"Why do I crave carbs and sugar when I'm tired?" This is a question I'm asked so often. To be honest with you, it's a question I often ask myself, especially when I'm working too hard or haven't had a good night's sleep.
Have you noticed how when you're feeling overwhelmed by work or life, or when you're struggling with energy swings, all you really want is a chocolate cookie, a packet of chips or a huge bowl of pasta? For some reason the piece of lettuce on your plate just isn't really doing it for you.
Do you know why you crave sugar when you're tired or stressed?
It's actually completely normal to crave sweets and junk food when you're tired or stressed. It's your body's instinctive way of trying to get you some energy as quickly as possible and because carbohydrates break down quickest into glucose we crave them more than other food types when we're tired or stressed.
Refined carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, biscuits, cakes, muffins, sweets, sugar, chocolate (oh the list is endless!) break down into glucose quickly once inside your body. You may think this is great, especially if you’re tired or hungry because a quick sandwich or muffin can quickly lift your energy.
The problem is, when you eat refined carbohydrates you get a rapid surge of glucose in your blood. We often talk about this as high blood sugars or high blood glucose levels. High blood glucose levels can be dangerous so your body releases hormones to help lower these high levels by increasing the uptake of glucose by your cells or by converting it for storage.
Then if your blood glucose levels go too low and there is not a constant supply of glucose to your cells you start to crave sugar. It's as if your cells are panicking because they're not getting any food. They think they’re being starved and so set off a cascade of hormones to let your brain know that they need glucose.
As a result, you get hungry - but not just hungry: you instinctively crave foods you know will break down rapidly into glucose. For example, sugar. This is why you get energy crashes followed by cravings for quick sources of glucose such as sugar, sweets, cokes, and refined carbohydrates like biscuits, muffins, bread or pasta.
So how can you stop craving carbs and sugar?
The trick to stop craving carbs and sugar is to intentionally eat foods that balance your blood sugars. Eating these foods will not only reduce your food cravings but will also decrease your mood swings and energy crashes. In other words - they'll help you have more sustained energy.
Which foods balance blood sugars?
Proteins and fats are complex molecules which break down slowly and so are a longer-lasting source of energy than carbohydrates. If you have healthy protein or good fat with your meal, you’ll find that your energy won’t crash and you won’t need a snack only a few hours later.
I just want to clarify here what I mean by “healthy” proteins and “good” fats. When rebuilding your health, you need to ensure you provide your body with the best possible building blocks and that you minimize toxins, preservatives, colourants and hormones in your diet. So always choose simple, natural sources of protein such as grass-fed meats or free-range dairy and avoid trans fats or partially hydrogenated fats such as those used in deep-frying and fast-food venues.
I've put together a list of these healthy proteins and good fats in a downloadable cheat-sheet called The Good Foods. Anyone who subscribes to my blog will get access to this list as well as other cheatsheets, health guides etcetera. You can subscribe at the end of this page.
What about "hidden" sugars?
As irresistible as it is, sugar isn’t good for us and although it gives us a quick energy burst, this burst soon ends in an energy crash.
Unfortunately, sugar and refined carbohydrates are everywhere and according to the American Heart Association, the average person has approximately 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day. Before you get on with your day, take a moment to think about how much sugar you're actually eating everyday. Maybe get out a pen and paper and write it down. Start with the obvious sugars - such as the refined carbohydrates you eat (cakes, biscuits, sweets, chocolates etcetera) and the white sugar you add to your tea, coffee or cereal. Then think about the sugar you don't really see but you're still eating - read the ingredients of your bread and you'll probably see sugar on the list. Think about your breakfast cereals, even the 'healthy' ones. Your fruit yoghurt? Your 'health bars'? Your smoothies.
Is sugar really that bad?
A good way to answer the question, is sugar bad for me, is to look at history and statistics. Think about these frightening words by historian, philosopher and author Professor Yuval Noah Harari:
In 2012 about 56 million people died throughout the world; 620,000 of them died due to human violence (war killed 120,000 people, and crime killed another 500,000). In contrast, 800,000 committed suicide, and 1.5 million died of diabetes. Sugar is now more dangerous than gunpowder.
Too much sugar really is dangerous but I also know how hard it is to cut down on it when you're feeling tired or stressed. A good place to start is by balancing your blood sugars so that you don't crave sugar and carbohydrates so much. To balance your blood sugars, eat more good proteins and fats. Once they're more balanced, it will be so much easier to cut down on the sugar. Don't forget to subscribe to my blog and get access to my cheat sheet The Good Foods. Good luck!