Spry editor Lisa Delaney is one of the rare souls who know what it’s like to be an “after.” This journalist and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl shed 70 pounds—and six dress sizes–and has kept it off for 20 years. She answers your questions here each week.
DEAR FFG: I have overwhelming cravings for sweets, and as a consequence, I’m getting a belly. I’m under a lot of stress being a caregiver for my elderly parents (even though I do have help). How can I cope with this out-of-control sweet tooth?--Barb
DEAR BARB: I know from experience how tough caregiving can be on so many different levels. Even with outside help, it’s a huge responsibility to shoulder, not to mention the fact that you’re having to come to grips with the fact that your parents are declining. When my dad was sick, I saw that particularly in my sister, who did much of the day-to-day caregiving in addition to the responsibilities for her own family and work. I live in a different city and flew back and forth to help—but even I experienced the feeling of constant anxiety, never knowing when something will go wrong. It can be almost completely paralyzing. Caregiving is so physically and emotionally exhausting that we have little left for ourselves. We don’t have the energy to get out and do something really good for ourselves—like go for a walk—and even if we have the opportunity. So we eat. We eat to comfort ourselves, we eat because we’re grieving, we eat because it’s the only thing we have the energy to do at the end of a day. So, how do we STOP that sweet tooth from taking over? A few thoughts.
Take up a new hobby. This might sound crazy, but using the respite time you do have to try something new—dancing, knitting, painting—could help you break the stress cycle that’s so common among caregivers. You need to get distance from your fears and grief, and the focus and concentration learning something new requires can give you that. If it’s something active, all the better. Even joining a walking group or scheduling a swim a couple of days a week could help. I had committed to a learn-to-row class before my dad got sick, and forced myself to follow through. My rowing sessions became a real bright spot during a dark time. Read more about my rowing adventure here.
Go cold turkey—for a week. Sugar is a tough addiction to break—the more you have, the more you want. Try vowing to cut yourself off altogether for a week to help wean your sweet tooth off the stuff.
Have one “cheat” day a week. After your sugar-free week, give yourself one day a week where you can eat sweets—then cut yourself off for the rest of the time. This not only helps you slash calories, but it gives you something to look forward to and makes you appreciate your treats more. Treats by definition are supposed to be something special, but when we allow ourselves to eat them any time, anywhere, we devalue them. The “cheat day” idea elevates treats to their rightful place.
Don’t keep sweets in the house. Clear your pantry and candy dishes of sugary stuff, and on your cheat day, buy only what you will eat that day. If it isn’t at hand, you’re less likely to dip into the stuff.
Find low-cal substitutes. If you find yourself needing to munch on something—anything—get yourself sugar-free gum, chopped-up fresh veggies (celery, carrots, cucumbers, red bell peppers), even fruit. No, it’s not chocolate, but it may help satisfy the urge to eat.
Give yourself a break. Acknowledge that this is a tough time, and make these small changes slowly and patiently, knowing you will have good days and bad days. If your stress boils over and you go on a binge, remember that tomorrow is another opportunity to make a fresh start.
Lisa Delaney is editor of Spry magazine and Spryliving.com. Ask her your question here.