Prevent Sugar Cravings and Insulin Resistance with Lifestyle Changes

Are sugar cravings getting the best of you this holiday season? Most of us have or will struggle with sugar cravings at some point. Sugar is so sneaky in the way that it impacts our chemistry, hormone balance, cravings, and metabolic function. It is the number one endocrine disruptor, yet it is so prevalent in so many foods produced in the U.S. Sugar itself is not the main issue.. We believe that everyone should have a healthy relationship with their food and enjoy sugar moderately, to whatever degree suits their goals and health concerns. However, it is the over-consumption of sugar in our diets that leads to many issues down the line because of its impact on insulin.



Insulin is a critical hormone that plays an important role in inflammation, hormone imbalance, and cravings. While Insulin resistance is often associated with conditions like Type 2 Diabetes, it can also occur independently and contribute to other metabolic disorders as well. In order to understand the role of insulin in hormonal and metabolic imbalances, we have to start with the brain. Within the brain, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland work together to release hormones in response to physical or emotional stress, blood sugar changes, and other metabolic or immune shifts. The role of insulin is to then allow sugar to enter into the cells to be used and produce energy for the body. However, when there is too much sugar in the blood due to chronic stress or excess sugar consumption, our cells close off the ability to allow sugar to enter and we develop insulin resistance.



It is estimated that 80-100 million Americans are insulin resistant, regardless of having a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. Why is this so problematic? Insulin resistance leads to chronic inflammation which is the breeding ground for disease. Excess insulin leads to infertility, excess hair growth in women, moodiness, fat storage, further cravings and disrupted hunger cues, and a buildup of catechol estrogens. Catechol estrogens act as a stressor on the body, as they disrupt the HPA axis (hypothalamus and pituitary function as it relates to cortisol release). Often, when this occurs, women find themselves seemingly trapped in a cycle of stress causing excess sugar cravings. This leads to a poor diet, further increasing emotional stress and moodiness with more cravings. To make matters worse, studies have shown that sugar is 8x more addicting than cocaine... yikes!



One would think that increased sugar would cause more satiety, but it is actually the opposite. The more sugar and starches in our diet, the greater our appetite will be, due to dysregulated leptin and ghrelin hormones. So how do we stop this vicious cycle and begin balancing our hormones? Fortunately, there are several things we can do to control insulin levels and reduce the risk of Insulin resistance. This includes diet modifications, optimizing sleep patterns, exercising in a way that will help and not hinder hormone balance, and engaging in activities that promote stress reduction.



Regarding diet, there are specific steps you can take today to improve hormone balance. Eating a diet rich in fiber, healthy fats, and protein is key. When having a food that is sweet/starchy, try pairing it with a healthy fat, fiber, and protein to slow glucose release and decrease insulin resistance over time. For example, rather than having store-bought chocolate pudding, try making chia pudding! Chia seeds are rich in fiber, healthy omega three fatty acids, and protein, which will slow sugar release if you use maple syrup, honey or monk fruit. We advise that excess processed sugar and artificial sweeteners be limited in the diet. Instead, opt for moderate amounts of organic fruits, honey, maple syrup, stevia, monk fruit, or xylitol. Another important step is limiting portions of starches with meals, and opting for fiber-rich complex carbs to replace simple carbs (bread, pasta, crackers, chips, etc). Healthy options include squash, sweet potato, beans, lentils, quinoa, millet, brown rice. Try consuming these earlier in the day versus late at night in order to improve sleep quality and blood sugars the following day. As a coach, one of my favorite, anti-inflammatory meals to have for dinner is cooked kale with wild caught salmon, and avocado!



In addition to these dietary and lifestyle changes, it is essential to manage stress and get adequate sleep on a regular basis. These factors play a tremendous role in blood sugar regulation. When we lose sleep or have interrupted poor-quality sleep, cortisol is increased and blood sugars are elevated as a result. This occurs with chronic, long-term stress. Therefore, adapting practices such as mindfulness, rest, embracing self-care, and engaging in a positive community is so beneficial for balancing hormones. Experiment with a few of these tools to see what works for you!



Exercise is also an important factor in hormone balance. Too many Americans live very sedentary lives. It can be challenging to maintain an active lifestyle if you work a desk job and have a lot going on between managing your children's activities, cooking, maintaining a social life, etc. We know the struggle is very real. However, we know that we do not require intense exercise consistently in order to promote health through movement. In fact, if you are already struggling with hormone imbalance and insulin resistance, extreme or intense exercise such as sprints, excess cardio, or heavy weight lifting may further exacerbate hormone imbalances. Intense exercise is meant to be a short-term, positive stressor on the body, but when our resources are already depleted, this positive stress is received as a very negative stressor. Often women especially notice that inflammation levels decrease when engaging in lighter forms of movement, such as walking, yoga, light pilates, with stretching. We can include realistic, functional movement in our day by doing housework, taking the stairs, taking breaks to stretch and move every hour at work, going for a 20-30 minute walk during our lunch break or in the evening with a friend, walking your dog a few times each day, taking a yoga class or following an online video, or signing up for Geny's Tai Chi session in the clinic! Exercise does not have to mean spending hours at the gym. Experiment and find something you love that you can sustain!



Insulin resistance is so prevalent in the U.S. today, but we now have the knowledge and tools to combat stress, improve blood sugars, and live a healthy lifestyle that leads to decreased inflammation. Whether we have tried and failed in the past, or are just starting out on this journey, we can reclaim our health and vitality by following these simple steps. Take it one small step at a time, and don't forget to have fun in the process of healing!




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