Whether it's lollies, a can of soft drink or that trusty chocolate bar that always hits the spot when the 4pm slump hits, few of us can avoid reaching for a sugary treat to get us through the afternoon.
Who can blame us? The sweet stuff not only seems to ease day-to-day stresses, it also increases our energy levels and makes us feel good. It's little surprise then that we're addicted to sugar; consuming on average a whopping 14 teaspoons of sugar every day. The downside is sugar can impact our waistline, skin and mood — making our cravings for something sweet much less innocent than they may appear.
There's plenty of chatter about ditching the sweet stuff entirely and going sugar-free, but simply cutting back can make a big difference to your health and mental wellbeing.
Here are four ways to give yourself a sweet little lift without the added sugar.
Sugar taps into the brain's reward system, giving us an instant high. But that feeling quickly wears off and then we feel sluggish all over again.
Exercise has a longer-lasting effect. A quick walk in the park or cardio class stimulates endorphins (feel-good chemicals) in the brain to provide a natural lift that lasts long after that bag of lollies.
If you lace up your trainers regularly, you'll also sleep better and feel less stressed. Win, win.
And not just to talk you down from eating another lolly...
Studies suggest people who socialise regularly with friends are less likely to suffer from the low mood that in turn triggers comfort eating. Loneliness is also a major contributing factor in low energy levels, especially as we get older.
Finding the time to chat to friends can be tricky when we're all so busy, but factoring in some time to catch up every week can make all the difference to your mood (and those sugary cravings).
Yes, we know, swapping a sugar-coated finger bun for veggie sticks and almond butter doesn't exactly sound appealing, but hear us out.
Most of us have experienced a sugar crash after over-doing it at the office treat table. The science behind this is simple: cake and chips cause a blood sugar spike. Once this wears off, your blood sugar plummets and you feel lethargic and irritable.
When you eat a balanced diet filled with satiating foods like boiled eggs, oily fish and nut butter (plus plenty of water) your blood sugar stabilises so the highs and lows don't happen as frequently. You'll have more energy, and probably also find you crave sugary foods less.
Stress and lack of sleep are the main triggers for a comforting sugar binge. The odd junk food pick-me-up after a restless night isn't anything to feel guilty about, but doing so frequently rewires the reward receptors in the brain making cravings more difficult to control.
When you're feeling stressed, exhausted or anxious, try to relax the mind with a calming treatment like a massage or a facial, or run a bath, head to a yoga class or try meditation. Releasing pent up emotions will give you the head space you need to rebalance the mind so you can eat and sleep better.
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