Stop sugar cravings (even when you’re stressed!)

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On our first call together, a potential client said her biggest roadblock in losing weight was not being able to stop sugar cravings.

She was overwhelmed at work and knew that she was in a bad habit of hunting for a cookie any time there was a deadline coming up.

“I know that I’m not eating the right food. I feel like it’s hard to do that when I’m stressed out,” she admitted.

She felt like every time she tried to eat better, something pulled her in the other direction (you know, toward the cookies).

She realized that she kept postponing losing weight because of one new challenge of another in life. Also, she was dealing with a problem at work, just entering a demanding Ph.D. program, etc.

She craved sugary foods when she was stress eating. But she realized that life would always be busy, so she couldn’t postpone it forever. If she wanted to lose weight, she had to learn how to stop her sugar addiction.

She is NOT alone!

In this post, I’ll talk about:

  • The scientific and emotional reasons we crave sugar so much
  • Specific foods (and spices!) to stomp out and avoid sugar cravings
  • What to do when you’re feeling overwhelmed by a sugar craving
  • Sweet (but still low sugar) treat ideas
  • Recipes and meal planning help to protect yourself from last-minute bad choices

Sugar craving causes (why we feel so out of control)

A craving and hunger are actually two different things. When you’re hungry, your body is asking for sustenance for energy. But a strong craving is your brain asking for a dopamine shot (your brain’s reward chemical). (1)

Carbohydrates (like sugar) release serotonin, which is the feel-good chemical in your brain and gut. There are healthier foods to give your body the feel-good benefits of carbohydrates with added nutritional benefits.  

Sugar has a sweet pleasant flavor that releases endorphins that calm and relaxes us. These calming, relaxing feelings can be equivalent to a natural “high.” (2) It’s natural for us to prefer sweet food. In fact, it might even be hardwired into us from our first hours of life.  

As babies, we loved the sweetness of milk. All throughout life, we realized that sweets just taste good, too. Every time we reward ourselves with something sugary, it can make you crave it even more next time. (2)

And as my potential client and many other women know, stress and lack of sleep can make cravings even worse. (1)

How to beat sugar cravings

When you’re dealing with both hunger and a strong craving at the same time, it can be incredibly difficult to resist. (1) Since our automatic response is to search for something satisfying, our brains automatically start scanning for a sugary solution.

But often, our bodies just want nourishment and specifically protein, which sustains you for much longer than simple carbs that burn up fast. This is how eating healthy protein can actually help calm cravings or prevent them completely. (3)

Another solution is to go for a walk, run, or do some exercises in your home or office. This distances you from the foods you crave and releases endorphins (the feel-good chemical). These are healthy ways to satisfy your need to feel good and experience something novel without giving in to the craving. (1,4)

One of my absolute favorite tricks for how to stop sugar cravings instantly is to use spices instead of sugar in my recipes and on snacks. Cinnamon is a subtly sweet spice that can stop sugar cravings like nothing else.

Cinnamon is like an antidote for your sweet tooth. It basically “tricks” your body into thinking you’ve had sugar, but you don’t experience the blood sugar spike and crash. (5) Try this cinnamon tea to reshape your body and you’ll see what I mean!

Stop sugar cravings before they start

Prevention is the best medicine. Rather than trying to put out a sugar-cravings fire, don’t let one spark in the first place! It’s way easier (and less stressful) to avoid sugar cravings altogether. Here’s how.

Toss out junk food from home and replace it with healthy food. If it’s easy to get, you’ll struggle with temptation.

I like to have a cheat day where I CAN eat whatever I want. But for those, I’ll get a slice of dark chocolate cake at a restaurant instead of having a whole cake at home all week calling my name.

Planning your meals and snacks ahead of time helps eliminate the uncertainty that leads to bad choices. You’ll be less tempted and less likely to have cravings if you don’t have to think about what your next meal is. (4)

Here are more ways to stop sugar cravings

  • Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water (1,6)
  • Eat regularly and stay sustained with healthy foods so your blood sugar doesn’t drop so low you crave a quick boost. Choose protein and fiber-rich foods. (2,4)
  • Try to de-stress as much as possible. Stress is a known trigger for food cravings and can have a powerful impact on eating behaviors, especially for women. (1,4)  
  • Get enough sleep. (1) Sleep deprivation disrupts our hormones and leads to poor appetite regulation and strong cravings. (4) Research even shows that people who don’t get enough sleep are up to 55% more likely to be overweight than people who are well rested. (4)

How to stop sugar cravings by giving in (in a healthy way)

  1. If your body is really craving something sweet, have low-sugar fruit. Pair these with protein and healthy fat for the best satisfaction. Try berries with 70% dark chocolate, apple slices with nut butter and cinnamon, or a sliced pear with cheese. (5)
  2. Quality over quantity – instead of binging on a cheap king-sized candy bar, spend more on a pricier fancy truffle. You’ll enjoy it more, you’ll still get to enjoy something sweet, and it’s more of a special treat than an impulse buy you’ll regret. (2)
  3. Feed yourself emotionally – Give yourself breaks where you can indulge in healthy things you enjoy (call a friend maybe even to talk about what you’re struggling with or just to have a nice conversation, take a hot shower, read a few pages from a book you love, etc.) (1,2)

Top Foods to Curb (or Stop Sugar) Cravings:

  • Protein (lean meats like fish and chicken, eggs, nuts, tofu)
  • Fiber (veggies, flax seeds, chia seeds, lentils, and beans)
  • Whole grains (quinoa, oatmeal)
  • Healthy fats (olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, 70% or more dark chocolate)
  • Fermented foods (unsweetened yogurt, kimchi, miso, sauerkraut) (1,4,5)

Foods to Avoid (They Make Sugar Cravings Worse!):

When do you have your worst sugar cravings? How do you usually deal with them? Let me know your favorite healthy sweet food indulgences and ways you meet your needs emotionally in the comments!

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