Sugar cravings. We all know how it is. Suddenly, you have a picture of a cookie in your mind, and you want that cookie.
And you want it right now.
It might as well be a candy bar, some ice cream, or a piece of chocolate cake.
If you are trying to lose weight or you simply want to get off sugar because you know it’s bad for your health (see How much sugar do you eat? for details), you probably know how hard it is to stop your sugar cravings.
What you first need to understand is this:
Sugar is not a food, it is actually much more like a drug.
Deciding that you will no longer eat sugar is not so simple. Because your brain has something to say about it.
How does sugar affect your body and your brain?
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate; if it is not used immediately when you eat it, it is stored as fat in your body. Not that sugar is simply always converted to fats, but if it can’t be used to provide your body with energy, it will be stored in your fat cells.
If you are thin and healthy, a piece of cake will most probably be used as energy. But if you’re already overweight and eating a un-healthy diet, all the sugar you eat will probably be stored in your body because your body will primarily use your excess fat for energy.
Eating a lot of sugar can lead to weight gain, obesity, and diabetes. This is because simple carbohydrates like sugar cause blood sugar spikes, which triggers insulin release, and tells the body to store the sugar as fat. Over time, insulin mechanisms may get disturbed, which can cause diabetes.
This may not be great news to you.
But there is something else about sugar, and this is why sugar cravings are so difficult to get rid of.
Sugar is refined from the sugar cane, and it contains chemical substances that have been shown by research to be addictive.(1)
Sugar is noteworthy as a substance that releases opioids and dopamine and thus might be expected to have addictive potential.
Basically, sugar sends signals to your brain and makes you crave sweet foods. The more sweet foods you eat, the more of these addictive substances are released, and the more you crave sugar. In plain English, you are now a sugar junkie!
In fact, studies have determined that the chemical substances contained in sugar communicate with the same parts of the brain as the well-known drugs morphine and heroin.
Some studies show that sugar is even more addictive than cocaine! (2)
Now, cravings are not to be confused with addiction.
Craving is defined as “a consuming desire or yearning”. Cravings for foods are extremely common, with 97% of women and 68% of men reporting food cravings (3).
Cravings are what makes you want to eat sweet foods, and addiction is the consequence of eating such foods. And addiction can lead to more cravings.
So, why do you have cravings in the first place?
We all have strong sugar cravings because of a hormone called leptin.
Leptin regulates our cravings for sweet foods. When sugar is metabolized and stored as fat, it releases excessive amounts of leptin into the blood.
If leptin levels are high, you can become resistant to it. And when this happens, your body finds it hard to communicate to your brain that you aren’t hungry anymore.
So, how do you stop sugar cravings?
Overcoming cravings and sugar addiction is not easy. But here are my best tips to stop sugar cravings.
1. My best tip is to replace sugary foods with healthy foods that contain good fats. It usually works like a charm. When you feel that you crave sweet foods, stop the thought in your mind, and have you think about some healthy snack like an avocado, a hard-boiled egg, a piece of good cheese, some nuts or any food you like that’s not junk food.
2. Avoid low-fat or non-fat foods: this is a must if you want to have a healthy diet, but it is particularly recommended when you want to stop sugar cravings. These foods very often contain sugar in some form, and should be avoided.
3. Stop adding sugar to your beverages or your foods: if you’ve been adding 3 teaspoons of sugar to your coffee, gradually reduce to 2, then 1, then none at all. If you really need to sweeten your beverages, use a natural healthy sweetener like Stevia, that will at least not send addictive messages to your brain.
4. Exercise: this doesn’t mean you need to workout like mad, but just take a few walks, walk around your house, or do any form of light physical activity on a daily basis. The endorphins that get released when you exercise give you the same feeling of well-being as a cookie, without the sugar! Exercise has also been shown to regulate hormones such as insulin.
5. Eat proper meals. Start your day with a good breakfast, such as poached eggs with vegetables, oatmeal, or cheese with tomatoes and sprouted grain or cereal bread. This will keep you full for longer, help regulate your blood sugar levels, and reduce your cravings.
6. Drink plenty of water throughout your day (between meals): when we want food between meals, it often means that we are actually thirsty, and drinking large glasses of water will usually be enough for your body to feel all right.