Ever wonder to yourself, half a cookie in hand, “why do I crave for sugar?”
Of course on a very basic level we know what’s behind sugar cravings:
Sugar tastes good!
We like the taste of sugar!
But taste alone doesn’t address the mystery behind sugar cravings.
Other foods are tasty as well, but we don’t spend hours debating to ourselves whether or not to eat a piece of grilled salmon!
This post is broken into segments:
- First half, explore the most likely reasons you are craving sugar.
- Second half, list practical steps you can take to stop craving sugar.
Let’s dive in with the causes behind your sugar cravings first!
1 – Dopamine
It’s no secret dopamine can impact your brain and contribute to addictive behaviors.
The chemical causing so many eating problems is a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine signals to your brain when you get something good, like sugar or sexual release.
Mental health professionals believe that this chemical reaction is what causes the craving for more.
Because when dopamine gets released, it triggers an addictive response in your body.
Here are some foods that release dopamine (and raise your blood sugar levels) when you eat them:
- Potatoes (especially French fries)
- Processed meats with added salt (think fast food)
The list goes on, but you get the idea behind sugar cravings.
The more dopamine that gets released in your brain when consuming something high in sugar or fat, then the stronger the cravings will be for foods containing those ingredients.
2 – Eating Mostly Carbs >> Lack Of Nutrition
Now let me be clear: carbs are fine.
But here’s the thing about carbs: your body burns through carbs like gasoline.
Let’s say you have a huge bowl of spaghetti or pizza. You’re full for about 1-2 hours.
But then in 1-2 hours your body has used up all the energy derived from your elevated blood sugar levels and is now hungry again.
Now you are hungry again. Again!
The table below shows how your body burns through carbs super quick (in comparison to protein and fat).
Your body needs some fiber, protein and healthy fat to feel full and satisfied.
If you’re not eating enough fiber, protein or fat then your body will crave sugary foods as a substitute.
For example, the Washington Post lists a ton of science that shows eating high carb foods lead to more sugar cravings down the line.
3 – Dehydration
A common cause of low blood sugar levels and food cravings in general is dehydration, which can be caused by different reasons:
1) Dehydration from drinking too much caffeinated drinks.
Caffeine causes the body to lose fluids through urination and sweat. So if you are consuming a lot of caffeine then there will be less water in your system.
This leads to dehydration because we need an adequate amount of fluid for our bodies to function properly.
2) Too much alcohol consumption also dehydrates you!
Alcoholic beverages have diuretic properties that force more fluid out of the kidneys into urine.
So even though it may seem like these beverages are hydrating us on their own, they actually do not hydrate as well! Because they flush away all the water when they go through the kidneys.
3) Not drinking water throughout the day.
It’s easy to forget to drink water throughout the day.
Here’s my trick:
Whenever I eat something I take a glass of water. Of course I forget sometimes, but if you have a rule of thumb to always drink when you eat this will really help!
So be sure to curb your sugar craving by hydrating!
4 – Stress
The link between stress and sugar cravings is well documented.
If you are feeling stressed then it’s very easy to start craving sugar and binge on processed foods and other things.
There is a tipping point where you have too much stress.
When you have too much stress your body starts becoming fatigued.
Fatigue is the body’s natural response to feeling overwhelmed. Your body cannot stay ‘on’ all day and night like a desktop computer.
In order to fight back fatigue and boost energy, your body craves sugar for the temporary dopamine boost!
This is why when you’re stressed your blood sugars get out of balance and send signals for more sweet treats.
Then you’ll crave sugar because eating sugar releases serotonin, a mood-boosting hormone.
What Hormone Makes You Crave Sugar?
A lack of serotonin in the brain is a powerful cause for food cravings.
Serotonin also plays a role with mood stability, sleep and appetite control as well!
Serotonin is like the ‘happy’ hormone. But there are many things which can cause your brain to become serotonin depleted.
How you exhaust your stores of serotonin:
- Being lonely: loneliness can lead to depression and is stressful
- Lack of sleep: not getting a good night’s rest decreases serotonin levels as well.
- Too much caffeine: coffee is high in stimulants and this interrupts your sleep cycle. Sound familiar?
- Starvation: dieting to lose weight means your brain doesn’t get enough nutrients to produce serotonin.
Plus, the worst thing about stress is that it leads to troubles sleeping at night!
5 – Not Enough Sleep
Sleep and sugar both start with the letter ‘S’. But there are many more commonalities besides a single letter.
When you don’t sleep well, it throws your entire hormonal balance out of whack.
If you’re not getting enough sleep, this can lead to frequent fluctuations in your glucose levels. This in turn can cause an increase in your cravings for sugary foods.
But lacking sleep also causes other negative ramifications too!
When you are lacking sleep, your body releases more ghrelin, which is known as a hunger hormone.
Overall, a lack of sleep causes hormonal imbalances which causes increased sugar cravings.
6 – Emotional Blind Spot
Having an emotional blind spot is different than normal stress eating.
Stress eating is when you’re stressed out and junk foods temporarily make you feel better.
If you have an emotional blindspot then most likely you will be having thoughts like:
- Should – “Be healthy, eat more fiber, don’t have that, be good”
- Rebel – “I WANT THAT! I DON’T CARE WHAT HEALTHY IS!’
- Manipulation – “Why don’t you just have one bite?”
Do these voices or thoughts sound familiar to you?
These are signs that you have an emotional blind spot and do not know why you crave sugar.
