wine

5 Lessons my sober October can teach you about happier sugar habits

Last month I successfully completed sober October. Well, I officially ended it a tad early at 7:15pm on Friday 31st dressed as a zombified schoolgirl, but by then I’d completed a full 35 days without a drop of alcohol so I’d class it as a success.

What has this got to do with sugar though? How did it compare to a sugar detox? Do read on, because there’s tremendous insight around sugar from this experience that I know is going to help you think deeper around the usual questions of these ‘vice’-type detoxs – is it really worth it? Isn’t life too short? etc. etc. yada yada yada….

Why I did sober October

wine

So first of all, a little background. I have been low sugar for a few years now but I have still drunk alcohol pretty much throughout. I’ve always been very social – personality wise, I am in my element when I’m surrounded by loads of people and get my energy from being out rather than in. Thus alcohol, being interwoven into our social fabric (much like sugar), has established a place quite firmly in my lifestyle. And well, I just really like good wine and a cold refreshing beer at times (yes yes I know it’s not great for health or blood sugar but I still do).

My close friends in London decided to embark on the challenge which obviously made it easier because we could support each other and this also came at a time when I have been starting to question the role of alcohol in my life a bit (quarter life crisis?!). I also was deeply inspired by my friend Stuart Ralph and his 30 day challenge….so I went for it.

What can you learn around sugar from my sober October learnings last month?

1. Making the decision

It took me just over a week to make the decision, I was unsure if I wanted to really do it. Indecisiveness ultimately boils down to one thing – fear. I was worried this was going to make me sad, that my social life – which is what I deem as a ‘primary food’ – was going to suffer and I would be starved of a form of nourishment that makes me happy. I was also worried I wouldn’t stick to it and feel really crap about myself if I gave in half way through. That ‘I would rather not try than fail’ thought was niggling around.

This demonstrates very similar fears to those considering a sugar detox. It’s important to recognise we have these fears – it’s normal. The longer you take to make a decision, ultimately the more fear you have. As scary as it is, it’s so SO much better to try and fail than fail to try at all.

2. Committing

Once I had committed, it was amazing how I started taking incredible positive action to support myself. I got out my diary and filled it with other fun social engagements. I felt excited about the challenge. Creative fun non-alcoholic ideas just appeared in my mind.

Only when you’ve really made that commitment can the true magic start to happen. Sitting on the fence just doesn’t bring out the most of your resourceful self. If you’ve been deliberating for a year or month about taking serious action regarding your sugar habits, you can’t know the impact it will have on you until you really commit. I see this in my clients a lot. Usually as soon as they sign up with me, many stop eating the Haribo/Chocolate/Ice Cream almost instantly. The commitment and accountability is uber powerful in bringing out your best, don’t underestimate it.

3. A reminder of the gain

I did 6 weeks tee-total about 4-5 years ago just to see what would happen. It was such a long time ago I had kind of forgotten if and what the real benefits were of less alcohol. This being the case I was curious just to see what impact a month without would have and if a reminder of the benefits would serve as motivation to keep my intake more ‘moderated’ than it sometimes is. It worked. Like sugar, this toxin gives me spots and my skin is one of those teenage self confidence war scars that I am overly conscious about. I also realised that it doesn’t add as much to social situations as I thought it did and I enjoyed exercise more.

If you don’t know the benefits of a life a little less sugar then how are you going to really motivate yourself to live one? Having a mindful period to experiment and focus on one thing allows you see more directly how it is impacting your health, mental wellness, productivity etc. The gains you see let you weigh up the cost benefit with more personalised evidence than just the generic notion that ‘sugar is bad for your health’.

4. Confidence in yourself

There was one night when I really wanted a glass of red wine – my wine pushing friend even bought around a bottle to tempt me (she’s the equivalent of your sugar sabotager). In the grand scheme of things that one glass of wine wasn’t going to do that much damage to my health but I knew it was going to have an impact on my own self trust and confidence in myself. By this point I was in it for the sheer challenge and to prove I could do it. I’ve tried to do loads of things and end up giving up on them before, thus often class myself as not being able to ‘stick at things’. I wanted to do this just to build my self trust up a bit more on this front. Waking up the next morning, I was so chuffed at myself, all the other later temptations were a breeze.

When that ‘one isn’t going to hurt’ excuse pop’s up, remember that you’re also building your health up in terms of your confidence and self trust. Achieving something that you didn’t think is possible is so rewarding and motivating. Just prove yourself strong once and relish the feeling you get after. The craving for that can then become stronger than the craving for the sugar in question.

5. Control and consciousness

So has old sober October changed the role and amount of alcohol in my life? Good question. I can definitely see that I don’t need the excess in various places and will seek to be more moderated from now on. This month proved I can quite happily be content without it, however, I’m not signing myself up for endless fresh lime and soda waters just yet. Alcohol like sugar now, is just going to be a bit more moderated where I’m more aware of the frequency and amount. Also my body is more sensitive to both that I can’t have as much anyway. That’s the difference, I am in control of it and I’m making the conscious decision knowing full well what the benefits and costs are to me on a number of fronts.

Ask yourself that question to determine your dependence. Could you go without sugar for a period of time quite happily? Do you need it or do you choose it? Let this be the guide to the action you take, rather than what people say or the outlandish health claims you read on a daily basis.

Want to take action?

