More willpower is not going to help you if your sugar and carb cravings are caused by shift work and operational stress of the job.
Welcome to episode 22 of the 911 Shift Ready Podcast where we are going to talk about shift work and how it increases sugar and carb cravings.
Halloween is tomorrow and I used to dread this time of year when my sugar and carb cravings ruled me because it showed me how little willpower I had. It was hard enough eating healthy when the pull to grab a pastry or a chocolate bar or takeout food was so strong even when I had a healthy meal right beside me. But Halloween, it showed me how little willpower I really had.
As soon as the box of candy was opened and I ate one, the game was over. There was no amount of willpower that would match the need to have another candy then another and then another. Even candies or chocolate bars that I didn’t really care for, I had to have. And in our house.
The Switch Witch actually comes the night after candy collection and it switches out the candy for a toy as one of my kids is allergic to a lot of the ingredients in candy. And if the switch, which happens to hide some of this candy in our house in order to come back and get it later because her bag of candy was too heavy to fly and deliver all these gifts to kids.
Then I would find myself finding her hiding spots and grabbing more and more candy until my husband would finally take it to work because I couldn’t stop. Heck, I’m a personal trainer and a nutrition coach for a large part of my career, 28 years. Eating healthy and exercise, it’s always been a huge part of my life.
I used to feel like I was a fraud with my lack of willpower.
I was ashamed that I taught nutrition and I could not control this need for sugar and carbs.
The stories that I hear from first responders are similar to mine. It was like sugar and carbs called my name. And they would say the same, especially in the middle of the day when my energy dropped or before I’d go to bed.
If there was junk food in the house, I had no choice but to eat it.
I did all the things. I prepped the healthy food, brought fruits and vegetables and protein with me to work, or I had them all readily available in the fridge where I could open the fridge and grabbed them.
But when the cravings hit, it was like I had these blinders on and I didn’t even see that healthy food that was literally right in front of me.
I had to have the sugar or the carbs.
When my husband buys chips, he puts them on the top of the fridge and I could be upstairs working and hear those chips calling my name. When I’d come down for lunch, I’d grab them instead of one of the healthy meals that I’d prepped and I’d inhale them an entire bag to myself.
There was the odd occasion where I had more than a bag in one sitting. Like a bag. I’m talking these big bags of chips. I’d have more than one in one sitting. Chocolate bars. I’d go to the store or buy a multi-pack and I would inhale three bars at once and I’m saying inhale because I’m not even sure I chewed them.
I would remember opening the package and then I’d look down and the chocolate bars were gone. Often if I was with my husband or with a friend, sometimes if I had a chocolate bar, I would have the whole thing gone and they’d have eaten maybe one or two squares or bites. A box of cookies, bread, pasta, pastries, if they were around, I had to have them.
No matter how full I was after a meal, I needed to have dessert. Sometimes seconds, no matter how, how full I was. How gross I was feeling. Halloween and Easter, though it really seemed to be the worst. I was okay until I had one candy. After that, the game was on and no amount of willpower ever won until I truly felt sick and I couldn’t stop.
Not all of the responders that I work with crave as bad as I did. And I’ll explain why some of us craved to that degree and some of us can maybe have a little bit of willpower.
You would think that all you needed is willpower and knowledge of healthy eating in order to stop sugar and carb cravings. That to stop sugar and carb cravings, you just have to make better choices, right?
I’m not sure that I would’ve believed that someone wouldn’t have enough willpower to avoid sugar and carb cravings and eat healthy until I, myself, who studied nutrition. Who loves eating huge salads and healthy meals, didn’t have enough willpower to withstand sugar and carb cravings. Even with all of the nutrition tricks that I have up my sleeves, I still couldn’t stop them.
Through my 28 year training career and since 2018 working with first responders, there have been some clients who have had sugar and carb cravings who never learned how to eat healthy. And once I taught them, they did make better choices and the cravings went away. But those are far and few between.
Often the issue isn’t not knowing how to eat healthy or not having enough willpower. I was about to ask you guys, how many people do you know that you would describe as healthy and are always trying to eat healthy and work out regularly and still struggle to say no to carbs and sugar but then I remembered that when I was experienced the cravings, I hid them from everyone.
