Are you wondering how to stop sugar cravings? Are sugar cravings one of your biggest challenges when it comes to eating healthier?
Trust me when I say, I know how you feel. I love lemon meringue pie, spearmint flavoured candy, Starbucks hot chocolates, come to think of it… anything chocolate-flavoured, and I ALWAYS check the dessert section on restaurant menus before looking at the main meals.
And yes, I’m a registered nutritionist.
I love sweet stuff with a vengeance. And I have no idea how some people can say things like, “I don’t really like sweets.” Or, “I’ll have the cheese platter to finish, not the creme brulee, thanks.”
What?! How?! Are you crazy?!
I thank God every day that He invented sweet stuff – bless you!! Because sweet foods are a great joy in my life.
But since becoming an intuitive eater, I’ve seen my sugar cravings transform into a completely different form.
- I no longer feel out-of-control/desperate around sweets
- The desire to finish all of the sweet thing right here and now (thus overeating) is gone
- I definitely don’t feel guilty about eating sweets anymore either
So what changed? How did I ‘control’ my sweet tooth?
Sugar and Your Biology
All of us are born with a love of sweetness, and for good reason – sweetness historically pointed us towards foods that provided both energy (in the form of sugar and other carbohydrates) and essential nutrients. What’s more, breastmilk (our first food) is sweet too.
But nowadays, most of us aren’t talking about a craving for apples or strawberries when we say we’re craving sweet stuff. Instead it’s processed sugar-rich foods that we’re craving. And therein lies the guilt (more on that later).
On the other hand we’re born with a natural aversion for bitter flavours – the kind found in green veges such as broccoli, brussel sprouts and the like.
The net result of that is: we love sweet and avoid bitter as a child; then slowly adapt through lots of food exposures to (hopefully) enjoy both as an adult.
What happens though, when you get to adulthood and you’re still scarfing down sweet stuff like a kid in a candy store?
Tip 1 – A Hungry Brain Craves Sugar
Many of us don’t recognise our own hunger and fullness cues, thanks to a diet-culture that praises food restriction and hunger in the quest for a down-sized body.
But here’s the problem with ignoring your hunger – the brains of hungry people, as shown in MRI scans, are overwhelmingly focused on searching out high energy, high fat, and yes, high sugar food.
If you are hungry, you will seek out high-sugar foods like a heat-seeking missile. And once you’ve locked your radar on those sweet foods, nothing (I mean nothing) is going to get in the way of you over-eating them.
Why overeat them?
Because once you’re into over-hunger territory your brain is in primal hunger mode. It is (in it’s own humble opinion), fighting for your survival. It has no idea that you’re willingly starving yourself in the quest for a sleeker physique. Your body thinks, “Hang in there, I’ll get you some sweet food! Never fear! I won’t let you starve!”
In order to stop this happening, you need to honour your hunger cues by responding to them promptly. Not ignoring them and hoping they’ll go away (they won’t, trust me).
So ensure you’re acknowledging and responding to hunger, rather than ignoring it and allowing it to become an uncontrollable urge to overeat by late afternoon or the evening (that post-dinner bingeing could also be a rebound from a day of dietary restriction).
Tip 2 – A Tired Brain Craves High-Sugar Foods
If you’re a busy-working mum, then there’s a good chance you’re burning the candle at both ends. And in those times, sleep often misses out.
And that lack of sleep can have a real impact on your eating habits; because a sleep-deprived brain behaves much like that of someone who’s hungry.
Researchers have found, through MRI scans, that the brains of sleep-deprived people are more responsive to images of high-calorie play foods. Clinical trials have confirmed that people who are short of sleep consume more calories.
The evidence is in; lack of good quality sleep WILL increase your drive to eat high-sugar and high-fat foods.
In other words, the sugar-cravings are merely a SYMPTOM of tiredness. They are not the problem.
The PROBLEM is lack of sleep.
Therefore, the only solution is to get more sleep, not try to control the sugar craving urges.
And that’s why I make getting enough sleep one of my TOP 3 PRIORITIES.
TIP: Make getting enough good quality sleep a top priority for yourself.
