#SilkCreamyCashew | a Silk Cashew review (and a pumpkin recipe too)

Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Silk Canada. They provided me with coupons to purchase the product and compensated me for writing this post. Faithful readers of this blog will know that I don’t write sponsored posts very often. And that when I do, the reviews are always balanced and the opinions entirely my own.

When it comes to food, I’m a fairly boring eater.

I like what I like and I eat pretty much the same thing day in, day out.

My desert island foods haven’t changed much in the past 8 or 9 years.

I’m always late to the new-food-trend-party. And I’m okay with that.

Having a consistent set of go-to meals supports my workouts, saves time in the kitchen and keeps me from needing to buy new jeans (unless of course, I want to buy new jeans :) ).

I do, however, like to keep things interesting by making little tweaks to my favourite recipes.

Like subbing pumpkin for bananas in baking. Flax seed for whole wheat flour in pancakes. Cacao nibs for dried fruit in yogurt. And Silk Cashew for almond or coconut milk in smoothies, oatmeal, grain-free cereal bowls, pasta, curries and baking.

Silk Cashew

Like almond milk, cashew milk is a great non-dairy alternative for those who can’t, or choose not to drink cow’s milk.

With as much calcium as dairy milk (30% of your recommended daily allowance) and only 60 calories per serving (that’s 35% fewer calories than skim milk), it’s also an efficient way for us sun-deprived northerners to get a little extra Vitamin D (45% RDA) and Vitamin B12 (50% RDA).

Like coconut milk, cashew milk is a great thickener for curries and pasta sauces, but with less fat and a more subtle flavour (my children are particularly sensitive to the smell and taste of coconut ;) ).

It’s creamy texture (much creamier than almond milk) was a welcome addition to my morning oats and made my post-workout smoothies thicker and more milkshake-like (yum!).

I did, however, find it to be sweeter than the unsweetened almond milk I usually buy.

While Silk Cashew only contains 8 g of sugar per 1 cup serving, I needed to dilute it 1:1 with water to keep my palate happy and my daily sugar intake where I like it to be (that just means the carton lasts longer ;) ).

I’d love to see them come out with a no-sugar-added option for those of us trying to tame a sweet-tooth.

Since we’re still smack-dab in the middle of pumpkin season, I thought I’d try adding it to one of my favourite savoury dessert recipes; a 2-serving, pumpkin mug cake. Enjoy!

Silk Cashew

Fitknitchick’s Creamy Cashew Pumpkin Mug Cake

  • 2 Tbsp Almond flour
  • 1 Tbsp Coconut flour
  • 1 egg (or 2 egg whites, slightly beaten)
  • 1 tsp pumpkin spice mix
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup cooked pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
  • 1/4 cup Cashew Silk
  • 1 Tbsp chocolate chips or cacao nibs (optional)
  1. Lightly grease a large mug (or small bowl) with coconut oil or butter.
  2. Combine all ingredients (except chocolate) and mix well.
  3. Pour into greased mug and microwave on med-high for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes (or until firm but not crispy).
  4. Remove from microwave and sprinkle chocolate on top.
  5. Return to microwave and cook for an addition 30 s.
  6. Let cool completely before sharing with a friend.

Currently, Silk Cashew is only available for purchase in Canada. Follow Silk Canada on Facebook for more delicious ways to incorporate it in your family’s healthy meal plan.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Silk. The opinions and text are all mine.

What I read on my summer vacation | fitness book reviews

Disclaimer: Ulysses Press sent me a free copy of Special Forces Fitness Training to review here. No other compensation was provided, and as always, the thoughts and opinions expressed here are all mine.

Way back at the beginning of the summer I shared my summer fitness reading list. The fitness books that I planned on reading over the holidays. Books that might introduce me to new exercises and ideas to share with my clients and readers.

SummerFitnessBooks

I didn’t manage to get through them all.

Alas, the overwhelming urge to re-read the entire Outlander series before the television show debuted got in my way (I managed to get through 4 of the 8 books; well, 5 really, as I read the final book before I started my do-over…).

