Am I addicted to sugar?

Am I addicted to sugar?

RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD

Am I addicted to sugar?

KATHERINE KIMBER, Registered Dietitian

1st May 2019

I am often asked by clients whether sugar addiction is a real thing and if so, whether they should go cold turkey to quit. 

Quitting seems logical solution, given that it is often the advice for someone with drug and alcohol addiction. In this article I am going to break down what sugar addiction is, why you crave sugar and some tips to overcome feeling like you have a sugar addiction.

Firstly, what is addiction?

This is a complex question because the definition of addiction is controversial.

In short, you can have two categories of addiction:

  1. A substance addiction such as drugs, alcohol or tobacco
  2. A non-substance behavioural addiction such as gambling

It has been suggested that some foods with “addictive agents”, such as salt, fat and sugar, could result in people showing the same symptoms as someone with a drug addiction. There has even been media reports suggesting that sugar addiction is a thing, and that it’s as addictive as heroin and cocaine. But the reality is that there are not many studies that have examined sugar addiction specifically in humans – the studies that do exist have been carried out in rodents. 

Sugar addiction – is it the same as being addicted to drugs?

Chances are that you have already googled this. After reading a ton of contradictory information, you may think sugar addiction and drug addiction manifest the same symptoms.

Well let’s look at it in detail.   

If we were to go by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), it diagnoses a Substance Use Disorder (substances such as tobacco, alcohol, drugs) based on 11 symptoms. These can be grouped into four categories:

  • Impaired control: symptoms relate to cravings and a strong desire to use the drug or failed attempts of cutting back on drug use.
  • Social issues: symptoms relate to situations where the person’s work, home and social life is disrupted due to continued drug use.
  • Risky use: symptoms relate to a person’s continued use of the drug despite the known negative consequences.
  • Drug physiological effects: symptoms of tolerance (the body requires more of the drug to produce the same effect) and withdrawal (the body shows withdrawal symptoms when the drug is no longer in the body and a tolerance has developed

So could some of those symptoms occur with a “sugar addiction”? After reading this, you may think so!

For example:

  • Do I have cravings and a strong desire to eat sugary foods? Yes!
  • Have I repeatedly attempted to cut back or “quit” sugar? Yes!
  • Do I feel so “out of control” with food that I’m not in the mood to attend social events? Yes!

But let’s pause for a second. For a substance use disorder diagnosis, the symptoms need to cause “significant impairment or distress”.

And anyone who is experiencing significant distress such as this related to eating patterns, is more than likely going to be diagnosed with an overall eating disorder, which is very different to suggesting that someone is addicted to sugar in the same way that someone is addicted to drugs.

Another key part of a diagnosis, is that the symptoms produce physiological effects. Drug taking can cause people to develop withdrawal and tolerance symptoms. The good news is that there has never been a human study to show that sugar (or any nutrient for that matter, except for caffeine) produces tolerance or withdrawal effects. 

So if “sugar addiction” isn’t a thing, why do I still crave it?

Because

1) Restriction

The root cause of feeling out of control around food is restriction, not food addiction. We know this because as soon as we deprive ourselves from a food, we want the food even more and there a number of studies to support this (see my recent article with the research on how to stop food obsession). We subsequently eat more of it than we would have if we’d just allowed ourselves to eat in the first instance! Following food rules that restricts intake of our “forbidden foods” can lead to excessively focussing on those foods which just exacerbates disordered eating.

You may have heard that in animal studies, sugar is addictive. However, these studies fail to emphasise, that the animals have actually been deprived of sugar. So of course they ended up “bingeing” on it when they were allowed it again. The group of rats that were deprived, actually ate the same amount of sugar in a 12 hour period compared to a group of rats that weren’t deprived over a 24 hour period. What’s the moral here? Eat the sugar!

2) Food is pleasurable (which is not a bad thing!) and needed for survival

Whilst animal studies might show that the brain reacts in a similar way to when drugs are taken, they fail to recognise that food is something that is needed for survival. Sugar is not a drug – it’s the most basic fuel source we need to stay alive! It is therefore supposed to bring joy. Our brain needs glucose to make sure we can carry out all the required biological functions to keep us alive. So how could we be addicted to something that we need to function?

The same centres light up when we have sex, when we stroke a puppy or even when we win or anticipate winning money. Does that mean we are addicted to sex, puppies or money? No.

Where does that leave us?

Studies in this field are still in their infancy, and of the research that does exist, it is limited to animals.

Also, it is difficult to confirm that sugar, as a standalone nutrient, is addictive as we rarely consume this on its own. Sugar is in starchy foods such as potatoes, breads and pastas as well as in fruit, vegetables and dairy products. Things we usually eat in conjunction with many other things!

In saying all of this, I do not want to lessen the struggles that some people may feel they have around food. It is still possible to feel “out of control” around sugar and overeat sugary foods, but it is unlikely to be addiction. It’s more likely to be rooted in restriction.

If you feel this is you, Intuitive Eating is a gentle evidence-based approach that doesn’t require going cold turkey. This framework has helped people reduce overeating or binge eating because it teaches how to identify hunger and fullness signals without restricting food.

Intuitive Eating requires time and patience, but also the right support from someone qualified. A Registered Dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor is a good place to start. If you’d like to know more about what you can start to do today to overcome your difficulties with feeling addicted to sugar, check out my free 20-minute audio download below. 

Please note: if after reading this, you think you might have an eating disorder, I encourage you to visit your GP to discuss this.

References throughout text.  