Feeling inspired? (that is my hope!). If so commit to watching my free 4-videos around getting your ideal balanced lower sugar life. Or check out any of the support programmes I offer. Or just get in touch via e-mail (laura@happysugarhabits), Twitter or Instagram and say what you’re going to do. It’s all in taking action!

Over to you

Is your relationship with alcohol similar or different to that of sugar? Do you recognise any of those fears in your progress towards control around the sweet stuff? Comment below or just share this article if someone you know will find it helpful.

Hope it helped…now where’s that cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc… ;)

Laura xx

IMG_5717

Sugar-free chocolate chip spiced pumpkin cookies

As I’ve mentioned before, some days I still crave cake. I don’t crave the sugar as much, it’s the real ‘cake’ texture with a cup of tea that I occasionally fancy. So I seek to develop recipes that can hit that spot without being overly sweet. My tried and trusted favourite to date is my sweet potato and walnut cake.

This recipe also hits the spot pretty well, but as with my recipes like this I will warn you that it is really low sugar.  Your carrot cake loving friend may not be falling over themselves to have another and likewise because they aren’t too sweet, you’re unlikely to eat more than 1-2 at a time.

I’ve used brown rice syrup but I also tried this recipe with a 50:50 blend of brown rice syrup and stevia (I used Natvia) which worked just as well. If you do want them sweeter, you can probably use the same quantity of a healthier higher fructose sugar substitute like coconut sugar, date sugar or raw honey. However they obviously won’t be as ‘fructose-free’ of low sugar.

IMG_5717

 

IMG_5724

 

This recipe uses up any leftover pumpkin you have around but works just as well with butternut squash. I quite often roast two halves of a butternut squash and keep them in the fridge ready to use during the week. If I have any left over, I mash and freeze it in ice cube trays to use in recipes like this or, if I fancy it, in pumpkin/butternut squash porridge.

Because I made these more to my low sugar palate, I froze most of them so that I have a quick microwavable cake fix at home that won’t result in later sugar cravings. If you’re a cake fan, it’s a good strategy to try and it can help you break down your cravings i.e. work out if it’s a texture craving or a sugar/fructose craving.

Anyway, enough of my rambling…here’s the recipe…enjoy!

Let me know what you think in the comments below – would love to know how you go with these.

Sugar-free chocolate chip spiced pumpkin cookies

Makes 12 large cookies

IMG_5734

Ingredients

  • 125g butter (softened)
  • 190g rye or wholemeal flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 6 tbls brown rice syrup (or Natvia or a mix of both)
  • 125g pumpkin mash (or butternut squash mash)
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp all spice
  • pinch of salt
  • ¼ tsp ginger
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg (I used freshly grated)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 50g dark chocolate, chopped(I used Green & Blacks 85%)

 Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 180C
  • Line two baking trays with parchment paper
  • Combine the butter with brown rice syrup (or/and Natvia) in a large bowl. You may need to melt the butter slightly if not soft enough. Do this by placing in a glass bowl and put in the heating oven for a few minutes to do so
  • Add the vanilla essence and whisk together
  • Add the egg and whisk until combined
  • Add the pumpkin mash, and whisk until combined
  • Combine the flour, spices, baking powder together in a bowl
  • Fold 1/3 of the flour mixture at a time into the wet mixture until all combined
  • Add the chocolate chunks or chips
  • Spoon 6 large tablespoons of the mixture onto each baking tray
  • Place in the oven for 20 minutes until slightly brown

Best served when warm straight out of the oven with a glass of cold milk or a cup of tea!

Also a quick note..

Want to adjust your palate low sugar style so you need less sweet to satisfy? Mentor Me Off Sugar is unfortunately now closed for new enrolments but you can get to the front of the queue for the next kick off after Christmas 2014. Click here to get yourself on my priority radar and enter your details into the form.

IMG_5726

IMG_4444

What to do when you feel confused by the ‘best’ diet

One minute you read that gluten is a no no, the next it’s dairy. Then red meat is the devil and too many nuts are not good for you. Sugar is the enemy and, according to some press reports, you’re better off drinking wine every night because it helps protect against cancer. Let’s just eat kale and do that then shall we!

Do you feel confused, bewildered and despondent about what is really good for your health? You’re just getting your head around cutting down sugar when your friend says that you shouldn’t be eating that yoghurt because it does xyz to you.

Great, so just when you’d managed to resist the chocolate cake at the weekly coffee morning by whipping out your oatcakes, someone pipes up that oatcakes contain gluten and additives that will make your hair fall out. Ok an exaggeration perhaps, but you know what I mean?

Healthy eating is amazing. I love what it can do for people, especially a transformation around sugar, however since being in this industry I have seen a judgmental side of things too, especially since becoming a health coach and finding myself in uber health circles. I’ve been guilty of too much rigidity myself at times as my interest in health and nutrition developed (sorry friends) but I like to think I’ve grown fully confident of my own choices and outlook on health, fully respecting others for whatever they decide to do – which is the stance I’d advise you to take too. I’ve previously video blogged about what to do if others around you are eating a ton of sugar and I’ve written another post around how I’ve handled being labelled the ‘sugar-free’ one – another challenge that hit me with all the change.

Conflicting diets

As part of my Institute of Integrative Nutrition course I studied over 100 dietary theories – everything from Atkins, to vegan to heck, even the ice cream diet (yes, there’s an ice cream diet and no, it doesn’t mean you can eat ice cream all the time and lose weight!).

