Handling Sugar Cravings
Many of us have what feels like an uncontrollable urge to eat sweet things. We may be triggered by the sight of a chocolate commercial on TV, the smell of Cinnabon’s baking at the mall, or just the knowledge that a pint of ice cream is sitting in our freezer. At times it can seem near impossible to resist the temptation of sweets, and once we start eating, it’s hard to stop. I’ve been there, and many of my clients have been there too.
There are a few reasons why we have trouble staying away from sweet treats. And it has nothing to do with lack of willpower or any sort of weakness on your part. Here are 3 reasons you may have intense sugar cravings and 5 ways to tame those cravings.
Why we crave sugar
Imbalanced blood sugar: Blood sugar is a term that describes the sugar (or energy) that is in our blood, circulating for our cells to use. We tend to associate blood sugar imbalances with people living with diabetes or pre-diabetes, but just about everyone can be prone to imbalanced blood sugar. For people without diabetes, this happens on a more subtle scale. Eating foods high in carbohydrates without balancing them with fiber, protein, and fat can cause blood sugar levels to spike, followed by a sharp decline. This translates to a boost of energy to your cells, followed by periods of low energy. These low energy levels (or blood sugar) lead to cravings as our body looks for more sugar to fuel our cells.
It’s all in our heads: I mean this quite literally; our brains are hard-wired to crave sugar. We likely evolved to seek energy-dense foods like sugar for survival. Stimulating reward centers in the brain would help drive us to eat these types of foods when food was scarce. Once a protective system, it now works against us. High-calorie sweet foods are abundant all the time, and we rarely find ourselves with food in short supply.
It’s behavioral: While it is true that there is a biological drive to eat sugar, many of us use sugary foods out of habit. When we are bored, sad, or stressed, we reach for the sweet treat on autopilot. Some of us have used food to reward hard work or self-soothe for so long that we don’t even recognize the pattern.
Taming those cravings
Everyone is unique in conquering their sweet cravings, but the following tips tend to work for most people.
Balance your blood sugar: Eating meals that combine all the macronutrients will minimize blood sugar spikes, keeping energy levels stable and cravings at bay. This means eating carbohydrates with protein and fat and choosing fiber-rich foods.
Avoid skipping meals: While intermittent fasting is all the rage, for some people, this may backfire. As blood sugar gets low and energy levels plummet, that biological drive to seek calorie-dense foods intensifies. Instead, try eating a balanced breakfast, lunch, and dinner with healthy snacks as needed on a daily schedule.
Get a good night’s sleep: Lack of sleep, even for just one night, is associated with changes in hormones that regulate blood sugar and appetite, intensifying that biological drive to eat. Sleep is an essential element in any weight loss plan, so be sure to focus on improving your zzz’s.
Hit the pause button: Before you reach for the cookie jar, take a 60 second time out. Set a timer, drink a glass of water, and reflect on how you are feeling. Are you truly physically hungry? Not a problem; fuel yourself with healthy carbs like fruit, balanced with protein. Are you emotionally hungry? If so, what can you do instead? Take a walk, deep breath, journal, or meditate.
Choose quality over quantity: Some people can quit sugar cold turkey. If you can put sugar on the no list and never look back, good for you. That’s not me. Nor is it most clients I work with. When sugar is restricted or put on a list of “bad foods,” it becomes much more tempting. So instead of blacklisting sugar, I encourage you to be intentional about your sweets. This means choosing what sweets you will eat, how much you will eat, and when you will eat them. Look for opportunities to find more nutrient dense sweet options such as desserts with fruit, dark chocolate, or baked goods with whole wheat flour and more fiber. We have several great recipes and delicious snacks at Evolve 365 that can fit into your plan.
Sugar cravings can be tough to tame, but it can be done. With some attention to meal planning, learning your body’s hunger signals and allowing little indulgences here and there, sugar does not have to be the enemy.
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