How to stop food obsession

How to stop food obsession

RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD

How to Stop Food Obsession  

KATHERINE KIMBER, Registered Dietitian

April 17th 2019

Obsessing about food is all too common. It’s often seen as part and parcel of being a human being. However, that doesn’t have to be the case. In this article I am going to cover; what food obsession is, how it comes about, and how to stop food obsession.

What is food obsession? 

Food obsession can be: 

  • Always thinking about, talking about and planning your next meal 
  • Only allowing yourself to eat certain foods and labelling them “good” and “bad” 
  • Not being able to concentrate on tasks if you know the “bad” foods are in the house 
  • Using “bad” foods as a reward if you’ve been “good” 
  • Feeling anxious if you’re not in control of your meals (e.g. at a restaurant or a dinner party) 
  • Not enjoying social occasions if there are “bad” foods present 
  • Declining those social occasions in the future, because of the stress of not knowing what you can eat. 

You might identify with one, some or all of these. This can feel debilitating and wreak havoc on trying to have a social life! 

So where does food obsession come from?  

Food obsession can occur if we have rigid rules around our eating, whether these are self-inflicted rules that we’ve picked up over the years, or from an external source (e.g. a diet) (1).  

Restriction can be physical or emotional.  

  • Physical restriction: when the food is “forbidden/not allowed” and you physically are told to not eat it (by yourself or others). E.g. no lunch before 12 ‘clock, no carbs after x time, a points, calorie or meal limit.  
  • Psychological restriction: when certain foods are labelled as “naughty” or “bad” and we carry guilt and anxiety for wanting to eat them, or actually eating them.   

If you’re in the latter, chances are that diet culture has taught you to label foods as “good” and “bad”. This is where we feel “good” for eating a salad, and “bad” for eating a cookie. Placing a moralistic value on foods can interfere with our relationship to food in a negative way.  

What happens when we restrict as a result of these food rules?  

More often than not, food restriction leads to deprivation which leads to binge eating (2). Before you know it, you’re in the  continuous restrict/binge cycle that looks like…  

 

The food rules which make us restrict mean we become totally obsessed with that food.  This food obsession can cause a bucket load of different emotions too.  

Food obsession affects our mood and our relationships. It can affect our energy levels and desire to exercise. It can cause tainted memories of special occasions because you weren’t able to truly enjoy yourself because the food that was present controlled you. It is time consuming. It can make you feel alone, lost and helpless.   

It can make you feel as though there is No. End. In. Sight.  

This is no way to live.  

So how can we stop food obsession?  

Eat the “bad/forbidden” foods, and stop placing a moral value on them. No single food is “good”, “bad” or going to make you “healthy” or “unhealthy”.  

It’s time to unlearn the food rules that have dictated which foods are “good” and “bad”, so that you can finally enjoy all foods in the that makes you feel good. This sounds scary, I know. The biggest fear is that we will just eat ‘junk food’ all the time if we eat our ‘forbidden food’. Whilst it may feel that is the case in the short term, this dissipates as time moves on. This process is called habituation (3) – it’s a scientifically proven thing!  

I am going to use a non-food example to explain habituation. Imagine buying a new top that you love. When you first wear it, it feels exciting! Maybe you even wear it more than normal at first, however, after time it heads into the draw with all of your other clothes. It still feels nice to wear at times, but you’re not obsessed with it like you were at first. The same happens with food. When we allow it in, we get used to it and whilst it may still taste good, it becomes less exciting. 

Let’s look at an example… 

Say chocolate is your “forbidden” or “bad” food that you feel obsessed with. You need to be specific about the brand, type and flavour of chocolate. Because if you’re introducing chocolate buttons, chocolate biscuits, chocolate toffees, chocolate icing all at once it will take you 4 x as long to become habitualised to it. Be specific about the brand a flavour!  

Next, plan out when you would like to practice eating it whilst giving that chocolate your undivided attention. Perhaps at a time when you’re not too vulnerable (I.e. stressed, tired or hungry). 30-60 minutes after a meal is a good time. Practice eating that food paying attention with all the senses. As an intuitive eating coach, this is where I guide my clients through a mindful eating exercise. It’s amazing to hear what flavours, textures, smells and emotions people notice when they pay attention. Eating mindfully and without judgement allows my clients to identify firstly, whether they actually like the food, and secondly, how much of that food is necessary for them to find the point of satisfaction.

Stopping food obsession can take time, but it’s possible when we stop restricting ourselves. It takes time to feel comfortable allowing “forbidden” foods back into our life – particularly if we’ve been a victim of diet culture for many years. It’s not something that has to be perfect or done all at once. It is a process to help you realise that you can trust your body and realise that food doesn’t have to control you. Once you stop restricting, the food obsession will diminish and you can start to enjoy all the fun things in life again.  

References 

  1. Polivy, J. (1996). Psychological Consequences of Food Restriction. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 96(6), 589-592. doi:10.1016/s0002-8223(96)00161-7 
  1. Derenne, J. L., & Beresin, E. V. (2006). Body image, media, and eating disorders. Academic Psychiatry, 30(3), 257-261. Retrieved from https://link-springer-com.libraryproxy.griffith.edu.au/article/10.1176%2Fappi.ap.30.3.257
  1. Epstein, L. H., Temple, J. L., Roemmich, J. N., & Bouton, M. E. (2009). Habituation as a determinant of human food intake. Psychological Review, 116(2), 384-407. doi:10.1037/a0015074 

 

How to Stop Binge Eating at Night

How to Stop Binge Eating at Night

RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD

How to Stop Binge Eating at Night  

KATHERINE KIMBER, Registered Dietitian

April 3rd 2019

For people who are still on the diet train or who have recently just stepped off it, we know that dieting can result in the vicious cycle of restriction – deprivation – cravings – binge eating.  

