Health Coach Discusses “Your Relationship with Sugar”
Certified Health Coach and Bulletin Contributor Kathryn Nulf
Do you consider yourself to have a big sweet tooth? Are you confused about why you crave sugar all the time? These are just some of the questions that Certified Health Coach (and Bulletin contributor) Kathryn Nulf (pictured right) addressed in her talk “Your Relationship with Sugar” at the Bellingham Library on March 16.
Nulf began by sharing a personal story about her relationship with sugar. As a result of being more aware of her sugar intake and ultimately cutting back on processed and sugary foods, she noticed an increase in energy, decreased inflammation, and clearer skin. Nulf told audience members that having cravings for sugar is not their fault and that getting a handle on your cravings is not about willpower. Instead, it’s about understanding what causes cravings and what your body is trying to communicate to you.
Nulf said it’s common for our sugar cravings to feel a little like falling in love. The release of chemicals in our brain is similar to what happens when we’re falling in love. Chocolate —or sugar —releases “good mood” brain chemical neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. After that initial burst of euphoria and “love,” however, we often experience a “crash” and we feel tired, impatient, moody, or hungry.
Nulf mentioned that our daily “sugar rollercoaster” ride may begin with what we choose to eat for breakfast. Later in the day we may experience the “afternoon slump” and reach for sugar to wake us up.
She stressed that sugar is an addictive substance and, just like with any potentially addictive substance, when we eat even a small amount it creates a desire for more. Suddenly quitting causes withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, mood swings, more cravings, and fatigue.
Sugar also creates inflammation in the body and suppresses the immune system. It can also interfere with the absorption of some vitamins and minerals. Because sugar is stored as excess fat, it can cause weight gain and obesity. That in turn can contribute to diabetes. Nulf shared that sugar can also increase cholesterol, age skin, cause headaches and migraines, contribute to depression and anxiety, and be the cause of insomnia.
During the class, she talked about why we are not to blame for our cravings. “‘Health’ and ‘convenience’ foods that you may be consuming today are created so you can’t just have one,” said Nulf. “The combination of sugar, fat, salt, and chemicals that are used in each product is contributing to cravings and food addiction. It’s important to understand this fact because it’s a great reminder that cravings and food addiction are not your fault.”
Some of the things people experience when they get a handle on their sugar intake are reduced mood swings, better sleep at night, and feeling awake in the afternoons (a time when they would normally reach for a sugary treat or caffeine).
“There are a lot of great ways for you to get a handle on your sugar cravings naturally,” said Nulf. “Notice how advertising influences your behavior. What foods do you see on commercials?”
Another way to ward off cravings is to get enough sleep at night. Research shows that our appetites increase 25 percent when we are tired. Instead of looking to food to give you quick energy, go to sleep and stay asleep. If you’re having difficulty sleeping through the night or can’t fall asleep, Nulf said it’s important to talk to someone about that.
Nulf stressed the importance of reading labels and knowing what’s in your food. “Know what’s in your food. Sugar has many names and can be lurking in some of the most innocent of places,” she said. “Ingredients are always listed in order of quantity; often, the product includes several kinds of sugar. If you added them all together, sugar might very well be the No. 1 ingredient.”
The participants also learned about a concept called “crowd it out,” an approach Nulf uses with clients in her health-coaching business who want to kick their sugar habit. Crowd it out means replace the sweets you eat with “real” food —banana, nuts, berries, carrots. Don’t tell yourself you can’t have it—that sets you up for failure. Say, “I could have it, but first I’m going to eat ‘real’ food and see what happens.” You may find that you don’t want or need that cookie or ice cream afterwards—you’ve crowded out the craving.
Looking at what you crave that doesn’t come on a plate is another way to kick your sugar cravings. Nulf suggested to look at what might send you running for the cookie jar or ice cream carton, and to learn ways to nourish yourself that do not include food.
For more information on Nulf and her work as a health coach, visit www.litfromwithinwellness.com.