So much has been written about sugar recently, it’s certainly replaced saturated fat as the ‘big bad’ of the nutrition world and for good reason. Generally I don’t like to put ‘good’ and ‘bad’ labels on food (is sugar really that evil?) but that is a hard one when it comes to refined sugar! Ultimately for me, it comes down to how much you choose to eat it.
There’s loads of issues with eating too much sugar, one of which is the crazy things it does to your energy levels.
This is a really personal topic for me. For years before I ‘got healthy’ I would eat a lot of sugary foods, including some like ordinary muesli that I thought were pretty healthy. Apart from being overweight, I didn’t feel that bad at the time. Fast forward to after I’d started to eat better, when I did have a sugary treat, I would really feel like total crap. My body couldn’t tolerate the sugar any more and even now my version of healthy has become more balanced, I really feel the impact when I’ve been eating too much sugar, including naturally sweet things.
Now when I say I feel like crap, what I’m talking about is the huge impact these foods have on my energy levels. As I’m still up several times a night with Finley, I just can’t take that hit and function very well! I did a vlog about how I started to tackle the sugar cravings I was having in response to that energy rollercoaster and it’s worked really well.
Now when I work with 1-2-1 clients, the biggest negative impact of sugar is the impact it has on energy levels and the inevitable vicious circle that follows. The only way to tackle it is to break that sugar / energy cycle, and here are my top tips for doing it.
Breaking the sugar / energy cycle
1. Start your day with protein – this is my number 1 tip for a reason, it absolutely works! Starting your day off the right way with a protein-rich breakfast will help to get your energy levels balanced right away and that will have a positive impact for the rest of the day. When you eat a muffin, pastry or even that bowl of muesli I mentioned, you aren’t getting enough protein or fat to balance your energy levels from the get-go. For me, you just can’t beat eggs for a breakfast that will get you going in the right way.
2. Never eat sugar or carbs on their own – this means no single pieces of fruit, no fruit juice and even no bowls of porridge without something added to it (if you just can’t face giving up porridge for breakfast!) Make sure you eat them with a source of protein or fat. That might be adding some nut butter to your porridge (or even an egg for super creamy protein-rich porridge), a handful of nuts to your apple and skipping the fruit juice for water to skip the sugar altogether.
3. Have some protein-rich, low sugar snack options available – snacking is often where it all goes wrong! Having some snacking options available will prevent you heading for the vending machine or biscuit barrel! Great ideas are veggie sticks with hummus or nut butter, greek yoghurt, nuts, plain popcorn or rice or corn cakes with avocado.
4. Try some sweet tea – ok I know that a herbal tea is not a replacement for a chocolate bar… but they can really help give you that sweet hit when you need it. My favourite teas for this are Tea Pigs Peppermint and Liquorice and Pukka Vanilla Chai tea. Both are caffeine-free and delicious!
5. Review how often you eat – if you currently have several snacks during the day, try out eating larger main meals and see if that has a positive impact on your energy levels. If you currently eat large main meals then try adding in some smaller snacks. The idea here is to experiment with how often you eat and find out what works for your body in terms of maximising energy and reducing hunger. There is no right or wrong, just what works for you!
Let me just reiterate that I don’t believe that naturally sweet foods like fruit, or carbs like wholegrains, are ‘bad’ – with all forms of sugar and, like everything else, it really depends on what works for your body. If your energy levels are slumping at 10am after having porridge for breakfast, that might mean for you porridge isn’t the best option. Even if porridge isn’t the best thing for you, that also doesn’t mean you can never have it. This is where common sense and balance come in. Think about what you eat and how you feel across a whole week and make adjustments.
If you try these tips out and still find your energy levels are up and down and you crave a lot of sugar, it might be that going cold turkey with a full on sugar detox is what you need. For that, I totally recommend the I Quit Sugar 8 Week Programme or the 21 Day Sugar Detox.
Now I almost always have eggs in some shape or form for breakfast because what I eat first thing has a tremendous impact on how I feel for the rest of the day. I’m currently experimenting with a different eating pattern too.
How are your energy levels? Do you find that sugar has a big impact on how you feel?
It’s so true about porridge – I always have to add coconut oil or nut butter to it or otherwise I’m hungry again in an hour or so. With the added fat I can go till lunchtime usually. I find with snacking the trick is to stock my desk drawer with good things and then I don’t need to go to the shop to find something to keep me going till I get home. Apart from those pesky work treats people bring in! :)
I’m just the same, the fat makes such a difference with porridge!
