Let’s be real here. Lockdown has messed with most of our diets. Staying in and munching on junk food while the world slowly falls into chaos is something we’ve all done. There’s no shame. But with the hope and promise that the new year brings in, I personally am trying to get back into a healthier routine, as I’m sure many of you are too. So, here’s a Lazy Girl Guide to help you curb those sugar cravings and get back on track.
What Causes Sugar Cravings?
Before we find ways to reduce our cravings, it’s important to first figure out what the causes are. We can’t solve a problem if we don’t get to the root of it first. Here are the most common causes of sugar cravings:
- Lack of sleep: We tend to crave sugar and caffeine when we’re tired as a pick-me-up. Unfortunately, they tend to have the opposite effect in the long-run, sending our blood sugar levels crashing after a brief upswing.
- Stress: Studies show that we crave more sugar when we’re stressed. This is because sugar turns down the stress response in the human brain, meaning we could be consuming sugar as a quick way to reduce feelings of stress.
- Emotional eating: Sugar produces serotonin, a neurochemical that helps alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression. Often, we choose to push down our emotions rather than process them, tempting us to turn to food that temporarily relieve our discomfort. As we all know, food doesn’t solve the problem. It can actually create more stress and guilt, causing us to eat more.
- Lack of meal planning: Having a big dip in blood sugar levels in between meals can lead to sugar cravings. That’s why it’s important not to leave too long a gap between meals. When we get too hungry, we tend to grab something quick, easy and usually unhealthy to alleviate the hunger instead of taking the time to find something nutritious.
- Not getting enough nutrients: An imbalance in certain nutrients such as calcium, zinc, and magnesium can manifest as sugar cravings. Additionally, diets that restrict calories, carbs, proteins, or fat can create an environment where we crave more sugar. Having a balanced diet is key!
- Sugar causes more sugar cravings: Sugar is seen as a reward in the brain. The more you eat it, the more you are reinforcing that reward, and the harder it becomes to quit sugar. Add to that the sugar crashes you experience afterwards which can cause you to seek out more sugar, and it can start to feel like an endless cycle that you can’t break.
How to Curb the Cravings
Eat Natural Sugars Instead
When you find that your sweet tooth acting up, try replacing sugary treats with foods that contain natural sugars. Fruit is a great alternative as it contains natural sugar and is packed with other healthy nutrients and antioxidants. Reaching for a handful of berries when your sugar cravings kick in is a helpful way to transition away from junk food.
Eliminate Processed Foods
Junk food creates more cravings for junk food. The less you eat, the less you’ll crave it. Instead, replace those meals with whole, nutrient-filled foods, and you’ll find that those cravings will diminish.
Too much salt can also trigger sugar cravings. Think about it: how often do you want dessert after a good burger and fries? Your tastebuds want to regulate the sweet/salt balance. To combat this craving, make sure you drink lots of water with a salt-heavy meal to dilute it.
Take a Probiotic
There are certain bacteria in our bodies that feed on the sugar in our systems. This then causes and imbalance in the gut. This imbalance leads to more cravings and an increase in our body’s dependence on sugar. A probiotic supplement can help reduce the bad bacteria, resulting in less sugar cravings.It’s also beneficial to introduce more probiotic-rich foods in your diet such as Greek yoghurt (avoid those that are sweetened with added sugar though!).
Get Quality Sleep
If you don’t get enough sleep, you are more prone to reach for foods that support your sugar addiction. Remember: the brain views sugar as a reward. Lack of sleep is believed to strengthen the brain’s reward center, making it much more difficult to stay away from sugar. Consider going to bed earlier or taking an afternoon nap if you’re noticing an increased sweet tooth.
Eat More Protein
A sugar rush is always followed with a crash, which results in low energy levels. These highs and lows put your health at risk. Protein-rich foods, such as beans, nuts, eggs and pastured meat, provide a more balanced and steady source of energy. This will leave you feeling more satisfied and reduce the cravings that occur even when you’re not hungry.
Try to Reduce Stress
As we’ve already discovered, sugary foods are used as a temporary fix to alleviate feelings of stress. To reduce these cravings, find healthier alternative ways to manage your stress levels. Practice yoga, deep breathing, meditation or whatever helps you to calm your mind.
Exercise, a great stress-reliever, increases dopamine and serotonin, both of which can help stop sugar cravings. These neurochemicals make you feel happy and motivated. Sugar stimulates the release of those chemicals, meaning that when your levels are low, you often crave sugar. Exercise is a great (and much healthier) alternative to increasing those happy-chemicals.
Give It Time
Here’s some bad news: sugar makes you hungrier. High amounts of added sugar in the diet can mess with the hormones that indicate when you’ve eaten enough. The more sugar you eat, the more resistant you are to these hormones, and the more your desire to eat increases.
Nipping your sugar habit in the bud can help you to feel more satisfied with healthier food options over time. This is why avoiding sugar becomes easier the longer you do it. Slowly reducing your intake allows your taste buds to become more sensitised to sweets, meaning your cravings will decline as well. Make these adjustments slowly as drastic changes can trigger cravings and make it harder to stay on track with your goals.
Giving yourself food freedom through mindful eating and listening to your body can hold a lot of power. If we give ourselves permission to just eat all the foods – without strict regulations – sugar loses a lot of its appeal.
Naturally, our bodies won’t drive us to eat a full tub of ice cream and a whole box of cookies when we’re not restricting ourselves. When a good is no longer thought of as bad or off-limits, the desire for it actually decreases. With permission on your side, you’re allowing yourself to pay attention to the food and if it’s satisfying you in the moment. Allowing yourself to find balance on your own is one of the best ways to combat these cravings.
The Final Takeaway
Don’t beat yourself up when you decide to give in to a sugar craving. If you end up finding yourself wanting something sweet, try stick to natural sugars with nutritional value such as honey, dark chocolate, or fruit. But if you’re craving a slice of cake or a cookie, go for it! Just remember balance is key. Allow yourself to really take in and enjoy your treat when you have one. Have a few bites, chew slowly and really take in all the flavours. Most of the time, we just need a little to satisfy a sweet tooth. Savour every second with a smile – and no guilt.
Check out my post – 15 Easy Ways to Improve Your Eating Habits – to help you get into the groove of healthy eating!