Shake it ’til you break it – the sugar habit that is! We interviewed Michelle Wong of The Nonlinear Path about her ‘Shake Off Sugar’ program. Please enjoy this excerpted interview from the show and download Michelle’s Radiant Health tips and recipes!! If you want to listen to or download the show podcast, just follow this link.
Susie: Thank you for joining us- we’re going to be talking about shake off the sugar. Michelle Wong is a former system and information engineer. And she can completely relate to the busy lifestyle that can lead to some rather unhealthy habits. Her busy lifestyle kicked off a cycle of yo-yo dieting, basically not feeling well and she finally decided she was done with that and she trained at the Institute of Psychology of Eating. She’s a nutritional adviser, a yoga teacher and in her work, she basically empowers women and inspires them to thrive physically, spiritually and financially. And she is deeply passionate about movement, holistic nutrition and energy medicine. Tell us a little bit about your journey.
Michelle: Thanks so much. Well, my journey actually started when I was an undergrad. I think it was through all the stress of being in school that I just started eating and I kept eating. And I’m not a really big person and so to suddenly gain so much weight in such a short period of time, it was a shock to me and my system. Since then, my own health has been a journey and that’s how I started the path of exploring more holistic health and wellness, because in the past, I was literally counting calories, going to the gym to burn it off and I was just on this cycle that wasn’t healthy. I wasn’t necessarily taught whole foods or just mindful eating, and so I was just doing what other people were doing and listening to the media and magazines.
Susie: And our lives have gotten busier and busier, and so it becomes more challenging because when you buy ready-made packaged items, they can really undermine our health because they’re full of sugars, or they’re just simple carbohydrates.
Michelle: Yeah exactly. And there’s all these different information sources out there about what’s healthy, what’s not healthy, that we start to become fearful of what to eat. And I know that in the past, I was terrified of fats. I would cut it out of my system and I’d be upset if my mom put olive oil in salad dressing, I mean in salads, and so sometimes it’s just so confusing out there.
Susie: It is really confusing. And every week, it seems like we get new information on, “Well, what we told you two months ago, don’t do that now.”
Michelle: Exactly. Like margarine versus butter.
Susie: And eggs are okay now.
Michelle: Right. And it’s like my philosophy is really about taking a more holistic view and not demonizing food. Even though I teach people to be more mindful about what they put in their bodies and helping them reduce sugar cravings, I’m not necessarily saying sugar is bad. It’s just understanding when we become addicted to sugar and it has this huge control on us that makes us crazy emotionally.
Susie: What are some of the hidden signs of sugar cravings?
Michelle: A lot of times, it’s just being mindful of patterns. If you find that 2:00 PM hits and you find yourself suddenly reaching for the candy drawer or you’re starting to think about snacks and your mind is going to sweets or chips. Or even in the evening, like around 9:00 PM, you find yourself in front of the fridge. These are patterns that suddenly we’ve gone on this cycle and those are really tell tale signs that cravings are starting to kick in.
Susie: Not to pick on Starbucks, but they’ve actually I think figured this out because when you go in and buy a coffee in the morning, they’ll give you that coupon to come back in the afternoon for a snack. Cutting out sugar, does it have to be cold turkey?
Michelle: No. And that’s part of what I teach. Because I know a lot of people who tried to cut off sugar cold turkey and I’ve seen them do it and it’s such a struggle. Because our body has been chemically relying on sugar and so there’s definitely an easier way, that is definitely more holistic. I like an easier transition because honestly, if people are craving sugar a lot, it is an addiction. Just to cut it off like that, it’s a shock to the system and it can get people crazy.
Susie: I want to hear more about how you can transition off sugar. But first, tell me about how we’ve become chemically dependent or addicted so to speak on sugar. What’s going on in the body?
Michelle: Well, it’s interesting because there are studies that show sugar lights the pathways in the brain very similar to cocaine, because it gives us this high. And it also runs through pleasure pathways and so it’s really easy for us to reach for sugar. And when I say sugar, it’s not just sweets. It’s anything that’s refined. It could be potato chips. Anything, even pasta. It kicks off this high, our serotonin levels go up, our pleasure goes up and then chemically from like the roller coaster, the sugar roller coaster, that kicks in. It causes a stressed system if we don’t have it and if we have too much of it. This cycle causes this chemical reach to help us “calm down”.
Susie: Basically, the body is thinking, “Oh no, I have too much and now I have too little. Too much, too little.” There’s no balance.
Michelle: Yeah. And it does tie back to our blood sugar as well in making sure that we are able to keep our blood sugar at a very… I would say, its ideal bandwidth so that we don’t get into that crazy roller coaster cycle.
Susie: Perfect. Transitioning rather than cold turkey, how does that look?