In my defence, reading about Jamie and Claire’s exploits did make me think a lot about exercise (or at least the strong, lean, muscular body that a “born and bred” Highlander must have given all of the horse-back riding and sword-fighting and caber-tossing and other forms of ‘physical exertion’ they perform…) ;)

But I digress…

Never one to beat myself up for what I didn’t accomplish, I’m sharing my thoughts about the titles that I did manage to finish reading; two are from my original list of five, the third is a bonus.

What I read on my summer vacation: fitness book reviews

1. Fitness After 40: How to Stay Strong at Any Age by Vonda Wright.

Of all the books I unearthed when researching the pitch for my own book on fitness after 40, this one seemed the most promising. Fitness After 40 is written by a female, over-40, orthaepedic surgeon with a specialization in sports medicine and a proven track record with over-40 athletes. Her approach focuses primarily on four components of fitness; flexibility, cardiovascular training, resistance training and equilibrium or balance training. While I found the sections on flexibility and balance training to be universally applicable (and I found several new exercises to share with my clients), the recommendations for resistance training were more ‘gentle’ in nature than those I give even my beginner clients.

Although the book states that it’s written for individuals of all fitness levels, I couldn’t help but feel that much of the book was aimed at ‘elite’ or ‘masters’ athletes. Individuals who have trained hard for years, often at the national level, and required rehabilitation for exercise-related injuries. While a focus on injury prevention is wise when it comes to training middle-aged and older adults, it seems a bit off-putting if one’s goals are to simply increase activity levels in the general population.

Recommendation: Unless you’re an over-40 elite or masters athlete who needs specific information about continuing with your training, borrow this one from the library.

2. Special Forces Fitness Training: Gym-free Workouts to Build Muscle and Get in Elite Shape by Augusta Dejuan Hathaway.

Members of the military’s most elite units need to be in incredible shape. Often times, though, they don’t have access to full service gyms, thereby requiring a strength and conditioning program that relies on minimal equipment and body weight exercises. In Special Forces Fitness Training you’ll find 30 such programs, including whole body workouts (‘King of the Jungle’), workouts that target the upper body (‘Get a Grip’), core workouts (creatively named ‘Core Workout I, II and III) and cardio workouts. They can be performed in isolation, or combined, depending on the time you have available for exercise and your fitness level.

While most of the programs offer direction for multiple levels (Levels 1, 2 and 3), a few differentiate the workload and duration by sex. A minor criticism (and perhaps one that simply reflects different performance standards in the military for men and women), but slightly off-putting when one notes that the recommendation for reps/sets/duration of many exercises is dramatically different for men and women. I have many women clients who are capable of doing the “men’s” workouts… #justsayin

With illustrations for every exercise (including those described in the warmup and stretch sections of the book), Special Forces Fitness Training makes a great resource book for the moderately-fit to advanced exerciser (regardless of whether they’re in the military or not). In particular, for those who work out at home and have limited access to equipment.

Recommendation: If you’re a group fitness or personal trainer looking for bootcamp-style training ideas, buy yourself a copy. It’s great value for the price point.

3. Lose It Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind by James Fell.

Let me start by saying ‘I love James Fell’. He has the very rare ability to read, digest and transform the results of scientific studies for the non-scientific reader all while being witty, self-deprecating, irreverent and ENTERTAINING. He’s not a fan of ‘pseudo-science’, celebrity trainers or magic fixes. In an industry plagued by fear-mongering and false promises, he’s brave enough to admit that weight loss is a long, slow process and that most who try, will ultimately fail. That being said, his approach is sound and easily accessible to anyone who truly wants to improve their health and is willing to do the ‘mindset’ work required to get there. Interested in understanding how brain chemistry, human evolution, cognitive behavioural change therapy and the food industry all conspire to make weight loss hard? This is the book for you.

Recommendation: If you’re tired of dieting, like knowing how your body and brain work and are ready to make a longterm investment in your health, download a copy right now.

Have you read any of the books I reviewed? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Any titles I should add to my fall fitness reading list?

 

 

Make your own meal plan | benefits of a boring diet

Back when I started paying attention to nutrition I craved structure.

A meal plan that I could follow as I learned the in’s and out’s of fuelling my body so that it performed well, looked good and felt great.

