By Dr. Sarah LoBisco

The holidays are here! Soon, we’ll be gathering amongst family and friends, joining in celebration and giving thanks for all our blessings. For some, holidays can trigger mixed emotions, not just from relationship dynamics, but with the angst and inner conflicts in their relationship with food. It’s the balancing act between the looking forward to Aunt Cookie’s key lime pie but not the after effects of unbuckling belt loops and wearing stretchy pants for one week. Unfortunately, due to our current food production strategies, which actually aim to make us crave more of the product vs. feeling satisfied, this is not an uncommon condition. So, if you are amongst one of the food crazies, read on for some empowering tips to help you through the holidays.

Tip 1: How to Curb Sugar Cravings to enjoy the holidays without the guilt:

Food is information; it can be used to nourish and heal our bodies. If we give our body access to the right information, we can aid positive communication with our genes to turn on and off various metabolic processes aligned with health, the science of nutrigenomics. In celebrations, food is used in as a means to connect, entertain, and enjoy. However, sometimes food can act as a drug to numb feelings. If you are someone who finds holiday eating to be a source of struggle between excessive biological cravings and igniting willpower, the problem may be what you are eating that is triggering you, rather than controlling how much you are eating.

According to Dr. Mercola, eating sugar and processed foods that contain fructose can trigger weight gain and cravings through their biological effect on metabolism:

In essence, overeating and excess weight could be viewed as a symptom of an improper diet, because when you consume too many sugars and carbs, you set off a cascade of chemical reactions in your body that makes you hungry and craving for sweets:

  1. First, fructose is metabolized differently from glucose, with the majority being turned directly into fat because stimulates a powerful “fat switch.”
  2. This rapidly leads to weight gain and abdominal obesity (“beer belly”), decreased HDL, increased LDL, elevated triglycerides, elevated blood sugar, and high blood pressure—i.e., classic metabolic syndrome.
  3. Dietary carbohydrates, especially fructose, are also the primary source of a substance called glycerol-3-phosphate (g-3-p), which causes fat to become fixed in fat tissue
  4. At the same time, high carb intake raises your insulin levels, which prevents fat from being released
  5. Fructose further tricks your body into gaining weight by turning off your body’s appetite-control system. Fructose does not suppress ghrelin (the “hunger hormone”) and doesn’t stimulate leptin (the “satiety hormone”), which together result in feeling hungry all the time, even though you’ve eaten. As a result, you overeat and develop insulin resistance, which is not only an underlying factor of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, but also many cancers

(Interested in learning more? Click here to watch a video, “Sugar- the Bitter Truth”, presented by Dr. Lustwig.)

So, how do you support yourself through the cravings? The first is to avoid the substance is causing you angst, but how? A few years ago, I wrote on various causes of weight loss resistance.  In this series, I discussed the top six physiological reasons for cravings and weight loss resistance. To review, they include:

1. Yeast overgrowth

2. Low serotonin or neurotransmitter imbalance

3. Mal-absorption (Leaky Gut) & nutritional deficiencies

4. Food allergies

5. Parasites

6. Hormonal imbalances

If any of these factors are out of balance, cravings can become unmanageable and binge eating can result.  (I recently added a few other topics in various blogs on weight loss resistance or carbohydrate/sugar addiction-nutrigenomics and toxicity. Some people are genetically set up for “thrifty metabolisms” and need to eat certain foods to balance this. Furthermore, if one is toxic, the body will hang onto fat). An integrative doctor can help to address and discover which or all of the above causes are affecting an individual’s cravings or weight loss goals and encode a plan to assist in each specific imbalance.

Utilizing supportive strategies, such as the ones discussed by Dr. Hyman, can help support someone in the transition of shifting away from addictive foods. These strategies include:

  1. Balance your blood sugar. *
  2. Eliminate sugar and artificial sweeteners from your diet.
  3. Determine if hidden food allergies are triggering your cravings.
  4. Get 7-8 hours of sleep.
  5. Use craving cutting supplements including vitamin D, omega-3 fats, glutamine, tyrosine, 5-HTP, chromium, and glucomannan.

