Wellbeing

Why do I crave sugar and how can I stop?

Nicola Hobbs - Jun.01.19

Craving sugar doesn’t mean you are weak - it means you are human! Food cravings are more common than you might think - over 95% of women and 65% of men report experiencing them! Chocolate, ice cream and cookies are what most people tend to crave, and, whilst these foods are fine to enjoy in moderation, if you find yourself craving and eating these sugary foods all the time, you may notice your energy, mood, health, fitness, and overall well-being start to suffer.

Why am I craving sugar?

Understanding why you crave that chocolate chip cookie or slice of cake is helpful in kicking sugar cravings. Frequent causes of craving sugar include:

  • Under eating
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Overly restricting certain food groups
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Making sugar a ‘forbidden food’
  • Habit
  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep

How do I stop craving sugar?

Because sugar cravings have multiple causes, stopping them takes a lot of self-awareness, a bit of self-experimentation, and a little self-discipline. You might find it helpful to keep track of the frequency and intensity of your sugar cravings as you explore the tips below. As always, it’s best to work with a qualified Nutritionist or certified Dietitian when making any major changes to your diet, especially if you have any health concerns.

1. Get out of an energy deficit

You might be craving sugary foods simply because you are hungry. Maybe you’re dieting too aggressively? Maybe you’ve increased your workouts and aren’t eating enough for your increased energy needs? When you’re in a calorie deficit, Ghrelin, the hunger hormone, increases, making high-energy foods (like chocolate and doughnuts) more appealing and impacting decision making. This means it becomes harder for you to choose nutrient-rich foods over a quick sugar fix. 

2. Make sure you’re eating enough carbohydrate-rich foods

Carbs are not the devil! Research suggests that eating them regularly can help to reduce sugar cravings. Carbohydrate-rich foods increase levels of tryptophan and serotonin in the brain, boosting mood and reducing cravings. Who doesn't want to be in a great mood?! Tip: Pick earth grown food sources like potatoes, rice, legumes, vegetables and fruit as these are packed full of vitamins and minerals too. 

3. Make sure you’re eating enough protein-rich foods

Same goes for protein. Sugar cravings can be the result of blood sugar crashes. Protein-rich foods help to stabilise blood sugar so aim to include a protein-rich food source at every meal. Protein-rich foods include eggs, fish, meat, dairy, legumes, tofu, and nuts and seeds. If you struggle to eat enough protein, you may want to supplement with whey protein like Instant whey Pro or a Vegan protein blend. 

4. Make sure you’re eating enough fat-rich foods

Aaaand for fats. Sugar causes blood glucose fluctuations which can leave you craving more sugar. Foods high in healthy fats don’t cause an insulin release so don’t cause the same kind of fluctuations, keeping your blood sugar a lot more stable and reducing sugar cravings. Nuts and dark chocolate are full of healthy fats and make great snacks, and adding fat-rich foods such as avocado, tahini, nut butters, seeds olive oil and ghee to meals will leave you feeling nourished and satisfied.

5. Get moving

Research suggests that regular exercise can reduce sugar cravings by changing the way the brain responds when it sees high-energy, low-nutrient foods like ice cream and sweets. Physical activity reduces activity in areas of the brain related to wanting and craving – one of many reasons to get active and move your body!

6. Don’t say goodbye to sugar forever

Banning sugar completely can make you crave it more. Research suggests that sugar cravings and overeating sugary foods are more likely when sugar is limited. A key component of intuitive eating is allowing all foods into your eating world - this means including sugar in your diet in moderation. Reducing sugar cravings can be as simple as allowing yourself to enjoy a coffee and slice of freshly baked cake every so often!

7. Retrain your brain

If you crave cookies at the same time every day then your sugar cravings may be due to habit. When the craving strikes, ask yourself if you’re physically hungry – if yes, explore some nutrient-rich snack options like an apple and a handful of nuts or oatcakes and hummus. If not, make a new habit! 

8. Retrain your taste buds

Your taste buds get used to a certain level of sweetness but you can retrain them by gradually reducing the amount of sugar you eat. If you often crave chocolate then experiment with chocolate containing a higher cocoa percentage. Cocoa itself has a lot of nutritional benefits so see if you can work up to a chocolate made with 85% cocoa.

9. Meditate

Meditation has a powerful effect on reducing sugar cravings by training your brain to let them go quickly instead of letting them becoming overpowering. Try it!

10. Sleep. Lot's of it.

Lack of sleep means lack of energy. Because sugar gives you immediate energy, when you’re tired, the body and brain will crave it. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep every night to wake feeling energised and keep sugar cravings at bay.

Nicola Jane Hobbs x

References

Cornier, M. A., Melanson, E. L., Salzberg, A. K., Bechtell, J. L., & Tregellas, J. R. (2012). The effects of exercise on the neuronal response to food cues. Physiology & behavior105(4), 1028-1034.

Evero, N., Hackett, L. C., Clark, R. D., Phelan, S., & Hagobian, T. A. (2012). Aerobic exercise reduces neuronal responses in food reward brain regions. Journal of Applied Physiology112(9), 1612-1619.

Sayegh, R., Schiff, I., Wurtman, J., Spiers, P., McDERMOTT, J. A. N. I. N. E., & Wurtman, R. (1995). The effect of a carbohydrate-rich beverage on mood, appetite, and cognitive function in women with premenstrual syndrome. Obstetrics & Gynecology86(4), 520-528.

Watson, N. A., Dyer, K. A., Buckley, J. D., Brinkworth, G. D., Coates, A. M., Parfitt, G., ... & Murphy, K. J. (2018). Reductions in food cravings are similar with low-fat weight loss diets differing in protein and carbohydrate in overweight and obese adults with type 2 diabetes: A randomized clinical trial. Nutrition Research.

Weingarten, H. P., & Elston, D. (1990). The phenomenology of food cravings. Appetite15(3), 231-246.

Yang, Q. (2010). Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings: Neuroscience 2010. The Yale journal of biology and medicine83(2), 101.

Yanovski, S. (2003). Sugar and fat: cravings and aversions. The Journal of nutrition133(3), 835S-837S.

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