Have you ever experienced binge eating, and more specifically wondered how to stop binge eating at night? Because this is a common time of the day that some of my client’s experience it.  

Firstly, let’s get one thing straight.  

What is a binge?   

Because there is a difference between a ‘subjective binge’ (what YOU define as a binge), and an ‘objective binge’ (what a psychologist uses to define an Eating Disorder).

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) (as diagnosed by a psychologist) is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as a person who regularly binge eats a large quantity of food in a discrete time period with a sense of feeling out of control (1). The binge eating episodes are usually accompanied with three or more following:  

  • Eating past the point of uncomfortable 
  • Eating alone due to embarrassment  
  • Eating more rapidly than usual  
  • Feeling upset and guilty afterwards 
  • Eating a large amount of food when not physically hungry 

If you suspect you may have BED, I encourage you to consult your GP for an assessment.   

However, just because you may not meet the ‘criteria’ for BED, doesn’t mean you aren’t experiencing suffering or deserve help. A ‘subjective’ binge eating episode may still be accompanied with embarrassment, guilt, eating rapidly, eating a large amount of food…. but not enough food to be considered an ‘objective binge’ for a psychologist to diagnose a BED. A little silly I know.  

In this article, I refer to some reasons why you may be experiencing binge eating, and in particular, at night. I also provide recommendations for how to stop binge eating at night. This article is targeted at those experiencing a ‘subjective binge’, without a diagnosed BED. 

 

Restriction during the day: 

It is common in diet culture to label foods such as rice cakes and salad as “safe” to eat during the day and “not allow” more substantial meals such as pasta and sandwiches.  

Any time food is out of bounds, it puts it on a pedestal increasing our desire to want to eat that food. There are two ways in which foods can be out of bounds: 

  • Physically: the diet restricts it. 
  • Psychologically: we attach a moralistic value to that food and label is as bad, unhealthy.  

We then start to desire that food even more, because we tell ourselves we can’t have it … and when we do have it, we’re likely to feel guilt, and eat more than if we’d just allowed it in the first place! (4) (5)

A 2001 study showed that when people were forbidden sweets that were considered “novel”, the attraction to eat them was heightened compared to people who were allowed to eat the “novel” sweet (6). And this idea rings true for any food, not just high sugar foods. A study of kids showed that when they were restricted either sweets or fruit, both groups ate more of the restricted foods (including more fruit!) when they were given the opportunity, compared to a group of kids who weren’t restricted at all (7).  

AND/OR

Tiredness: 

  • If you’ve had a really long day or if you had a poor night’s sleep. 
  • If you’ve done a lot of exercise or if you simply have too much going on.  

Being tired makes it difficult to tap into hunger and satiety cues (2). Studies show that people who are unable to get a full night’s sleep (less than six hours) have increased ghrelin (which is the hormone that stimulates hunger) and decreased leptin (which is the hormone that tells us when we are full). These hormones dictate how much we would eat in a day.  

Further to this, studies have shown that tiredness can increase food intake by 400 calories in a day (3). A systematic review that analysed 11 different studies found on average that people who had between 3.5 to 5.5 hours sleep the night before ate an additional 385 calories that day compared to when they’d slept at least seven hours.  

AND/OR 

Hunger:

Many clients I meet that are struggling to stop binge eating at night, are actually just hungry and haven’t tuned into the sensations of hunger. 

That bowl of cereal at 8am, and salad at lunchtime, simply hasn’t cut it. Of course they walk through the door ready to eat the house down. 

So this, coupled with our hunger hormone ghrelin being revved up in the evening, means we’re in a position where we’re likely to binge on foods that are either physically restricted (through a diet), or psychologically restricted (through good/bad food labelling, coupled with guilt).  

If when we get home from a long day there is a food in the cupboard that’s “not allowed”, of course we are going to want to eat all of it … because we’re hungry, potentially restricted ourselves from eating that food (physically or psychologically) and we’re tired!   

So how can you stop binge eating at night? 

Here I am sharing my experiences of working with 1:1 clients and a couple of the ways in which they have managed to stop binge eating at night.  

Meeting basic needs: 

This means two things:

1. Get organised for the week so that you feel in control, can schedule regular eating patterns and eat according to hunger.  

For example: 

– Making sure you have a stocked-up fridge with food that can be easily prepared and/or eaten without much fuss (unless cooking at night helps you to unwind!).

– Setting boundaries at work, or with friends/family, so you don’t take too much on.  

How? 

If Sunday meal prepping is your thing, go ahead and make yourself a few days worth of dinner and lunches ahead of time. But if that doesn’t sounds right for you, take yourself on a shopping trip (or do an online shop) and stock your fridge and cupboard with snacks and fresh produce that don’t require too much preparation. Ready-to-eat meals that you can easily heat and eat each week night are great too! 

Check your diary at the end of each week for the week ahead to ensure you’ve not overloaded yourself. Schedule in down time, just like you would any other activity. 

If you’re struggling to eat according to hunger,  check out my FREE download with a recorded audio guide and actionable workbook which tackles this. 

2. Find activities/hobbies that make you feel good and check that you are meeting the basics. 

  • What is it that makes you feel amazing?  

Having a proper night’s sleep? Spending time out in nature? Making space for you time in the week? Curling up on the couch with a good book? Getting out in nature? A bubble bath? A pedicure? Sweating it out in the gym? Spending time with your fur baby? Spending time with your human baby?  