For a couple of months, I swore by Clean Eating Magazine’s bi-weekly plan. I posted it on my fridge, used it as a guide to grocery shopping and ate (mostly) the three prescribed meals and snacks.

benefits of a boring diet

But as I started to lift heavier in the gym and read more widely about sports nutrition, I came to realize that it wasn’t the plan for me.

  • Too few calories (my body needs more than the 1400-1600 most days’ menus provided).
  • Too many grain-based carbs (I tend to gain weight around my mid-section if my diet includes too many starchy carbs).
  • Too many processed foods (even ‘healthier’ versions of bars, cereals and crackers typically have too much sugar).
  • Too many different ingredients required to prepare the varied menu (the more ingredients required, the less likely I am to follow the recipe).
  • And not enough protein (protein has been a game-changer for me, helping me put on muscle, reduce body fat and feel satiated between meals).

[Note, that the very first sentence of the last paragraph included the words ‘for me‘. It might be a great meal plan for you. The only way you’ll know is if you follow it and pay attention to how your body responds. ‘Be your own detective’]

Over time, I’ve developed my own, personalized meal plan.

It consists of a handful of options for each of the mail meals of the day. I have three standard breakfast meals that I choose from. Lunch is always a giant salad; 3-5 servings of veggies plus lean protein. Dinner is a bit more varied (but the variation mainly comes from the way the way the meal is prepared, rather than the ingredients). And I have a dozen or so between-meal snacks that I rotate among depending on how many days it’s been since I’ve been to the grocery store.

It’s really very boring. And it totally works for me.

benefits of a boring diet

Nobody ever said boring couldn’t be delicious!

 

4 benefits of a boring diet

1. You always know what you’ll be eating. For many of us, paying attention to how we’re fuelling our bodies can lead to food anxiety. Stressing over how much of what to eat when. Trying to come up with new, creative ways to put food on the table for our families. Worrying about hidden ingredients that might be undermining our health and fitness goals. Having a list of ‘pre-approved’ go-to meals  means that you’ll only need to decide between a small number of options at any given meal.

2. Daily food tracking becomes less important. While keeping a food journal is a great way to learn how best to fuel your body, most of us don’t want to have to do it every day for the rest of our lives. Although I’ve used MyFitnessPal on and off for years, I use it mainly as a menu planner and a way of calculating the calorie and macronutrient content of my go-to meals. Once I know that a breakfast of a spinach and pepper omelette, with avocado and strawberries supports my goals for the day, I don’t need to input it day after day.

[Note: If food journalling works for you, by all means continue to do it. Adopting a boring diet just makes it easier ;) ]

3. A boring diet makes grocery shopping a snap. Just like my diet, my route through the grocery store is boring and predictable. I buy the same items (and the same quantity of those items) week in, week out. I’m much less likely to forget an important recipe ingredient and less tempted to travel down the supermarket’s ‘danger’ aisles. And I can be in and out of Superstore (having easily spent $300…) in less than an hour.

benefits of a boring diet

Yes, we eat bacon. And a LOT of eggs…

4. Restaurant meals are more fun. Most of us have difficulty sticking with our healthy eating plans when dining out. Portions are typically larger than we’d serve ourselves at home. Multiple courses are the norm. Even the healthiest options can contain hidden sugar, salt and fat. And there’s so much choice! Following a boring diet has helped me wade through the minefield of restaurant menus. I simply look for a meal that’s close to what I’d be eating at home and ask my server for modifications, if need be. Dressing on the side, extra veggies instead of potatoes, grilled instead of fried.

Plus, choosing wisely with my main course lets me enjoy a glass of wine or dessert if I’m in the mood ;)

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 7.02.03 AM

Are you a boring eater too?

What are your favourite benefits of a boring diet?

Learning how to create healthy meal plans is only one of the many lessons I’ll be teaching in my upcoming online group training program for over-40 women. Make sure you add your name to my email list so as not to miss the registration announcement!

 

 

How much sugar is too much?

Whenever I start with a new client who’s primary goal is fat loss, I ask her to food journal. To write down everything she eats and drinks for a minimum of five days (but preferably for two complete weeks).