Fair to say there is a TON of information out there, much of it conflicting at times. The raw food, paleo, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, sugar-free, fructose-free diet …. oh and don’t forget the banana girl! Seriously, the list goes on. There are many scientific studies to support most of dietary theories from one angle or another and there are real life transformations where people have found a certain way of eating that on a personal level makes them feel incredible or lose loads of weight.

That is what is worth remembering here – it is completely personal and down to you as an individual. You just need to work out what makes you feel the best you can through trial and experimentation – both physically and emotionally. If you’re stressing that your diet isn’t ‘perfect’, over-restricting or over-complicating things, then actually it’s worth remembering that stress is probably more harmful to your fat-burning metabolism than the food you’re putting in your mouth.

IMG_4444

I go for variety, colour, wholefoods, minimal processed foods and delicious FUN!

One thing that is agreed on…

Two and half years ago, the day before I set up Happy Sugar Habits I e-mailed Ian Marber – the founder of The Food Doctor, a health guru I really respected. I asked him one question:

If you could get EVERYONE in the UK tomorrow to stop eating one single substance, what would it be  - saturated fat, hydrogenated fat, salt, sugar, red meat?

His answer, REFINED SUGAR!

In light of all the dietary theories out there, I think it’s fair to say that most of them (ok maybe with the exception of the ice cream one) will agree on two things that are worth avoiding excessive or over consumption of:

  1. Refined sugar

  2. Processed foods

So, if you’re still in feeling controlled by sugar cravings or eating a slab of dairy milk each night, and right now oatcakes are helping you with that, then to hell with the rest of it and focus on the one thing you can do to improve YOUR health straightaway. This is actually why I developed the Mentor Me Off Sugar detox programme to just focus on controlling sugar cravings as a first priority. The meal plans I developed are wholefood based and thus don’t have any processed foods and minimal gluten, but the programme doesn’t make you tackle too much at once or bombard you with restrictions that I know hamper success. It’s one of the reasons why the programme really works for people and many find it surprisingly easy to stick to.

I don’t eat a 100% gluten-free, dairy-free or even completely sugar-free diet these days.   I just don’t eat 5 ginger nuts, a bar of chocolate, carrot cake and 50 odd raisins to satisfy my daily sugar cravings like I used to. This still feels like a big achievement for me and allows me to appreciate how much I have improved my health in the past few years. I’m not diet ‘perfect’ although I do eat a shed load of vegetables! To me these days health is so much more than what you put in your mouth anyway. I carefully consider and experiment with other health advice by trying everything on myself for myself encouraging my clients to do the same once the sugar cravings are out of the picture.

If you’re feeling bombarded with conflicting messages, overwhelmed, confused and despondent, then take a step back from information overload and re-focus on a single goal.   Commit to shifting some of the refined sugars from your diet, or try a gentle transition to less processed foods. Once you’ve got control over sweet temptation and are no longer as reliant on convenient sugary snacks, then you’re in a better place to experiment further with gluten-free, dairy-free or a daily glass of wine as you wish… although the latter is not officially recommended!

If this article spoke to you or you think it will help others you know then please share the link on Twitter, Facebook or just e-mail it to someone who might benefit.

And of course, if you’ve an opinion then please comment below.
Laura xx

IMG_5462

Top tips for how to get back on a healthy (low sugar) track

Ever had a crazy week or weekend where healthy went out the window a little a bit and you want to get back on form? Maybe it was a hangover; a celebration or holiday; or even you just got a little caught out and weren’t as organised as usual?

Rest assured, it happens to the best of us, and the key is all in how you bounce back. After dialling up my own healthy post birthday recovery this weekend, I thought I’d share my five favourite tips and strategies to help you get back on healthy (low sugar) track pronto.

Yesterday morning I got back from Ibiza which was my birthday holiday treat this year. Although known as the party island, me and my friend Katie truly packed in a real mixture of things into just 4 days. I found myself on my birthday at the super healthy Passion Cafe for breakfast, followed by a cultural stroll around the town looking at beautiful clothes I could not afford, followed by a boat trip and then some drinks and a party. Talk about getting it all in there!

Look at some of the savoury breakfasts on this menu!

The Passion Cafe breakfast menu, serious inspiration in there!

IMG_5463

Avocado on toast with rocket

Whilst one night we ate at this stunning restaurant where I had some beautiful fresh baked fish, salad and potato (for anyone going it was called La Brasa), there were many points on the holiday where I was far from healthily virtuous. I tend to have a more relaxed attitude these days as I feel in control of my diet and advocate empowerment of your own choices. However, white bread, crisps, alcohol and just a sheer lack of vegetables threw me off (interestingly not extreme sugar). I could feel the impact by the last day and I had spots – which I take for granted is one of my favourite healthy diet benefits these days.

Meal with some new friends at La Brasa

Meal with some new friends at La Brasa

So here are my tips and strategies for getting back on it. Some are just plain practical and some are more around the mindset side of things. Both are really important here…

1. Get serious greens in

I’d put good money that the main thing lacking or neglected in your unhealthy spout will have been green produce. Iceburg lettuce does not quite cut it nutritionally, but is often the salad of choice in places. When you’re hungover too, chances are that you’re perhaps not craving watercress right? Get dark, leafy produce back into your diet as soon as possible to inject maximum nutrition. Broccoli, kale, rocket, spinach – think green my friends, think green!

