Aaaargh. Here they come again! You know the feeling. The overwhelming desire for something sweet. A desire that can only be satisfied with chocolate, or cake, or sweets, or a soda. You get the picture.
There are literally millions of people getting those exact cravings every single day, and just like my mother used to say, they have what is called a sweet tooth.
It's crazy isn't that the term 'sweet tooth' literally sounds so sweet and innocent yet to describe it as a sugar addiction sounds so much more serious.
But unfortunately an addiction to sugar can be very serious.
There are a whole host of negative health issues caused by excessive sugar consumption and cutting sugar out of your daily diet it's pretty much one of the most effective dietary changes you can make.
I have a blog here: 17 Amazing Things That Happen When You Stop Eating Sugar which outlines some of the incredible benefits of cutting the white stuff out of your life.
So if you are one of those millions of people who gets sugar cravings on a daily basis this comprehensive guide is designed to help you deal with those cravings, cut down on your sugar intake and get back in control of your eating habits.
Why do we get cravings?
You may have asked yourself in the past "Why do I crave sugar?" There are all sorts of reasons why you might find yourself craving sweets or chocolate, but an addiction to sugar or more specifically fructose, is often the main reason.
All sugars, no matter what they are called, be it table sugar, honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, all break down to two substances once you digest them - 50% glucose and 50% fructose.
Glucose is the power source for all living things and provides the energy to every living cell in every living thing. Fructose however is not needed at all, and can only be processed by the liver, and often gets turned into fat once it’’s eaten. It is also very addictive as lab tests have shown.
...because it feels good!
The other reason we eat too much sugar is because it feels so good when we do, making it an easy habit to fall into. Sugar releases the ‘happy hormone ‘ dopamine when we eat it which is what makes us feel happy and good.
So we keep on eating sugar because it make us feel good, we start to crave that feeling if we haven't experienced it for a while.
So sugar is addictive and it makes us feel good - no wonder we crave the stuff! But would you believe, there are also lots of other factors that drive us to eat sugary foods.
Low blood sugar
We can often get tricked into eating sugar when out blood sugar gets too low, maybe because we haven’t eaten for a while, or because the last thing we ate was high is sugar, causing a spike and then consequently a crash.
Our brain then looks for a quick source of blood sugar which triggers a desire for something sweet - and we experience it as a sugar craving.
I have written a blog here going into more detail about blood sugar levels: Sugar Crash! How Low Blood Sugar Can Ruin Your Day
All sorts of people have all sorts of bad habits they have developed over the years, and eating sugary treats is just one of them. You might have been eating a mid morning muffin, biscuits with your afternoon tea, or always eating dessert after dinner for years without even thinking about it.
Habits are things that we do without thinking about them - they become automatic. And because we don’t think about them, that’s when they can become dangerous.
I had all sorts of bad habits when it came to sugar. I always ate biscuits with my tea, and I always craved something sweet after my evening meal. I’d eat chocolates and sweets without giving them a second thought.
It’s only when I became aware of my bad habits that I decided to do something about it.
So becoming aware of habits, and understanding that's just what they are, is an important step in combatting cravings.
Other reasons for cravings
Because sugar can make us feel good, eating it can also be linked to psychological issues such as stress or depression.
Just like some people might smoke a cigarette when they get stressed or open a bottle of wine if they become depressed, many people eat sweet treats in the same way - as an attempt to combat negative feelings.
If you feel that your eating could be associated with other emotional issues, then I would suggest you try to get to the root of the problem, as part of tackling any problems with overeating sugar.
A lack of sleep can also make us crave something sweet, because our body is looking for a quick energy boost. Or women might start to desire sweet treats due to hormone imbalances when we get a period.
Finally, we are all succeptible to triggers in our environment. Food companies spend millions telling us about how great our life will be if we drink this soda or eat this chocolate.
Packaging and placements of sweets and chocolates in shops and stores are specifically designed to trigger us into buying, so if any of the previous reasons for cravings are in play, these triggers are the final straw to make us relent and grab that treat.
Understand if you are hungry or just craving sugar
Once you get to understand if you really are hungry or it’s just your body craving something, then it’s also easier for you to react.
If you tend to eat a lot of sugar, a craving usually manifests itself in the following way:
When we eat something high in sugar content, the hormone insulin is released by the pancreas, which then moves the glucose from our bloodstream to our cells.