P.S. And yes I know you want some time to yourself, to watch Netflix and have a quiet cuppa after the kids go to bed. But you need your sleep too. So have a think about how you can put some boundaries in place to get some relaxing time each day, but STILL get enough sleep.
Tip 3 – Diets Cause Food Obsession
If you’ve dieted before, then you know that the minute you decide you’re going to diet and not going to eat chocolate, is the minute you start daydreaming about it. (It’s also the day your workmate brings a chocolate cake to work to share).
Well, you’re SOOO not alone. During World War II, American physiologist Dr Ancel Keys signed up 32 healthy men to a three-month period of normal eating and six months of semi-starvation. Interestingly, their energy intake during the semi-starvation phase was equivalent to modern weight-loss diets… but I digress.
During the semi-starvation phase, these men developed an intense interest in food, began collecting recipes, talked about food constantly, posted pictures of food on their walls and developed food cravings – they were obsessed with food. And this was all before the onslaught of diet-driven social media influences.
Restricting food intake caused these men to constantly think about food. And feel driven to sneak in cookies and milkshakes, thereby breaking the food rules of the clinical trial they were involved in (true story).
Your diet in the 21st century is no different. Once you restrict your food intake, and restrict which foods you’re allowed to eat your brain becomes obsessed with eating foo.
Tip 4 – Restricting Sweet Foods Causes Sugar Cravings
Take a good look at your relationship with the sweet food you’re craving. Are you restricting your access to that food? There’s no more certain way to develop a craving than to restrict access.
And that restriction could look like:
a) physical restriction – you don’t allow yourself to eat the food or have it in the house
b) mental restriction – you allow yourself to eat it, but you growl at yourself and feel guilty for eating it
Both cause the same outcome – guilt, shame, restriction, cravings. The cycle goes around and around until you stop it.
How do I stop it?
By removing the judgement from that food and allowing yourself to eat it and get used to the taste of it.
As long as a food is ‘forbidden’ it will always be more alluring. Loads of my clients have found once they remove the judgement and restriction around those sweet foods, let themselves eat them freely, the foods slowly lose their allure.
I found the same thing myself too. I would have eaten cupcakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner if I could. And I did. I let myself cut loose and eat sweet stuff like there was no tomorrow. Judgement-free.
To start with I freaked out a bit. But over time I noticed that the cravings for cupcakes and other sweets started to disappear. Now I can go weeks and months without eating cupcakes, instead of wanting one every day.
Tip 5 – Stress Causes Sweet Food Cravings
Chronic stress, which often appears alongside anxiety, depression, anger, and other negative emotions, can change the way our body views food.
Research suggest that foods high in sugar or fat, offer a reward for us when we’re in negative emotional states. We feel better after we eat them, so we create a routine of turning to these hyper-palatable sweet foods when we feel down.
In fact, clinical trials have found that when people felt embarrassed or in a negative frame of mind, and they had higher cortisol levels (a stress hormone) they ate more high-sugar and high-fat food. The same has been found in natural (non-laboratory) settings. With people who have higher cortisol levels turning to high-sugar or high-fat foods for comfort in response to daily stress.
A 2008 study found the more hassles adults faced in a day, the more high-fat and high-sugar snacks they consumed. I could have told them that. Most mums could have told them that.
Tip 6 – Women Crave Sweet Foods More Premenstrually
It’s a fact. Study after study has shown that women have greater cravings for sweet foods in the week before they menstruate.
Maybe we need to update premenstrual symptoms to include: “cravings for chocolate”. Because it’s very common.
In fact, I sometimes encourage my clients to track their monthly cycle and chocolate cravings to see if there is a pattern. You may be surprised to learn there is!
TIP: Relax and plan to enjoy some chocolate (or other sweet) that week. Serve it on a plate, eat it when you’re not over-hungry and eat it mindfully.
The simple thing is – cravings for sweet food are usually a SYMPTOM of something else. The question for you is – what is the SOMETHING ELSE? Is it lack of sleep? Stress? Trying to lose weight by ignoring your hunger?
There is no point trying to hammer out the sugar cravings with willpower. It won’t work. Instead get to the real cause of the problem and you’ll likely see a real change in your relationship with sweet foods.
P.S. Want more tips on how to stop sugar cravings? Grab this free PDF…