While sugar cravings may seem uncontrollable, there actually is a science to them and clear-cut ways you can get them in check. So, to prevent ruining all that good work you’ve done at the gym or opting for that salad, follow these eight expert tips to squash those beastly sugar cravings.
You can thank stress for a huge chunk of those sugar cravings. These cravings begin in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis of your brain, which fires up when you’re stressed or coping with a busy lifestyle. “This HPA axis on overdrive makes your body actually crave more sugar because it thinks it’s constantly in ‘acute danger’ and needs more sugar to help you react quicker and survive,”.
So to get to the root cause of many sugar cravings, you’ve got to de-stress. Dr. Dani recommends taking up yoga, mediation or breathing exercises to calm the HPA axis before it sends you into a sugar fit. (Indeed, whether your stressed or not, trying some calming breathing exercises can help you control a sugar craving.)
Get Your Eight Hours
When you’re not getting enough quality sleep, the hormone serotonin—the one that affects mood and appetite—dips below what the body needs to keep you happy and motivated. “The body knows that simple sugars will increase serotonin levels and hence the food cravings,”.
Make an effort to get in your full eight hours each night to stabilize your serotonin levels.
Try a Sugar Detox
While “everything in moderation” is the crux of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, sometimes even moderate amounts of sugar can send a girl careening down a slippery slope of sugar, sugar and more sugar.
So to better control your desire for sugary foods, it can be helpful to simply avoid all processed, sugary foods and eat clean for a couple of weeks (clean out your kitchen so that you don’t get tempted!). Or, if you want to be more hardcore about it, you could try a detox or juice cleanse.
As your body becomes used to not eating these sugary, processed foods, it will gradually stop craving them. Think of it as sugar rehab.
Treat Yourself to Fruit
Once you start avoiding processed food and sugary snacks, you’ll be surprised at how easily a sugar craving can be tackled with a few sweet strawberries, a banana or a cup of watermelon. Remember, fruits have natural sugars, but we sometimes aren’t attuned to their sweetness because our taste buds are so intoxicated by ridiculously sugary, processed foods.
So if you’re having a sugar craving after a meal, try satisfying it with a sweet piece of fruit. Fruit is jam-packed with vital nutrients, unlike Oreos. Don’t overdo it with the fruit, though. Because it’s high in sugar (fructose). certified holistic and clinical nutritionist Pamela Warren and registered dietitian Anita Mirchandani both recommend eating no more than 3 servings of fruit a day.
Sleep isn’t the only thing that affects those serotonin levels. Properly timing when your body gets nutrients is key to curbing serotonin-responsible sugar cravings as well. Dr. Kattouf recommends fueling the body as soon as you wake—just have something small if you don’t have much of an appetite first thing in the morning. After breakfast, Dr. Kattouf recommends eating every 2.5 to 3.5 hours to keep your blood sugars (and serotonin levels) stabilized. Another good rule of thumb is to shoot for three meals a day plus two snacks, or five small meals a day.
It’s not just how often you eat, but also what you eat that can help combat cravings.
To properly balance your blood sugar and seratonin levels, it’s important to eat a combination of carbs, protein and fat with each meal. (The worst thing you can do is to start your day with a sugary or starchy meal for breakfast.) Although amounts vary depending on your fitness goals, weight, and health needs, Dr. Kattouf says a simple rule of thumb for caloric breakdown is 40 to 55 percent carbohydrates, 15 to 30 percent protein and 15 to 30 percent fat. Keeping a food diary can help you to track your levels throughout the day, as can planning your meals ahead of time. Be sure to opt for healthy sources of carbohydrates (like whole grains), fats (like olive oil and avocados) and protein (like lean meats, Greek yogurt).
And of course, drink plenty of water with and between meals. Sometimes being thirsty can trigger what we perceive to be a food craving.
Your body can crave sugar to combat an energy slump, so stay energized. Getting enough sleep, combating stress, eating frequently and balancing nutrients are all important components of that, but so too is exercise.
Recognize Boredom & Emotional Issues
Many of us start thinking about, and craving, sweets when we get bored or are feeling down. Make a concerted effort to recognize if you fall into either or both of these patterns.
If you’re eating as a response to boredom, make a concerted effort to find other ways to stimulate yourself. Cravings generally last for 10 to 20 minutes max, so go engage yourself with something else and let the craving pass.
Some ideas for you: paint your nails, go for a walk or run, call a friend/family member, organize your drawers, etc. If you get antsy while watching TV, grab a couple of hand weights and do a few bicep curls while you watch.
Just like boredom can trigger a sugar flare up, so too can emotional problems. While that cupcake may help you feel warmer and fuzzier, the pick up from it is only temporary. If you’re going through a tough time, acknowledge that food is not a solution, and consciously make an effort to find support through friends, family, or therapy if you need.