Of the steps above, eliminating sugar and artificial sweeteners is the most important. Go cold turkey and most of your food cravings will go away in a few days.

Balancing your blood sugar is key. It consists of eating 5-7 mini meals a day of a balance of protein, carbohydrates (mostly veggies), and a healthy fat source (see my fun facts). It’s best to grab protein, such as hard boiled eggs or nuts when one is craving sugar, this will create less blood sugar fluctuations, will curb cravings, and keep the hormones insulin and cortisol regulated. This will result lowered body stress, better craving control, and overall health.

According to Dr. Hyman:

Eating in a way that balances your blood sugar, reduces inflammation and oxidative stress, and improves your liver detoxification is the key to preventing and reversing insulin resistance and diabetes. This is a way of eating that based on a whole foods diet that’s high in fiber, rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, and low in sugars and flours, with a low glycemic load.

It is a way of eating that includes anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and detoxifying foods. It includes plenty of omega-3 fats and olive oil, soy products, beans, nuts, and seeds. All these foods help prevent and reverse diabetes and insulin resistance. This is the way of eating than turns on all the right gene messages, promotes a healthy metabolism, and prevents aging and age-related diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

Dr. Amen further offers support in strategies to cut the cravings and still feel satisfied:

  1. Eliminate simple carbs, sugar, pasta, bread, white rice and white potatoes immediately.  For most people it takes about 3 days to kill the craving for sugar.  For some of you it can take a couple of weeks.
  2. To help eliminate the craving for sugar during your “detox” phase:
  3. Increase your water intake
  4. Eat LOTS of fresh vegetables
  5. Never allow yourself to become too hungry.  Eat 4 or 5 small meals throughout the day.
  6. Don’t go more than 3 hours without some protein.  Protein increases satiety.
  7. Eat small amounts of healthy fat from avocados, nuts and seeds throughout the day.  This also increases satiety.

In my fun facts on, I provide a link for some recipes that give you the sweet taste without the negative emotional and physical consequences. I also gave some clues in my previous blog.

2. Manage Stress of the Family with Nutrition & Supplemental Support
Food and mood are interconnected. At holiday times emotional triggers can lead to stress eating. In a previous blog, I wrote about how high stress can lead to weight gain. When one is stressed, sugar cravings are heightened and digestive and absorptive clues are halted, as the body wants quick energy with low processing to run from the saber toothed tiger.

A recent article reported on how a prolonged stress response can affect mood and memory. However, when one supported the stress response with nutrition and vitamins, the supplemented population had a better stress response and memory retention:

However, excessive or chronic stress can lead to over-activity of the body’s hormonal stress-response systems. When these systems are working normally, they normalize sleep, appetite, energy, and sex drive, and promote healthy mood. Sustained stress elevates levels of cortisol, the so-called “death hormone”. This imbalance alters levels of neurotransmitters in the brain and literally shrinks the hippocampus region, which plays a key role in memory and emotion. As he said, “B vitamins, which are found in whole unprocessed foods such as meat, beans and whole grains, are integral to the synthesis of neurotransmitters critical to psychological wellbeing. But the reality is that many people don’t get enough B vitamins from their diet, so they are turning to vitamin supplementation.” (SUT 2011)

A rule of thumb is to try to eat when you are calm and to eat nutritious foods high in fiber if you are in a suboptimal environment. You can support your body’s stress response as well using various supplements and nutritional support discussed above.

3. Exercise

If it all gets to be too much, get out of the house and take a walk! Exercise boosts mood and makes you less hungry!

