It’s 3:00 P.M. Lunch has long passed, and dinner is still a little ways off. But that little nagging gremlin in the back of your mind says “Feed me!” Why is it so hard to curb the urge to reach for something sweet?
Many of us have the habit of fueling our body with small (or large) amounts of sugar dosed throughout the day. This is often especially true for vegetarians and those of us trying to eat light. But whether it’s toast, fruit, or juice—let alone a Snicker’s bar—this habit is seriously messing with our bodies and minds.
Trying to force yourself to stop eating sweet foods doesn’t really do the trick, because you are hard-wired to seek out sweet food. From the perspective of Ayurveda, sweet food is composed of earth and water elements. This means that it grounds and gratifies more than all of the other tastes.
In fact, most of our food should be primarily sweet-tasting. Sweet taste occurs naturally in things like fruit, grains, root vegetables, and fats. When they are eaten in their whole form, these foods are incredibly nourishing.
When things are going a bit loopy in our life—when we’re stressed, overwhelmed, exhausted, over-doing, feeling unstable—the craving for sweet taste gets extra triggered as we seek a sense of rootedness and satisfaction. This is a natural and healthy response to stress.
The problem arises when sugar is absorbed too quickly into the blood stream. It’s made worse when we eat refined sugar.
Our bodies and minds demand the stability that natural sweet taste can bring. But when we deliver the sweet taste to our tongues with nothing of substance to back it up, our craving mechanism goes haywire. “Wait, that didn’t work, I must need more.”
And so we step onto the sugar-craving train and a dangerous cycle of sugar spike-and-crash. Luckily, there are some good ways to get off it.
1. Eat more fat (and meat).
When we start the day with something sweet or mostly carbohydrate-based, we send the body the signal that we will be on a sugar-drip all day long. This sets us on a cycle of blood sugar spike-and-crash.
The best way to curb the tendency to reach for something sweet in the late afternoon is to start the day with a healthy dose of fats and proteins.
Fats are a great support to the whole body, especially the nervous system. Some of the most beneficial fats to include in the diet are: ghee, coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil, animal fat (from healthy, free-range, organic animals), fish oil, and flaxseed oil.
With enough fat in your diet, your nervous system is not so easily disturbed when you’re faced with stressful situations.
2. Include more bitter foods in your diet.
When we overeat sweet taste, our taste buds start to numb out. After some time, we need more intense sweets to be able to taste it. Bitter taste helps cleanse the palate, making your taste buds work better.
Being careful not to overdo bitter taste (because it can drive the flighty, stressed-out energy that we are trying to remedy in the first place), add some well-cooked bitter greens—like dandelion greens—into your diet.
Even a small portion in a meal can make a big difference. Serve them with a sizable splash of oil or ghee and a squirt of lemon or lime.
3. Avoid pure sugar, but include more (naturally) sweet foods in your diet.
Eat more sweet potatoes, squashes and whole grains. When eaten as part of your regular diet and combined with fat and protein, the earthiness of these foods nourishes you at a deep level, helping you avoid spikes and dips in your blood sugar.
When the sweet-craving hits, choose something that is naturally sweet. Again, something with some fat or fiber in it will slow down the absorption of the sugar. A couple squares of dark chocolate or a piece of fruit will serve you much better than a cookie.
4. Remember, sweetness is not just about your food.
Try to answer your sweet craving with a nourishing action or experience. Since sweet taste is primarily about nourishing and grounding, activities that give those same benefits can also answer the craving for sweetness.
The Ayurvedic practice of abhyanga, or applying oil to your skin before bathing, can be very satisfying. Even just connecting with yourself and taking a few deep belly breaths, or rubbing your feet for a few minutes can bring you back down from flights of anxiety and overthinking.
After that, you may find the craving has mellowed out or even disappeared.
5. Recognize your desire for sweet taste as a desire for stability, nourishment, and connection.
Earth and water; stability, nourishment, and connection—look at the ways in your life that you can increase and maintain these things in your everyday situations and relationships.
Keeping yourself on the sugar train means feeling each bump as a jolt. So learn to smooth out the extremes; the bumps may not disappear, but they won’t hit you so hard.