We all know that sugar isn’t good for our health or our waistline, so why is it so tempting? Turns out, there are several factors working against you that make your body (and your brain) crave sugar. But the good news is, breaking a sugar habit CAN be done and faster than you might think. But before we uncover some simple ways to help you overcome sugar cravings, to improve your health and enhance your weight loss success, let’s learn a bit about why we crave sugar.
Why do we crave sugar?
First off, if you struggle with food cravings, particularly sugar (and simple carbohydrates) we want you to know that you do not simply lack willpower or self-control. Now, take a breath and read that again.
Sugar is quite literally addicting, and food companies know this. That is why most processed foods contain various forms of sugar, many of which are disguised under different names. When we eat sugar, the brain releases serotonin and dopamine, chemicals that make us feel good. This leaves us wanting to experience that good feeling again and again. Simply put, eating sugar makes you crave more sugar. What’s worse, over time, our tolerance for sugar builds up, so we need more of it to produce the same reward effect on the brain. In fact, studies show that sugar affects the brain similarly to cocaine, and for many, sugar has become their “drug” of choice.
Also, when we eat sugar, our body releases the hormone insulin. Insulin’s job is to absorb the excess sugar in the blood and stabilize blood sugar levels. Because the body can break down sugar (including refined carbohydrates, soda, etc.) so quickly, consuming them causes a sharp spike—and then a sharp crash—in blood sugar. The result? Irritability, hunger, sleepiness, and cravings for, you guessed it, more sugar, adding to this vicious cycle.
Lastly, (and worth pointing out) eating sweets has become part of our culture. It’s built into our brains as a form of celebration. Having a birthday? Eat some cake. Won the game? Let’s go for ice cream. You get the picture. When we learn to associate food with reward, it’s feeding our cravings psychologically as well as physically. Have you ever thought, “Oh, I’ll eat that (fill in the blank), I deserve it.” We’ve all been there! But it’s time to break the sugar cycle!
The connection between hormonal imbalance and sugar cravings
Aside from the addictiveness of sugar, did you know that your hormones can totally mess with your appetite and cravings, making you want to scarf down all the sugary treats? Our hormones control a bunch of important bodily functions, like metabolism and digestion, so when they’re out of whack, it can cause us to crave specific foods, like sweets and snacks.
So, here are a few hormones that might be to blame for those pesky sugar cravings:
- Insulin: This hormone helps regulate our blood sugar levels, but if we’re insulin resistant or have type 2 diabetes, it can lead to persistent sugar cravings. Who else can’t resist a good chocolate bar?
- Cortisol: This hormone is our body’s response to stress, but it can also increase our appetite and make us crave high-calorie, high-sugar foods. Stress eating, anyone?
- Estrogen and progesterone: These hormones regulate our menstrual cycle and can cause cravings for sweets and carbs, especially during the two weeks leading up to our period. Is it just us or do you also crave a pint of ice cream during that time of the month?
- Leptin and ghrelin: Leptin tells our brain to stop eating when we’re full, while ghrelin stimulates our appetite. When these hormones get out of balance, it can cause us to overeat and crave sugary foods like crazy.
Breaking up with sugar takes grace and grit…
Giving yourself grace is a very important part of a long-term healthy lifestyle because we are so quick to self-sabotage when we get off track, often detailing our efforts altogether.
Listen, we all get off track sometimes, and that’s ok. We are all going to splurge occasionally, and there’s nothing wrong with that! The key words here are sometimes and occasionally. We should not expect perfection!
But because sugar is so addictive in nature, breaking the initial habit is going to take some grit… but YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS! And the good news is, once you get over the initial hump, you will be well on your way to freedom from cravings for good!
The 8 ways to stop sugar cravings
It takes about two to four weeks for your brain and body to eliminate cravings for sweets and start craving healthier foods that satisfy more of your actual nutritional needs. It also takes about two weeks for a new habit to form, so, giving yourself a 2-week reset should be enough time for you to establish new dietary habits and kick the sugar cravings (or greatly reduce them).
