The other morning my 16-month-old son was happily running across the living room, tripped on a pillow, and hit his face against the base of the couch or toy laying on the floor (we don’t really know which one). After cleaning the cut and calling the doctor, we made the decision to take him to Patient First so that they could examine it further and give it the attention that it needed. This experience at Patient First was not a pleasant one (is it ever?). Mason was very upset and the nurse a little rude. Let’s just say it left us both in tears, with the stress and the fear only increasing when the doctor directed us to go to the Emergency Room for stitches.
Fortunately, our trip to the ER was a much more positive one (if you can ever say that about a trip to the ER), with a compassionate doctor, less upset baby (thank you Paw Patrol), and no stitches needed (yay!). While I am so grateful everything turned out fine, overall, the almost five hour experience was stressful and scary. The reason I wanted to write about it is in connection to blood sugar.
I remember learning that blood sugar can spike and crash even when food isn’t involved. The stress response can be responsible for elevated – and then subsequently low – blood sugar. I was able to make the connection between my own stress and cravings in this instance. Having this knowledge served me in this particular situation, as I was able to know what was going on when I returned from the hospital craving carbohydrates and sugar.
Stress and sugar cravings basically go hand in hand. Our bodies were built to need fuel in the face of the fight or flight response. What is the quickest form of fuel? Glucose. Back in our primal ancestors’ days, this looked like berries and vegetation. Now, it looks like a handful of M&Ms from the office candy jar, a donut in the break room, or the cookies that you buy for your kids. Combine that with the fact that these foods contain ingredients that trigger reward hormones in your brain to make you feel happy. Talk about immediate gratification from the anxiety you were just experiencing.
However, these foods are not really what your body needs. Food manufacturers are smart; they know what they are doing. They put ingredients in their foods to get you addicted to them and coming back for more. But they don’t carry any nutritional benefits, so when we want them, it is rarely about a physical need and more about the mental or emotional need. Sometimes it’s about nostalgia, comfort, and past experiences that your brain remembers when a certain result was achieved (i.e. relief, happiness, joy). Otherwise, it is about a cry for energy. There is a good chance that after a stressful situation (or a prolonged period of time of feeling stressed out), you are emotionally and physically drained. As a result, your body will have you craving carbohydrates and sugar for quick energy. The body is a smart machine.
I knew what was happening. I also knew carbohydrates and sugar wasn’t what I needed in that moment. I needed nourishment. So while Mason drank his lunch smoothie, I sipped on some homemade bone broth (recipe below) that I had luckily made earlier in the week. Bone broth is high in protein, vitamins and minerals. It helped me “crowd out” the sugar craving and get something on my stomach, so that I could make a more informed choice for lunch. For the risk of sounding cliché, that is the thing about knowledge – it’s power. Knowing what was taking place physiologically and emotionally empowered me to do the best I could with the information at hand.
After I put Mason down for a nap, I felt more in control, but I also knew that my usual lunch of mostly protein and veggies wasn’t going to cut it. I still wanted something more comforting. I fixed myself a plate of yogurt (more protein) and paired it with an Empower Bar topped with peanut butter, bee pollen, and macadamia nuts. The Empower Bar made me feel like I was eating something carby and sweet, while being more blood sugar balancing. It was the best I could do in that moment, and I was proud of myself for making a more nutritious choice.
It also gave me a new appreciation for bone broth. I typically get an organic rotisserie chicken from Whole Foods each week for a quick protein option, and sometimes I will make broth with the bones. There are so many recipes out there, and it really is quite simple. The recipe below is about as basic as you can get. I only had carrots on hand, so I cut up a bunch and through those in the pot. Other recipes call for onion, garlic, ginger, etc. I am going to try to always have a batch in my fridge!
- Place the bones/carcass from a rotisserie chicken into a large pot or Dutch oven. Add any other vegetables you would like. I simply added about 3 cups of carrots, but you could toss in onion, celery, garlic. Bring the water to a boil over high heat.
- Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer. Leave the pot uncovered and cook 3 hours. Once done, strain the broth through a fine mesh sieve into mason jars.
*Note: I strained the broth through the mesh sieve into a separate large bowl first. Then I used a funnel to transfer the broth into two large mason jars. I allowed the jars to sit out at room temperature for about 20 minutes before securing the lid and transferring them to the refrigerator.