2. Variety over restriction

The impulse reaction I see with those getting back on track is a total ban of xyz food stuffs or an overly strict punishing ordeal. Move away from this. Start seeing variety and colour as primary importance. Literally pack in a wide ranges of foods into your diet and you increase your chances of ingesting valuable vitamins and nutrients that will help your body recover, restore depleted minerals and aid your body in functioning as an efficient fat burning machine.

3. Be mindful of where you’re at with sugar cravings

If you fell off the sugar wagon (more than a general unhealthy one) then you will need to be mindful of the fact that stronger fructose cravings might be a side effect. If control is your end goal and your sugar cravings are stronger than before, consider a lower fructose diet (or programme like Mentor Me Off Sugar) for a short period of time to pull you and your pallette back to a better level of control with the sweet stuff.

4. Think soups, smoothies and salads

Earlier I mentioned greens and variety as paramount importance. I find the easiest way with this is soups, smoothies and salads so pack in these for as many meals as possible. Smoothies you can add all sorts of superfood powders or healthy supplements whilst soups and salads you can pack in 5-7 different vegetables in one hit. Yesterday I must have eaten over 10 different types of fruit and vegetables, seriously!

IMG_5462

Mixed green & butternut squash soups

5. Feel excited for your body

This is SO important. Move away from a punishment mindset to an empowered and excited one. So instead of saying to yourself ‘you were BAD then and therefore you need to sort it out’ say ‘oh hello body, I’m excited to nourish you to the max and show you the power of food in making you feel incredible again’. This a excellent chance for you to physically feel and appreciate what a healthy, lower sugar and nutrient dense diet does for you. It can serve as excellent motivation to repeat these nourishing steps in the future and flexes that bouncing back muscle.

It’s been just over 24 hours since I got back from my sleep robbing overnight flight from Ibiza and I am feeling good. I’m so passionate about what healthy food can do for you that I had to share these tips asap – hope they help!

Have you got any good things you tend to do post holiday, hangover or birthday celebrations to get you back on top form? Share in a comment below and we’ll have an incredible resource of strategies between us…

Pretty young woman eating cake. Isolated

YOU CAN’T EAT THAT….You don’t eat sugar!!

You’re making good way with healthy low sugar change. Products have been switched and you know you’re eating a heck of a lot less than you were previously (good going!). Your friends and family are aware of this and thus a new, and not so straight forward, social challenge may present itself…

‘YOU CAN’T EAT THAT….you don’t eat sugar!’

This is a phrase I’ve heard A LOT! It’s also a phrase that for a while I got fearful of hearing. It’s something I’ve personally had to manage and something that often troubles some of my clients as they change.

I used to somewhat feel to be authentic to my blog and business, I couldn’t be seen to eat anything sugary. I had to live this perfect sugar-free life to show that I was 100% walking the talk, to inspire everyone and do it ‘right’. It was quite stressful because it’s completely unrealistic and is by no means the way I want to live and embody my lower sugar lifestyle. I am a relatively typical 29 year old woman living in London doing most of the usual things after all.

Don’t get me wrong, I still walk the talk and generally eat very little sugar compared to your average Joe, but I have my % percentage of imperfection like everyone else does. I’m not addicted to it anymore and so I’m kinda laid back about it in some respects (Obviously I still think it’s a very dangerous substance that is responsible for many health problems and mental torture!).

So what can you do to avoid sugary social awkwardness?

Get your mindset in check first.

Fact of the matter is, the perfect ‘sugar-free’ person doesn’t exist and is a torturous ideal. It’s not really about only eating X amount of sugar grams per day, health is so much more than that.

Health is balance, control, empowerment and much of this comes from the mindset you adopt.

What really matters is finding a lower sugar way of life that blends with you as an individual, that makes you feel healthier, lighter and happier because you’re in control, you make your own empowered choices and you live in (somewhat) peace with your own mind chatter (this isn’t easy I know!).

If you’re eating more sugar than you want, then yes you may go through a period of conscious reduction to find yourself a new equilibrium, however it shouldn’t be a punishing ordeal that lasts forever.

The end goal is simply where sugar doesn’t control you and you call the shots. That nice place where you know you sweet habit isn’t permanently damaging your health and that you’ve successfully reset yourself to a sensible approach to balance and moderation with it.

Look at your communication to others

What messages are you sending to those around you? What are your actions saying about your mindset and healthy philosophy?

Be conscious if you feel you’re proving to everyone else that you’re ‘sticking it’ or that you’re more ‘sugar-free’ than they are. You’re doing this for you remember, don’t get caught up in the comparison trap. Occasionally, and usually at the start, a little bit of stubbornness or healthy competitiveness can be an effective motivator, but just be careful to watch this as time goes on.

Reserve judgement

Everyone has a different version of healthy. Everyone has different points in their life when they might be a little more motivated or in a better position to make change. Reserve your judgement and accept people will change in their own way in their own time just as you are.

Comments are an opportunity to communicate

When you’ve previously had a different relationship with food and especially sugar, it’s only a matter of time before you may start getting some comments as you transition into this as a lifestyle rather than random ‘fad’ diet which people may initially think.

If you find yourself with the “YOU CAN’T EAT THAT….You don’t eat sugar” comments, take it as an opportunity to communicate your new mindset and shifting philosophy. The more you do this, the frequency of these comments reduces and those close to you will understand.

Low sugar life and social harmony can work and I hope this post helps! If you’re struggling to make lower sugar life settle then check out my newly launched coaching programmes help support & guide you through all of this funky stuff.