Insulin also sends signals to store any unused glucose as fat, resulting in blood sugar levels dropping below normal levels.
The brain, which needs glucose to survive, thinks the body in now low on fuel, so it triggers cravings, and because sugar can deliver a quick hit of energy, we get cravings for something sweet.
This process really has nothing to do with actually being hungry, which is what happens when hormones trigger your brain when your stomach becomes empty.
Genuine hunger comes from a hormone called neuropeptide Y, which stimulates our appetite.
A perfect example of this is when a child says she is hungry but when you offer an apple, or something that isn’t a sugary snack, the hunger suddenly goes!
So whenever a sugar craving strikes remember that it’s not your belly telling you to go and find a cookie, it’s actually your brain trying to trick you.
Don’t rely on sugar for your energy
It can be so easy to grab a can of soda or a chocolate bar as a source of quick energy, and although you may get a quick boost when your blood sugar spikes, you’ll eventually get a crash making you more tired than you were originally. This can lead to a bad cycle of sugar dependence.
Instead you should eat a small snack containing protein and carbohydrates that will give you a more even release of energy, keeping your levels steady. Try a spoonful of peanut butter!
Give it five
Any time that you get an overwhelming craving, take a moment to say to yourself “I’ll have something in 5 minutes”. Then when those five minutes have gone, try repeating the process. It’s a technique I used when quitting smoking fifteen years ago, and I found it worked just as well when I finally quit sugar.
Take away any temptations
It’s very important that you don’t have any temptations lying around as they will make sugar cravings far harder to resist. Clear out your cupboards at home and make sure there is nothing handy to grab.
This rule applies at the supermarket too - if you don’e buy it you can’t eat it, it’s that simple! So making one decision not to buy a packet of biscuits can save you many, many more difficult decisions when you hear those biscuits calling you from the cupboard!
Learn when you are likely to get cravings
Making a sugar diary can help you understand exactly when you are likely to get cravings and that way you can be prepared. If you jot down when you feel like something sweet over a week, you’ll soon get to understand how your cravings affect you and you can make sure you have handy savoury snacks at the ready!
Understand where sugar hides
Added sugar is in around 75% of processed foods and so unless you are cooking every meal from fresh, you need to know how much sugar you are eating, often without even knowing.
If any type of sugar is listed in the top five ingredients on a food label then that means it’s high in added sugar and you should stick it right back on the shelf.
You can also find out the exact percentage of a food that is sugar by looking at the ‘Carbohydrate of which sugars’ per 100g. 5g or under is classed as low sugar and should be OK to eat.
Whatever that number is, equals the percentage of sugar the product contains, so if it’s 28g per 100g then that item is 28% sugar. If it says 10g per 100g then it’s 10% sugar. You'd be surprised how much sugar lurks in foods once you start looking for it properly!
Take supplements or eat foods with these important minerals
If we are low in certain vitamins and minerals, this can also lead to cravings. Some of the most important ones to keep cravings in check are Magnesium, Vitamin D, Chromium and Zinc.
Magnesium, which is found in whole grains, nuts and spinach is one of the most important minerals in our body, affecting over 300 different interactions with our brain, cells, muscles and bones. It also regulates insulin and glucose levels, and if you don’t have enough magnesium, it can actually make you crave sugar!
Vitamin D is important because it helps to regulate hunger, and without enough Vitamin D, you might start to feel hungry. This important vitamin can be found in fish and eggs.
Chromium helps to regulate glucose usage as fuel, which helps to reduce cravings, so stock up on broccoli, pork chops, turkey, beans and hazlenuts!
Finally, Zinc also helps to regulate the optimum usage of glucose and insulin, keeping blood sugar levels nice and steady so pack in some Lamb, Chicken, Turkey, Eggs and Chickpeas to make sure you’re getting your fill.
If have a blog that goes into more detail here: 7 Super Supplement That Will Help You Quit Sugar
Never get hungry - keep nibbling
An important part of keeping cravings at bay is to make sure that you don’t ever get hungry. Hunger can be your number one enemy if you are trying to make sensible food choices - the more hungry you get, the more likely you are to fall off the path!