Whatever it is, ensure you are meeting your basics (sleep, setting boundaries, managing stress), but also doing things that fill your heart with joy and that help calm your mind. These types of activities are a great way to make sure that we can deal with emotions such as tiredness, anxiety, boredom, loneliness or anger without using food to suppress that feeling. Emotional eating is very common and something I have written about in more detail here 

3. Stop labelling foods as good and bad. 

To create a healthy relationship with food, we have to stop describing food in moralistic terms. Because you know what? There is not one food that will make us healthy or unhealthy. 

Try to neutralise your language around food, and label foods as what they are. If it’s a croissant, call it a croissant. If it’s a carrot, call is a carrot or vegetable. Neither are good, or bad. They are just food. 

Stopping binge eating at night is a process. It takes time to figure out what triggers it and the sorts of things you can do to avoid it. But hopefully after reading this, you have a few ideas up your sleeve. And just remember, if after reading this you still find yourself struggling, do not need to beat yourself up. Move on and be kind to yourself.

This is hard work and the first step is acknowledging it (which you clearly have if you are reading this). So, I encourage you to keep being compassionate and patient as you take these next brave steps to finding how you’re going to do this important work.  

You can sign up to my 7 Steps to Find Food Peace and Food Freedom with an audio guide and workbook to get started on how to stop binge eating at night. 

References 

(1) National Health Services (NHS). (2017). Overview – Binge Eating Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/binge-eating/. 

(2) Shlisky, J. D., Hartman, T. J., Kris-Etherton, P. M., Rogers, C. J., Sharkey, N. A., & Nickols-Richardson, S. M. (2012). Partial Sleep Deprivation and Energy Balance in Adults: An Emerging Issue for Consideration by Dietetics Practitioners. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 112(11), 1785-1797. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2012.07.032 

(3Al Khatib, H. K., Harding, S. V., Darzi, J., & Pot, G. K. (2016). The effects of partial sleep deprivation on energy balance: a systematic review and meta-analysis. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 71(5), 614-624. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2016.201 

(4) Jansen, E., Mulkens, S., & Jansen, A. (2008). Do not eat the red food! Prohibition of snacks leads to their relatively higher consumption in children. Appetite, 50(2-3), 560.doi:10.1016/j.appet.2007.09.038 

(5) Keeler, C. L., Mattes, R. D., & Tan, S. (2015). Anticipatory and reactive responses to chocolate restriction in frequent chocolate consumers. Obesity, 23(6), 1130-1135. doi:10.1002/oby.21098 

(6) Mann, T., & Ward, A. (2001). Forbidden fruit: Does thinking about a prohibited food lead to its consumption? International Journal of Eating Disorders, 29(3), 319-327. doi:10.1002/eat.1025 

(7Jansen, E., Mulkens, S., Emond, Y., & Jansen, A. (2008). From the Garden of Eden to the land of plenty. Appetite, 51(3), 570-575. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2008.04.012 

 

How To Start Intuitive Eating

How To Start Intuitive Eating

RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD

How to Start Intuitive Eating

KATHERINE KIMBER, Registered Dietitian

March 20th 2019

Just the other day I found myself talking to someone in a coffee shop about how to start Intuitive Eating. She was not a client or someone I knew, but just a very nice lady who wanted to know more about my work as an Intuitive Eating Counsellor, and how I help people break up with dieting. This lady had experienced firsthand, that diets don’t work. She asked me quite simply, “so how do I start Intuitive Eating?”  

It was a simple enough question, but it caught me off guard because usually I have a little more time to answer this in detail during my 1:1 consultations with clients.  

As there are 10 principles that guide Intuitive Eating, I wasn’t about to go through each one detailing the research and theory behind it (our coffees would have been cold by that point!)… so instead I discussed with her five practical steps she could take on how to start intuitive eating. 

And now I’m sharing these with you too in a little more detail.  

Step 1: Detox your social media feeds 

As we already know, we live in a world where thinness is preferred and as such, our social media feeds are usually dominated by thin, white, privileged people perpetuating the thin ideal.  

Research tells us that we need to avoid or challenge this type of imagery because of the association between being exposed to unrealistic, thin-idealised images and body dissatisfaction (Tiggemann, 2015). 

So, it’s time to get ruthless and unfollow anyone who: 

  • Promotes a balanced diet but say they need to “burn off the calories” after eating pizza  
  • Gives nutrition advice but does not have appropriate qualifications  
  • Talks about “tracking macros 
  • Tells us that sticking to a diet just requires “willpower” 
  • Categorises food as good and bad 
  • Uses terms like “eat clean” or eating whole foods” 

Now that those people are no longer popping up on your screen, it’s time to start following body positivity superstars who are changing the conversation.  

Accounts like @bodyposipanda @themilitantbaker @yrfatfriend @mskelseymiller @isabelfoxenduke @thelindywest @calliethorpe @nerdabouttown @bodyimagemovement@sofiehagendk @bodypositivememes @glitterandlazers 

Step 2: Stop labelling foods as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ 

This can be really hard to do when we live in a diet culture where food is given a moralistic value.  

That is, foods that are seen to be associated with thinness and guiltlessness = good.  

And any food that doesn’t fall in this category = bad.  

And that’s where we start restricting and forbidding the “bad” foods … which ultimately leads to deprivation.  

This leads to biological cravings for said forbidden food. 

Which leads to a bingeing episode, guilt and starting another diet to be “good”. 

And so, the cycle continues.  

To create a healthy relationship with food, we have to stop describing food in moralistic terms. Because you know what? There is not one food that will make us thin or fat, healthy or unhealthy. 

Does this sound familiar? 

Step 3: Stop trying to control your weight

 

We know what the evidence says about this. It says that dieting and restricting food for the purposes of controlling weight does not work long term. There is not one scientific study that shows this.  