P.S I was inspired to write this post by the amazing Jess Silsby of Awaken your Wellbeing – Thank you Jess!

I’d love to know if anyone has said something like this to you before? How did it make you feel and how did you react?

 

Total peaches seeds

3 things you probably don’t know about Greek yoghurt (& WIN a month’s supply!)

Yoghurt is a weekly staple in my diet. I put it in smoothies , have it with sugar-free granola and/or fruit; and sometimes simply eat it as a dessert with a few cacao nibs sprinkled over. Yum!

Total yoghurt strawberries

My lifelong love of yoghurt

In my former sugary years I used to eat a ‘Muller Light’ or low fat fruity yoghurt pretty much every day, sometimes 2-3 a day. I did this for years. A fruity yoghurt was often my ‘healthy’ post meal sweet fix – anyone with me on this? At University I would chose the cheapest and – shame-shock-horror – I used to buy those Sainsbury’s basics low fat fruity yoghurts. Yes I did, sins confessed!

When I moved to London I would buy Muller Lights, Shapers, Activia brands or whatever was on special offer. I am still in awe of the entire supermarket aisle that is awash with colourful wide variety of sugar laden yoghurts.

Fair to say, in the last two years of lower sugar living I really haven’t touched fruity sugar-filled yoghurts. Of all the sugary things out there, I really don’t miss these. A mouthful of one every now and then confirms this to me – they are way too sweet and sickly for me now, they taste a bit artificial and I would rather drizzle some brown rice syrup or good quality honey on some plain natural yoghurt to get something a bit sweeter when I do fancy it.

A few weeks ago I went for lunch with the lovely Alison White from Total Greek (also known as FAGE) and my very inspirational friend Philippa Moore (who used to write the popular Skinny Latte Strikes Back blog).

Ali salad lunch

As yoghurt low sugar discussions unravelled, I found out some interesting facts, which led me to dig a bit deeper on the yoghurt front.

Here are some handy Greek yoghurt facts you may not know that will help you make informed decisions without getting lured or misled by marketing or packaging.

  1. A thick yoghurt has either got there in two ways 1) it was either strained a few times to remove the whey or 2) it has had milk protein powder, starch or other additives added to it to get there. The easiest way really to determine this is to look at the ingredients list.
  2. In the UK there is a difference between ‘Greek yoghurt’ and ‘Greek Style Yoghurt’. Greek yoghurt now has to be authentically made in Greece. Greek style is just made to seem like it and can be thickened by either one of the two processes above.
  3. In America, anything can be called ‘Greek’ – basically this whole Greek style thing in the UK is the result of a big court case between Total and Chobani. Total (or FAGE) yoghurt is at present the leading authentic Greek yoghurt brand on the market.

Now this post isn’t sponsored by Total, I’m simply writing it because I think it’s helpful to know as buying yoghurts can often be confusing and I know I get a lot of questions about it.

I do personally think Total Greek are one brand with a very good quality product for lower sugar living. They have some superb healthy (& many sugar-free) yoghurt infused recipes on their website too – this Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb with Baba Ganouche & Roasted Sweet Potato being one of my favourites. They are even bringing out their own cookbook which looks amazing.

You can also watch a video I’ve done on the difference between Greek vs Natural yoghurt.

What’s worth remembering is that when it comes to managing hunger, Greek yoghurt has a higher protein count – 10g per 100g compared to 5-6g in natural yoghurt – thus it will keep you fuller for longer. Also remember that about 4-7g of the sugars listed in yoghurt can be the natural lactose sugar, which is ok on a lower sugar diet. Always check for added sugar in the ingredients list though.

Total peaches seeds

WIN a month’s supply of Total Greek yoghurt

total greekNow this is exciting. FAGE have kindly donated a fantastic prize of a month’s worth of Total Greek yoghurt for one lucky reader. Think of all the Tzatziki you could be making!

To enter, simply comment below on one (or all of the following questions):

  1. Do you prefer Greek or natural yoghurt?
  2. Which brands to buy and what do you use it for? i.e. how do you like to eat it?
  3. What do you find confusing when buying yoghurt?

Then click one of the buttons on the left of the page to share this article on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or Google Plus. You can get a bonus entry for tweeting the following:

3 things you need to know about Greek yoghurt & WIN months supply with Happy Sugar Habits @TotalGreek @lauraj_thomas http://ow.ly/AYlGt

Competition will close on the 19th September 2014 and the winner will be notified via the comment you leave below.

depressed

Are you numbing your feelings with sugar?

We all know eating less sugar is going to help with the waistline. It’s going to make you feel better, it’s going to give you more energy and it’s going to decrease your chances of a multitude of metabolic diseases. Quite often you probably know all of this but it still doesn’t stop you – right?

If you’re looking for more motivation, take some time to seriously consider what sugar is doing to your ability to deal with your feelings…

Suppressing feelings with sugar

If you’re eating sugar when you’re stressed, upset, frustrated or bored, ultimately, you’re avoiding something. Chances are the sugar is a way of numbing these difficult and uncomfortable feelings with a quick, cheap, accessible and let’s face it, rather appealing alternative.

The problem with this is that the longer and more often you go using sugar in this way, the worse you get at finding and practising alternatives. Forget what sugar’s doing to you physically, it’s inhibiting your ability to problem-solve and deal with difficult feelings. This is where dependence on it suddenly starts to grow from. It’s effectively suffocating your ability to develop a set of alternative healthy stress-coping mechanisms.

