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5 Ways To Conquer Your Sugar Cravings

Sugar addition is a very real thing. Since glucose is the basic fuel that powers our cells we rely on it heavily. In fact, the brain views sugar as a reward. When it is over-consumed – as it most often is in our society – it reinforces the reward, making you crave more and more. Sometimes these cravings can be extremely difficult to overcome. Cheesecake… pumpkin pie… chocolate peanut butter… need I say more?! It’s no wonder, considering that studies have found sugar to light up the same areas of the brain on imaging that cocaine does!

With this in mind, finding ways to manage your cravings is certainly important. The next time you feel consumed with the urge to eat sugar, give these tips a try.

1. Know how much you are getting and from where.

Sugar is one of the hardest things to quit because the more you have, the more you crave. What complicates this even further is the fact that oftentimes we aren’t aware of how much sugar we are actually consuming because it is hidden in so many places. Did you know that the standard American diet – ironically the SAD diet for short – contains an average of 26 teaspoons of added sugars per day?! This is over 4 times the maximum recommended amount that should be consumed in a day. So where is it coming from? Added sugars can be disguised on food labels in at least 100 different ways – the most common being in the form of “_____ syrup”, “_____ nectar”, “fruit juice concentrate” and with words that end in “-ose”, including “fructose”, “maltose”, “dextrose”, and sucrose”. Aside from the more obvious places that we can expect to find them, sugars may creep into things that are often deemed as healthy, including prepared smoothies/juices, almond milks, gluten free products, yogurt, protein bars, soups, tomato sauce, and salad dressings. Always check your labels and get used to computing the amount of sugar you are taking in. For reference, there is approximately 4 g of sugar per 1 teaspoon. The World Health Organization recommends limiting added sugars to less than 5-10% of one’s daily caloric intake – which would equal about 6 teaspoons or 24 g for the average person.

2. Modify your diet.

If you’ve ever tried to stop eating sugar “cold turkey” you’ll likely remember the myriad of symptoms that follow. The headaches… the fatigue… the mood swings… the CRAVINGS! When you eat large amounts of sugar your blood levels spike and neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine are released from the brain, which are what causes you to experience the notorious “sugar high” and leave you wanting more. As insulin is released your blood sugar begins to rapidly plummet, triggering the desire to seek out more sugar in an attempt to quickly offset the imbalance. To prevent this sudden “crash” and ultimately combat your cravings it is important to up your intake of fiber, protein, and healthy fats because they act to stabilize your blood sugar by slowing the absorption of carbohydrates and help you to feel full for longer. Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are the precursors to the neurotransmitters that regulate mood and food cravings. Opt for healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, seeds, fish, eggs, coconut oil, or olive oil and include them with your choice of protein, fruits, and vegetables at every meal. Always keep healthy snacks with each of these components on hand for times when you have a craving come on. A quick way to determine how much protein you should be getting is to take your weight in kilograms and multiply it by 0.8 – this equates to the minimum amount, in grams, that you should be taking in. If you find that your current diet doesn’t supply enough, consider adding in a protein powder – however be sure to read the label and watch for added sugars!

3. Support with supplements.

Let’s be real. There is no magic pill that will stop you from craving sugar for good (because if there was the sugar industry would be in trouble!). There are, however, a few supplements that can be used to help manage cravings while trying the other recommendations in this article. L-glutamine is an amino acid that plays a role in glucose metabolism and is an important building block for the production of one of our calming neurotransmitters called GABA. It is best taken in powdered form at the onset of a craving and can be dosed repeatedly until the craving dissipates, often within 10-15 minutes. 5-HTP is another supplement that serves as a precursor to serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter heavily involved in mood and appetite. Some researchers theorize that low serotonin levels in the brain may elicit sugar cravings so using precursors such as tryptophan and 5-HTP can help to enhance your body’s own natural production. Nutrient deficiencies including magnesium, zinc, and chromium can also result in cravings for sugar, so assessing for these is an important part in looking for an underlying cause. Always speak with your naturopathic doctor before taking any new supplements to ensure that they are right for you and do not interact with your other medications.

4. Manage your stressors.

Have you ever had a stressful week and wanted nothing more than a tub of Haagen-Dazs? There’s a reason for that! Under prolonged periods of heightened stress your body releases excess cortisol – a “stress hormone” that increases appetite and cravings for high calorie foods such as sweets. Soon after eating those foods you will notice a boost of energy followed by a temporary “high” that makes you feel happy and calm, thanks to the release of dopamine and serotonin from the brain. Your stress is relieved in that moment, however the cycle will repeat itself as your desire to experience those same effects returns. By this point your cravings for sugar may turn into a full on addiction to sugar. Since the cravings are a physiological way to self soothe, doing other things to release the same calming and “feel good” neurotransmitters that are released upon eating sugar is key. Light exercise is a great way to reduce cortisol and increase serotonin naturally. Other ways to manage stress include the use of certain nutrients, adaptogens, and calming botanicals in addition to acupuncture.

5. Sleep!

It’s no surprise that proper sleep is vital to good health. Study after study shows that not getting enough sleep can contribute to the development of several chronic health conditions, including obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. But did you know that sleep deprivation can also affect our appetite and cravings too? One of the ways in which it does this is by affecting the output of ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin and leptin have been dubbed the “hunger hormones”, as ghrelin is responsible for increasing appetite and making us hungry while leptin tells us that we are full. In the case of sleep deprivation ghrelin levels increase as leptin levels decrease, resulting in cravings for quick energy (=sugar!) and lots of it. So what does this mean? Establish a relaxing nighttime routine to help you sleep better and longer. Shut the TV off, put your phone away, and close your computer screen a few hours prior to sleeping. If your mind tends to be on overdrive, ease it by writing out tomorrow’s “to-do” list, packing your bag, and laying out your clothes. Take some time to wind down – read a book, take a bath, try some yoga or meditation. Avoid caffeine and excess fluids in the evening and be sure not to exercise at least 3 hours before going to bed. Ensure your room is dark and use white noise to help block out distracting sounds around you. If you have trouble falling asleep, try a sleep aid such as melatonin, passionflower, 5-HTP, or give acupuncture a try!

If you are trying to lose weight and are struggling with food cravings and want to learn more, book an appointment with Dr. Geil by clicking here:

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