Why? Because of the set point weight. This is the weight that our body works very hard to maintain (usually within a range of 4-5kgs) to carry out all the necessary functions to keep us alive. When we’re not swinging between doughnut land (i.e. being bad), and diet land (i.e. being good), our weight settles at it natural set point. This weight range is already pre-determined, largely by genetics. In fact, it’s estimated that our weight is about 70% determined by our genetics. 

If we start messing with our set point weight through dieting, it starts to put a strain on our body and impact on how well it can do its job. Lynda, a lifestyle coach, explains this analogy really nicely in a short 3-minute video here 

There are a few ways your body does this: 

  • We have internal body cues that tell us when we’re hungry and full to ensure that we eat according to our needs.  
  • Our metabolism slows if our body senses starvation to conserve muscle and energy stores 
  • Biological chemicals (Neuropeptide Y & Ghrelin hormones) are released more rapidly to drive us to eat when our bodies are in famine.  

So, as you can see, when we try to lose weight in a restrictive manner (and drop below the set point weight range), our body works damn hard to put that weight back on asap.  

In essence, diets make us work against ourselves and paradoxically, we end up achieving the exact opposite of what we wanted in the first place. Argh! 

Step 4: Find movement that you love and that makes you feel good 

It’s time to ditch the rigid exercise plans and start moving your body because of how great it feels! Now it doesn’t matter if you’re not immediately jumping out of bed wanting to strap your joggers on again. 

If exercising has never been joyful, it may be for a few reasons: 

  • It was often associated with dieting. And when the diet failed, so too did the exercise. 
  • You had bad experiences as a child being made to exercise when you didn’t want to; and/or 
  • You were always pushed by others to exercise and therefore have always rebelled those people.  

To help you get back out there, here are a few things you can do to change your mindset: 

a. Focus on how exercising makes you feel, rather than thinking about the calories that are being burned.  

Think about how you feel after exercise – Energy levels? Confidence? Stress levels? Sleep? Note how you feel when you exercise and when you do not exercise. The positives you feel after exercise is often enough to get you back out there, because why would you not want to do something that makes you feel so wonderful! 

b. Separate exercise from previous weight loss attempts 

It is well established that physical activity provides positive health benefits over the long term. It has positive impacts on metabolism and preserving lean muscle mass, yet doesn’t really have much of an impact on weight loss. So, if you’re attempting to lose weight solely by exercise, it can be easy to lose motivation when you don’t see “progress”. It’s time to start viewing exercise as beneficial for improving quality of life and stave off disease, rather than as a weight loss tool. It increases bone strength, improves heart and lung function, decreases blood pressure, increases metabolism, improves cholesterol levels, improves satiety cues, improves mood, reduces chronic disease risk and delays cognitive decline associated with ageing (Chaput et al, 2011).  

c. Make exercise fun 

Find something that you enjoy and start out slowly. There is no need to follow a rigid exercise plan that forces you meet certain physical activity targets. You just move when you have the time and when you feel like it! Whether it’s going for a walk around the block while listening to your favourite music or podcast, walking to a bus stop that’s one stop further away from your destination or dancing around the house. Whatever it is, it all counts towards exercise. And when you start your joyful movement, also remember to have rest days if your body feels tired. The last thing you want to is to experience burnout, which is another side effect from dieting world.   

Step 5: Honour your biological hunger 

One of the most important steps to break free from dieting and food worry, is to recognise when you’re hungry. To really start listening to your inner body signals, get into the habit of asking yourself, “am I hungry?” each time you go to eat. You could even keep a little diary like the one below. 

If you’re allowing yourself to get to a point where you’re simply too hungry, of course you are going to have the urge to want to binge, or eat past the point that feels comfortable. At this point, we think we can’t stop binge eating, or that we need emotional eating help, when in fact, it’s just biological hunger.   

Think about on a scale of 0-10 how hungry you are, with 0 being starved to 10 feeling completely stuffed (aka Christmas lunch, need-to-loosen-belt stuffed). If we’ve been victim to previous dieting attempts, it’s highly likely that you were told to mask your hunger by drinking coffee or diet coke. Well now it’s time to pause and tune in to where you sit on the scale which looks something like this… 

1) Beyond Hungry (not even hungry anymore) 
2) You would eat anything put in front of you.  
3) Hungry – the urge to eat is strong 
4) A little hungry. You can wait, but need to eat soon.  
5) Neutral. Not hungry, or full.  
6) No longer hungry. You sense food in your stomach, but could definitely eat more.  
7) Comfortable, could quite easily stop here. 
8) Not too uncomfortable, but definitely very full. 
9) Moving into uncomfortable. 
10) Very uncomfortable – Christmas dinner stuffed. 

As a starting point, see if you can figure out what a 3, 4 or 5 level of hunger might feel like. It might be more than just tummy rumbling, as hunger can affect energy levels, cognitive function and mood (we don’t use the term ‘hangry’ for no reason!)  

In fact, you could feel one or a combination of the following: 

  • Stomach growling 
  • Mild gurgling or gnawing in the stomach 
  • Feeling lightheaded or faint 
  • Foggy brain – difficult to focus on work 
  • Uncomfortable pains in the stomach
  • Irritability 
  • Headache  

It usually feels good to start eating at a 3 or a 4, but explore for yourself, keeping a little diary like the one below.   

 

Well that’s my top 5 strategies on how to start Intuitive Eating. It’s not about getting any of these things perfect, but instead chipping away so that barriers start to come down. Be kind to yourself and allow plenty of time to see how you can apply these steps each day. This is about making progress towards healing your relationship with food, not striving for a perfect diet (which by the way, doesn’t exist).  