I suffered from this

When I was in the throes of emotional sugar eating, it would often happen before I gave myself a chance to acknowledge it. I vividly remember a difficult day at work a few years ago. I was up in Aberdeen running a workshop with 15 clients who weren’t out to give me an easy ride. I was out of my depth; the workshop (in my eyes) went horribly wrong and I struggled to hold back the tears whilst presenting towards the end. Every minute I was stood up there felt like an eternity. I get shivers still now remembering that workshop whilst writing this.

I came out immensely stressed, embarrassed and did not know what to do with myself. A few tubs of M&S goodies lay around and I dived into them without thinking, just hoping they would help me feel better. I didn’t enjoy them or appreciate them. I just ate loads (until I felt a bit sick) with the hope that I would feel better – because sugar usually did it for me. It was instinctive, impulsive and almost an act of desperation.

The danger in this was that I didn’t have alternative stress coping mechanisms in place. Well, unless you count crying in the toilets as one. Sugar had always worked and been there, it was just what I did when things got stressful at work – grab some cake or biscuits and a cup of tea. But this time it didn’t work. The stress was too intense and eating more sugar wasn’t working, it was just making me feel a bit sick and disgusted with myself.

This is urgent

Changing your relationship with sugar is even more important when instances like this occur and start to happen more frequently. Relying on sugar is not a healthy or sustainable way of regularly dealing with stress. The longer it’s used, the more narrow-minded you become to other coping mechanisms and more dependant you become on sugar. It’s why going to cold turkey can in a way feel like you’re literally chopping off your right arm and thus is not always the right solution for some.

If there’s a motivation to change your sugar habits today, let your ability to deal with your feelings be a highly motivating one to keep in mind.

A progressive process

Change here doesn’t happen overnight (don’t I know it). Habitually creating new coping mechanisms that work for you is a trial and error process that can be slow. It is highly personal to you and your situation.

What you can do for inspiration is look around at the people you know who don’t use sugar as a coping mechanism – what do they use? Exercise, breathing, meditation? There are many very healthy ways of dealing with stress that aren’t going to undermine the other things you want in life – whether that’s weight loss, control, or a healthy piece of mind. You want to seek reliable strategies that don’t propel you towards being dependant on a somewhat toxic substance and up your chances of being a diabetes statistic in the future.

What do I do now?

I’m far from perfect on this front still, but thankfully, I no longer dive into flapjack and rocky road tubs when I’ve had a bad day. I can appreciate that whilst I don’t eat sugar for stress anymore, I have still struggled with using food at times. It’s a progressive process and I’m on my own path with this.

Whilst the almonds or some other sugar-free foods are healthier, I have become aware of my emotional eating tendencies and I’m still exploring alternative coping mechanisms so I don’t just default to eating when nervous, stressed or bored. I find working at home harder, but becoming more conscious over the years has been my first step to change.

These days I time out in periods of stress – I just take a break to think. Strangely, if I’m really stressed at home, instead of going into the kitchen like I used to, I get into bed and think for 5 minutes. My bed has become my de-stress den!

Yoga and meditation works sometimes; so does blasting on some of my favourite songs really loud for 3 minutes, or looking through some old photos on my phone. Sometimes I get some new ideas from the clients I work with who are also addressing sugar-numbing emotional eating. Learn from those around you and take inspiration from wherever you can. Having some support can really help, even if it’s just for the accountability or fresh thinking. I’d love to support you with something I feel extremely passionate with, so do get in touch if you’re interested. I made sure to create whole sections of the Mentor Me Off Sugar detox programme to address these areas because I feel mindset, emotional eating etc. is equally, if not more important as getting the nutrition right.

Take action now

If you can recognise that sugar plays an unhealthy role in dealing with your feelings then start by becoming aware. Know that it’s a common problem and seek some support or commit to an attempted change – because you really can. Sugar is not the long term band aid to difficult feelings and you can change as much as I and the clients I’ve worked with have. Let this be your inspiration to get started…

My brand spanking new video series

Free video series promo

This week I’m excited to launch something I’ve been working hard on which nicely fits with this post. It’s a completely free 4-day video series with lots of strategies, tips and advice to get you living the controlled low sugar life you want – including dealing with this very emotional side of sugar that I believe is a big part of things. I explain the 4 foundational pillars to living a sustainable, happy and practical low sugar lifestyle.

An accumulation of things I’ve learnt myself and through coaching others, the advice in these videos is practical, very ‘real’ and will help you avoid some of the classic emotional and social mistakes when it comes to healthy low sugar change. Sign up here to get the first video and let me know what you think.

Over to you

Do you use sugar to deal with difficult feelings? Can you recognise if it’s when you’re anxious, bored or stressed? Have you tried doing other things? This is a bold and brave one to share but you’ll build instant awareness by doing so and I would love to hear from you.

Laura xx

jus-de-fruits-01

Sugary drinks on holiday: 5 refreshingly sugar-friendly tips

Forget ice cream, I’ve come to a new conclusion on what the biggest sugary hurdle is when abroad – cold drinks. Ice cold, colourful looking, thirst quenching juice-like liquids. They’re also tricky when it comes to alcohol because cocktails and fruit punch-like drinks tend to be order of the day when you’re on holiday.

Yes yes, I know it’s a holiday, but I’d thought I’d share how to get around this, highlighting some other options or tips along with some things I did last week on my own holiday.

