Firstly, craving carbohydrates and comforting food in uncertain times is not a sign of weakness or being greedy. It’s actually a fairly common hormonally-driven reaction to stress. The stressed brain craves a carb fix and the fastest, and unhealthiest, way to get it is with sugary, starchy processed foods which are chemically engineered to make you crave them. And the more carbs you eat, the more carbs you crave – creating a vicious cycle. So, be kind to yourself because we are going through unsettling times and instead, start the new year letting go of carb cravings and finding other ways to soothe yourself.
One very good reason to put your carb house in order is that as we’ve seen in countries hardest-hit by the virus, the majority of those who died from the disease also had sugar dysregulation and metabolic problems (obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure). Fortunately, metabolic problems are reversible. Here are some steps you can take to wean yourself off carbs and lose weight.
Snack smarter, by drinking first.
The pandemic has turned our daily routines upside down. Long periods at home with a stocked fridge, home-schooling and hours on Zoom make us fatigued and looking for treats to lift our mood and energy levels. But before raiding the biscuit tin, it’s worth checking this isn’t just thirst. Perhaps make yourself a nice cup of tea (without sugar) to help fill the gap. A good tea for calming the nervous system without making you feel sleeping is Pukka Tulsi Clarity or Green Tea gives you a little lift without the wired feeling you get from coffee. After that, if you’re still truly hungry and need a snack, then snack on foods that deliver benefits, like immunity-boosting nutrients, fibre and/or satiating fats – or all of the above. The key to controlling blood sugar is including fats and protein: organic, unsweetened nut butters on a cracker; hard-boiled eggs; olives; frozen berries with organic plain full fat Greek yoghurt; home-made kale chips; protein bars, chia pudding to name a few.
Or, get smarter – and don’t snack at all!
Grazing between meals leads to weight and metabolic problems – exactly what we should avoid, particularly now in the COVID-19 era. Instead, try intermittent fasting – having a gap of 4-5 hours between meals. By incorporating deliberate periods of fasting into your daily routine, say, in 14 -to-16 hour increments (this can be done overnight), you enable your body to enter a prolonged “fasting state” that keeps insulin levels low, reduces blood sugar and signals your body to burn fat stores. It can help slow ageing and optimise cellular mitochondrial function which means greater protection against many of the diseases we fear most.
Bin the sweet stuff.
When it comes to carbs, sugar acts like a drug. It fans the flames of inflammation and weakens immunity, damaging the heart, the brain and just about every system in the body. The less sugar you consume, the better, especially now when all your systems need to be working optimally to help fight off COVID-19. If you must sweeten, do so sparingly
- use healthier minimally-processed alternatives that won’t spike blood sugar, like Stevia, Xylitol.
- try steer clear of chemical Frankensweeteners like Sweet’N Low, Splenda and Sweetex.
To cut sugar intake quickly – as well as the extra pounds you may have put on in the past few weeks – going low-carb is an easy way to do it. In addition to the weight management benefits, carb-cutting is a simple, natural way to stabilise both blood sugar and insulin by not constantly spiking them in the first place.
- eliminating sugar: white, brown, even if it’s raw, organic
- leaving soft drinks, baked goods, desserts on the shelf
- avoiding all processed foods tend to be loaded with chemicals, preservatives and nutrient-free ingredients that undermine and weaken immunity
- skipping most grains as much as possible, quinoa and brown rice, are ok in moderation i.e. they shouldn’t take up more than less a quarter of your plate – see Healthy Plate below
- not overdoing (but do include in moderation) beans and legumes, as they too break down to sugar, flooding the bloodstream and making the pancreas work overtime to produce enough insulin to bring your blood sugar levels down
- keeping starchy veggies like carrots, corn, parsnips, white and/or sweet potatoes and butternut squash to a minimum
- staying far away from vegetable oils like corn, grapeseed which sound healthy but are not. Instead, use extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil and ghee.
But I want a treat!
You’ve made the adjustments above but still crave an occasional treat? Here are some options: (1) make a batch of Protein Bars (see link below) or there are lots of recipes online. (2) tuck into small portions of low sugar blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. (3) If you’re having the occasional alcoholic drink – no more than one or two every other day or so – opt for vodka or gin. Also, avoid mixers which tend to be loaded with sugar.
Tips on adapting your high carb meals?
To manage your cravings, try these ways to lighten the carb load:
- Pasta….. mix 3 parts non-starchy vegetable noodles e.g. courgettes, cucumber, celery, kelp – to 1 part pasta – and toss in a few handfuls of spinach to boost the fibre content and keep the carbs very low.
- Rice… mix 3 parts cauliflower rice (rice put through a food processor) to 1 part rice (preferably brown as white rice is a very high carb food), and add some sautéed cabbage, kimchi and/or spinach for a filling, gut-loving, lower-carb side dish. You could also swap rice for quinoa – which is a higher protein food.
- Porridge soak overnight with EQUAL amounts of nuts/seeds – I like to include ground almonds which make it creamier.
How much carb on my plate is enough?
Show compassion … to yourself.
If you are wrestling with stress eating, weight, be kind to yourself, acknowledge the struggle, accept it, forgive yourself – and remember to keep forgiving yourself as you move through these stressful times. As you go, take small steps towards improving the state of your physical and mental health, be it a morning walk, a group ZOOM meditation session or a nightly, stress reducing hot bath before bed.
To help me manage these unsetting times, I’ve been working through a book called Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) in 7 Weeks – sounds involved but actually it’s a simple, very easy to follow programme which has given me so many wonderful resources to take me through these times. A metaphor for ACT is “passengers on the bus”. You are a bus, moving through life, and pick up various passengers. Not all of these passengers are especially pleasant. You may pick up passengers such as “shame” or “inadequacy”. You may pick up “hopelessness” or “anxiety” or even, “What’s the point of even trying”. The point is that they are passengers. They are not driving the bus. YOU are driving the bus and you get to decide where you’re going. The passengers you have picked up do not have to control or dictate your life. Although you may not be able to change your thoughts or get rid of your passengers, why not learn how to take them for a ride?
Whatever you do, be kind to yourself in these stressful times, show yourself love and compassion throughout this journey we’re on. Don’t waste time and energy feeling ashamed, beating yourself up, or getting stuck in regret about over-indulgences past; they’re all history now. What matters most is the future you create – so make it a healthy and loving one.