So you wouldn’t even know if somebody else is feeling this way. It was embarrassing. I taught nutrition. Fitness and health was my life. Only my husband knew that I couldn’t stop once I started eating chocolate candy or chips. Once I did let it slip with a friend when she pulled out a container of chocolate and I kept grabbing more until I saw her eyes bawled out because of how many I had eaten.
But often I could resist enough until I was alone and I’d eat all that I brought or I had in the house. I know many responders who after dinner or before bed, they rummaged through the cupboards for crackers, chips, cookies, candy, anything, carbs or sugar. Even after they’ve had a big meal and they knew that they shouldn’t be hangry. Or on shift, they’re grabbing fast food all of the time because that’s what’s calling their.
Has there ever been a time where you told yourself that you were not going to eat carbs or sugar and as the day went on, no amount of willpower was able to stop you from eating it? If so, many responders and someone who is a nutrition coach that loves to eat healthy, can’t gather the willpower to stop eating carbs and sugar, then is willpower the solution?
No. It can’t be if a responder who is really all about health, if a nutrition coach can’t gather the willpower to stop the carbon sugar cravings then is it willpower that’s needed? There’s actually many different reasons that you could crave carbs and sugar which is one reason why it’s so tough to get rid of them as it’s not this one stop fix.
There’s different reasons that this could happening today. In this episode, we’re going to dive into two top reasons that a responder would crave carbs and sugar. The first reason that a responder craves carbs and sugar actually affects almost every responder because of how much you tax your stress system on the job.
Now this may not cause as large of sugar cravings as I’ve described earlier, you may be able to resist sugar and carbs if this is the only reason that you are having the sugar and carb cravings. And because many of you can actually resist those sugar and carb cravings when they appear, you may not realize that a bigger problem is brewing.
And when you miss the signs, it can spiral into you becoming hangry from blood sugar lows, which is not good for you when you are on a call and you need to be calm or you’re at home with your family and you don’t need to be moody or you know you want to be calm and happy with them. It can also start causing you to wake up in your sleep and also gain weight around your middle even if you are at a stage of being able to resist the carb and sugar cravings when they pop up.
So every time that your stress system kicks in, not only are stress hormones released but glucose hormone is released as well in order to give you energy to fight or to flee. And your body has to clean it up over time. They clean up this glucose and over for every single stress that’s occuring.
This happens so often that your body starts getting depleted in glucose storage. Your brain knows as well that sugar and carbs are the fastest fuel source. So when you are depleted in those glucose stores, when your body tells you that you need more fuel, your brain says, “Hey, go grab more sugar and carbs cause they rush into your body fast and we will solve this problem quickly.”
So that’s the start of these sugar and carb cravings. But here’s the kicker. That glucose that’s being sent out is not often used because the stress that caused the stress response may not have required fuel to actually fight or to flee. It may not have needed that physical exertion from you. And if a call is cleared before you get there, or it requires more talking than anything physical on your side.
If the stress is an admin stress, so it’s more of an mental, emotional stress, email stressors coming in, financial, personal stressors, relationship stressors then you often don’t need fuel or the stress as you didn’t physically exert yourself.
The thing is that your body doesn’t know that. Your body can’t tell the difference between a stress that you’re going to need the glucose for and a stress that you’re not. So it just keeps sending out glucose for every stress response. Even for anxiety and panic attacks. Every anxiety and panic attack your body’s sending out that glucose and then it cleans up the glucose if you didn’t need it.
Over time, your brain wonders why you keep cleaning it up and it decides to store some of this glucose in your belly, just in case is a backup. So it stores these glucose in belly fat, so it starts creating more and more belly flat. But it still decides not to use that stored glucose in your belly fat as gut saving it for when you really need it.
And it continues to rely on your body’s natural glucose, which is becoming tired and losing its ability to last as long to fuel your body. So these sugar and carb cravings start increasing more because your natural glucose storages keep decreasing more. And you really should have enough glucose storage for eight hours of sleep.
But as that starts to diminish your brain, every time that your brain perceives that you are low in glucose, it deems that it’s this an emergency state. It deems that you are low in fuel and this is an absolute emergency and it starts waking you up in your sleep. So the glucose you should have for eight hours of sleep only lasts you now six hours and you wake up. And then it becomes five and then four if we don’t stop the problem.
So we have some guys that we work with that get two hours at a time before their body is starting to wake them up because it feels it’s having this glucose storage and it’s an emergency and it needs to wake them up. And from what you’ve learned about sleep deprivation, you now understand how much they must be struggling to stay calm, focus, make critical decisions day after day.