If you keep eating small savoury snacks throughout the day, your blood sugar will remain constant and as I mentioned earlier, this is one of the man factors in creating a craving sensation.
Switch sweet for savoury
Nuts are a great snack to munch on throughout the day and they are easy to carry with you anywhere. Whenever a craving hits you, reach for something savoury instead, even a piece of cheese, to keep you occupied and hunger at bay.
Cinnamon is another really handy thing to use instead of sugar - try adding it to tea or coffee or sprinkled on your morning porridge.
Fill up on protein and good fats
Protein takes a long time to digest so it keeps you feeling fuller for longer. Also try to make sure you get enough of the good fats too, like olive oil, as these help keep you feeling fuller longer too.
Avoid starchy, white processed flour products like white bread and pasta as these ‘simple carbs’ convert very quickly into glucose, initially spiking your blood sugar levels, but leading to a crash and cravings a few hours later.
Quit processed foods
Buying less processed foods and learning to cook for yourself will enable you to control exactly what you are eating.
Most processed foods are stuffed with all sorts of added sugars to make then taste better or to act as a preservative, so the more of those food products you eat, the more sugar you are likely to be consuming.
And here’s the thing, it’s not like you’re eating that sugar whilst enjoying a bar of chocolate. No, it’s just lumped into a pasta sauce, which you could make at home without any sugar that would taste just as good, if not better!
Keep blood sugar levels steady
By making sure that you don’t get hungry, and eating snacks with carbs and protein you’ll keep blood sugar levels steady throughout the day.
Eat complex carbs instead if simple carbs. Complex carbs like brown rice, brown wholemeal bread and brown wholemeal pasta contain all the goodness of the whole grain and release their carbs slowly and evenly into the bloodstream.
Remember, foods made with simple carbs like white flour products, including pastries, white bread, white rice and white pasta get converted to glucose very quickly, releasing a hit of glucose and causing your blood sugar to spike.
Don’t go for artificial sweeteners
If you are trying to get rid of your sugar cravings long term then going for sugar alternatives isn’t the solution.
When we eat any of these artificially sweetened foods or drinks, we get the sensation of sweetness and trick our body into thinking it will be getting the calories associated with sugar. But when those calories don’t materialize, it can lead to even more cravings and result in even more eating.
Drink plenty of water
We can often mistake the sensation of thirst with that of hunger, and so we might end up eating when we just need to drink and rehydrate.
And remember, if you actually feel thirsty then that means that you are already dehydrated, so keep drinking plenty of water throughout the day.
Meditation and mindfulness are excellent tools to help you in all aspects of life as well as helping with any dietary issues.
Simply becoming mindful of whatever you eat can transform your ability to stick to a diet. We are often just so busy that we end up eating without thinking, which often leads to eating the wrong foods or too much.
By concentrating on our meals, savouring each mouthful and chewing slowly, creates a healthy relationship with whatever we eat, learning to be aware of food as a source of pleasure and nutrition and not a mindless method of satisfying a craving.
Meditation is also a fantastic way to gain more control of your diet. Spending a few minutes a day relaxing and listening to a guided meditation session can really put you in the right frame of mind and set yourself up mentally to cope with any of the physical urges that sugar cravings can cause.
I include a full set of mindfulness sessions as part of my 21 Day Sugar Detox Program, so I really know just how powerful these can be.
And remember, you can and will adapt
Any kind of change can seem a struggle to begin with and many of our eating habits are just that, habits, which we might not even think too much about from day to day.
But resetting your pattern of habits isn’t too hard to do, and within a few weeks you can start to develop new, healthier habits. And over time these then become our 'new normal'!
The human body and mind are incredible and wonderfully adaptable things. Just like water will follow the path of least resistance, our mind can trick itself into craving sugar for all of the reasons above, which can result in us eating junk.
You just need to apply some resistance and not succumb to cravings when they occur, and before long, they will start to fade, until you simply don't get them anymore.
Remember, no matter how much you feel that you ‘need’ something sweet, you don’t really 'need' it! You just ‘want’ something sweet, and needing and wanting are two very different things!
Humans survived for hundreds of thousands of years without sugar, so, see if you can make it to the end of the day!
If you would like to cut sugar out of your life sign up for my 21 Day Sugar Detox Program which will reset your metabolism and put you back in control of your eating habits.