Visions of sugar plums dancing in your head? Some of us have a severe sweet tooth that leaves us obsessing over sugary delights, sends us spiraling out of control and then causes feelings of shame and guilt afterwards. I used to have an unhealthy relationship with sugar where I would binge on a box of cookies, then deprive myself of anything sweet while at the same time bemoaning the fact that I couldn’t “indulge.” In one of my nutrition classes, I discovered that many of my classmates had the same issues with sugar, to which our professor responded “eat the damn cake! And then move on!” and it dawned on me – I was giving sugar waaaay too much power.
As I began to dig deeper into issues surrounding sugar (like binging, cravings, willpower, guilt, emotional attachment), I began to understand that there are many factors that cause us to crave sugar – oftentimes it is a bigger issue than just having the willpower to say no. For example, blood sugar imbalance, sleep deprivation, absence of a quality breakfast, and gut dysbiosis can all come into play to drive the body to crave sugar. Sometimes we have to recognize that we may have formed an emotional bond with sugar that causes us to crave and binge. But sometimes our physical body is yearning for it, making it very difficult to say no (so hard, right?!).
Causes of Sugar Cravings
Blood Sugar Imbalance
When the diet is plentiful in refined carbohydrates such as white breads, white pastas, sweets and baked goods, our blood sugar will go on a roller coaster ride. To find out what happens to our blood sugar when we eat refined carbohydrates, click here. Basically, we get a spike in blood sugar that gives us a rush of energy (hence the phrase “sugar rush”). But what goes up must come down. Following the rush, we experience a crash, also known as “hangry.” Cue the Snickers commercial. Our bodies crave sugar in order to quickly get our blood sugar to rise so we can feel better again (sounds like a drug addiction, eh?).
Lack of Quality Sleep
Lack of sleep will do ya in as well. Have you ever noticed that you want to eat all day when you’re exhausted? Sleep deprivation has been linked to increased appetite and calorie intake, especially for refined carbohydrates (1). If you have the privilege of napping (who does these days?), then please do so! It will do more for your health then continuing to eat in order to stay awake.
Not Eating the Right Kind of Breakfast
Eating breakfast is beneficial for many reasons. What you eat for breakfast sets you up for how you will eat for the rest of the day (2). For instance, if you eat cereal, juice, and low-fat yogurt, you are putting about 73 grams of sugar into your body. This starts the blood sugar roller coaster from the get-go. But if you eat organic eggs with spinach, bell peppers, mushrooms, and a sweet potato with coconut butter, then your blood sugar will start off stable, giving you the upper hand over your sugar cravings. Take that, sugar!
A diet rich in refined carbohydrates feeds the bad bacteria in the gut, causing symptoms of bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, and many more uncomfortable symptoms. When the bad bacteria gain control of the gut, they are begging you to eat more sugar. Crazy right? It’s like a bunch of microscopic cookie monsters in your belly controlling your mind.
The Emotional Bond with Sugar
While imbalances in the body can lead to sugar cravings, it’s also important to recognize that many of us have learned to use sugar as a way to cope with emotions. We’ve all been through that bad breakup or that crappy day at work that resulted in a trip to the ice cream section of the grocery store and an emptied pint by the end of the evening. And like my professor said, if you’re gonna eat it, then do it and be done with it – no room for guilt!
But it is important to recognize when we are eating to soothe emotions and perhaps implement more nourishing habits such as taking a hot Epsom salt bath, going for a walk with a girlfriend, dancing to a favorite song, or spending time with a pet. Over time, addressing our emotions in healthier ways will take that power away from sugar and help us feel more in control and nourished on a deeper level.
My Tips for Preventing Sugar Cravings
Balance your blood sugar by minimizing refined carbohydrates, eating plenty of quality protein (grass-fed meat, nuts and seeds, legumes, fresh-water fish), complex carbohydrates (fruits, veggies, whole grains) and healthy fats (nuts and seeds, coconut oil, avocados), and addressing stress. You can even purchase a blood sugar testing kit to test your own blood sugar at home. This is an amazing bio-hacking tool that gives you an inside look at how that doughnut is really affecting you.
Eat breakfast and eat the right breakfast. Incorporate quality proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. Try to avoid sugary breakfasts – no one said you can’t have chicken breast and veggies in the morning!
Get plenty of quality sleep. What do I mean by quality sleep? Well, there’s getting enough sleep (which is different for every person, but falls around 7 hours a night) and then there’s getting enough deep, restorative sleep. Alcohol, many sleeping pills, and screen time too close to bedtime can interfere with deep sleep so should be minimized or avoided. Creating a nighttime routine that is relaxing helps set us up for a good night of sleep. Try burning lavender oil, drinking some catnip tea, reading a book in low-lighting, doing some gentle stretching, or meditating.
Eat fermented foods which are rich in probiotics to feed your good bacteria. It takes time to rearrange the gut bacteria and bring the good guys back into power but eating fermented foods and/or taking probiotic supplements will help address gut dysbiosis (3), which will help address sugar cravings.
Don’t give up desserts. I’m not a fan of feeling deprived, and I’m sure you’re not either. Try your hand at making your own desserts using quality ingredients such as cacao, coconut oil, raw organic honey, gluten-free flours, nut milks. These desserts are not only more nutrient-dense, but they are very satisfying. Try my oatmeal pancakes, which only have fruit sugar in them yet taste amazing!
Get support. Controlling your Cookie Monster tendencies can be hard, believe me – I’ve been there. But with the support of a coach or even a group of like-minded individuals working on health goals together, you won’t feel so alone in your struggles. Reach out to me if you’d like some support in regaining control over your sugar cravings.
There’s a Tea for That!
Cinnamon tea is one of my favorite teas to drink. Cinnamon helps to regulate blood sugar. It is sweet and perfect for those times when cravings for something sweet sets in after dinner. This tea is like Christmas in a cup!
Are you addicted to sugar? Leave me a comment below and let me know how you address your sugar cravings.