It wasn’t that long ago that I was in the habit of having a (usually small, sometimes huge) sweet snack in the evenings after the girls were asleep. This snack was typically consumed in front of the television, shared with my husband. A bar of milk chocolate, a couple of cookies, or a bowl of ice cream was typical. I looked forward to this sweet indulgence, craved it, felt deprived if for some reason I didn’t have it. I was addicted.
Even after using only paleo ingredients for this dessert, this evening treat was still part of a vicious cycle. Actually, it was part of several vicious cycles. I was eating to keep myself awake. The sugar in the evening was decreasing my sleep quality so I was more tired the next day. Since I was tired, I was drinking more coffee and craving more sugar during the day. The sugar intake was also decreasing my leptin and insulin sensitivity, so I was storing more fat and stimulating my appetite. And the sugar so close to bed was increasing growth hormone production, which blocks weight loss. Eating before bed is bad. Eating sweets in the evening is bad. Eating so much sugar at any time of day is bad. It had to stop.
So, how did I break the cycle of eating dessert in the evenings? There was an adjustment period that lasted about 2 weeks. I had to break both the biochemical addiction to sugar and the emotional dependence on it. During this time, I relied heavily on sheer willpower (a.k.a. discipline). But I had other tricks that helped. Eating low carbohydrate all day (around 30g per day) helped dramatically because it helped reduce my overall sugar cravings more quickly. Also eating lots of good fats kept me satiated. Having something that wasn’t too sweet right after supper (instead of later in the evening) helped, typically half a piece of fruit or a couple of squares of 85% dark chocolate. Going to bed before I got too hungry was really important too. After the two week adjustment period, I started to crave that sweet snack less and less. One night, after the physical adjustment period was over, but before the emotional addiction was really gone, I gave into temptation and ate a large amount of chocolate before bed. I had a horrible stomach ache that kept me awake half the night and woke up with a migraine. Now, it’s three months later. I rarely feel like a sweet evening treat, and if I do, remembering that headache keeps me clean. I think a large part of how good I feel eating paleo is due to this change in my lifestyle.
It’s important to be aware of your habits and your emotions surrounding food. And changing bad habits is hard work (no matter what those bad habits are). But it’s worth it. For most people, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional sweet treat, especially during the holidays when there seems to be so much temptation around us. But, it is important to train your body not to expect something sweet every day. High sugar intake is the cause of many diseases, from diabetes to heart disease, so it’s important to find a way to live your life with much less of it.