Michelle: Yeah. I always recommend, if I can, just very simple tips. The first thing is not to skip breakfast. A lot of times when that happens, our blood sugar is already low. When we hit a certain level, a lot of times we reach for the fast foods, the easy foods. And along the same lines, making sure that you’re eating a healthy breakfast. We hear it all the time, but I think it’s really hard to do because people are on the go a lot and they’re not leaving a lot of time in the morning. Make a healthy smoothie and make sure what you’re putting in is really balanced. Don’t skip the fats, healthy fats, high quality protein, good carbohydrates and fiber. Fiber is one that it’s not like a nutrient necessarily, but we need it to help us stay full and it’s good for our digestive health.
Susie: Go ahead and tell us a little bit about your Shake Off The Sugar program. What’s it all about?
Michelle: This program is designed for people who are busy and they like simplicity because that’s who I am. How it works is that we really focus on shifting your habits into a healthier lifestyle. It’s an easier transition and we start off by, like I said, having a really healthy smoothie in the morning and then for lunch, you make your own. I would prefer low glycemic, that means foods that don’t spike your blood sugar and usually those are more whole foods. Creating your own balanced meal. And then having a snack that’s also low glycemic. And then for dinner, having another smoothie. What this does is that it makes it really easy because it takes the brain work out of the program. And also, to also have really good quality vitamins in the morning and evening because a lot of people don’t know, but when our body is off balance and not getting the proper vitamins and minerals, we’re actually deficient in the chemicals that our body needs to feel good and it links to serotonin again. But whenever our blood sugar is off it kicks in that sugar habit all over again.
Susie: Because then we’re looking to sugar to feel good.
Michelle: Exactly. And I can share more…if our body is missing proper forms of B vitamins and vitamin C, if they’re not in good balance, we’re not getting nutrients to make serotonin, for example. Our body is smart, it’s going to want to self-diagnose and the easiest way is to eat sugar.
Susie: That’s actually brilliant that our body knows what it needs and it’s going to try to figure out how to get you to give it that.
Michelle: Yeah. And it’s also… It’s smart and also it goes to the path of least resistance. Whatever is the easiest.
Susie: What’s an overlooked step in easing sugar cravings?
Michelle: Well, there are actually a few. One, I would say, it’s so easy, is drink water. Drink high quality, good quality water. A lot of times, we mistake an hunger for thirst or thirst for hunger. And our cells are 80% water and so a lot of times we’re actually thirsty, but we are grabbing foods. Keeping hydration… Keeping ourselves hydrated does help.
Another one tip links back to serotonin. Serotonin is our happy hormone that keeps us feeling good. A lot of times when we’re stressed, we’ll go to foods. When we’re bored, we’ll go to foods. I always recommend vitamin P which is pleasure.
Susie: Oh I like it, vitamin P. Beautiful. And staying present, right? Staying present really can help just calm the body down and put us in a place where we can make better decisions.
Michelle: Absolutely, yeah. I think staying present and that’s also part of it because a lot of times we don’t know we’re craving sugar. I actually didn’t know that I had sugar cravings and I actually see just different patterns that people have where they’re always reaching for snacks that might not be healthy, but they don’t know. And I think when people are off of the sugar cravings, they’re more present in their bodies and they can tell when they suddenly hooked on sugar again. And I can share that as a personal experience. I’ve gone through waves of that myself. It’s not about perfection.
Susie: What about some of the alternative milks out there? A lot of people are drinking alternative milks and eating gluten free. I have seen that that can be a trap for rice and different kinds of sugars and things like that. They’re being healthy, eating gluten free or perhaps having rice milk or almond milk or coconut milk, what should people look out for if they’re having that?
Michelle: Well definitely, I would recommend look at the labels. I’m a fan of alternative, like nut milks and rice milks. But a lot of times, there’s not a lot of protein in there and there’s more sugar or sometimes there might not be so much sugar, but it’s what are you eating it with. Yeah, if it’s even granola. I definitely recommend checking out the label. Another piece would be maybe make it at home on your own, cashew milk is really easy to make. But definitely, read the label because a lot of times, you’re thinking, “Oh, almond milk, it’s nuts, so it should have good protein.” But when you read it, it only has one gram or two grams and that’s not enough. Protein, fats and fiber are important because they help slow down the absorption of the sugar into your bloodstream. It keeps you full longer and it’s what our body needs, so why not give it what it needs.
Susie: What’s happening at the cellular level?
Michelle: When we are craving sugar, I would say at the cellular level, our body is going through an inflammation process. What’s happening is that, I mentioned a little earlier about the roller coaster, so it actually ties back to that because when we’re on that sugar roller coaster, what’s actually happening on a chemical level and this is happening cellularly. When we are spiking our blood sugar, our body is creating a lot of insulin because it has to have insulin in order to clear up the sugar in the blood stream. That signal that response, is actually a type of stress response that our brain is sending out.
It’s because there’s way too much sugar to deal with and our brain does need it. And the flip side is that when we don’t have enough sugar in our bloodstream, this is where a lot of the information comes in because now our body is going through another state of stress. And we talked about earlier with Debbie and she’s talking about how stress affects us. The cortisol level, that signal of we do need a little bit of stress in our body, but that constant stress of dealing with this roller coaster causes that inflammation. What that looks like is inflammation. You can think of it as almost like a little army coming in to try to deal with all this excess sugar and the stress of dealing with lack of sugar.
