Picture: Chris Lawrence pictured with his daughter, Billie.
Afternoon sugar hits, late night desserts; we have all been tempted by those sweet treats at some point or another, some more than others.
Even as an elite athlete who has been playing professional sport for 13 years I still struggle to beat those sugar cravings. For me, dessert is the killer- I am always craving something sweet every night after I finish dinner.
I used to try and justify eating the sweet treats by telling myself ‘I am going to training tomorrow I will burn it off’ or “If I only have half of it, it’s not that much sugar’. Trying to justify eating something is never the way to go, I have learnt that you will end up having the same conversation with yourself everyday and justifying why it’s ok to eat those sugary foods.
If you are going to eat something that you know is bad for you don’t feel guilty about it, just understand that it is bad for you and that it is okay to eat it every now and then. When you want to eat healthily simply put strategies in place to curb those sugar cravings to ensure that you stay on track.
Why do we crave Sugar
The link between sugar and addictive behavior is because when we eat sugar, opioids and dopamine are released. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is a major part of the “reward circuit” associated with addictive behavior. When a certain behavior causes an excess release of dopamine, you feel a pleasurable “high” that you are inclined to re-experience, and so repeat the behavior (Schaefer & Yasin 2016).
Sugar is a cheap ingredient that is included in most packaged and processed foods. It’s found in anything from cereals to snack bars, sauces and soft drinks. This makes is very difficult to escape sugar and the cravings we get from consuming it.
In general, we consume an excessive amounts of calories, but not a lot of nutrients e.g. vitamins and minerals. A person that consumes nutrient-rich foods generally does not crave sugars as much as the undernourished person. The undernourished person craves sugar because they require sustained energy (Pattalis 2018).
Sugar Reduction Strategies
For most people going cold turkey and completely cutting sugar from their diet doesn’t work because the body will end up going through significant withdrawals and this compounded with stresses of work, family and exercise makes it extremely difficult to maintain. My advice is to gradually wean off sugar by implementing a few strategies that I have found really effective to limit my sugar intake:
Look at your diet and find out where you highest intake of sugar comes from, then find healthier alternatives. If soft drink is weakness find low sugar mineral water, if it’s chocolate substitute it for raw chocolate made from cacao with no added sugar. Read the food labels and as a general rule look for items with less than 10 grams of sugar per 100 grams.
Don’t fill your fridge or cupboard with temptations, if you have sugary foods at home it’s only a matter of time before those cravings get the best of you. Make it easy for yourself and just don’t have them there.
Anticipate when you get those sugar cravings and have some healthy alternatives available. Whether this is at home, at work or on the run.
If you have consistent cravings around the same time every day, try and plan an activity around that time so that you preoccupy yourself and reduce the impact of those cravings. If you’re at work, book in meetings around that time, or if you are at home, go for a walk or exercise.
The more fatigued and tired you are the more likely you will be looking for that quick sugar hit to raise your energy levels
1 Month Challenge
If you are someone who battles with sugar cravings, try these 3 simple changes to your diet which is something I do when I get back into pre-season training after I have over indulged during my holidays. Try it for a month and see if you notice a difference- I think you will be surprised at the results:
No soft drink - Only water, sparkling water and sugar free mineral water
No pre bottled sauces or marinades - replace with:
a. Homemade sauces - don’t add any sugar
b. Spice rubs - perfect on for chicken or pork dishes, giving plenty of flavour
c. Organic Butter - Cook steaks with butter, add some garlic and rosemary for extra
d. Mayonnaise - Ensure it is a low sugar mayonnaise (and don’t go nuts!) I personally love mixing it with chilli flakes which makes it perfect to have with meats and on sandwiches or wraps, giving it a bit of a kick.
3. No chocolate, ice cream or gelato - replace with:
Low sugar protein bars
Low sugar raw chocolate
Homemade protein balls (Nuts, Dates, goji berries, chia seeds, coconut flakes)
Chris Lawrence is an Australian professional rugby league footballer who plays for the Wests Tigers in the National Rugby League. He is also the founder of One Wellbeing helping organisations implement corporate wellbeing programs, but most of all Chris is a family man and wants to ensure his little daughter grows up happy and healthy.