I call it a rollercoaster because carbs and sugar are the greatest and worst ever. It’s like a toxic relationship: doesn’t it seem like our minds keep going back to these false food friends no matter how many times they dis us? That the mind has this funny way of asking for more carbs and sugar the more it gets?
This isn’t in our minds, it turns out. More and more research on the connection between our gut and brain suggests that there’s a complex dialogue going on between our gut bacteria, and the food and supplements we feed it. The good news is that we can win the argument, as it were, by feeding our gut a diverse array of nutrient-dense foods. A few pointers I’ve learned through trial and error (and more trial, and more error, GOD I love the chips at Chipotle), and research:
Exercise May Help Regulate Overeating
You think it’s going to increase your appetite and craving for empty calories but in fact, it’s been shown to help reduce overeating. (Also, exercise, and you can afford a little more of those carb treats afterwards, because your body uses those calories more readily after a workout, and can continue to burn calories from a cardio workout for up to 48 hours!)
Exercise Can Help Foster a More Diverse Gut
Exercise can also help create a more diverse bacterial environment in our gut, according to a few recent studies.
…And a More Diverse Gut Is a “Smarter” Gut
This last bit of research is really important, because it’s now thought that our gut “speaks” to our brain. “Bacteria in our gut are manipulative,” says Carlo Maley, director of the UCSF Center for Evolution and Cancer. The good news, Maley says, is that even within 24 hours, we can manipulate our gut right back, by making changes to our diet.
Maley and other researchers, in the journal BioEssays, recently asserted that “microbes influence human eating behavior and dietary choices to favor consumption of the particular nutrients they grow best on.”
To simplify this finding–and I’ve personally seen this happen to my body–if you eat mainly simple carbs and sugar, you’re fostering the bacteria that help digest them. In turn, it’s thought, those bacteria are influencing what your mind thinks it wants to eat “by releasing signaling molecules into our gut,” reports UCSF. “Because the gut is linked to the immune system, the endocrine system and the nervous system, those signals could influence our physiologic and behavioral responses.”
Mind Over Microbiome!
If you’re caught in a cycle of carbs and sugar (as I find myself to be, especially during a stressful phase of my life, and always during PMS), try a couple of things.
Go for a workout. It’s a good first step toward a more diverse gut.
Fake out your gut! Focus your next few meals on foods different from what you’ve been eating, to “distract” your gut from what it really wants, theoretically fostering more diverse bacteria.
Have a big old salad of a filling, nutrient-dense, organic leafy green, like spinach or kale. With the right ingredients added to it, this will fill you up, I promise. Make sure there are complex carbs and protein in there, too. My go-tos are sweet potatoes, broccoli (which is a great source of plant protein), nuts, and chicken, so long as you’re not a veggie. A superior salad dressing can go a long way toward making you (and your gut) love veggies more.
Drink a kombucha (I love Rise‘s offerings) for an effervescent boost of good bacteria.
Eat smaller meals more frequently for a couple of days as you continue to “reeducate” your gut with a diverse selection of anything but Tate’s Cookies (my personal Achilles’ heel).
And repeat. And see if those cravings don’t dissipate within a few days of gut TLC. You may just find yourself actually craving that salad as the salad-loving community in your gut gains strength in numbers.
What’s worked for you when you’re on a carb-sugar rollercoaster? Let me know in the comments!