Susie: And inflammation is truly one of the biggest causes behind a lot of the autoimmune diseases and chronic pain conditions that people are suffering from. They may not realize it, but it’s probably something that’s been brewing in the background for quite some time as inflammation and then it manifests.
Michelle: Yeah. And it happens at the low-grade levels. We don’t necessarily think about it. But anytime we do experience constant low-grade levels of stress, it’s like there’s an extra burn into our body. And I know that for me personally, that when I get off the sugar roller coaster, even my menstrual cycle, like cramps that I typically can get, it goes away. It’s really powerful when we can manage our sugar.
Susie: Michelle has an amazing book full of tips and she has some recipes in it. Can you tell them how they can download this?
Michelle: You can go get the gift through my website. You can just go to nonlinearpath.com/shakeoffsugarfreeresources.
Susie: And we’ll post these resources on to the Facebook page for Radiantly You after the show. If you weren’t able to capture this, just go to the Facebook page and you can find a download link there. I want to go back to this idea of having a smoothie or shake for breakfast. And one of the things I really like about this is not just that you have some recipes that are low glycemic and balancing, but I think it also gives your digestive system a break. Rather than in the morning you wake up and you just throw down some cereal or something like that. It really just eases your body into the day. And maybe you have an outline of a recipe for a shake…what’s your go-to strategy there.
Michelle: I love doing breakfast smoothies. What I do is definitely choose foods that you actually like to have. If you’re not a fan of maybe water, definitely choose something like a nut milk. I recommend 10 ounces of nut milk and this is for a one-serving size. Grab low-glycemic fruit. I definitely recommend berries, strawberries, blueberries, things that are tasty and have good antioxidants. Grab a little handful of leafy greens. You actually can’t taste it. That’s what I love about smoothies. I recommend spinach and then add a really high-quality protein base. You can do hemp seeds or hemp powder. There’s a lot of really great brands out there and find one that maybe has some great fiber as well. Yeah, you want to think about those food groups. The fat, the protein, the carbohydrate, and the fiber, and then add some liquid.
Susie: Okay. And while we’re talking about the liquid, what about coconut water? I’ve looked on the label. I see some sugar, but is it an okay sugar?
Michelle: Well, coconut is… I think it’s great. It helps to rebalance your electrolytes. I recommend if you’re going to drink it, have it with maybe almond butter with apple or something, mix it up. It’s great after playing sports or on a hot day. I’m a fan of it.
Susie: And what about having it in the shake as the liquid?
Michelle: I think that’s fine. Yeah, I’ve tried it. I find it to be a little too sweet, so I personally don’t. But I think that’s fine as long as there’s good protein.
Susie: Is this something people can expect as they transition off sugar? Will they get to the point that you’re at, that they’ll be like, “Oh, this actually tastes too sweet?”
Michelle: Oh, I think so. For me, my taste buds have changed. I used to love chocolate covered peanut M&M’s. And my taste buds, I can’t even eat them anymore. There’s a big difference now when I eat them.
Susie: Wow. How about sleep? Tell us how powerful sleep is in wellness.
Michelle: Oh my gosh. Yeah, sleep is so, so powerful and very important. And a lot of people say, “Get eight hours of sleep.” I think to make it more precise, it’s not how many hours of sleep. It’s when you fall asleep. Every hour before midnight that you actually fall asleep and sleep through equals to two hours of quality that you would get versus after midnight.
Susie: Getting to bed at a decent hour and probably maintaining a regular schedule of that, right?
Michelle: Yeah. And what that does is it calms your body down because when you have that second wind, if you go to bed maybe past 1:00 or 2:00 AM, it’s actually your body has just increased cortisol level just to keep you up and that causes a whole imbalance. And when we don’t get enough sleep, our leptin which is our hormone, our hunger hormone, it actually gets turned off, so we end up eating more.
Susie: What is that? We have a hunger hormone?
Michelle: Yeah. Leptin is a hormone that tells us when we’re full. It gets turned off when we don’t get proper sleep. It throws off our eating, our habits, and we just end up eating more.
Susie: I love it because your solutions are not just about eating, a lot of them are lifestyle related. All of these go together. And the other thing to keep in mind too is we only have a limited amount of willpower. Being well-rested is super important.
Michelle: Yes. I’m so glad you brought up willpower because that’s the whole thing with trying to quit sugar cold turkey, it just weakens willpower, like saying no to certain things. And eventually, it’s easy to breakdown and chemically in our body, we need to eat healthy and we need a little bit of sugar.
Susie: Thank you for being here today Michelle, for joining us. I would like to invite everyone listening to support yourself – your powerful, clever self – to release those sugar cravings, just let them go. Let any fear of letting them go go as well and replace them with a new, overwhelming craving to become and forever remain healthy, happy and free. A healthy craving to extend your life in ways that work for you.
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