Other Benefits of Exercise

  • Controls weight (balances insulin)
  • Promotes maximum bone density
  • Strengthens and tones
  • Enhances flexibility
  • Boosts energy
  • Promotes better sleep
  • Improves quality of life
  • Combats health conditions and diseases
  • Improves mood (affects on serotonin and dopamine)
  • Promotes social well-being by improving self-confidence and the ability to interact socially with peers

4. Go Slow with Food

After you’ve moved and got your anxious thoughts out of your mind and body, you can relax into your meal. Recent research shows that the slower you eat, the less you do.

The fastest diners – who ate about 3.5 times faster than the slower eaters – consumed more calories.  One of those investigations came from researchers at the University of Rhode Island (URI), who recorded volunteers’ eating speeds and calorie intakes (Melanson K et al. 2006).


5. Be easy on yourself

Moderation is the key! If you are able to enjoy holiday festivities and have a few treats, by all means do! However, keep in mind when moderation tips into everyday cravings, the above methods are meant to aid you back into balance. Remember, self compassion is an additional key to weight loss!

I’ll end with a quote from Dr. Hyman:

The fundamental focus of lifestyle or functional approaches (which includes nutrition, exercise, and stress management) is the restoration of normal function and balance in each individual. When you do this, risk factors and symptoms go away automatically. Conventional interventions, on the other hand, are primarily focus on blocking, interfering with, or excising a biochemical or physical manifestation of disease. This is the reason biology shifts towards normal when using lifestyle medicine, instead of medication, and the only side effects are good ones: weight loss, more energy, better sleep, increased well being, a reduction of most disease, and increased longevity.


Robert Rountree, MD. Toxins & Illness: Paranoid Fantasy or Legitimate Threat? Advanced Practice Module: Understanding Biotransformation and Recognizing Toxicity. (Pre-Webinar). Institute for Functional Medicine. Phoenix, AZ December, 2011

Mercola, J. Feast Like a Caveman, and Watch the Pounds Melt Away. November 11, 2011.

Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology. Series: UCSF Mini Medical School for the Public [7/2009] [Health and Medicine] [Show ID: 16717].

Wetherby, C. B vitamins and Meditation Ease Worker’s Stress. Vitalchoice Newsletter. November 10, 2011.,b1h0JlRD

Hyman, M. 5 Steps To Reverse Type 2 Diabetes and Insulin Resistance.

Hyman. M. Answers from my Recent Twitter Party. November 5, 2011.

Hyman, M. Do Statins Cause Diabetes? November 12, 2011.

Amen, D. Healthy Tips From Tana Amen, RN: The Brain Doctor’s Wife

Amen Newsletter. November 8, 2011.

Amen, D. Dr. Yikes!! Depression and Stress Can Make you Age Faster. Amen’s Blog. November 15, 2011.

Amen, D. Exercise for Your Brain, Not just Your Butt. Dr. Amen’s Blog. November 15, 2011.

Wetherby, C. Slow Eating Cuts Calories. VitalChoice Newsletter. November 21, 2011.,b1h0JlRD

Be sure to check out my informational blog on which includes:

  1. Naturopathic Philosophy Highlight Fun Facts:
    1. Eat Fat to Balance Blood Sugar, Inflammation, and Your Waist
    2. Recipes for a Yummy & Gluten Free For Thanksgiving – Pumpkin Bread & Tarts!
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      We all hear about the power of gratitude, but what does that really mean? In this episode of Flourish, Dr. Northrup talks with you about the profound link between appreciation, gratitude, and physical health, and also prepares you for a Flourishing Thanksgiving.
    • Hitting Reset with Marcelle Pick, NP
      So many women today set their schedules on FAST. Is there a way to slow down? Are you, or is someone you know, doing too much all the time? Listen in today as Marcelle talks about why some of us want to keep going all the time. Learn about the emotions that drive it and the health factors which may be affected.
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      With Special Guest(s): Nick Ortner
      Discover the benefits of EFT or tapping with Nick Ortner, the producer of The Tapping Solution, a documentary film that explores Emotional Freedom Techniques (tapping). Learn about this fascinating new discovery that combines ancient chinese accupressure and modern psychology with amazing results.
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