If you would like more information on how to stop binge eating, how to stop food obsession, how to stop emotional eating, and how to start intuitive eating, check out my free audio recording. It provides you with 7 actionable steps on how to start intuitive eating, with an actionable workbook.  

References 

Chaput, J., Klingenberg, L., Rosenkilde, M., Gilbert, J., Tremblay, A., & Sjödin, A. (2011). Physical Activity Plays an Important Role in Body Weight Regulation. Journal of Obesity, 2011, 1-11. doi:10.1155/2011/360257 

Tiggemann, M. (2015). Considerations of positive body image across various social identities and special populations. Body Image, 14, 168-176. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2015.03.002 

 

 

Why you don’t need to stop eating sugar to improve your health

Why you don’t need to stop eating sugar to improve your health

RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD

Why you don’t need to stop eating sugar to improve your health 

KATHERINE KIMBER, Registered Dietitian

March 3rd 2019

First it was salt. Then fat. Then carbohydrates.  

Now we’re told to stop eating sugar.

All these foods have been demonised at one point or another over the years and we’ve been taught to fear them due to the implications they can have on our health. But sadly, this is more fear mongering, than fact. 

Let’s talk about the facts, specifically regarding sugar.  

Even though some “wellness experts” would have you believe that we need to “stop eating sugar” completely for the sake of our health, it is actually nothing to be feared, unless it is consumed in huge quantities (like anything, really!). 

The problem with the idea that we should “stop eating sugar” is that not all sugars are equal. If we stop eating sugar, we’d be quitting entire food groups and all the important vitamins and minerals found in them! 

Hang on, I thought sugar was bad, because it’s the stuff in cakes, biscuits and sweets, I hear you ask?  

Yes and no.  

Yes, there is sugar in our favourite sweet treats, but this is usually refined sugar (table sugar). Consuming this type of sugar in small amounts is not harmful to our health (1)It is recommended that we consume sweet foods with meals as much as possible to protect our teeth, however, cutting out sugar from our diet all together could backfire and we could end up eating more than desired. Especially in those who want to stop food obsession, or who struggle with binge eating and want to stop emotional eating (2, 3, 4).  

The other type of sugar that shouldn’t be feared, is the naturally occurring sugar found in fruits, vegetables, dairy products and wholegrains. But more about these two things later.   

Let’s first look at what a sugar actually is. I apologise, but there is a little bit of chemistry ahead. 

The chemistry…

A sugar is something that is made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms (a sugar molecule). The number of these atoms and how they are arranged, will determine the kind of sugar it ishow it behaves in food and then how it interacts once it is in your body. 

There are many different types of sugars found in foods. 

For example, the sugar found in dairy products (lactose) is different to the sugar in fruit (fructose) – they are completely different sugars and digested in different ways, but they are sugars nonetheless. 

If we were told to quit eating sugar, we’d essentially be eliminating dairy and fruit out of our diets!  

And we’d also be eliminating cereals, pasta and rice … because the complex carbohydrates found in those foods are also made up sugar molecules – lots of them (hence the name “complex”).  

Sugar, at its most basic level, is what our body needs for fuel.

But what about blood sugar levels?

One reason why there is fear surrounding sugar is because of its impact on our Blood Glucose Levels (BGLs). You might have heard someone say “oh don’t eat that, it makes your blood sugar spike”?? This is semi-true. Yes, dramatic spikes in our BGLs can affect our energy levels. Also, eating foods that are high in sugar and low in fibre could cause hunger to reappear more quickly after eatingBut this all depends on the type of the sugar that is in the food and what we eat the sugar with (e.g. protein and fats).   

We can measure how quickly a carbohydrate food makes your BGLs rise by using an international standard called the Glycaemic Index (GI) (5). Carbohydrates are rated on a scale between 0 – 100 depending on how quickly the body breaks it down to be used for energy.  

Foods with a higher GI are broken down more quickly and can cause a sharp rise in BGLs – things like a glass of sugary drink on an empty stomachwhite bread, white rice and white potatoes. However, who just eats a plate of white rice, or a whole lot of bread without a topping? No judgement if you do, but most of us prefer these with other foods most of the time. We usually eat these foods with some proteins and fats which naturally lower the GI.  

Foods with a low GI number break down more slowly and help to keep your BGLs stable – things like wholegrain bread and pasta, fresh fruit, lentils and legumes, yoghurt and milk. In fact, chocolate is low GI because it contains a high amount of fat and protein… I bet you never realised that!  

So, what’s important is the type of sugar and what we pair it with, to determine its nutritional quality and impact on your body, rather than tarnishing all sugars with the same brush!  

Naturally occurring sugars vs “free sugars”  

Now that we know what a sugar is, we can talk about naturally occurring sugar vs “free sugars”.  

Natural sugars, as the name would suggest, are those already found in the food. These often come with a host of other beneficial nutrients. For example, milk and yoghurt contains the sugar lactose as well as calcium and protein. Fresh fruit contains fructose, as well as vitamin C and fibre.  

So, what exactly are “free sugars”?  

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines it as those that are added in by either the consumer or the food manufacturer and the sugars naturally found in fruit juice, honey, syrup and fruit juice concentrates. Things like bakery items, cakes, cookies and soft drinks. It also includes the table sugar you add to your coffee in the morning.  

The WHO recommends limiting free sugars to no more than 10% of total daily energy intake (about 10 teaspoons) to reduce the risk of dental carries, chronic disease and poor diet quality (6). 

What about alternative sweeteners then?  