If we think of this kind of like a kid who’s had too much candy, that sugar rushes into them, the glucose and this kid has to get the sugar out of their system somehow, so they become hyperactive. But once the sugar’s out of their body, their body is exhausted and it needs more energy for fuel as it just used it.
So the kid actually wants more sugar. This kid starts craving sugar so you can continue giving this child sugar, which becomes a vicious cycle. Though with a kid, you can stop feeding them the candy and stop feeding them that glucose source and give them healthier food options, and then eventually they start balancing out.
They’re not as hyperactive and they don’t need that sugar again. They stopped that sugar rollercoaster. But when it’s your stress system that’s sending out the glucose or that candy over and over again, then we need to focus on controlling that switch that switches you out of a stress state and back into a resting state when the call is cleared and it’s safe to do so that you stop sending out glucose as often.
So you stop technically giving the kid candy, giving your body candy. The less that you are in that stress state, the more that you can switch out of it, the less time you’re in it, the less your body is sending out glucose. And if you don’t control that switch that turns on and off your stress system into your resting system as you need then you are spending more and more time in that stress state.
You’re sending out more glucose stores and your body starts storing more of that in your belly fat, and it also starts then throwing off your glucose hormone more, decreasing your ability to have those good sleeps. Waking you up after six hours, five hours, four, so you can’t actually even on a day off sleep for eight hours straight.
It’s increasing your sleep deprivation, increasing your sugar and carb cravings. And from there you’re opening yourself up to a slew of health issues. Now we dive more into this switch that turns on and off your stress resting state. We actually give you some strategies for that in episode three, How To Stop Snoring On Any Shift Schedule. And episode eight, Yelling At Your Kid Does Not Mean Something Is Wrong With You.
So you can go back to those if you want to dive into that a little bit more. But let’s say you control the switch that turns on and off your stress and resting system. Keeping you out of a stress state as often reducing your need for glucose. And you start implementing other strategies that I know we teach on a 911 Elite Performance Program that support your glucose hormone and we get it back to working optimally.
But let’s just say that you still have those sugar and carb cravings. You may make the mistake of thinking that you still have struggles with your blood sugars even if you don’t have the symptoms of overtaxed glucose hormones. You aren’t waking up mid sleep anymore and you may not be as hangry as often but you still crave sugars and carbs. They may have never gone away at all.
You may also be experiencing fatigue, so absolute exhaustion. You might be experiencing bumpy white lesions. You might get like white on your tongue, that white coating on your tongue where you could have redness or pain in your mouth and throat. You may get urinary tracted infections, digestive issues, gas that can clear a room, bloating, indigestion, upset, stomach, diarrhea, constipation, or IBS symptoms.
You may have skin or nail fungus. You may have joint pain along with these sugar cravings. So what do you do? That’s when we start looking at your gut and your bacteria. Stress can really affect your gut. When you are switching continually into that stress system then your digestion shuts off because when you are in that fight, you don’t need to stop and have a meal.
So your digestive system slows down. And when your digestive system slows down, your stomach acid slowed down. Then that starts causing some bacteria from your large intestine to start creeping into your small intestine and things take over. Let’s think of it like there is a war in your gut.
And so we have two armies that are fighting. We have good bacteria on one side and bad bacteria on the other side. Now, stomach acid helps keep good bacteria alive. They keep the bad bacteria at bay. So let’s say that maybe that’s like a specialized weapon that the bad bacteria knows that it needs to stay away from. And that specialized weapon makes our good bacteria army stronger.
When we’re stressed and the gut slows down our digestion, the stomach acid slows down. Those defenses go down and it weakens our good bacteria and the bad bacteria start infiltrating the small intestine where these good bacteria were living. They feed off the sugar. So they start creeping in from the outer forces, from the large intestine into your small intestine.
And the thing is that these bad bacteria, they feed off of sugar. The more bad bacteria that you have, the more sugar you crave. And as they get stronger and as they start building larger armies and multiplying and they start spreading throughout your body, you start craving more and more sugar and carbs to start fueling them and feeding them.
There are tons of different bacteria, so it’s really important for you to know what weapons and strategies are needed to fight each type of bacteria. As they all have different weaknesses that can bring them down. So there’s different strategies required from each. If you use the wrong weapon to fight a bacteria army then they will continue to invade. And the symptoms of an invasion of bad bacteria is the fatigue, like we said. So sugar and carb cravings, also fatigue and absolute exhaustion.
