“I’m craving sugar!” I hear it all the time from clients and readers alike. There’s nothing inherently wrong with cravings. There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to dessert now and then either. We all have cravings from time to time. However, your cravings for sweets may be getting in the way of a healthy diet or derailing you on your weight loss journey.
And what causes cravings anyway? There are several reasons you’re craving a hot fudge sundae like, right now. Food cravings are sometimes related to nutritional deficiencies but physical, mental and emotional factors are also involved
Nutritional Reasons for Sugar Cravings
One of the main dietary culprits behind sugar cravings is a low protein intake.1 Protein slows the release of sugar into your bloodstream, and when you don’t consume enough, your blood sugar can rise and fall at an abnormal rate.2 This can result in sugar cravings in order to get some quick energy.
Not enough fats and fiber
Just like with lack of enough protein,3 inadequate intake of fats and fiber may also trigger sugar cravings. A diet that’s too high in simple carbohydrates (rice, pasta, white bread) will leave you neither full nor satisfied, and soon you’ll be craving more energy in the form of sugar.
Deficient in key minerals
And finally, nutrient deficiencies, such as magnesium can manifest themselves as sugar cravings too.3 While it’s preferable to get iron, calcium, zinc, chromium, and magnesium from your diet, your healthcare provider can run a simple blood test to help diagnose a nutritional deficiency and prescribe a supplement if needed.4
Tip #1: How to Beat Nutritional Sugar Cravings
Look for foods that are rich in protein, healthy fats and fiber.5 The best sources are whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains (oats, whole wheat, brown rice, barley), beans and legumes, nuts, seeds, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna), lean meats and poultry, eggs and low fat dairy.
A Common Physical Reason for Sugar Cravings
Lack of quality sleep can indeed trigger sugar cravings. It appears that sleep deprivation may suppress the hormones that regulate food intake and tell us we are full and satisfied. It can also trigger the parts of your brain that make it harder for you to control cravings and rash decisions. In fact, poor sleep quality is associated with greater food intake and lower‐quality diet.6
Tip #2: How to Beat Physical Sugar Cravings
Make sleep a priority. Be diligent about going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Also, avoid excess caffeine and alcohol, especially around bedtime. It’s also helpful to follow a routine to help you relax before sleep (for example, reading, listening to soft music, journaling). And remember to turn off the TV and other screens at least an hour before bedtime.
Emotional Reasons for Sugar Cravings
Stress is an obstacle to weight loss. You’ve probably experienced this finding at home but research also shows that humans turn to hyperpalatable [tasty] comfort foods such as fast food, snacks, and calorie-dense foods in times of high anxiety.7 And the more often it happens, the more your brain expects it. Stress eating strengthens brain networks that make us crave sugary “comfort” food. So, it’s no wonder we reach for the ice cream when we’re upset!
Tip #3: How to Beat Emotional Food Cravings
Address any underlying emotional or psychological concerns. Identifying your emotions is the first step to helping you recognize where your sugar cravings may be coming from. Practicing regular stress reducing techniques (such as exercise, meditation, journaling, selfcare) can also stop sugar cravings at their root cause. And if your emotional concerns are affecting your daily life, don’t hesitate to seek professional help you manage these issues.
Additional tips for managing sugar cravings
There are more strategies to help control sugar cravings and help reduce your overall sugar intake as well:
- Stay well hydrated: We sometimes confuse hunger for thirst.8 Try to avoid sugary drinks and opt for water, unsweetened tea or milk.
- Reduce artificial sweetener intake: These alternatives taste much sweeter than regular sugar, and they can also increase post-meal hunger and sugar cravings.9
- Make sure you’re eating enough: As discussed above, lack of energy will result in craving sugar! Keep healthy, filling snacks on hand on busy days, and avoid skipping meals or going too long without eating.
- Develop a healthy relationship with food: Labeling foods such as “good”, “bad”, “forbidden” actually heightens your cravings for these foods. Allowing yourself to eat all foods unconditionally will ironically loosen the power they have over you, significantly reducing cravings.
Eat mindfully and purposefully: Paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking can help you get in touch with your hunger and satiety cues.10 Be mindful of the colors, smells, textures, flavors, temperatures, and even the sounds of your food. Pay attention to the experience of your body. This will not only help you understand your body better, but it can also result in not even worrying about food cravings anymore!