Learn what to do when sugar cravings hit and what causes them in the first place

  • 3 Minutes Read
Sue Heikkinen
Sue Heikkinen, MS, RDN, CDCES, BC-ADM, ACE-PT - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist

You strive to eat healthy and want to lose weight, but what causes pesky sugar cravings to still creep up on you? Learn what's behind sugar cravings and the most effective ways to curb and prevent them.

What causes sugar cravings

What causes sugar cravings

Sugar cravings are normal. After all, we are born with a preference for sweet tastes, an evolutionary advantage to help ensure nourishment. The cravings become problematic if they lead to overeating sweets, keeping you from meeting your health and weight-loss goals.

Understanding the nature of sugar cravings can help you minimize their frequency and intensity and know how to respond when they happen. See if these common causes sound familiar to your experience.

Brain rewards and emotional connections

There’s a reason why ice cream and brownies, not celery and tuna, have a reputation as comfort foods. Eating sweets stimulates the brain's reward system, temporarily making you feel calmer or happier. Your brain connects the food to the pleasurable response, reinforcing a habit of turning to sweets when experiencing difficult emotions.

We also build emotional connections between eating certain foods and being comforted. The association between nurturing and sugary treats may have developed in childhood if your parents offered baked goods, ice cream, or candies as a means of soothing you.

Poor sleep

Lack of sleep can increase the hunger hormone ghrelin. Researchers have demonstrated that poor sleep can increase the brain’s reward response to food, making sugar cravings even more powerful. In addition, being exhausted can make it harder to have the energy to plan and prepare healthy foods.

“Forbidden” nature of sweets

Being told a particular food is off-limits may increase its appeal and cause you to think about it all the time, even if it has never tempted you before. Reminding yourself that a healthy eating plan has room for occasional treats with no food strictly off limits may lessen the power the food has over your thoughts.

Your usual diet

Sugar cravings do not typically signal a nutrient lacking in our diet. However, your eating pattern may contribute to the drive for sweets. Sometimes a blood sugar dip causes sugar cravings, creating a vicious cycle of craving, eating sugar, and repeating. Plan meals with a balance of healthy carbs, protein, and fat to help stabilize your blood sugar. If going too long without eating triggers sugar cravings, plan a balanced snack (such as apple and peanut butter, whole grain crackers with fruit, or yogurt and almonds) to stay ahead of the craving.

If your usual diet is high in added sugars and low-calorie sweeteners, your taste buds may get accustomed to an excessive sweetness level. Cutting down on overly sweetened and processed foods and replacing them with the natural sweetness of fruit, for example, may help you feel satisfied.

Environmental cues

Have you ever seen an advertisement for a chocolate bar and then thought of nothing else? Or has the smell of baked cookies called you to the kitchen? Take control of your environment to minimize such cues by keeping tempting foods out of sight and walking away when TV ads air.

What to do about sugar cravings when they hit

Identify what you really need

Since sugar and other types of cravings seem often tied to emotions, take a moment to check in with yourself and identify what you actually need. Are you truly hungry or feeling stressed, tired, or overwhelmed? Take a moment to relax by taking a short walk, listening to your favorite music, or doing relaxation exercises.

Pause or “ride the wave”

You don’t have to give in to a craving the moment it hits. Most cravings tend to diminish in less than 15 minutes.

Try “urge surfing.” This mindfulness technique encourages you to ride out a craving, just as a surfer would ride a wave and not resist it. Over time, your confidence in riding out the urge will build.

Choose a healthy-ish option

Think about what may help satisfy your sugar cravings without taking you too far off course. Some ideas include raspberries with a few chocolate chips, a cup of tea, a fruit popsicle, or cocoa-dusted almonds.

Eat with awareness

If you do yield to a craving, at least make it enjoyable! Use mindful eating techniques to experience the treat fully, without guilt. This approach will lead to a greater sense of satisfaction than eating mindlessly. Then log the food in MyNetDiary so you can reflect and learn about what circumstances contribute to and cause your cravings.

Take heart—your sugar cravings may subside

Research indicates that cravings tend to curb over time on a reduced-calorie weight-loss plan. Perhaps knowing that the cravings won’t be forever can help lessen their power.

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Weight Loss->Appetite & Satiety Weight Loss->Cravings
Jul 10, 2023

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