That white coating on your mouth. You may have bumpy lesions, redness, pain in your mouth or throat, urinary tract infections, digestive issues, gas that can clear a room, bloating, indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea, constipation, IBS, skin or nail fungus, and joint pain. These are all going to increase along with those sugar and carb cravings in order to continue growing and feeding this army.
And that’s where we need to do the proper recon. It’s really important for your success in this fight. If you don’t do the proper recon then you may be using the wrong weapons, the wrong strategy in order to be able to take the bad bacteria down depending on which bad bacteria you’re fighting.
So my sugar and carb cravings were so bad because I had both of these struggles going on. I had my stress system kicking in, throwing everything off and I had tons of bad bacteria taking over different kinds. So I needed different strategies to fight different ones. I made the mistake of first tackling the bacteria. I made some headway. Somebody had told me all about gut stuff and I went to go and do it.
But because my stress system was always kicking in, I would make some headway with killing some of this bacteria. But because my stress system kept kicking in, my stomach acids kept slowing down that my good bacteria couldn’t fight back as much. And eventually the good bacteria would be overtaken by the bad bacteria again. So I’d make two steps forward, one back. Sometimes two back over time. It was frustrating.
I learned the hard way to gain control over the stress and resting switch first and then to tackle my gut bacteria. Only then did the sugar and carb cravings disappear. Now, there’s one mistake that we do see often that does initially curb the curb and sugar cravings but over time they do come back with a vengeance, and that’s keto or intermittent fasting.
The mistakes that people make is thinking that the great feeling when they start keto or intermittent and fasting is the solution that they’ve hit the jackpot. “Oh my God, I feel so much better. I’m not craving sugar and carbs. The fatigue has gone away. I feel amazing.” And this absolutely does happen because you’re not feeding the army anymore.
But that doesn’t mean that the bad bacteria has gone away. These bad bacteria are amazing at hibernating when they are low in their fuel source, when they’re low in sugar and carbs, when you’re not feeding them that fuel. But when you start back up with any carbs or any sugar, that bad bacteria wakes up with a vengeance and screams for carbs and sugar.
So those carb cravings come back even worse. The exhaustion hits you hard and fast. Gut issues come roaring back. Everything comes coming back. So sometimes what they’ll say is, “Hey, test out keto by going off of it again and see how you feel.” And you do feel like crap but it’s not because you fixed a problem.
It’s because these bad bacteria have come out of hibernation is all. They haven’t gone away. Nothing’s fixed. So keto doesn’t fix the problem, it just makes it less noticeable. And you go from feeling good to feeling like that rundown responder again once you go off keto or that no carb diet. So let’s recap what we talked about today as far as those sugar and carb cravings.
So when Halloween is now, if you have been struggling to not dive into the candy, if those sugar and carbs are calling your name even outside halloween, you’re looking through the cupboards at night looking for cookies or candy or carbs or needing that fast food even if you brought yourself a healthy meal, there’s a reason.
Two of the main reasons that we do see sugar and carb cravings in responders are because those glucose storages get messed up from being sent out with every stress response, which starts causing carb and sugar cravings, waking mid sleep, and that hangry feeling. Now bad bacteria overgrowth from long term stress shutting down your digestive system is another reason why you can crave those sugar and carbs. The bad bacteria feed off the sugar and carbs, so the more of the bad bacteria there are, the more sugar and carbs you crave.
Now in our 911 Elite Performance Program, one of the modules that we do teach breaks down the steps to start controlling the switch, to turn on and off your stress and resting system. So that’s one piece of the puzzle of supporting your stress system and getting you from that rundown responder into that resilient tactical athlete status.
The doors to 911 Elite Performance Program did just close. They closed last week I only open them a couple of times a year so that I can really focus on coaching those in the program. We will open the doors again the end of January, beginning of February in 2023. Only those that are on our wait list though will know when the doors open so that we don’t spam everybody on our email list that isn’t ready for our program.
So if you’re not on the wait list, go to 911ShiftReady.com and click on the Work with Us page and you’ll see our wait list, sign up for it there. If you would like to get started now, we do have some free trainings on our website. Also that’s 911ShiftReady.com. Download them today and get started and I will see you in the next episode.