During this time, I suggest that she make no dramatic changes to her diet, so that we can generate a reasonably accurate view of what’s she eating. Until we know what her diet consists of, it’s hard to know what needs to be changed. (Many people find this challenging, as they’re excited to start moving toward their health and fitness goals and a bit embarrassed to share their love of chocolate, red wine and/or Lucky Charms…)

Most of my clients use MyFitnessPal, an online food tracking program, to record their meals and snacks. In addition to calculating daily calorie intake, MyFitnessPal also provides information about where those calories are coming from (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) and the number of grams of sugar consumed each day.

how much sugar is too much

Note that I was ‘over’ on sugar for the day, but only consumed 15 g of refined sugar…

Often, even before the baseline tracking period has ended, most clients will shoot me an email asking ‘how much sugar’ they should be consuming. Many of them are shocked to see that they’re consuming 100 or more grams of sugar daily and want to know how much sugar is too much.

At this point, I explain that sugars come from a variety of sources. Natural sugars exist in fruits, vegetables, dairy and grains. Our bodies use them for fuel. While natural sugars contribute to the daily sugar totals that MyFitnessPal provides, they are not the sugars that we’re primarily concerned with.

Instead, we need to focus our attention on the sugars added to foods and beverages during processing. These ‘added sugars’ include all refined sugars, corn syrups, honey, agave, cane sugar and maple syrup.

how much sugar is too much

A better question, then would be, ‘what’s the recommended daily intake of added sugar?’

Unlike for vitamins and minerals, there is no RDI for added sugar. Obviously, the less we consume, the better.

However, the general consensus among nutritionists and health organizations recommends limiting added sugar consumption to no more than 25 to 30 g per day. Regularly consuming more can result in elevated blood glucose levels, fat storage, insulin resistance and diabetes. And we all know how addictive sugar can be

Because MyFitnessPal doesn’t differentiate between the sugars that occur NATURALLY in foods and the sugars ADDED to food during processing and packaging, it becomes necessary to track added sugar intake another way; by reading ingredient lists and nutrition labels (something we should all be doing anyways).

how much sugar is too much

Some short-cuts to reduce added sugar intake?

  • Pay attention to the various forms of sugar that are added to your foods; maltose, dextrose, sucrose, fructose-glucose (probably the worst one out there for us; my husband wrote this guest post about it for me). If there are multiple forms of added sugar in the ingredient list, you’re probably better off not eating it (or limiting your serving size and/or the frequency with which it’s consumed).
  • Keep a running daily total of your sugar intake from processed foods (including alcohol and the sugar or honey you add to your coffee and tea). You can do this instead of OR in addition to food tracking on MyFitnessPal, depending on your health goals and how crazy food tracking makes you. When you hit your own personal RDI (25-30 g) for the day, STOP.
  • Limit your consumption (and purchase) of foods which have any form of added sugar as one of the top five ingredients. Food manufacturers must list ingredients in the order of their contribution (by volume) to the food in question. The higher the ingredient on the ingredient list, the more of it in the food you’re eating.
  • Plan your added sugar intake for the day BEFORE you’re faced with the option of consuming it. When my family goes out to eat, I always check the dessert menu first. If one of my favourite desserts is listed, I’ll skip the wine. For me, dessert and wine is an either-or thing because they’re both high in added sugar.
  • Identify one or two high sugar foods that you’re consuming regularly. Aim to reduce the frequency with which you eat them or eliminate them entirely. A can of soda has upwards of 40 g of added sugar. Simply eliminating your daily soda (or other sugary treat) may be all that’s required to bring your added sugar intake down to a reasonable level (meaning that you won’t need to worry as much about the smaller amounts of sugar added to products like yogurt, spaghetti sauce and salad dressing).

One final note; many people believe that they should reduce their intake of fresh fruit to reduce their sugar consumption. For the most part, eating too much fruit is not the reason why people need to lose weight…. :)

My online training group for 40+ women is focusing on reducing their added sugar intake during the month of July. I’ll be asking them to share tips and tricks in our private Facebook group. I’d love to share YOURS with them.