If we’re told that we need to reduce our sugar intake, should we turn to sugar substitutes instead? Well there are loads of sugar alternatives being used, many so that recipes can claim they’re “sugar free”, but it’s difficult to know whether they’re any better than just your regular old table sugar. 

Let’s have a look at some. 

Maple Syrup 

What it is: More commonly used as a weekend breakfast item, but it is also used in recipes as a table sugar replacementThe syrup is formed after the sap is extracted from the wild maple tree and concentrated. 

Nutrients: Contains traces of vitamins and some minerals such as potassium, iron and calcium. 

GI: 54 (7).  

Brown rice malt syrup 

What it is: An expensive replacement often used by people who follow a “sugar free” lifestyleIt is produced by cooking brown rice flour or starch and breaking it down into simpler sugars to produce a liquid.  

Nutrients: It is low in fructose and could be suitable replacement for people with fructose malabsorption.  

GI: 98 (7)  

Agave syrup 

What it is: A very sweet sugar alternative with minimal impact on BGLs. Processed from the agave plant grown in the south west of the USA and northern parts of South America. 

Nutrients: Is high in fructose, which could cause digestive distress for people with fructose intolerance. Has slightly higher calories than table sugar, 60 calories per tablespoon compared to 40 calories for the same amount of table sugar (8). 

GI: 10 (7) 

Dates 

What it is: A whole fruit  

Nutrients: Contains fibre, potassium (essential for maintaining fluid balance in the body and controlling electrical activity in the heart) and magnesium (essential for proper nerve function, muscle contraction and regulation of blood glucose level and blood pressure) 

GI: 50 (7) 

Stevia 

What it is: Made from the leaves of a native plan in Paraguay in South America, is often used in coffee as a replacement for table sugar in coffee.  

Nutrients: It is much sweeter than table sugar, with negligible calories and does not raise blood sugar.  

GI of 0 

Coconut sugar 

What it is: Made from the sap in the flower buds of a coconut palm. The sap is boiled to allow the water to evaporate and then dried to form a concentrate. It is  

Nutrients: Contains potassium, iron, zinc, and calcium according to research conducted by the Philippines Government research body, but you need to eat a lot to make a difference (9). It also contains the same number of calories as white sugar. 

GI: low GI of 54 (7) 

So, while there are many pros and cons on just this short list of the many alternatives that are available, the reality is that they are all still sugars and most of them contain energy, with little vitamin or minerals (10). And whilst sweeteners are low in calories, there is some evidence that sweeteners may actually increase our appetite (11). 

Summary

So, with all the scaremongering around sugar being harmful, the reality is that a diet that has a limited intake of sugar (whatever sugar that may be) is not harmful for a healthy individual.  

There are many foods with naturally occurring sugars that contain nutrients that are highly beneficial, so let’s not go cutting those just yet.

And then as for those free sugars which have little nutritive value? Well, a little bit of honey on toast or glazed on roast carrots can fit into a healthy diet. These foods are there for the enjoyment and satisfaction of eating and cutting them out completely could backfire and result in food obsession and binge eating. After all, who was it that once said a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down?   

Note: this article is not designed to replace individual advice from your healthcare provider.  

References 

  1. The British Dietetics Association. (2017). Sugar. Retrieved from https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/sugarAccessed on 1/03/2019.  

2. Keeler, Chelsey L., Richard D. Mattes, and Sze‐Yen Tan. “Anticipatory and reactive responses to chocolate restriction in frequent chocolate consumers.” Obesity 23.6 (2015): 1130-1135. 

3. Konttinen H, Haukkala A, Sarlio-Lahteenkorva S, Silventoinen K, Jousilahti P. Eating styles, self-control and obesity indicators. The moderating role of obesity status and dieting history on restrained eating. Appetite (2009): 53:131–4.  

4. Jansen, Esther, et al. “From the Garden of Eden to the land of plenty: Restriction of fruit and sweets intake leads to increased fruit and sweets consumption in children.” Appetite 51.3 (2008): 570-575.

5. International Organisation for Standardisation (2010). Food products — Determination of the glycaemic index (GI) and recommendation for food classification. Retrieved from https://www.iso.org/obp/ui/#iso:std:iso:26642:ed-1:v1:en. Accessed on 1/03/2019.  

6. WHO. (2015). Sugar intakes of Adults and Children. Retrieved from. https://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/guidelines/sugars_intake/en/. Accessed on 3/03/2019. 

7. The University of Sydney. (2017). Search for the Glycemic Index. Retrieved from http://www.glycemicindex.com/foodSearch.phpAccessed on 1/03/2019.  

8. Web MD. (2014). Agave: Calories, Nutrition Facts, and More. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/the-truth-about-agave#1Accessed on 1/03/2019.  

9. Medical News Today. (2018). Coconut sugar. Is it good for you? Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323047.php. Accessed on 1/03/2019. 

10. NHS Choices. (2016). Are sweeteners safe? Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/are-sweeteners-safe/. Accessed on 1/03/2019.  

11. Web MD. (2018). Is there such a thing as healthy sugar? Retrieved from  https://blogs.webmd.com/food-fitness/20181004/is-there-such-thing-as-healthy-sugar. Accessed on 1/03/2019.  

This may be the reason why you can’t stop binge eating

This may be the reason why you can’t stop binge eating

RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD

This may be the reason why you can’t stop binge eating 

KATHERINE KIMBER, Registered Dietitian

January 30th 2019

As a result of the diet culture world we live in, it has become all too common to live by “food rules”.  

These rules are usually self-imposed and dictate the types of foods that should be consumed, how much and when. Whether that’s only eating “clean” foods or eating a certain number of calories at each meal or only eating at specific times of the day, the rules can be subconscious, and very rigid.  

