fiber ingredients will help. Consume them to balance things out and stay in control of your food choices. It’s also important to eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day. This results in keeping your blood sugar levels from dipping too low. If they dip too low, you can feel fatigued, dizzy, or the need to eat something sweet to get your blood sugar back in balance. Therefore, it’s important to not skip meals and to include healthy snacks throughout the day.
Protein, fat, and fiber are crucial to keeping cravings in check. They provide a slow and steady form of energy rather than the fast-absorbing rush that sugary foods provide. Sugar has been shown to affect the brain similar to that of an addictive drug. When one decides to quit sugar cold-turkey, withdrawal symptoms like fatigue, depression, headaches, and muscle aches typically follow. No wonder it can be so tough to remove it from our diets.
Any time you consume any type of food or drink, your blood sugar will rise. However, when we consume foods that are full of added sugar or that are highly processed, such as breads, breakfast cereals, crackers, chips, cookies, cakes, candy, and sugary drinks, they digest rapidly in our body, causing our blood sugar levels to rise. These foods, if eaten regularly, can disrupt the normal hormonal process of insulin response.
Your pancreas is designed to help you digest your meals by releasing a steady stream of the hormone insulin into your bloodstream. This helps your cells absorb the sugar from your foods and give you energy. However, if you consistently consume foods that spike your blood sugar and force your pancreas to constantly pump out insulin, you raise your risk of becoming insulin resistant, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. The solution is to keep your blood sugar levels from spiking too high or low throughout the day. Therefore, opt for healthy snacks that maintain steady blood sugar levels.
When your body doesn’t have sugar for fuel, it turns to fats and protein for energy. Therefore, it is smart to consume plenty of healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocados, or nut butter to help your body adjust to using other foods for energy. Eating foods high in protein will help you feel satiated, which can reduce hunger and cravings. Good protein sources include Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and turkey. Or you can try these delicious homemade protein bars. They’ll help you feel balanced and energized and make you much less likely to seek out those high-sugar holiday cookies.
Ready to get through the holidays without increasing your waistline? Here are some smart strategies to help you to avoid sugar and crush your cravings.
Aim for about 20-30 grams of high-quality protein. Scrambled eggs with some veggies or Greek yogurt with berries will help keep your cravings at bay. Smoothies, when made correctly, can also fit the bill. Try this balanced smoothie formula when a sweet craving hits you hard.
Look for nut butters that are made with just nuts and maybe some salt, or plain yogurt—with no added sugar. If you’re not accustomed to these items, give it some time for your taste buds to adjust before going back to a version with added sugar.
Cooking with whole foods immediately reduces your sugar intake. Even processed foods that aren’t sweets, like salad dressings and frozen meals, often contain a fair amount of sugar. Always check the ingredient list on the side panel for sugar content so you can make wise decisions.
Avoid artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose, which have been shown to increase sugar cravings.
Eat something bitter or sour, like a lemon-water, when you want something sweet. The sour flavor can stimulate the taste buds and distract you from the sugar.
Plan for a craving to hit. Be sure to have healthy substitutes on hand so you’re prepared when a sudden craving hits. If you know you have an energy dip at certain times of the day, make sure you have something to grab that isn’t processed or high in sugar. Try nuts, a piece of fruit, or a cheese stick.
By understanding the negative effects all those holiday treats have on your body and cutting down on your sugar intake, you will be more motivated to stick with your health goals and make it through this holiday season without the extra pounds. Incorporating quality protein, healthy fats, and fiber in your diet throughout the day will help keep sugar cravings away. Remember, summer bodies are made in the winter!