Ahh sugar, my friend and foe! You’re so right about choosing snacks wisely. I snack on nuts and Babybel cheeses and they leave me satisfied and not wanting more. Whereas sometimes I’d used to have those lower calorie crisps and they would do absolutely nothing for me! I’d be hungry and wanting more straight after even if the calories were comparable to the nuts.
I’ve personally never had a problem with porridge for breakfast. It’s probably more a mental thing than anything that when I have my porridge I feel really full and sustained for hours afterwards. Though a cooked breakfast is always good too ;-)
Oh I haven’t had a babybel in ages! And yep a cooked breakfast does the trick for fullness for sure!
Yes! I am currently stuck back in a sugar trap where I crave it and yet it makes me feel crappy. I really needed reminding to up my protein in the mornings. When I did a no-sugar diet last year it made a phenomenal difference to my energy and mood.
It’s such a pain how it can creep back in, hope you get on well with that extra protein in the morning!
I really want to get into having more protein rich breakfasts, I tend to always have porridge (with nut butter, of course) or a sprinkling of granola (homemade or shop bought with good quality ingredients) with full fat greek yoghurt and some berries. Eggs don’t always quite sit right with me, and I tend not to have them too often, but perhaps just one day a week an omelette or some other style of eggs would be a good idea.
I honestly cannot agree with you more that having some good snacks with you at all times will make a world of difference. Without them, it’s always so easy to make some irrational decisions and you eating something not so healthy. A little pot of nuts and a square or two of really dark chocolate (85-90%) always does the trick for me.
I think there’s a lot of over-complication when it comes to what’s healthy and what’s not. Just keeping things simple, and balanced, and allowing yourself something indulgent every once in a while is a good way to live :)
She’s So Lucy
Love dark chocolate as a day time snack. Sometimes when I have it on an evening it gets me wired, but it can really crush the cravings during the day.
This is an awesome post with great advice. I completely agree that if I start the day with a sugary breakfast with no fats or protein then I crave it throughout the day and I eat more frequently! I feel so much better when I have a good heap of fat and protein with each meal :)
Thanks Lauren! Yep, it makes such a difference doesn’t it!
I love porridge for breakfast, but I make it with some chia seeds (I soak it all overnight so they soak up the liquid) and normally have a bit of peanut butter in there, as well as some fruit. I have it around 7am and generally don’t have lunch til gone 12.30 (no break time so I can’t have a snack in the morning) and it’s been fine for me. If at the weekends I have apple and muesli I do feel I get hungry sooner, so I don’t have that on a work day.
I agree there is a danger of labeling foods as good and bad, because it is overall the combination of what you eat that counts. Plus so many people cut out sugar but replace it with artificial sweeteners which personally I think are a lot worse.
Really good point on the artificial sweeteners, I agree, I’d rather have some sugar occasionally than loads of the bad artificial stuff.
I’ve recently learnt a lot about sugar, and the hidden sugars in all the products we think are healthy and it literally blew my mind. I watched “Fed Up” on Netflix to begin with and that really opened my eyes and I’ve been obsessed ever since. There really should be more opportunity to learn about nutrition and what we’re putting into our bodies and our childrens bodies – I wish I’d of known sooner.
It’s something I really struggle with so thanks for sharing these tips, definitely going to try these and see if it helps curb the cravings!
I absolutely agree, I wish education was better for our kids!
I’m loving this! I’m currently in the process of changing my lifestyle and cutting back on my sugar intake. I’m finding the MyFitness App is helping me heaps! As I get to see every little single thing i’m eating. My biggest weakness is those darn energy drinks! I can’t get enough of them. Especially being a uni student and feeling like I need to depend on them to keep me going throughout the day! From cutting back on heaps of sugary and processed foods though, I do notice my energy improving throughout the day! Maybe i’ll be able to wean myself off the sugary drinks soon!
Thanks Talia! I’m sure you’ll be able to wean yourself off those drinks, I know it can be tough though! Just take it a day at a time, try cutting back slowly each week and you’ll get there!
This article really hit home with me. Before I understood the amount of sugar that’s in certain foods (like muesli or fruit juice) my mood as well as my energy levels went up and down like crazy. As soon as I started eating healthier and less sugar my energy levels were so much better and I felt so much happier and less anxious!
I love what you said about learning what’s best for your body, I couldn’t agree more!
I’m so glad the article was useful for you Issie, I think so many more people need to see what those foods are doing to their energy levels!