In this week’s edition of Ask a Health Coach, Erin answers more of your questions from the Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook group. She’ll be discussing strategies on the best way to go Primal, the real reasons we crave sugar (and what to do about it), and what happens when we all go back to work and have to wear real clothes. Got more questions? Keep them coming on the MDA Facebook page or in the comments below.
“I’m planning on starting the Primal Blueprint next week. Better to dive in 100% or do it more gradually?”
As you might have guessed, some people do great diving right in, while others find it too overwhelming and have more success with a gradual approach. I think the bigger question we need to ask here is: what will make you stick with it for the long term?
For the record, the Primal Blueprint isn’t a diet or a workout routine — two things that have “short-term” written all over them. It’s not an all-or-nothing approach either. The Primal Blueprint is based on an 80/20 principle that allows you to abide by the theories of ancestral living without worrying about a French fry here or a glass of red wine there.
The key is to know yourself well enough to understand what works best for you. Do you have proof that you’re better going cold turkey rather than dipping your toe in? Or maybe you’ve always been more successful taking baby steps. Look at all the areas of your life — all the times you thrived when there was zero room for negotiating versus not wanting the pressure of everything needing to be perfect 100% of the time.
There’s not a ton of research out there about which is better, but this study 1shows that you’re more likely to stick with a new diet and exercise routine by making small changes. However, this study 2 contradicts that finding, saying that going all out in the beginning can influence how well you do in the long-term.
For some, the immediate reward of dropping a bunch of water weight with an all-in approach can be really gratifying. For others, starting gradually can feel less scary and more comfortable.
No matter which way you decide to pursue it, it’s important to be 100% committed to the changes you’re making, knowing that 80/20 doesn’t mean you have a free pass to binge on ice cream or stay out late 20% of the time. And if you’re not totally committed, you might be better off taking a step back to figure out why this change is important to you in the first place.
“I know sugar is bad for me, but why do I crave it so much?”
Since you’re already aware of sugar’s health-degrading properties, I’ll save you the lecture and the research. But you bring up an interesting question. Why do we crave it so damn much?
Any kind of emotional or psychological dependence on sugary foods, or even foods that convert to sugar in the body is classified as a sugar addiction. So, we’re on a similar playing field to other addictions like cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol.
Sugar provides a quick fix 3 that takes the edge off a stressful day. It makes staying at home under quarantine a little more bearable. And gives us a jolt of dopamine, even if it’s only temporary.
The reason we crave it so much is because it allows us to cope. It helps us change our reality (or our perception of our reality) in the moment. That need to want to change where we’re at is so strong sometimes, it overrides our innate knowledge that sugar is bad for us.
Three main reasons we crave sugar:
Stress. The more stressed out we are, the more intense cravings can be. Think about healthier ways you can relieve your stress like doing a few minutes of diaphragmatic breathing 4 or going for a walk outside before choosing to rip through a bag of M&Ms.
Sleep. Skimping on sleep can send you looking for a hit of energy 5 before most people log into their first Zoom meeting of the day. When you eat sugary meals like pancakes, cereal, or even a fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt, you’ll end up feeling more tired as soon as your blood sugar starts to crash.
Emotions. What thoughts, emotions, people, or places bring on your cravings for sugar? The more awareness you can have on these subjects, the better off you’ll be — and the fewer cravings you’ll have to deal with.
“Ok. I’ve really let myself go these last few months. Any tips for getting back on track? You know, for when I have to wear real clothes again?”
Here’s an idea. Love where you are, right now. And if you can’t do that, try giving it some respect. Now, before you start rolling your eyes, hear me out. The human body is an incredible, multifaceted, miraculous organism that keeps you alive. It effortlessly adapts to the nutrient-dense foods and fresh air you give it — and just-as-effortlessly course-corrects when you inevitably mess it up. So, the least you can do is show it some appreciation.
Micromanaging your macros, obsessing, or forcing your body to look like it did 10 years ago or 10 weeks ago is a serious waste of time. Trust me.
I spent way too many years wishing some parts of my body were smaller, wishing some were bigger, and hating on my stretch marks and dimples; and I regret those years of lost joy. It can be hard living in a world that’s obsessed with “perfect” physiques, but here’s the thing. Your body is already perfect as-is. It knows how to breathe. How to pump blood through your veins. And how to let you know when it needs fuel. Frickin’ amazing!
The time we spend bad-mouthing our already perfect bodies is unbelievable. So what if you’ve gained a few pounds or got softer in a few places? Instead of focusing on the parts that might have changed over these past few months, start loving on the ones that have kept you alive all these years. And if you can’t love on them, at the very least, start respecting the hell out of ‘em.
Erin Power is an NBHWC board-certified health coach and the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She’s also the co-host of Health Coach Radio, the podcast by health coaches, for health coaches. Erin lives outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on a hobby farm in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.