Do you struggle with sugar cravings?

When people come to see me for help with their eating, they often feel they can’t control their intake of sweet food, or “junk” food or how much they eat when they get home from work (or on weekends). I hear people say “I’m good during the day/week, it’s afterwork… or when I have something sweet… or once my partner’s gone to bed… or when I eat out that’s the issue.”

These people usually have something in common – not eating enough during the day. Sometimes not enough carbohydrate, but mostly not enough food (ie calories) and typically they’re not even aware. In fact, it’s normal to think eating less is the “right” thing to do. Almost everywhere you look – TV, social media, your social circle, family, local gyms and even well meaning health professionals (including your GP) – eating less or restricting certain foods is validated as a “good” thing, what you “should” be striving to achieve. This is the diet culture we live in.

It is true that some people do eat more than what they need, however no person or meal plan can know how much anyone else needs to eat and this results in a blanket like calorie reduction which is not enough food for most people. Even if you plug your height, weight and activity level into an app, this can’t account for differences in metabolism between different people, or the natural fluctuations in your energy expenditure across the days and weeks. Wouldn’t it be much more powerful if you could work out yourself, through listening your body, what is the right amount of food for you? This may lead to eating less, but not so much less that you’re left feeling over-hungry or craving carbohydrates/sweets. If this sounds appealing to you, check out intuitive eating.

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In addition to the omni-present influence of diet culture, three more specific reasons I frequently see for not eating enough during the day are…

Skipping breakfast – many people discover that when they eat breakfast, they feel hungry again sooner, often around mid-morning. When you’re trying hard to eat less/cut calories, this can feel highly problematic and so people delay eating as long as possible. However, feeling hungry roughly every 3 hours is completely normal and it’s a reason morning tea exists. Not eating enough earlier in the day is a common reason for over-eating later in the day.

Trying to be too healthy with food choices – carrots sticks and hummus may be perfectly tasty and nourishing, but if this doesn’t float your boat or doesn’t provide enough calories, you’re probably not going to be fully satisfied and you may find yourself craving sweets (usually as your brain actually needs glucose and is running low). If a snack of toast with jam or peanut butter, or perhaps cheese and biscuits not only appeals more to you, but provides the necessary food energy, you are going feel more satisfied eating this and you may well find yourself not craving sweets as your brain has the calories it needs. When you brain doesn’t have adequate food energy, it releases a chemical called Neuropeptide Y to make you think about food, specifically food it can get good amounts of glucose from as glucose is the brain’s preferred energy source. Therefore, so called “sugar cravings” can occur simply because you need to eat.

Cutting carbs – diet culture, including some well meaning doctors and other health professionals, tell us to cut out the carbohydrates. No bread, no rice, no pasta, no potatoes and sometimes even, no carrots, no pumpkin and no fruit! Aside from this being completely unnecessary, including for people with diabetes, such dietary restriction can lead to…

  • Strong sugar or carb cravings
  • Over-eating to the point of binge eating behaviour (often later in the day)
  • Mental and emotional distress over food, eating and body image
  • A preoccupation with food to the point of what can feel like an obsession or sense of being out of control around food (you are not obsessed or out of control, you just need to eat more – if the room you were in suddenly started running out of oxygen, your brain wouldn’t just sit there calmly, it would demand you find more oxygen and right now!)
  • Feeling tired and weak, having difficulty concentrating (your brain runs best on a ready supply of glucose)
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Constipation

If any of this resonates with you, perhaps it’s time to stop restricting food and stop following someone else’s specific advice on what, when and how much to eat and time to start tuning into, and trusting, your own body with food. You can learn to do this through a non-diet/intuitive eating approach that is fully aligned with Health At Every Size®️. You can book with us, or a find a practitioner near you.

 

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Want to avoid feeling stuffed full this Christmas? It’s time to stop trying to “be good”.

Do you tend to overeat on Christmas Day? What if I told you the problem is not you or the food, the problem is diet mentality.

If you happen to eat more than usual on Christmas day (or any other gathering for that matter), you are behaving as humans have done for thousands of years where having an abundance of food on celebration days is part of how we celebrate and connect with others. Bottom line is that there is nothing wrong with doing this and the pleasure and satisfaction we receive from sharing and enjoying food with others is fundamental to our health.

