66 days to change: Coping with cravings

A very wise therapist once said to me: ‘Erin, it doesn’t matter what the root of your issues is. What


A very wise therapist once said to me: ‘Erin, it doesn’t matter what the root of your issues is. What matters are the choices you make today.’

At the time I was trying to delve into how the eating disorder – that I wrote about in Best Health here – had taken shape in my life. He made me stop in my tracks: don’t naval gaze, he said. You can spend hours wondering why you are the way you are ‘ but it doesn’t change you. The only way to change is through actions, and through the choices you make today. Hopefully this will lead you to a healthier, and happier place.

As I go along this journey, I can’t help but feel like I’m doing a system upgrade ‘ like, this is a better version of me. I’m making healthy choices: do I need to go for a run on a treadmill, or will an Ashtanga class be good for my soul? Do I need the extra 30 minutes of sleep, or will it be better to set the alarm and get a little ‘me time’ before the storm of the day sets in? I might crave a big bar of Dairy Milk Fruit & Nut at night, but will a piece of fruit do the trick? This one is the real toughie: For all you Brits, we usually have ‘the good stuff’ ‘ English chocolate ‘ and I can easily clobber a half a big bar on my own. OK, I can eat the whole thing. Stop judging.

A few people have asked me which is harder to give up ‘ alcohol or sugar? Without batting an eye, it’s sugar. But I’m about to beat that drum again, because the further I get into this, the more I see that sugar is toxic. And, as we’ve seen from the news this week, sugar is also being tied to more than just obesity and Type 2 diabetes ‘ it is now being linked with heart disease.

How can we love something that is so bad for us? Easy answer: it is delicious. But there has to be more to it than that. If I were to ignore my therapist’s wise advice, I might look back and see how sugar has always been there for me. After my father died, I was empty with grief and sugar helped fill me up. I always loved baking ‘ and have licked many a bowl clean in my lifetime – but baking became sacrosanct. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to equate that I not only have physical ties to sugar, but emotional ones as well.

What I can control are the physical ties to sugar ‘ the cravings. And those are still coming at me in spades. Did I mention the day last week where I ate 12 servings of fruit? It started innocently ‘ a smoothie with greens, a half banana and pear. But one thing led to another and before the day was out I had consumed a pound of grapes, a big bowl of strawberries, cherries, more bananas, mango and blueberries. I realized I had a problem when I took the half-eaten apple out of my son’s hand. ‘Momma, not done yet.’ YES YOU ARE!!!

Guess what? Fruit is sugar. Who would have thunk it. ‘Simple sugar is simple sugar,’ dietitian Stefanie Senior tells me. ‘All sugars get converted into glucose in the body.’ Cravings happen for a number of reasons: stress, fatigue, inadequate sleep. ‘If you eat too many carbohydrates or sugar earlier in the day, this can cause a blood sugar spike and drop, leading you to want sugar again. And, eating too few calories or carbohydrates can cause low blood sugars, leading to cravings for a ‘quick energy fix’ – usually sugar.’

To avoid cravings, Senior advises we eat balanced meals with complex carbs, fibre and protein, and to eat every 2-4 hours, always including protein. Manage your stress, and sleep a solid 7-9 hours a night.

Mystery solved: My day of constant craving all things fruit, I was tired. Bone-tired. My son had been up twice in the night, and I taught a spin class. I devoured the grapes en route home, when I should have had some protein and carbs. But I kept spiking my sugar with sugar, because I was tired.

And if I’m going to be honest, I’ve been tired for the last five years. Motherhood: the biggest joy, and the biggest energy zapper. If I’m going to kick this sugar habit, I need to get my 7 hours sleep a night.

Next week, I tackle my sleep habit once and for all. I’ve been dancing around it, because there are meals to cook, articles to write and laundry to do. Truth? I was watching Season 2 of Homeland.

But sleep’sleep is the answer. Sleep is tied to everything.

Follow me on Twitter @erinpp

Erin Phelan is a fitness trainer and mom of two. She’s a regular contributor to Best Health and will be blogging here every Tuesday and Friday for the next 66 days.