Blame the Sugar! Dealing with the white stuff this season
How do you deal with the white stuff at Christmas? And I don’t mean snow…
Sugar is all around us (that could almost be a Christmas song!) and the sweet stuff can be hard to avoid, especially at this time of year. It’s on the supermarket shelves, it’s at school concerts and bazaars, at Christmas parties, church events, and gatherings with friends and families.
And even if this year we may not got to as many of these events as normal, we still want to have some Christmas treats at home. This video and blog explain how sugar itself can cause us to eat too much of it, and suggest strategies for enjoying some treats without getting trapped in the cycle.
My son’s school had a Christmas bingo night last Friday, and we won 3 prizes! Two bottles of wine were great, but we also came home with a box of about 100 biscuits and a huge box of Milk Tray. So, there are some added challenges at this time of year that can lead us to eat more than we really want to. And that’s the key; there is no list of ‘banned foods’ that you must avoid this season to stay healthy. It’s perfectly possible to have a healthy attitude to food and still enjoy some sugary snacks.
There are many reasons for overeating, and as many reasons for overeating sugar. It could be self-sabotage, emotional eating, or a Christmas habit that appears once a year. But if it’s one of those things, then there’s probably a pattern where you find you struggle at other times of the year too. But I believe that most of the overeating at Christmas is caused by the sugar cycle: you eat something sugary, your blood sugar levels spike, you feel good and buzzy and enjoy the taste. Lots of insulin is released to bring the blood sugar levels down and then you experience a bit of a crash or a low, and either consciously or not, you seek out something else to replace the good feeling again. You’ll notice this pattern happening.
Lots of sugary foods are also ultra-processed foods that meet that ‘sweet spot’. They are the perfect combination of sweet and salt, of savoury and of sugar. Things like Pringles, chocolates, crisps, and pastries, that once you start eating them, you don’t want to stop. And these ultra-processed foods don’t have the fibre in them that fills you up. They are manufactured to go down very easily: easy to chew, easy to swallow, to be very comfortable to eat and not require not much effort at all.
And when you digest these foods, they are quickly absorbed because unlike the whole foods we are designed to eat most of the time, they don’t contain the fibre to slow down the digestive process. And you won’t feel as full eating these foods as you would eating whole foods, even though you may eat the same volume. So, both sugar and ultra-processed foods can make us want to eat more. And the more we eat, the more we want to eat.
So, what can we do about it?
1. It’s important to recognise what’s going on, to recognise what sugar and what ultra-processed foods do, and to recognise that it’s not your fault! This is a physiological reaction that happens when our body gets into the sugar cycle. You’re not weak willed, you’re not necessarily emotionally eating, but you need to be aware that if you get into that cycle, it can carry on. So, it’s important to recognise it but also to not want to do it. In the moment, we might want to carry on eating those ‘comfort foods’, but we need to think about the bigger picture and consider whether we really want to be stuck in the cycle.
One mistake people make is thinking they can skip meals or skip healthy snacks because they’re eating lots of other things. When people are concerned with how many calories they are eating they may think “I’ll just skip a meal. I know I’m going to eat junk today, so I’ll just eat junk”. But because there’s no fibre in it, junk food won’t satisfy you. You will just keep eating, and you’ll end up eating more than if you had a few healthy, whole food meals and snacks thrown in. At Christmas time, try to plan in some healthy, whole foods, because that will help you at help you feel fuller, you won’t reach for quite as much sugar, and you’ll be able to stop sooner too.
2. One of the things that we can do is distract ourselves. Despite the adverts that try to convince us otherwise, this time of year is not all about the food! We know it’s really about people, worship, community and fellowship, kindness, goodness, joy, and hope. So, distract yourself by focussing on other things: focus on conversation, focus on playing, focus on talking, focus on the music, the smells, the views, the weather, the Bible, and worship. What can you turn your thoughts to and what can you allow your mind to dwell on?
3. Another solution is to plan some alternatives to the sugary snacks. This could be something as simple as having a hot drink as you walk past the snack box or having a knitting project on the go for times you feel you need to keep your hands busy. Have some dried fruit and nuts, dark chocolate, fresh dates, or satsumas available, as these alternatives are less likely to push you into that sugar cycle. Think about ways you can change your environment to reduce the temptation to overeat. Could you make the sugary and ultra-processed foods less visible, at least at home? And perhaps have the healthier alternatives on display, perhaps a big fruit bowl or a pretty crate of wrapped satsumas?
Just as the sugar cycle can build and literally go on a roll, your control cycle can get stronger too. The more that you say: “no thank you”, and you make the decision to walk past the chocolates, the stronger you’ll get. You’ll feel better and you’ll be more able to choose what you would like to eat, when you’d like to eat it, and to enjoy it. Above all, don’t be down on yourself; the sugar cycle can get us all! But if you can recognise it, decide you want to stop it and use the ideas here to break out of it, you can beat it.
We cover this and lots of other reasons for overeating in our Healthy Whole and Free course, which starts on 12th January. Full registration is opening next week, but in the meantime, you can find out more and register your interest here.