For some people though, Christmas day can feel like a minefield, creating anxiety and distress around food and/or leave you feeling so stuffed full, the pleasure is diminished. While for some there will be other factors involved, I am going to put a huge chunk of the blame on diet culture and its obsession with “health” and weight.

We live in a diet culture where thinking about food in terms of macros (carbs, protein, fat), moral value (being good or bad) and our body size has become some normalised, few people stop to recognise the madness and futility behind it all. Even for those not dieting (or following “healthy lifestyle plan”), this creates a diet mentality where food is seen as good or bad, right or wrong, healthy or unhealthy and the belief that how we eat is the key driver for our body weight (tip – your body weight is much more complex than the food you eat). There’s a constant sense we must make the “better” choice, not eat too much, and if we do, we must pay a penance with more exercise, or being “good” the next day. Paradoxically, it is this very diet mentality that results in people overeating on days such as Christmas or any celebratory party.

intuitive eating dietitian

So why does our diet culture and diet mentality lead to overeating?

It is pure human psychology to desire more what is off limits or forbidden. Deprivation heightens our desire and we are more likely to think about and crave those foods that we restrict. How often do you find yourself carving lettuce over chocolate? On that point though, just as it is natural to want something more when it’s less available, most people have had the experience of craving salad after several days of eating out with richer food or more highly processed food – so it works both ways.

Do you routinely restrict food you enjoy? When that food becomes available, are you more likely to go to nuts and “splurge”? If you’re nodding your head, you are a normal healthy human. This type of behaviour is known as the “I’ll get while I can effect”, “the what the hell effect” or “the last supper effect” where you think “I’m just gonna write off today and I’ll be good tomorrow/starting Monday”. These effect are described in studies in a number of books including Health At Every Size by Linda Bacon.

You may also fall victim to the “I deserve it” mentality – “I’ve been good lately so now I can afford to have as much as I want!”

The paradox with all of this, is that you usually end up eating more than you actually want, not truly enjoying the experience and perhaps even regretting it, swearing off the food again… until the next time.

What it you took a more relaxed and less restrictive approach to how you eat? Imagine feeling you could eat whatever you feel like whenever you felt like it? Maybe sweets would become less enticing – if you like sweets, this doesn’t mean you’d stop wanting or enjoying them, it would just mean you could them in a way that felt good mentally and physically. While all this may sound like pie in the sky stuff (my clients often say this when we first meet), you can find this place of moderation with a non-diet/intuitive eating approach. The key is to start understanding how diet culture has influenced our thinking around food in a way that has us feeling we can’t control ourselves around food and therefore we must restrict the food when in fact it is this very restriction and way of thinking that is so often at the root of your struggle with food.

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Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
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Want to learn how to nourish your body without dieting or restricting food?
Learn about intuitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

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Two common reasons you feel you’re addicted to sugar and what you can do about it

In my 15 years practising as a dietitian, one of the most common things I hear people say is; “I can’t stop at just one.” While some people have a very complex relationship with certain food that goes beyond the scope of this piece, the majority of people I see discover they can stop at just one and that they are not addicted to sugar when they address the following issues.

Issue 1. Being hungry and simply needing to eat.

When your body needs food energy (aka calories), your brain releases a chemical that tells you to look for food – usually something with carbohydrate – as this is your brain’s preferred food choice. This is a basic biological need, as powerful as the need to breath and sleep.

If you haven’t eaten enough at lunch or breakfast (or you skipped one of them), you’re going to need even more fuel (calories) by the afternoon. While some people will notice they are hungry, others won’t and I’ll talk about later. When it’s time for your afternoon break, if you plan on a sweet biscuit or two, but always find yourself eating much more, this is because your body actually needs more food energy than can be obtained from a couple of sweet biscuits. This real need for food energy (calories) drives you to eat much more of the food than you intended. When this happens, you might mistakenly think it’s because sugar is somehow “addictive”, when in reality you just needed more to eat.

In my clinic, one of the most common presentations I see is people not eating enough during the day, very often they are not even aware they are not eating enough. In most cases, once people start eating more, their sugar cravings reduce significantly or disappear completely. In time, these people are able to enjoy sweet foods in smaller amounts, a block of chocolate can last all week in the fridge and the unopened packet of Tim Tams doesn’t disappear within a day.

