Here, holistic nutritionist Joy McCarthy tells us about a common health problem she’s seen in her practice and how she came to a solution.
The Client: Carolina, 28, ER nurse.
The Problem: She used sweet treats as a reward after a long day in the hopes of easing stress and anxiety, when in fact this very habit was contributing to what she was trying to avoid.
Carolina prided herself on the fact that she ate plenty of fruits and vegetables throughout the day. I got a first-hand look into her fridge during a kitchen raid at her house (as part of my “Joyous Health” nutrition services) and she was right — there was plenty of fresh fruit. But lurking in the back of her kitchen cabinets were chips, cookies, crackers and her favorite boxed cereal, Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Carolina admitted she often ate it by the handful after dinner to satisfy her cravings. Her after-dinner snacks translated to: refined carbs, sugar, salt, preservatives and foods with a high glycemic index (causing “spikes” of glucose to rapidly enter the bloodstream).
These were her other concerns and probable causes:
- Poor sleep quality — When your blood sugar is imbalanced from refined and excessive carbs, this prevents you from getting a deep sleep.
- Stress and anxiety — Refined foods lacking in essential vitamins and minerals promote both stress and anxiety. They deplete you of the very nutrients you need to deal with stress — vitamin B, vitamin C and minerals such as calcium and magnesium. On the flip side, being stressed promotes the secretion of cortisol, which promotes further cravings and weight gain.
- Emotional eating — When she was bored after a long day at work or when she had a fight with her boyfriend, she would resort to eating carbs to soothe herself or take her mind off her problems.
Solutions after the jump.
1. Stress reduction — Caroline couldn’t quit her demanding job, but she could focus on stress-reducing activities. This would indirectly help with the carb cravings she was using as a source of comfort. I suggested she consider the following:
- Walking every night after work for 30 minutes, or going for a light jog.
- Closing her eyes and breathing deeply 10 times, at least five distinct times throughout the day.
- Eliminating or dealing with the sources of relationship stress. I didn’t suggest she break up with her boyfriend, but I did suggest she address her concerns in a healthy way instead of turning to food.
- Write down her worries, fears and stressors in a daily journal.
- Wake up every single morning and read a positive affirmation to herself aloud.
- Surround herself with positive people like her girlfriends and family. She had a great network of friends, but isolated herself far too often when she was feeling particularly stressed out from work.
2. Eat lean protein sources at every single meal — Protein is thermogenic, meaning it stimulates metabolic rate and balances blood sugar. Good sources of protein include: eggs, chicken, turkey, fish, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, quinoa, leafy green vegetables, chia and tempeh.
3. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper — Most people still skip or limit the most important meal of the day — breakfast! This is a fatal mistake, because breakfast very effectively balances your blood sugar and stimulates your metabolism for the day (gets your fat-burning engines going). Time and time again, I’ve found the clients who are habitual breakfast-skippers are almost always the ones addicted to evening carbs.
4. Focus on low glycemic fruits for snacking — Carolina loved mangoes, melon and dried fruit. These fruits contain nutrients, but are not my first pick for someone already suffering from carb cravings. Instead I suggested she eat pears, apples and berries. These fruits provide a much slower release of sugar into the bloodstream, effectively preventing evening carb cravings.
5. Boost your nutrients — According to Dr. Natasha Turner, daily supplementation with four to six grams of omega-3 fish oil and 2000 – 5000 IU of vitamin D3 has documented benefits for anxiety/stress, craving control and fat loss.
Joy McCarthy, Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Health Coach of Joyous Health, loves to inspire others to eat well and live well. Co-creator of Eat Well Feel Well a holistic nutrition & yoga program in Toronto.
Please note: This advice is not meant to treat or diagnose, please consult a certified practitioner or your family doctor for any serious health issues.