I’ll admit I did consume a little more sugar last week than usual, and I found it was mostly in the form of drinks. Really, this shows the importance of adequate hydration when on holiday in hot countries – I think the likely appeal for me was mostly to quench my thirst more than craving sugar. Saying that, it could also have been just because I got a bit bored of water, or the water I had was warm and thus not very appealing!

As you may know, I’m really not pedantic about my sugar-free living as I’m well past being out of control, I just do the best I can to avoid unnecessary overloads and I genuinely don’t like things being that sweet. Here are some handy options from a pragmatic standpoint for you to consider when it comes to drinks:

1. Unsweetened iced tea

This is actually amazing if you can find it. I found it relatively easy to get in America, they even sold it in Burger King (yes I was found in a Burger King, my Greyhound bus made a stop there!). Watch out for Lipton iced tea – it used to be my favourite holiday drink growing up and guess what, it’s loaded with sugar. My brother did pick up a bottled mojito flavour variety and strangely that wasn’t too bad for sugar – 11g per 250ml. That is is half of coke when you compare it like for like. Better, but still not ideal.

2. Tomato juice based cocktails

Still potential for a little sugar in these (tomato juice often has added sugar), but it’s a heck of a lot less sweet than your average Pina Colada. I had a Virgin Bloody Mary when we visited a glamorous cocktail bar in Skiathos town. It was totally delicious, tasty, cold and most importantly, in a fancy glass that made me feel like I was having a cocktail like everyone else without having to feel sickly at drinking something too sweet for me.

Tabasco infused virgin bloody mary in hand

Tabasco infused Virgin Bloody Mary in hand

3. Vodka, soda and fresh lime

It’s the most virtuous sugar-free drink on the block. Yes, it can taste a bit bland so ask for lots of fresh lime (lime is extremely low fructose) and try to avoid the artificial green cordial.

4. Dilute with soda or fizzy water

There was one day I just wanted a refreshing drink that wasn’t water. I bought some 100% juice and some fizzy water and mixed together to make my own healthier cold fizzy drink. You can make it appropriately sweet for your tastebuds. I also occasionally drank a vodka cranberry & soda and asked the barman for mostly soda with a dash of cranberry to avoid it being too sweet. Find some friendly barmen and they can do anything you want ;)

5. Don’t rely on Diet Coke (& diet drinks)

My stance on artificial sweeteners (the usual culprit for diet drinks) is that you take the gamble with your own health. Aspartame and the like is a chemical and by clean eating terms, it’s just not a good substance to be putting in your body. Depending on diet drinks heavily is not a good road to go down. Saying that I don’t believe that one every now and then in a blue moon is going to do you masses of harm and in my view is potentially the very slightly lesser of evils compared to a full sugar coke.

P.S. A quick note on ice cream…

Last week I mentioned some healthier alternatives for ice cream. I can safely say I had no desire to eat any ice cream all week. Absolutely none, even when others were eating it in front of me. Give me some cold Greek yoghurt with grated lemon zest instead. I had a bite of my sister Amy’s chocolate Cornetto on the last day to confirm I wasn’t missing out and I can honestly say I didn’t want any more. I write this just because I still find it hard to believe even now how my taste preferences have changed so much!

Do you find the lure of cold sugary drinks a challenge? What do you tend to drink when on holiday?  Any tips you use to manage the sugar overload that drinks that be?

Laura xx

On top of the world at Cape Kastro

On top of the world at Cape Kastro

Hotel dinner

The 5 sugar-friendly hotel tips I live by

Eating at home and being in control of the ingredients in your food makes keeping an eye on sugar relatively easy when you get used to it. However, when you’re out staying in hotels things can get a little trickier. If you find yourself in a hotel for either work or for pleasure then here are my best tips to keep healthy habits in check with a suitable amount of perspective.

100’s of nights in hotels

I can write this post from sheer experience. I have stayed in A LOT of hotels over the past few years. As a management consultant for the best part of 4 years I found myself practically living in them at times. From the Holiday Inn to a Marriott to the old serviced apartments; I had loyalty cards falling out of my wallet, reception staff knew me by first name and I developed my own weird little routines to keep as healthy as possible.

In fact it was my time on a project in Aberdeen living in serviced apartments that was a pivotal part of my own sugar journey. This was the year in my life when I really started to cut back on sugar with the depressing reality that most of the food I liked (& loved) had sugar in it. Ah, the memories…

Living in hotels I have a few key tips to help you navigate healthy eating. It actually isn’t that hard if you stick to some basic principles:

1) Navigate the hotel breakfast buffet

The breakfast buffet is not your enemy, you just need to navigate it with precision. I went from a fruit, yoghurt, granola/muesli and toast girl to an eggs, mushrooms and tomatoes girl. The latter is now my default healthy breakfast and fruit/yoghurt is now my ‘treat’ one. It actually seems backwards to most people i.e. hitting the fry up section first but it’s the protein & vegetable rich part of the buffet that is going to really set you up for the day rather than drive cravings. Note: Hash browns and fried bread are still a pretty unhealthy no no. Likewise processed meats like bacon I keep to occasionally rather than standard.

buffet breakfast

This was a rather large delicious feast of a buffet breakfast!

2) Hide biscuits as soon as you enter the room

I don’t have to do this anymore because I know I don’t want them. However, when I was still craving this favourite food of mine intensely, I used to walk in my hotel room, grab them, and put them straight in the safe. Yes, I still knew they were in there, and occasionally I would break in and eat them anyway. However, for the majority of the time the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ really did work. Repeat it a few times and you develop the habit. Ever found biscuits in your safe? Yeah that was probably me!

