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You promised yourself you wouldn’t go near Tiffany’s double-fudge brownies at the office holiday party, but there you are, devouring your fifth one. Or maybe you’re staring into an empty container of peppermint-nog gelato after telling yourself “just one spoonful.” What’s worse than the bellyaches that come after eating too much sugar? How much we beat ourselves up over it.
But don’t panic! Even if you’re a dozen chocolate crinkles in, you can still hop off the sugar expressway and take steps to prevent the next overindulgence. You deserve to enjoy Christmas cookies and holiday desserts without feeling out of control or feeling guilty. There’s a balance to everything, and we have a few tips to get you there.
Understand Your Triggers
First, it’s important to understand what can trigger sugar cravings. Stress, sleep deprivation, adrenal fatigue, bacterial overgrowth and changes to hormone levels can all play a role, and holistic nutritionist and founder of Nutritional Wisdom Carly Pollack says avoiding sugar actually begins in our psychology.
“Looking only at the behaviors will leave you feeling empty and frustrated as to why you know better but can’t do better,” she says.
Pollack suggests playing a long game when it comes to fighting holiday temptations. “Visualize how you want to feel leaving the party, restaurant or holiday feast,” she says. “This clarity will help attach more pleasure to abstaining and more pain to partaking.”
If you feel that your sugar cravings are beyond your control and are causing you to overindulge frequently, speak with a nutritionist or holistic practitioner.
In the meantime, eating clean and following these tips to take charge of your blood sugar levels as they’re rising will block the next avalanche of cravings before it hits.
Raise a Glass – of Water
Drinking water is one of the fastest ways to stop a sugar spree. Not only does it fill you up, sending signals to your brain that your stomach is full, it can actually help flush out some of the sugar you’ve eaten, according to the Diabetes Action Research & Education Foundation. Bored with water? Try jazzing it up or brewing a hot cup of apple cider vinegar-cinnamon tea instead, which can aid digestion.
It’s tempting to curl up on the couch after one too many cream puffs, but taking a stroll around the block will help you feel much better, and quickly: Mayo Clinic research suggests that walking can start lowering blood sugar levels within 10 minutes, and even 15 minutes of physical activity can lower blood sugar levels for up to 24 hours, according to the American Diabetes Association. Can’t get motivated to move? Try some gentle stretching, which can promote digestion and kick-start your liver’s detoxification process.
Get Your Game On
Playing Tetris for as little as three minutes can reduce food cravings by distracting the brain, according to new research published in the international journal Addictive Behaviors. Working on a puzzle or re-organizing a closet also can have the same effect.
Finding a quiet space to take in a few deep belly breaths can actually slow down the effects of your sugar high by instantly lowering stress levels. This relaxation response can calm you in a moment of high anxiety or settle you before heading into a stressful situation (i.e., your boss’s holiday party). And because our sense of smell is closely tied to our appetite, try breathing in essential oils such as peppermint and grapefruit, which can help aid digestion and suppress the appetite.
It might sound counterintuitive to eat even more after indulging, but skipping meals can throw your blood sugar even further off balance. Make your next meal a light one packed with protein, fiber, and healthy fat (like this salmon with avocado salsa), which will keep you full without raising blood sugar levels. And when your sweet tooth does kick in, try taming it with one of these delicious, nutritious desserts:
- 26 Healthy and Delicious Chocolate Desserts
- Apple Pie with Pecan Oat Topping
- Pumpkin-Cranberry Bread Pudding
- Chai Crème Brûlée
Get Some Shut-Eye
Lack of sleep can decrease levels of leptin (your appetite-inhibiting hormone) and increase levels of ghrelin (your appetite-stimulating hormone). Both of these hormones play an important role in maintaining a healthy metabolism and telling your brain when your body needs more or less fuel, so getting a regular 7-8 hours of sleep per night can help ease cravings in the long run.
See also Better Bedtime
Go Easy on Yourself
It’s easy to beat yourself up during a sugar binge, but remember that you’re dealing with some powerful chemicals! Your brain reacts to simple carbohydrates and sugar by releasing the “feel-good” chemicals dopamine and serotonin and can become dependent on them over time. Instead of bashing your behavior, write down a list of everything you like about yourself. Expressing gratitude, even toward yourself, has been shown to release another hormone, oxytocin, which creates feelings of comfort and can reduce anxiety. The effects of oxytocin are so strong, in fact, that researchers are developing synthetic oxytocin supplements to help curb stress-eating.
Related: 8 Instant Mood Lifters.