Hi everyone, this week I thought I’d go to a topic a lot of people have experience with, to a greater or lesser extent. The seemingly never-ending carb binge cycle. For some people this might mean being super careful for a few days, then caving in to a couple of slices of pizza, whereas for others it might mean going into full scale binge mode that can last for days. The latter would explain where my eating habits were for many years. I used to think that unless you had a serious issue with bingeing, then it wasn’t really a problem. Whether it’s a packet of Jaffa cakes in one go, or consuming 2000 calories in one sitting, it’s not a lot of fun to be going around in the same carb craving cycle, and no one wants to feel that the Jaffa cakes have control over them, rather than the other way around.
So why do we tend to binge on carbs? The emotional aspects of bingeing are well documented, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell you that you are more likely to binge when you are going through a stressful time. However, what about physiological mechanisms? Are there chemical changes that occur that might be underpinning and exacerbating emotional factors? Having spent decades of my life trying all sorts of approaches to ending the binge cycle, I’ve found that they either fall into the physical approach or the emotional/spiritual approach. Both are important, and both have helped me along the way, but it’s only been in the last couple of months that I feel I’ve noticed a significant change in the way I approach stabilising my eating patterns, and it’s interesting for me to realise that the two approaches are equally important.
From a physical point of view, it’s important to understand that our bodies run off sugar, or more specifically, glucose. It is our primary source of fuel, and in fact our brain and central nervous system are completely dependent upon a steady supply. This is why we are naturally inclined to eat carbohydrates – it’s what our body requires to function. The ketogenic diet, which is about as low carb as you can go, is about fuelling your body in a very different way, for specific circumstances, so we’ll put that to one side. In general though, a long-term low carb diet is going to be tricky for a number of reasons, but in particular for those people who are prone to bingeing. Low carb literally sets you up for a binge – it’s just a question of when.
When we eat foods that are high in carbohydrates, they are broken down into their constituent sugars and absorbed into the blood stream. The body responds to high levels of sugar in the blood by releasing insulin from the pancreas to help glucose into the cells, where it can be used to produce energy. Different types of carbohydrates affect blood sugar levels in varying ways. Highly processed, sugar and fat laden foods are often broken down quickly and cause a spike in blood glucose levels, followed by a corresponding low. These foods aren’t feeding your brain with what it needs in a sustained way, so you feel hungry soon after – which is why once you start eating it can become very difficult to stop, and can lead to a full scale binge. Whereas sugar from fruit, starchy vegetables and a little raw honey or a Medjool date or two will provide your brain with the glucose it needs, but will not cause the same spike in blood sugar levels and will reduce the need to keep eating.
Given what I’ve said above, one of the most important habits you can get into to support you in ending the binge cycle, is to eat small meals/snacks at regular intervals. Three meals a day won’t cut it – you’ll be better off seeing yourself as a “grazer”. It doesn’t have to be forever, but for the foreseeable future. You can still have “main” meals, but make sure you cut the portions down, to make up for the regular snacking. And by regular, I mean eating something, no matter how small, every 2 hours (or if you really are stuck in the binge cycle, then eat every 90 minutes). It doesn’t have to be much: an apple, or another piece of fruit, 2 dates, a spoonful of raw honey, a spoonful of almond butter, some sticks of celery (or other veg) with a mini pot of hummus, a cup of home-made soup, a small smoothie or a freshly made fruit and veg juice. It just needs to be enough to give your brain what it needs so that you aren’t tricked into thinking what it’s really after is that Starbucks muffin. Additionally, if you are eating healthy snacks then you are providing your body with all the other nutrition that comes with fresh fruit and vegetables. It might seem like a pain to start with, but eating this way really does reduce your cravings and the desire to binge.
If you are worried that you’ll spend the whole day eating and the scales will start to go up, don’t worry, this really shouldn’t happen as you’ll find yourself less able to sit down to a large meal. But to start with, you may have to make a conscious effort to ensure your main meals aren’t the size they used to be. I know from my own personal experience doing this, that actually the weight has been coming off.
Although there are other aspects from a diet and nutrition point of view, this is the key point: eat regularly and make sure your snacks are fruit and veg based, as well as ensuring your larger meals also contain some form of fruit and vegetables (the more the merrier). I will do another blog about the wonders of celery juice, as this is also something that can be used to help reduce cravings. But one step at a time.
From an emotional point of view, this will vary from person to person. It’s important that you do look at what potential emotional triggers you have, but is too big a subject to go into here. I know from my own personal experience what I’ve found helpful, but it is very much each to their own. However, lately I’ve become more and more interested in incorporating essential oils into my practice, and I’ve found them to be a big help with reducing cravings. They work on a physiological as well as an emotional level, so I thought I’d just mention them here as they are definitely worth trying out. I followed Dr Axe’s advice on reducing sugar cravings by using a combination of ginger, cinnamon and grapefruit essential oil (not to be confused with grapefruit seed extract). I put a couple of drops of each into some carrier oil and rub into the soles of my feet twice a day. I found that there was one day where I had real difficulty controlling my desire to just eat an entire bakery, and realised that I’d forgotten to use the oils. Now I cannot say for sure if this was the reason, but it was interesting to note. I also use other oils that I put in my diffuser – I tend to go for DoTerra Essential Oils, as I personally feel these are the best quality oils you can buy – plus I love their diffuser. I use ones to help with relaxation, such as lavender, or bergamot to help with self-acceptance and ylang ylang to help with any inner child healing. They can work on a vibrational level – so yes they smell heavenly, but it goes much deeper than that. They make it harder for you to remain in a low vibration. May sound whacky to some, but I literally feel my mood lift as I sit with my diffuser bubbling away in the background. They also help with me reaching for the cupboards when I’m sitting around working at home.
The last thing I’d say to anyone who has tried time and time again to break the cycle and always found themselves back in the same situation year in year out, is that it’s better not to be too rigid about things. Set yourself out a general aim to eat regularly and use a few oils, but don’t write yourself up a program to follow. Often people who binge can be prone to perfectionism – falling off the wagon by even a biscuit or two can be an excuse to press the sod it button, so maybe don’t set yourself such high expectations. Just start integrating these concepts slowly, and after a few weeks you’ll realise that it’s becoming easier and easier to keep your eating balanced. I’ve had times in the past where I’ve gone a few months eating pretty well and feeling good about things, but all the time I had this sense of knowing that there would come a day when it would all go pear-shaped. For the first time ever, I don’t have that feeling. I’m just enjoying not being on the merry go round ?
Ok, I hope that helps a few people. See you next week.
Sources and further information: www.diabetes.org.uk, www.draxe.com, www.medicalmedium.com