How to Stop Sugar Cravings
Many people might believe that resisting sugar cravings comes down to willpower and that those who can't just need to be stronger. In my nine years working as a nutritionist, I can say without a doubt that willpower has nothing to do with resisting sugar cravings. To do so, you have to get to the root cause. So, I’ll be teaching you how to stop sugar cravings in a healthy way.
8 Tips to Manage Sugar Cravings
First, you want to stop the cycle of restriction and binging. You may need to speak with a counselor to move past any fears or worries you have around food.
Then, you will want to get your blood sugar under control. Try these tips:
- Minimize refined and processed grain and sugars.
- Always eat carbohydrate food with protein or fat to slow the emptying of the stomach.
- Try adding cinnamon to starchy meals, such as sweet potatoes, because this spice actually helps cells uptake glucose to clear it out of your bloodstream quickly.
- Eat a protein-rich breakfast within the first 30 to 60 minutes of waking to stabilize blood sugar for the day.
- Don’t be a grazer — constantly snacking never gives your digestive system a break and can put you at risk of continually flooding your bloodstream with carbs.
Finally, take care of your microbiome:
- Incorporate fermented foods such as unpasteurized apple cider vinegar, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, yogurt or kefir into your diet regularly.
- Take a probiotic supplement.
- Work with a health care practitioner who specializes in rebalancing the gut biome.
If you take these steps, you will be well on your way to solving the root cause of your sugar cravings so that when you enjoy a sweet treat. It is 100% your choice!
Now, let’s get to the root causes of sugar cravings so you can prevent them from happening in the first place.
Why Do You Get Sugar Cravings?
Despite what the diet industry might try to tell you, these cravings are not a sign of any kind of moral failing. Often there is a real physiological reason you are experiencing a sugar craving. If you can get to the root cause of your cravings, you will likely be able to start managing them healthily.
Blood Sugar Imbalance
One of the most common causes of sugar cravings is blood sugar imbalance. When it comes to metabolizing the sugars or carbs you eat, the process begins in your mouth. As you chew your food, salivary amylase (a digestive enzyme) is released. It starts breaking down the bonds between glucose molecules. This step is one of the reasons why it is so important to chew your food!
When you swallow your food, your stomach and pancreas release more digestive enzymes into your stomach and digestive tract. This process happens much faster if you eat food that is pure sugar or carbohydrate. Since there isn't much digestion of sugar that occurs in the stomach, it leaves quickly, making you feel hungrier sooner.
Once that sugar hits your bloodstream, it causes the pancreas to release insulin. If you are eating meals too rich in carbs and not balanced with proteins, fats and fiber, it causes a spike in blood sugar. Your body is only meant to have about 4 grams of sugar circulating at any given time. This means, if you eat a bagel packed with 40 to 50 grams of carbs, it is going to trigger a significant spike in insulin that can overcompensate and lead to a dramatic crash in blood sugar.
This crash can make you feel cranky, tired, lethargic and dizzy. You may also get headaches and insatiable food cravings for sweets. This craving is your body's way of trying to balance out your blood sugar once more. At this point, you will likely reach for another sugary hit, starting the process all over again.
Imbalance in the Microbiome or Candida Overgrowth
While blood sugar imbalances are one of the leading causes of sugar cravings, you may also find yourself hit with an uncontrollable desire for sweets due to the bacterial community that lives in your digestive tract.
This microbiome is made of beneficial and pathogenic bacteria and yeasts that generally have a symbiotic relationship with your body. This means that you give them a place to live and food to eat, and they help you digest things like fiber, produce beneficial compounds and help balance the immune system.
Unfortunately, sometimes the balance gets thrown off due to an overuse of antibiotics, stress, a low-fiber diet and other factors. In this situation, the more pathogenic bacteria and yeasts are allowed to thrive, and they love eating sugar. These microbes can manipulate your eating habits and induce cravings for the sugary foods that they enjoy.
Overly Restrictive Eating
Another common cause of sugar cravings that I see in practice shows up in people who are overly restrictive in the way that they eat. I've seen clients try to restrict their calories so severely that they are not eating anywhere near enough to support their bodies as they go about their daily lives.
I'm not just talking about people who are trying to eat under a specific caloric window. Sometimes if you restrict what you perceive to be bad foods (spoiler alert: no foods are inherently good or bad; we humans have just put a moral judgment on them based on messages from the diet industry), that psychological restriction can lead to a rebound effect. In this case, you might restrict your intake all week and then go wild on the weekends with an uncontrollable urge for sweets.