Given this seems like such a simple “cure” for “sugar addiction”, why aren’t we just advising people to make sure they eat enough?

intuitive eating dietitian


Answer: Almost everything we are taught about managing our health – be that through various health/medical professions, media and diet culture – revolves around eating less, or restricting food, often with a goal to lose weight. When people are restricting food and actively eating less, our culture validates this with messages that we are being good, are disciplined and even comments like “I wish I could be more like you”. If weight loss also occurs, the food restriction is further validated with comments around how great a person looks. This validation happens regardless of the very real fact that behind the scenes, at some point in time, many of these people may be feeling out of control around food in certain situations, experiencing heightened comfort eating, binge eating and/or being preoccupied with thoughts about food and weight to the point of what can feel like obsession. This validation also occurs despite the food restriction or weight loss usually only being short term, often less than a year (for the record, short-term is anything less than 5 years).

Given this, it’s understandable why so many people end up under-eating. When your energy intake is low and blood sugar drops, it makes sense your brain wants you to eat high-energy food (often food high in sugar and fat) as this will replenish your fuel more quickly. In understanding that under-eating is a key driver of over-eating, it starts to make sense as to why so many people feel they are addicted to food and especially sugary food. After all, if you were deprived of air to breath, you would suddenly have a strong desire to get more air and when you found that air, you would be gulping it down.

I mentioned earlier that not everybody will recognise their physical hunger, this disconnect with appetite can occur as a result of dieting (or any form of restricting food to lose weight), disordered or chaotic eating patterns or just not paying attention to the body and is very common in our busy chaotic lives. If you feel addicted to sugar, or struggle with food cravings and over-eating, a useful first step is to practise getting back in tune with your appetite cues. You can do this through a process called intuitive eating, an approach that takes the focus of restricting food or calories and importantly, takes the focus off weight loss. While some will find this fairly straight forward, many will find it challenging and may need help from a practitioner experienced in this field.


A side note:
Diet culture and the associated “wellness industry” drives sugar addiction and then sells us the “solution” in the form of various diets or “healthy lifestyle programs” that for many people only serve to compound the feeling of addiction… Such programs include “I quit sugar”, “keto”, “whole 30”, “Paleo” to name just a few. I want to be clear that I am not saying these patterns of eating are wrong for everybody, if you are someone, or know someone, who eats this way and has truly benefitted long-term, then I have no issue. What I take issue with is how these programs or patterns of eating target everybody and for many people they are not the solution and long-term these people find themselves feeling even more “addicted” to sugar or experiencing more intense bingeing behaviour and feelings of guilt and shame.

 

Issue 2: Restricting sweets and then finding yourself in the “last super effect” every time you eat something sweet.

The last supper effect is what many people experience when they make a decision to take action on their eating habits, be that starting a new diet or eating program, seeing a dietitian or to stop eating a particular food. In the hours leading up to the intended diet change, you find yourself eating lots of the food you plan to never eat again. The last supper effect can be so strong that many of clients experience it before seeing me even though they know I’m not going to put them on a diet or tell them to restrict. To quote something I read “scarcity makes us anxious and abundance allows us to feel calm.” The very idea that you might not be able to eat a certain food again, can make you feel anxious to the point of wanting to eat as much as possible before it’s too late.

Along with the last supper effect, the idea that you shouldn’t be eating a certain food, or not too much of it, can lead to a range of diet mentality thoughts including:

“I’ll just have this one and then I’ll be good tomorrow”

“I just finish this packet so it’s not in the house and then I’ll never buy it again!”

“I’ve stuffed it now, I may as well write off the rest off the rest of the day and I’ll be good tomorrow/start again on Monday.”

“It’s so delicious, I’m just gonna eat it all and then I’ll be careful tomorrow.”

The problem with this diet mentality is you end up eating more than you intended, often to point that any satisfaction you could have received from the eating experience is ruined by feeling uncomfortably full and/or beating yourself up over it. In addition, as I know you all know, there’s always another tomorrow.

The ability to eat food to the point of satisfaction where you don’t feel you’ve eaten too much, or to leave delicious food on your plate, often only become possible once you truly start to believe that you can eat that delicious food whenever you are hungry for it. While this can seem like an impossibility at first, learning how to rewire your brain to change the way you think about food will allow it to happen. Just as it’s normal human psychology to want more of we can’t have with things that bring us pleasure, if you were made to eat an entire block of chocolate everyday, you might start to resent having to eat chocolate. This is not to say chocolate can’t be enjoyed daily (I enjoy chocolate most days), but if eating a whole block makes you feel a little sickly afterward, would you want to do it as often? There may be someone reading this who feels they can eat a whole block of chocolate and not feel sickly or experience any mental anguish, and that’s fine, this blog is directed toward those who do feel a level of physical and/or mental discomfort.