What’s your best tip for reducing added sugar?

Share a link to a low- or no-sugar dessert with me?

 

Five steps to a successful ‘pantry raid’ | tips for healthy eating

Have you recently made a commitment to cleaning up your diet?

Focusing on better nutrition to improve your health, gain energy and lose a few pounds? Eating to fuel your body rather than combat stress, fatigue and frustration? Happy to have set some goals but have no idea where to start?

How about a ‘pantry raid’? (It’s almost summer camp season after all ;) )

Getting rid of the foods that don’t support your goals and replacing them with healthier, nutrient-dense options is the easiest way to set yourself up for success.

Five steps to a successful ‘pantry raid’

1. Remove all items from the pantry. Place everything on the kitchen counter or table. Take a look at ‘best before dates’ and immediately toss anything whose expiry date is passed (make sure you’re composting the contents of cans and jars and recycling the packaging wherever possible).

I like to take this opportunity to clean out and wash the shelves; who knows when the next opportunity to do so will arise!

2. Separate the remaining items into canned and jarred goods, unprocessed dried items (fruit, nuts, seeds, beans, rice, pasta, oats, flour), junk food (chips, cookies, candy, chocolate bars, flavoured syrups, ice cream cones etc.), processed and packaged dried items (macaroni and cheese dinners, noodles with seasonings, most breakfast cereals, pancake, cake, cookie and muffin mixes and all forms of sugar).

Throw the junk food out. All of it. Take the trash bag to the curb immediately if you’re likely to recant.

3. Read all labels and ruthlessly discard items with high sugar, salt and trans fats. This will mean most processed foods including crackers, granola bars, cereals and cookies. It may also mean jars of spaghetti sauce, apple sauce, fruit (if packed in in syrup rather than water), dried fruit with sugar added and flavoured or salted nuts. If you think you need to keep a small amount around (for baking special desserts or entertaining company), make sure to place it out of your line of sight. Get rid of all trigger foods (those foods that you can’t even have a little bit of without eating the whole bag, box or bar). If you’re brand new at reading nutrition labels and ingredients list, have a look at this post.

Numbers to watch out for? Single servings with more than 8 g of sugar or 250 mg of sodium. Ingredient lists with sugar (or a sugar substitute; fructose, glucose, maltose, dextrose, most ‘oses’) in the top 5. Sugar substitutes are a point of contention. I don’t buy them or consume them myself, as I believe that they have the same action on your brain as the real thing. Decide for yourself.

4.  Return what’s left to your cupboards. Healthiest and most frequently used items go at eye and chest level. Less healthy and (hopefully) less frequently used options go on the very top and bottom shelves (although if you have young children who are prone to foraging and you’re attempting to clean up their diets as well, put it all as high up as possible).

Place items with the shortest shelf life towards the front of the pantry, longest shelf life at the back. Group items according to their function or packaging. I have a shelf for cans and boxes. Another for baking ingredients. And a third for healthy snack items. (The coffee and tea have an entire shelf to themselves…)

5. Create a shopping list of clean eating pantry staples; items that you can easily incorporate in lunches and dinners. Include beans and lentils (dry or BPA-free cans), tomatoes/tomato sauce/tomato paste (no sugar added), raw nuts, sugar-free dried fruit, oats (steel cut), rice and quinoa (brown, whole grain or ‘black’), almond/coconut/whole wheat flour, an assortment of spices, healthy oils (extra virgin olive, grape seed, avocado, coconut), low-sodium broths (chicken, vegetable, beef for making soups and stews), canned or dried sources of on-the-go protein (tuna, salmon, jerky) and protein powder (whey, vegan or hemp).

Now that your pantry is clean and well-stocked with healthy ingredients, head on over to Pinterest and check out my Clean Eating, Innovative Salads, Quintessentially Quinoa and Recipes for Menopause Symptoms for some clean eating cooking inspiration! (Go ahead and give me a Pinterest ‘follow’ while you’re there; I’m working on sharing more of my favourite pins each and every day).

