How to Eat to Curb Sugar & Alcohol Cravings
Prolonged alcohol use and nutrition issues often occur hand in hand, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that nutrition can be used to heal our bodies from alcohol AND manage the cravings that can make resisting a drink so challenging.
But, why are cravings for alcohol so intense when we are trying to cut back?
A few reasons, actually:
Nutrition deficiencies can position our bodies to experience craving more intensely
Stress can amplify cravings for both sugar and alcohol, and for many of us looking to quit, alcohol was what we used to manage stress.
Our external environment (social setting, work culture, etc.) can make resisting much harder
Our internal environment can become damaged after alcohol exposure, so many of our body functions are in need of some TLC, which can be uncomfortable and lead to cravings
Optimizing what we eat, the timing of our meals and supporting our nutrition with supplements can:
Reverse the effects of prolonged alcohol use
The Science Behind Cravings
So many of my clients feel that lack of willpower prevents them from achieving their goals with alcohol, but we know that there are systems within the body that can create an environment conducive to substance abuse, so when it comes to preventing cravings, it’s important to understand what may be working against you and how you can modify your nutrition to set yourself up for success.
3 Major Body Systems Linked to Cravings:
The brain is by far the strongest contributor to how intensely we experience cravings. You’ve probably heard of your brain’s reward centers— the region of our brain that produces feelings of reward or pleasure.
These reward centers are driven by chemicals called neurotransmitters that produce hormones that give us feelings of pleasure or calmness. Low levels of these neurotransmitters can result in a stronger drive to drink, and can also intensify cravings for substances that make us feel good (alcohol, sugar, etc.)
These neurotransmitters rely on nutrition precursors to function properly so by tweaking our diet to eat in a way that supports their function, we can optimize the levels of our body’s feel good hormones and in our bodies and diminish our cravings.
The brain’s connection to the gut is an emerging area of research, and much of the research shows that improving the gut environment can also improve the health of our brains.
The gut is one body system greatly altered by prolonged alcohol use and those who regularly use alcohol likely have a gut that is out of balance which impacts the entire system’s ability to function AND likely exacerbates our brain’s function, further driving those cravings.
For example, one of our important feel good hormones is called Serotonin and it is thought that this hormone is largely produced in the gut.
The Endocrine System (Blood sugar balance)
Up to 95% of heavy drinkers experience low blood sugar or glucose dysfunction. A person experiencing this may have increased cravings and a tendency toward alcohol consumption.
Sugar and carbohydrates play a huge role in this balance. Sugar, like alcohol, activates our brain’s reward system and may trigger a “hit” creating sensations similar to a high. This is why many people turn to sugar to help them cut other addictive substances, but, when it comes to eliminating cravings, we want to stop that craving cycle altogether.
Foods with an immediate impact on reducing cravings
While healing the three body systems discussed above should be a priority when recovering from alcohol use, healing the brain and gut can take some time and effort. But, managing our body’s blood sugar is one step we can take to immediately reduce cravings for alcohol and sugar.
How? It’s really very easy, and just involves a few tweaks to your diet. Here are some foods that you can start to add to your diet:
Protein-rich foods – Incorporating protein at each meal helps to maintain fullness and prevent blood glucose spikes. Expert tip: Protein also helps nourish our feel-good hormones
Pair a source of carbohydrate with protein to maintain blood glucose levels and preventing cravings
Eat at least 10g of protein with every meal and snack
Eat every 3-4 hours
Fiber-rich foods – fiber slows the digestion of foods, so pairing carbohydrates with fiber, or eating fiber-rich carbs, will result in slower release of glucose into the blood, preventing blood sugar imbalances that lead to cravings. Expert tip: Fiber also helps in healing our gut.
Healthy Fats – healthy fats also contribute to blood glucose balance by slowing the digestion of food and keeping you fuller longer. This is because fat takes longer for our bodies to process, so any food consumed with fat will be released into our blood at a slower rate. Expert tip: Fat also supports a healthy brain, gut and improves our body’s ability to absorb some very important vitamins that are depleted with alcohol use.
Because sugar and foods that quickly convert to sugar in the body (refined carbohydrate rich-foods) have a similar impact on the brain’s dopamine receptors it is common for those looking to cut alcohol to reach for sugar-rich foods. In order to stop this cycle of dopamine activation and eliminate cravings we also want to try to limit these foods.
Looking to curb cravings with the support of supplements? Start with these:
The research on supplementation to diminish cravings is promising. These are the three supplements I recommend to anyone looking to cut cravings. You can also click here to learn more about our Functional Sobriety supplement line >>
L-Glutamine: an amino acid found in protein-rich foods that supports the gut and brain
Converts to glucose for the brain without contributing to insulin spikes
Contributes to the production of a neurotransmitter called GABA which induces a feeling of calm
NAC: boosts something called glutathione, one of the body’s key antioxidants.
It has been suggested to regulate glutamate in the brain by upregulating its transporter thereby reducing neuronal dysfunction.
Research has indicated a reduction in cravings and recovery from alcohol use disorder.
B Complex: B vitamins are heavily depleted with prolonged alcohol use,
research has suggested that alcohol cravings are due in a large part to the depletion of these vitamins
supplementation may drastically lessen the desire to drink
These principals are the foundation of how we use nutrition to support changing our alcohol use behavior and begin healing our bodies from the damage of regular alcohol use.
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