In summary, if you feel are you addicted to sugar (or any other food) and you haven’t explored whether or not you’re eating enough (as mentioned many people don’t even realise) or explored the process of not restricting food and rewiring your brain to change diet mentality thoughts, then I urge you consider these processes. The intuitive eating approach I mentioned earlier can help you do this. On the other hand, if you feel are you addicted to sugar and simply avoiding it works for you without any downsides emotionally, mentally or socially, then I have no issue with your choice – but please don’t expect that this is right for everybody.

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When losing 9kg in 6 weeks is not healthy.


These are all things clients have told me happens to them when they do weight loss challenges.

You say no to social events as you’re worried about the calories in the food and drinks.

You stop visiting your friends and family as you’re worried you’ll lose control around the food on offer.

You find yourself obsessing over every calorie or macronutrient or you just think about food all the time.

You don’t quite drop the 9 kilos so you’d decide to reduce your calorie intake even further into starvation, putting even more stress on your body.

You feel faint or dizzy and/or struggle to concentrate, and in some cases, end up in hospital – yes this has happened to at least 2 people I’ve seen when doing an F45 challenge.

You feel more anxious than usual or feel you’re not coping with stressful situations as well you normally do.

You’re struggling with sleep or just feel tired/drained much the time.

You feel immense guilt if you eat outside of your plan or miss an exercise session.

Your muscles or body feel heavy when you exercise.

You feel terrible about yourself for not losing enough weight.

Not only is this clearly adversely affecting your mental health, but this type of dieting puts the body under physical stress, raising cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Both psychological and physical stress, have been shown to promote weight gain, and have been linked with many adverse health outcomes such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and impaired immune functioning.

If you can relate to any of the above points, I urge you to really think about whether or not the program/challenge you may be undertaking is in your best interest. If you are confused about what is safe for you to do, our dietitians are happy to have a brief chat with you about an alternative way to approach your health before making an appointment. Please contact us through the booking enquiry form.

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What if you didn’t need to lose weight?

The common assumption (or common wisdom) is losing weight will make you healthier, that if your BMI is above 25, you need to lose weight to manage your health. These assumptions are so strong that they prevail despite lack of evidence that pursing weight loss improves long-term health, largely because not enough people have lost weight and kept it off long enough to test this theory.

The strength of this common wisdom may also explain why most people overlook the fact that weight is not a behaviour. Take a moment to let that sink in – WEIGHT IS NOT A BEHAVIOUR. The way in which people can influence their health, is through behaviours. Focusing on weight distracts from the actual behaviour change and the weight loss often takes the credit for health improvements when it was actually the changes to lifestyle, diet, activity, mental health etc that should take the limelight. In short, we really need to stop focusing on weight when it comes to health.

HAES dietitian

You may ask, given this lack of evidence, how has this common assumption become so pervasive? Here are some of the reasons why…

  • Our culture’s strong weight bias – we live in culture that has been deeply conditioned to believe fat is bad and unhealthy, a culture that wrongly equates thinness with worthiness, attractiveness, success, health and happiness.
    .
  • Our culture’s weight stigma – people in bigger bodies are constantly being judged as doing something wrong, having a body that is wrong, being lazy, incompetent and unhealthy.
    .
  • The persistent public health (or more accurately, public shaming) messages that fat is bad and being “obese” is deadly
    .
  • The continual advertising of weight loss solutions, weight loss products, body transformations and surgery
    .
  • Doctors and other health professionals advising weight loss as necessary for almost any condition. Being weighed at the doctor and told you need to lose weight regardless of your health status.
    .
  • Being surrounded by people, often family and friends, deeply conditioned to this assumption and talking about the next diet they’re doing or how they’re losing weight

 

Given all these factors, it’s not difficult to understand why so many people are unhappy with their bodies and desperate to lose weight, even people who don’t have any health issues or who may not even be considered fat by societal standards. I’m not saying it’s wrong to want to lose weight, I’m hoping to acknowledge why this desire is understandable. I’m also not saying it’s wrong to lose weight, if through changing various health behaviours, your weight changes, then that is a side-effect your body is happy to have happen.