 

 

More important than being a ‘foodie’? Being a ‘healthy foodie’

Last week I joined in a Facebook challenge to find out how much of a ‘foodie’ I am.

healthy foodie quiz

Click on through to take the test yourself, then come back and share your score in the comments section below

Of the 100 foods listed, I’ve only tried 53. And as such, am not much of a foodie at all.

Now this surprised me, as I (1) live in a city with lots of cultural diversity, (2) love to explore new recipes in the kitchen and (3) like to think of myself as a somewhat adventurous person.

Upon a bit more reflection, I realized the reason why my score was so average.

Of the 100 dishes listed, many were less-than-healthy (Pocky sticks and deep-fried pickles?) or included ingredients that are not ecologically sustainable (caviar and turtle soup, anyone?).

Rather than bemoan my ‘lack of foodie’ status, I decided to create my own ‘healthy foodie quiz’.

Of the 37 items listed below, (1) how many have you tried and (2) how many do you include in your weekly menu plan? Give yourself 3 extra points if any of those items are organic, wild-caught and GMO.

healthy foodie quiz

I’m happy to say that I scored 49 out of a possible 50 points on this quiz (perhaps a bit biased, since I wrote the quiz…). I’ll be adding gojii berries to my shopping list next week.

What does your ‘healthy foodie’ score say about you?

40-50;  You’re a healthy foodie rock star. You know the value of fuelling your body with nutrient-dense foods and are probably a dietician, nutritionist or healthy living blogger!

30-39; While your diet is fairly healthy, it wouldn’t hurt to brush up a bit on the benefits of including more nuts, seeds and healthy fats in your diet.

20-29; Time to get a bit more adventurous in the kitchen, I reckon. Start by adding one new-to-you food from the above photo each week. Search out ways to prepare it; Pinterest is a great place to find recipe ideas.

0-19; What the heck are you eating if you’re not eating the foods pictured above? (And was there an inverse correlation between your ‘foodie’ and ‘healthy foodie’ scores?)

Any other ‘healthy foodie’ items you’d like to add to my list?

Of the items on the original ‘Foodie’ quiz, what was the strangest one that you’ve sampled?

Did you know that improved nutrition can offset some of the most annoying symptoms of mid-life hormonal change? Just one of the issues we work on in my 40+ Female Online Group Fitness Program. Next session starts January 12, 2014. For more information and to be the first to hear all the registration details, subscribe to my email list NOW.

5 Reasons to Eat More Pumpkin

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll already know that I adore pumpkin.

PumpkinTweets

Not just pumpkin pie (although it, along with pumpkin cheesecakeis one of my favourite desserts, especially with a drizzle of dark chocolate ganache…). Pumpkin quick breads and soups and curries and oats (try my recipe for Pumpkin Protein Oatmeal bars).

They also make a great backdrop for a family photo shoot…

eat more pumpkin

5 reasons to eat more pumpkin

  • Unlike many other starchy carbohydrates, pumpkin is low in calories (26 per 100 g; that’s about 1 cup of cooked, 1-inch cubes), has a small glycemic load (GL = 3) and and rich in dietary fibre (5 g per 100 g). That means that it’ll satiate you, keep you feeling fuller longer and provide fuel for your workouts without significantly elevating your blood sugars and triggering an insulin response. Try some in your pre-workout morning oats.
  • It’s full of Vitamin A, a powerful, all natural source of antioxidants important for maintenance of the integrity of skin membranes and vision. Just 100 g of pumpkin contains a little more than 7,300 mg of Vitamin A; well over 200% of your recommended daily allowance.
  • The seeds are naturally rich in phytosterols, plant-based chemicals which have been shown to improve heart health by reducing LDL cholesterol. They’re also an excellent source of the amino acid tryptophan, which converts to GABA (a calming, feel-good hormone) in the brain.
  • With 546 mg of potassium per cup (as compared to a banana’s 422 mg), pumpkin is a great post-workout electrolyte replenisher. Potassium helps restore the body’s balance of electrolytes after a tough workout and keeps muscles functioning optimally. Swap pumpkin for banana in your mid-day smoothie to up your potassium intake without elevating your blood sugars.
  • The key nutrient that boosts pumpkin to the top of the SuperFoods list is the synergistic combination of carotenoids. Carotenoids have been shown to decrease the risk of various cancers, including those of the lung, colon, bladder, cervical, breast, and skin. Just a half-cup serving of pumpkin provides more than 100% of your RDA’s for both beta- and alpha-carotene.