7 – Advertising
There is not a day that goes by where you cannot find some processed food within arms reach.
And then you’re supposed to resist sugar cravings too!
Companies spend billions of dollars trying to convince us to eat their sugary foods – and then we are supposed to merely resist?
As we go through our daily life, on one hand we SEE millions of societal advertising messages that our next bliss is the next sugary bite.
And guess what! Humans believe what they see!
If you ‘see’ an advertisement of someone smiling and eating a chocolate candy bar, on some level you will ‘believe’ candy makes you happy!
Even if you consciously realize this chocolate bar is just an advertisement, subconsciously your brain is still thinking chocolate equals happiness!
Now that we’ve covered the top 7 causes of sugar cravings, let’s switch gears and talk about how to stop sugar cravings!
How Stop Sugar Cravings:
1 – Interrupt Sugar Craving Cycle Before Giving In
What do I mean by interrupting?
You do these three things before giving into your craving for sugar:
- Journal what you are about to eat. This helps bring mindfulness to your eating decisions.
- Eat a healthy snack like a chocolate protein bar. A chocolate protein bar is a great idea because you get some of the sweet flavor you are craving and lots of protein to quell your hunger.
- Have a glass of water. Make sure you drink some water because sometimes food cravings happen because you are dehydrated!
The whole point of journaling, having a snack, and drinking some water is …
Do not give in for about 10 minutes.
Time is the most important factor in beating cravings because you need to give yourself time to slow down and think.
2 – Calm Down and Think Things Through
The whole point of journaling and getting 10 minutes of time is so that you can talk to yourself in a rational, calm and forgiving manner.
When you are in the middle of a craving episode it becomes nearly impossible to talk in a rational or calm way to yourself.
This is why we buy time, so that we can calm down.
Now you need to start negotiating, or talking to yourself in a calm manner.
To successfully negotiate with yourself you must absolutely know WHY you are wanting sugar.
Why do you want sugar? Knowing why you want sweet things gives you the room to honestly negotiate with your emotional self.
For example, a client of mine said she went on a walk recently when she felt like bingeing.
Instead of just white knuckling her binge, she really tried to ask herself WHY she wanted to binge.
On her walk she realized she wanted to stop thinking about her stressful job. It felt like candy bars were the only way she knew how to calm down and slow down her mind.
On this walk she also remembered she had skipped lunch because of her stressful job too. Suddenly she realized she was a bit hungry!
Now she knew WHY she was craving sugar:
She wanted to calm down from the stress of work and to satisfy her hunger.
Now that she was thinking rationally she could start to negotiate with herself.
- Was a king sized candy bar appropriate here?
- What about some sugar, but not a lot?
- What foods would help her feel full and satisfied that were healthy?
- Was it possible she could eat healthy first and then have some sugar if she still wanted some?
3 – Sugar in Moderation
If you have successfully bought time and done all these steps, then it’s ok to have sugar.
If you entirely cut out sugar then you will just binge on sugar!
So do NOT cut out sugar entirely!
It’s important that you allow yourself some sugar – but just get in a calm place first.
Do all these steps make sense?
Please, please, please remember too …
You need to also address the lack of nutrition, sleep, and how you have too much stress in your life too!
Tips If You Lack Of Sleep
If you’re not getting enough sleep at night, then try these things to help eliminate a cause of sugar cravings:
- Get on a schedule!
- Try going to bed and waking up the same time every day.
- Don’t nap during your days off from work or school
- Don’t drink caffeine later than 4pm
- Have a dark quiet room
- Use a weighted blanket
Tips for Stress Relief
So how do you combat sugar cravings from lack of relaxation? Try implementing some sort calming technique such as:
- Deep breathing exercises (see below)
- Meditation/yoga practice
- Take a 10-15 minute break every hour
- Go on a walk during phone calls
- Or anything else where you learn better ways of managing stress
The body needs relaxation (in addition to sleep) in order to work well. Without proper time allotted towards recovery, our bodies get depleted.
You can’t treat your body and mind like a computer. A computer can run all day long without breaks but you cannot do the same!
Tips for Nutrition
Of course it’s best to eat whole and unprocessed foods.
But if that is difficult then try protein shakes until the habit becomes more natural for ya! 🙂
There are a few other ways to avoid blood sugar spikes and crashes.
You can eat more protein with your carbs, like combining nuts and oatmeal in the morning instead of plain oatmeal.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan try adding avocado, nuts and seeds to your meal, for example to a salad. Of course you can also do this even if you eat meat!
How Long Does It Take To Break Sugar Addiction?
Sometimes you’ll hear 21 days or 30 days but the truth is it depends on you.
How bad are your cravings? Is this habit something that you’ve had for years or is this a more recent craving?
Do you get cravings all the time or just some of the time?
Look. There’s no easy answer.
The solution is to know your long-term goals, and be able to move towards them no matter what.
Summary – Why and How to Stop
To stop sugar cravings you need to be honest with yourself. Where are your deficiencies?
If you are deficient in all three areas then just tackle one at a time.
If you continue to have sugar cravings after tackling one of these, then you are still deficient in another area!
Same thing applies to food cravings in general.
You are missing something important like sleep, relaxation or enough nutrition!
These deficiencies are not always easy to spot. So keep trying to really be honest about yourself. What does your body really need?
It’s easy to overlook things like rest and sleep. Be on the lookout!
Finally, remember the overall steps we have covered in this article 🙂
- Proper nutrition
- Interrupt the cycle
- Buy time
- Self talk
- Have some sugar 🙂