3) Minimise hidden sugar but don’t stress

In terms of hidden sugar, it’s sauces, soups and dressings that will hide the most. A honey glazed chicken dish is pretty obvious so avoid obviously sweetened sauces to start. Order dressings and sauces on the side and then taste them to see how much you really want or if you want it at all. Request plainly cooked food then order extra butter to add flavour, taste and good fat to a dish. Quite often they get this wrong or forget. I know the other day there was a bit of sugary dressing on something, so accept that sometimes either you or the hotel will slip up. Learn from it rather than stress about it..

Hotel dinner

4) Try not to get caught out really hungry.

Healthy snacks are hard to come by in hotels so it’s important not to let yourself get so starving that you’re forced to eat biscuits and mini-bar chocolate to stop from fainting. If you can grab an extra apple or a small cheese portion from the breakfast buffet just in case then you’ve got something healthier to tide you over. Likewise at lunch, if you spot some nuts, grab an extra bag to keep in your hotel room. I know when you’ve had a very long day you can forget how hungry you are until those shortbread fingers are suddenly staring you in the face.

5) Cement a healthy routine to start

This is super important, especially if you’re a hotel regular like I was. Your ‘first’ everything sets the standard so get it the way you want it. Create your healthy ‘norms’ the first few times you’re in a new hotel or location. This means not ordering a dessert, resisting the biscuits or mini bar and eating savoury breakfasts as your standard. It sets this mental benchmark in your head and cements initial healthy habits that will feel effortless after a while. Whoah benchmark?! I’m still a consultant at heart aren’t I…

There are more random tips up my sleeve but I think these are the most worthy to focus on initially and this post could get very long. Now you can go live it up in a hotel and have some sugar-friendly tactics to boot!

Do you travel or work a lot in hotels? What do you do to keep sugar intake under control or just to keep healthy in general? Any other tips you’ve got?

Laura xx

heart image

Ready for sugar-free change? Ask yourself these questions

In addition to the ins and outs of sugar and eating healthy, I have a very big interest in personal change. This past week, I have been studying some different phases of change in terms of recognising where people are and what mental blockers might be getting in the way.

I think it’s helpful to look at these different stages of change in terms of identifying where you might be in regards to sugar or health and asking yourself some powerful questions. Read the following, identify where you’re at and reflect by writing a comment…(note you can use this for any change in your life: career, relationship, sugar, health etc.)

1. Pre-contemplation

This is where you have really no intention of changing. You don’t want to hear how you get healthy by eating less sugar because you feel absolutely fine. When I start telling people what I do (in terms of sugar coaching) and their eyes glaze over, I know they’re probably here. Chances are you wouldn’t be reading this if you’re in this stage. Anyway just in case ask:

  • Am I in denial?
  • Could I just spend a minute entertaining the thought?

2. Contemplation

This might be where you consider changing your habits but other things or ‘life’ get in the way. You don’t have time to embark on a health change or implement new habits.  It’s maybe that you don’t feel you have the money, time or resources to get the support you want. Sometimes it’s a case of having other priorities (which is fine) and sometimes it’s a case of limiting belief where you’re not sure if you can really change (this isn’t as fine and you need get those limiting beliefs out of the head!). Questions to ask yourself:

  • What’s the cost of not changing?
  • How much longer can you put up with the negative aspects of the problem?
  • How much energy is it taking up (mentally & physically)?

3. Preparation

Here you’re pretty sure you’re going to do something about it. You’re going to read some books or get support and you’re just weighing up your options. Questions to ask yourself here:

  • When I’ve changed before, what’s worked in the past?
  • What’s the ideal support I could have with this?
  • What’s the missing piece to make a solid decision?

4. Action!

This is where you get your arse in gear and it starts falling into place. Shifts start happening, you learn about yourself and where you want to get to more deeply. Questions here:

  • What is my ideal outcome?
  • How will I know when I’ve got there?
  • How can I keep motivated, on track and inspired?

5. Relapses

It happens to the best of us. We stumble, falter and have a mighty old setback i.e. eat a load of sugar in some form or another. Trust it’s part of the process, and a very important part at that. Most of the time with my coaching clients, the mega tough points translate to being the biggest breakthroughs. Questions to ask:

  • What have I learnt from this?
  • What conditions were in play?
  • What can I do today to help with this next time?

6. Maintenance

The final stage, the sweet spot. I say this because for many this is living in harmony with sugar. Note, not without all sugar, but with a happy new controlled attitude to it and a rebalanced sense of ‘take it or leave it’ moderation. It really is the sweet spot if you’ve suffered addiction or just an unhealthy relationship with it. Flowing into this stage can take time, effort, continuity and persistence. Questions to ask:

  • What does staying here do positively for me?
  • How will I be in 3 months, 6 months and a year?
  • Who or what is going to keep me on the straight and narrow?

As I went through this myself in terms of sugar, I could recognise the stages, but even more interestingly I thought a lot about my career change choices as I studied these questions and theories. They are great questions you can apply all over.

I’d love to know what insights you’ve drawn from answering any of them or where you think you might be? Leave a comment and let’s get talking!

Laura x

P.S If you’d like that extra support achieving your own version of healthy low sugar maintenance in your life, do get in touch to book a complimentary Sugar Self Discovery session with me.