Now that you know WHY you should eat more pumpkin, head on over to my Pumpkin Pinterest Board for some tasty ideas you can whip up TODAY.

MorePinterestPumpkin

Do you have a favourite pumpkin recipe to share? Leave your link in the comments section below!

Wishing a Happy Thanksgiving to all of my Canadian readers. Are you having pumpkin pie for dessert today?

A 3-pronged approach to kicking food cravings

Last week we talked at length about the science behind food cravings (if you haven’t read that post, or need a little refresher on the hormones involved, take 10 minutes to read it now; we’ll be here when you get back ;) )

kicking food cravings

Given that (a) your brain rewards you with a little pleasure rush each time you consume sugary, fatty foods (that’s serotonin) and (b) your wildly cycling blood sugar levels urge you to eat more to return them to normal (that’s insulin), it’s not surprising that kicking food cravings is extremely difficult.

Combine that with (c) strong associations between certain types of foods and specific activities (for example, dessert on Friday and Sunday nights, soft drinks and licorice at the movies or pastries with afternoon coffee) and it becomes damn near impossible.

Let’s face it, sugary, fatty, processed foods are no different than the other stimulants we, as humans, become addicted to. To reduce the hold they have on you you need to treat them the same way you would a nicotine, alcohol or cocaine addiction.

The best way to combat the cravings? Recognize and treat the physiological, psychological and social aspects of the addiction.

Physiological:

Interrupt the roller coasted blood sugar cycling by eliminating sugary, fatty, processed foods for a minimum of 10 days. Longer is better (The Whole 30 approach suggests a minimum of 30 days), but taking it one week at a time is psychologically easier in the beginning. That includes natural (e.g., honey, agave nectar) and fake sugars (e.g., aspartame, sucralose); most create the very same insulin response as the real thing and even those that don’t (e.g., Stevia) continue to trip the pleasure centres in your brain.

kicking food cravings

By eliminating added sugars and processed foods you’ll be re-training your palate to enjoy things that taste less sweet. And don’t bother trying to make ‘healthier’ versions of your favourite sweet and fatty foods; this will only undermine your attempts to learn to enjoy unprocessed foods.

Some of you will say that it’s easier for you to just reduce sugar and processed foods than eliminate them entirely. You may be right, but I suspect that if you’ve tried that strategy and are still reading this post, it may not have worked for you :)

Don’t tell yourself that you’ll never eat chocolate again. You may very well be able to go back to enjoying occasional, small amounts of your favourite less-than-healthy food once you’ve normalized your blood sugars.

The first week will be the most difficult. Cravings will be intense, in particular if you don’t simultaneously address the psychological and social aspects of the addiction. Here are some tips to help you eliminate sugar.

Psychological:

Find other ways to get your serotonin high. Rather than using food to elevate your mood, try exercise, spending time with friends and family, participating in activities that you enjoy, shopping (within reason; I can’t begin to describe how fabulous buying a one-of-a-kind skein of hand-dyed yarn makes me feel…) or sex. All have been shown to spike serotonin production and increase mood and feelings of happiness.

Remind yourself that food is fuel. Not a reward for good behaviour or heaven forbid, exercise. Celebrate achievements by DOING things with family and friends rather than EATING something.

Social:

Break the associations between high sugar-high fat processed foods and social situations. If you can’t go to the movies without reaching for the Twizzlers, don’t go to the movies for awhile. If coffee shop visits with your girlfriends always include fresh baked pastries (even gluten-free pastries have too much sugar and fat…), take the visits elsewhere. If you head to the pub with your co-workers every Friday after work for pizza and beer, take a pass for a month (you see enough of them all week anyways!).

Replace the activities you associate with certain foods with new, food-neutral ones. If your friends and family give you grief, explain to them WHY you’re making these changes and encourage them to join you, for the good of THEIR health.