But what happens when changes in health behaviours, while perhaps improving indicators of health such as blood pressure or blood sugar, don’t result in the desired weight loss? Or what happens when the weight is regained, which it nearly always is. Do you keep up with the positive changes or do you feel it’s not “working”? Do you then give up altogether, or do you try something else, usually something more drastic and rarely maintainable? When this happens, people end up in the (sometimes lifelong) cycle of dieting or falling off the wagon, losing weight, then regaining the weight. 

What if despite taking better care of your health and doing all the “right” things, you still have high cholesterol or develop diabetes? Does this mean you still try to lose weight even when your body doesn’t appear to want to lose weight? Again, do you give up, or do you try something else, usually something more drastic and rarely maintainable?

It’s often after turning to something more drastic (see below), or years or yoyo dieting in an attempt to lose weight, that people hit rock bottom and come to see us (dietitians). Rarely has the drastic approach or long-term pursuit of weight loss improved health, in fact quite the opposite, often it’s worsened both physical and psychological health. If you are someone who has pursued weight loss, has this pursuit lead to an overall improvement in your health, be that mental health, emotional health, social health or physical health?

What do I mean by drastic? Anything that can’t be sustained or that interferes with daily life, including;

  • Completely cutting carbs or any other other food type from your diet
  • A diet with specific rules that interferes with eating out, eating with others, holidays or just enjoying food
  • Any sort of 9-12 week body transformation
  • Any program that promises rapid weight loss
  • Any program that leaves you feeling hungry or thinking about food all the time

Now if you can do any of these with ease and no interference to your enjoyment of life, then I’m not here to say you shouldn’t be doing them. I’m talking to the people who struggle with such restrictions – which, I think is fair to say, is most people.

So what can you do? See if you can pop your weight loss the goal on the back burner, this is often easier said than done and you may need help from a non-diet/HAES practitioner who doesn’t focus on weight loss or promise weight loss as an outcome. Instead, could you think about being kind to your body, perhaps moving it more in ways you enjoy and feeding it in ways that feel good both mentally and physically. Being kind to yourself and doing things you enjoy are also vital to health, when you actively dislike and hate on yourself, you are much less likely to treat your body well, be that with food, exercise or social interaction. If you feel you need help with this, please find a non-diet/HAES practitioner, be that a therapist, dietitian or nutritionist. Or you can contact us to make an appointment today.

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.

Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
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Want to learn how to nourish your body without dieting or restricting food?
Learn about intuitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

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The diet culture we live in has a very black and white way of thinking about food.

If you believe diet culture (and this includes the “wellness” industry), it seems food will either harm you or heal you. 

Food is seen as either good or bad which often then translates to “I’ve been good or bad”. This is simply not true and can be highly problematic as I talk about in this blog.

This way of thinking (we call it diet mentality) – which is sadly very common – really limits our brains capacity to reflect and to be flexible.

non diet dietitian Melbourne

As one participant explained at our latest workshop, she didn’t realise there were other options, for her it was either a matter of expecting to feel good about oneself or bad about oneself based on the food choice. It was a matter of, “if want to be good, I better not order the chips”.

The black and white thinking that one should either feel “good” or “bad” based upon their food choice, meant choosing to eat a food seen as bad could only lead to feeling bad. As chips are often seen as “bad and fattening”, choosing to eat these meant feeling terrible about oneself no matter how delicious or satisfying they were.

It was a pleasant revelation when she heard different ways of thinking about food and how one might want to feel, such as…

“What do I feel like eating?”

“What will satisfy me?”

“What am I hungry for?”

“I want to enjoy the taste of the food”

“I want to be able to share this meal with my friends”

“I want this to be a really pleasurable experience.”

“Those hot chips look amazing, just the way I like them!”

What black and white thoughts do you have that limit your ability to reflect or be flexible with food? What happens when you do eat the food you label “bad”? How do you feel about yourself and how helpful is this with regard to taking better care of your health, both mental and physical? How does this type of thinking effect your relationship to food and your body?

If you would like to learn more about how problematic our diet culture/the “wellness” industry and diet mentality can be, please check out our ebook Nourish.

dietitian melbourne

 

 

 

Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
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non-diet dietitians Melbourne