Let’s get started!
#1 Eliminate all processed foods and refined sugars (for now).
Going “cold turkey” on sugar is the best way to kick the habit. Steer clear of obvious culprits like sweets, white flour, and sodas. Then there are unassuming foods, such as most bread, cereals, pizza, pasta sauces, condiments, etc., that you wouldn’t normally associate with having added sugars. As a general rule, look out for words that end in “ose” — sucrose, fructose, glucose, maltose, lactose, or dextrose. This is an easy indicator to spot added sugars. Don’t let ingredients that sound healthier fool you, either. Honey, agave, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, and juice concentrate are still added sugars. Eventually, you’ll be able to add the occasional splurge, but until you break the addictive pattern – steer clear!
#2 Stick to one-ingredient foods (as much as possible).
Your body doesn’t know what to do with man-made chemicals, preservatives, and additives. Sticking to foods with one ingredient makes shopping a “no-brainer” and will fuel your body with nutrients it CAN use.
#3 Add quality protein and fat, to every meal.
Protein and healthy fat, contribute to satiety, and fat helps with vitamin absorption. Eating a diet rich in protein, and goods fats will also help keep your blood sugar stable, helping to combat cravings.
#4 Eat the “right” types of carbohydrates.
Not all carbohydrates are created equal. As opposed to simple carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates take much longer to break down, so while they also cause an initial spike, blood sugar drops much more slowly with no crash. As a result, irritability, hunger, energy levels, and cravings are stabilized. Complex carbohydrates are also nutrient-dense and full of fiber. The “right” carbohydrates to include in your diet are all non-starchy vegetables, low glycemic fruits, and a limited number of healthy starches such as sweet potatoes, legumes, quinoa, and oats. If sugar cravings strike, low glycemic fruit can be a great substitute to satiate the craving without spiking blood sugar. The best options would be berries, apples, oranges, pears, or grapefruit.
#5 Increase the number of “good” bacteria in the gut with a high-quality probiotic.
Candida albicans is a natural-occurring yeast that lives in the intestinal system. Its overgrowth occurs when your natural “friendly” bacteria become diminished. Good or “friendly” bacteria are essential to intestinal health and immune support. Sugar feeds candida, so cutting it out of your diet will help to minimize its growth. Candida yeast overgrowth can cause sugar/starch cravings, digestive problems, and will hinder weight loss. This issue particularly affects women.
Having sufficient quantities of good bacteria will help to eliminate cravings, bloating, and excess fluid retention as it eradicates the Candida yeast overgrowth that causes these symptoms.
#6 Be mindful of the emotional component of sugar cravings.
Even if our physical body isn’t craving sugar, our feelings and stress levels might lead us to it. There are several things you can do in this moment to divert your attention.
- Moving your body to get out of your head such as going for a walk, or practicing yoga
- Connecting with a loved one
- Practicing some form of self-care, like taking a warm bath
- Listening to music, or doing meditation.
#7 Remember your WHY!
Remembering your personal WHY as to why you are choosing to improve your health, as well as why sugar is not your friend can help immensely. Not only does sugar make you gain weight, but it also gives you mood and energy swings, causes inflammation/pain in the body, suppresses your immune system, and can lead to disease of the heart as well as diabetes. After considering all this, ask yourself, “is sugar REALLY worth it?”
“Discipline is choosing between what you want now, and what you want most.” – Abraham Lincoln
#8 Let BeBalanced help!
At BeBalanced we offer a variety of products and programs that are geared toward helping you not only break a sugar habit but enhancing your overall health and wellness. From our high-quality, blood sugar-stabilizing supplements and creams, to our 14-week weight loss and wellness program, or our gut restoration program, we will customize a protocol to help meet your individual needs and goals.
To get started, book a complimentary consultation at your local BeBalanced center.
Not within driving distance to a center? No worries! We offer our services both in-center and virtual appointments.