What’s your favourite tip for eliminating food cravings?

Do you find the physiological, psychological or social aspects of changing your diet the most difficult?

This is your body on sugar | the science behind food cravings

As a fitness professional, I hear a lot of food “confessions”.

science behind food cravings

Stock photo purchased from DreamTime

Here’s just a sampling of this week’s shares (names omitted and comments paraphrased to protect the innocent…);

“I have no self control when it comes to chocolate”

“Why can’t I stop at just one cookie?”

“I get the worst cravings for PopTarts just before I get my period”

“Gotta have that mid-afternoon coffee and donut to make it through the day

“I looked down from the TV to find an empty bag of chips on my lap. I don’t even remember eating them”

Frequently, these admissions are accompanied by feelings of guilt and shame and promises to exert more willpower in the future.

The thing is, willpower alone doesn’t usually lead to success. In my experience, willpower goes a lot further when one understands the underlying cause of the behaviour. And when it comes to food cravings, it’s all in your head.

Your brain that is. Your brain and the way your hormones communicate with it to direct your thoughts and actions.

The Science Behind Food Cravings

A long time ago human diets consisted primarily of plant matter and a little animal protein. Sugar, fat and salt were fairly rare commodities, although required for growth, reproduction and survival. Hence, human brains became wired to reward behaviours that resulted in the consumption of these scarce nutrients.

Not such a bad thing when sweet, fatty and salty were REAL foods (fruit, wild game, vegetables, seaweed) and difficult to come by.

Fast forward a few thousand years. The same reward circuitry exists, but the sweet, fatty and salty options available to us today are stripped of nutrition and readily available.

Think about eating something sweet, fatty or salty and the reward centre of your brain releases the pleasure-seeking hormone dopamine. Dopamine gets you excited about the possibility of eating a donut and motivates you to drive to the donut shop.

Eat something sweet, fatty or salty and your brain releases endorphins; opiate-like hormones that provide emotional relief, release stress and generally make you feel good.

science behind food cravings

Birthday cake makes me happy!

Repeat the ‘anticipation-satisfaction’ cycle a few dozen more times and presto, you’ve created a habitual response; the automatic craving for a specific food in response to particular triggers.

But it gets worse. In addition to stimulating the pleasure centres in your brain, sugar also triggers a cascade of hormonal responses in your soma.

Eat something sweet and your pancreas release insulin, a hormone that tells the cells of your liver, muscles and adipose tissues to store energy for future use.

If the sugar load is light and your body is sensitive to insulin, your pancreas will release just the right amount of insulin to return your blood sugars to their normal, healthy range. Since elevated insulin levels also have a satiety function, you’ll probably feel satisfied with your meal and leave the table without feeling hungry.

If the sugar load is heavy but infrequent your body’s insulin response will not be sufficient to remove the excess sugars from the blood and much of it will be stored as fat. As fat levels rise in the body, fat cells release leptin, a hormone that tell your brain that you’re “fat enough” and it’s time to eat less and move more.

If, however, the sugar load is both heavy and chronic (as it is for many modern humans) three very bad things happen;

(1) your body relies almost exclusively on sugar for fuel (fat stores go untouched)

(2) your brain stops hearing the leptin message (a condition known as “leptin resistance”) and continues to seek out sweet and fatty foods because it thinks you’re not fat enough

(3) your cells stop hearing the insulin message (a condition known as “insulin resistance” or Type 2 Diabetes) so your pancreas produces more insulin than necessary to remove sugar from the blood, thereby leading to blood sugar crashes and intense cravings for foods that will rapidly increase your blood sugar level (exactly the foods that caused the problem in the first place)

The only way to break the cycle (and undo the hormonal and metabolic damage) of cravings and addiction is to drastically reduce your intake of the offending foods; cookies, chocolate, chips and baked goods (to name but a few).

Now that you understand the science behind food cravings (the WHY), you’ll probably want some suggestions as to HOW to break the cycle. Because this post is too long already, I’ll keep you hanging until next week…

In the mean time, please check out this post on ‘trigger foods’ and share your tips and tricks for overcoming food cravings in the comments section below!