So, what if I said to you that it was time to ditch all these rules and give yourself unconditional permission to eat whatever you like?  

Would your response be … 

a) “I already do allow all foods in my life, but I also give myself permission NOT to eat if I don’t feel like it.

or 

b) “ummm, you mean everything like full fat dairy, chips and pastries? But, but, but … what about my health?”

If you answered a) well, good on you! You are someone who knows that all foods can be part of a varied diet, but at the same time, will know when NOT to eat and consciously choose not to do so. You are someone who does not let food control you, because you know that all food is available at any time when you need it.   

If you answered b), then you’re not alone. This article will talk about how we can incorporate all food in your life in a mindful, conscious way, without fear of eating chaotically and feeling out of control around food.   

In order to create a healthy relationship with food one of the first things we must do is give ourselves permission to eat all foods. That’s right. All foods. Without restriction.  

Internationally run self-care retreat, Green Mountain at Fox Run, states really nicely that: “many women aren’t totally sold on the idea that we’re allowed to eat what we want at first, thinking, “That’s exactly what brought me here to begin with.” But they do usually all agree that the alternative approach of restriction and deprivation hasn’t worked so well either.”

 Yes, allowing all foods to be consumed may sound scary and downright crazy, especially because diet culture has led us to believe that some foods are “good and some are “bad”. But it’s important to remember that by doing this and becoming an intuitive eater is not about letting go of your health.  

It’s about making all foods normal, so you can enjoy eating all foods in moderation without episodes of binge eating or feeling out of control. 

Having rigid rules around forbidden foods, paradoxically leads to greater restrictions, which then increases the chances of binge eating. However, if we remove the food rules and allow all foods (especially previously forbidden ones) in our life the urgency and intensity to eat decreases (1). This phenomenon is called habituation, where repeated exposure to something eventually loses its appeal. Habituation can actually be experienced in other facets of our life. For example, when you buy a new car and first drive it out of the dealership, it’s exciting. But eventually, the novelty of the new car wears off.  

This can also be applied in the context of food. So, for dieters, this means that the more a certain food is restricted, the higher the desire it is to eat because of the lack of exposure to it. If we can give ourselves full permission to eat all foods, then the “eat-this-now-before-you-never-let-yourself-eat-this-again” mentality is likely to dissipate.  

Interestingly, studies show that people who follow food rules generally display perfectionist traits (2). And that makes sense, considering that perfectionism is where a person will place large emphasis on organisation and preciseness, set high personal expectations and be self-critical if personal accomplishments are not met (2).  

So now that we understand why we need to give ourselves unconditional permission to eat, let’s break it down into simple steps of how to actually do it.  

Step 1: Change of mindset: No food is morally better than another 

Food is food! Let’s not label it as “good” or “bad” or demonise calories. Seeing all foods as equal, means your choice to eat a certain thing is not emotionally driven. So that means deciding to eat a cookie is equal to deciding to eat a salad. Neither one of those food choices has a higher moral value. If you want to eat the cookie, eat the cookie. If you want to eat the salad, eat the salad!  

Step 2: Identify your “forbidden” food and practice giving yourself permission to eat it 

Is there a particular food that you’ve previously not allowed yourself to have? Let’s name an example. Say your once “forbidden food” was ice cream. It’s now time to give yourself full permission to allow ice cream back into your life.  

For some clients, this is scary. They feel that if they give themselves permission to eat their forbidden food, they may never stop eating it.  

So how do we manage this?  

Firstly, when giving ourselves permission to eat, don’t do it when hungry! Maybe try this 30mins – 1hour after a meal. Also, perhaps try this in an environment where you feel safe, such as at work, in a restaurant, at someone else’s house, before bringing it into the home.  

So, let’s use the ice-cream example. When you desire ice-cream, pause and check in with yourself about what is driving this desire. Are you sad, tired, angry, bored? Is it just convenient to have it?  

Then have a think about the quality of the ice-cream. How will it make you feel afterwards?  

Once you’ve checked in on these things, if you still decide to eat the icecream, then do so mindfully. That is, slowing down, getting rid of any distractions and truly tuning in as you take each mouthful. As you take bites, think about the texture, taste and smell. Try to really be in the present moment throughout the whole eating experience. 

Then once you’ve finished, carry on with your day and don’t give it another thought. A big part of this process is not allowing food to occupy our minds and think about it anymore than we have to.  

Step 3: Make a plan for how you’re going to include the “forbidden foods” back into your life 

Now that you know you can have your icecream whenever you choose, plan out when you would like to practice eating mindfully with it. This helps to avoid eating it impulsively. And remember, this is practice and it’s normal to not get it perfect! Some days you may end up eating more of the icecream than you would have liked, but that’s perfectly fine! This is about gaining confidence that you can trust your body and discover that no one food has power over you.   

Giving yourself permission is a process. And it takes practiceIf there are days where you overeat, instead of being critical, get curious about what was going on that day. The key is not to beat yourself up over it! After all, there are much worse things you could do than eat some chocolate!  

For more on how to stop binge eating, how to stop food obsession, emotional eating, stress eating, yo-yo dieting, and how to start intuitive eating check out my FREE download. This will guide you through some of the first steps to support you through your food problems. You will learn how to stop food obsession, and how to start intuitive eating

References 

  1. Tribole E, Resch E. Intuitive Eating, 3rd ed. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press; 2012 
  2. Brown, A. J., Parman, K. M., Rudat, D. A., & Craighead, L. W. (2012). Disordered eating, perfectionism, and food rules. Eating Behaviors, 13(4), 347-353. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2012.05.011