In our bodies, everything is connected. Our sense of touch can change our mood. Our sense of sight affects our perception of flavor. Our sense of smell can transport us to a fond memory. And our sense of taste — it can dictate what we choose to put in our bodies, and how we feel.
While we know that some sugars like refined white sugar aren't healthy, we struggle to give it up, or even reduce our sugar intake. Today we speak to avid gardener and founder of Sugar Detox Me, Summer Rayne Oakes, to find out how we can take better care of ourselves by conquering those sugar cravings.
Splendid Spoon: Hi Summer Rayne! What led you to create Sugar Detox Me?
Summer Rayne Oakes: I’d always struggled with a sweet tooth, which I think is the case for many of us. I also realized I’d never gone a day without sugar. I wanted to see if I could have a healthier relationship with it. It takes time and energy to commit to changing these sugar habits, but I felt I had the opportunity to do so when I started to work in the world of sustainable food.
SS: Sugar cravings are powerful and hard to ignore. How can we control and be more aware of them?
SRO: Lifestyle changes can take time. Everyone’s body and constitution is different, and even life scenarios can change at the drop of a hat. For instance, some people can stop smoking cold turkey, while others have a more challenging haul. The same goes for sugar.
I think the key, however, is managing your scenarios the best you can — so take a more preventive approach. It’s hard to always win a craving. I believe that perfection is about the process, not about “beating your craving” every time. We’re human!
Instead, set yourself up to win more. Eat a more savory breakfast with whole fruit; take some fruit to the office; eat a larger lunch that fills you up so you snack less— these strategies help regulate your blood sugar throughout the day and set you up to have fewer cravings.
SS: Is it possible to change our cravings over time?
SRO: Our taste receptors are always changing. It’s part of the reason why for many of us Brussels sprouts, which we hated as kids, become delicious over time. So yes, it’s possible to change our tastes, but it’s harder for some than others.
SS: When a craving for something unhealthy strikes, what can we do to overcome it?
SRO: I’d like to see us have a better relationship with food and our bodies. If I eat something that is less-than-healthy for me, I don’t beat myself up over it. However, I do attempt to make sure that I don’t make that less-than-healthy habit a routine. Learning to respect yourself and trusting the process of doing better for yourself is key.
Now, if we have done what we can to manage our cravings, and the situation we’re in when we get our cravings, and we’re still getting them, then we can try a few things.
Firstly, your nutritionist may suggest taking some magnesium; if we’re low in magnesium we often get mood swings and crave foods like chocolate. A nutritionist may also suggest taking 5HTP or tryptophan — which are precursors to serotonin [a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, appetite, sleep, and dreams. — Ed.] — to get over the hump of your cravings.
Secondly, you may “scratch your itch” by rewarding yourself with a different kind of treat, e.g. a walk in the park, or a better quality snack like whole fruits or a piece of dark chocolate. When I first tried to reduce my sugar intake I had cravings for ice cream (which was strange, because I don’t eat a lot of ice cream), so I froze a banana, added some almond butter and a little almond milk, and blended it until it was thick and creamy. It tasted and felt just like ice cream.
I know some of us are sensitive to what we see, so “what we see is what we eat.” If you are one of those people, clean out our house (or wherever you eat). If you do that, and then you get a craving, you’ll be more like to turn to something which is better for you as that’s what’s within your line of sight.
Having said that, if you do give into a craving, don’t beat yourself up. The next meal and the next day provide you with more opportunities to do better. Remember: perfection is in the process.
SS: What’s your favorite comfort food?
SRO: If I really think about this I realize that it changes with the seasons. It truly does. Every summer, I look forward to sweet corn and watermelon. In the winter I crave roasted butternut squash or my grandmother’s holubki, which are stuffed cabbage rolls. It’s as if your body intuitively knows the seasons are changing and that it therefore requires something different.
SS: Do you have any tips for forming healthy, nourishing eating habits that we can enjoy?
SRO: I like to look at these explorations as a chance to learn something more about myself, and my relationship to the world around me. It takes the onus of “having to do something” away and puts it in the space of joy of learning and discovering.
I also like experimenting with food. I remember when I first ate steamed kale, I could barely get it down my throat. But as I started to eat it in different ways — lightly sautéed with some garlic, as part of kale caesar salads etc. — I enjoyed it more. When I then returned to steamed kale, I actually liked it and craved it. I was shocked by that because I recalled how much I didn’t like it before.
I also went from cooking one meal a day to cooking two or three. Eating my own food versus eating out became part of my lifestyle, and then eating out became more of a luxury, which was nice.
This all goes to say that I think we may just need to tweak our mindsets a little to get back to the joy of eating.
SS: Can you share your go-to self-care routine?
SRO: The last few months have been a lifestyle change for me because I’ve been fostering a little red hen named Kippetje. It’s been both a joy and a challenge!
Basically every morning I wake up early — around 6am, and make sure she’s taken care of and feels comfortable. She’s just started to lay eggs, so I sometimes sit with her to make sure she’s happy. When I’m sure that she is, I’ll make myself breakfast (I make myself breakfast every morning), and do a walk through with my plants to make sure they’re all watered.
Then I get ready to start the day. I’ll often do some sort of movement — a walk, some yoga, or a cycle — in the early or late morning. And then I’ll get some work done. A lot happens before 9am! I have a sense of accomplishment before most people are rousing and getting to work.
Before the afternoon hits, I’ll head out with my chicken to the garden for a couple of hours. I’ll work in the garden, watch her, read, listen to an audio book, chat with old timers in the community — it really varies — and frankly, it’s always enjoyable. Then I’ll return to working again. I try to shut my computer off by 10, as I’m winding down by then, and go to bed shortly thereafter. Sleep is such an important part of my life, and it really sets the tone for the following day.
SS: What do you do to get grounded in your daily life?
SRO: I hang out with my down-to-earth friends, do work I’m passionate about, and give myself time to think, reflect, and feel alive.