Many of us struggle with how to control sugar cravings. Here is some sound advice from Kelly Hogan MS, RD on how to keep them at bay.
If I had a nickel for every time a client disclosed, often despairingly, that they have cravings for sweets, I’d be sitting at a much more comfortable desk right now. We are conditioned to think there is something wrong with us if we crave sugar, especially if diet culture is constantly whispering in your ear that sugar-containing foods are “bad.” Well, spoiler alert: They’re not. Sugar cravings can somewhat easily be managed by making a few small tweaks to your eating patterns and your mindset.
Tips on How to Control Sugar Cravings
Here are Ms. Hogan’s tips about how to control sugar cravings:
One of the biggest reasons we crave sweets is because of irregular meal times or skipped meals. Long stretches without eating anything, eschewing breakfast for a quick coffee or working through lunch on a deadline can all set you up for craving the sweet stuff. The answer as to why isn’t that you are a terrible person, or lacking in “willpower,” it’s purely physiological. If your body isn’t getting what it needs, it’s going to figure out the easiest way to tell you in order to get it. When we skip meals or go too long without eating anything, we can experience extreme blood sugar drops. This is a place the body does not want to be. The type of nutrient that can raise blood sugar the fastest, get us out of the “danger zone,” and give the body some usable energy is glucose, or sugar. Hence, we crave sugar. If skipping meals or wonky mealtimes also means you’re not eating enough in general, your body may crave sweets for fuel if it feels like it’s running on or close to empty.
If you’re eating regular meals but skimping on carbs, you may notice more frequent cravings for sweets and carbs. This is also not because you’re doing your “diet” wrong or that sweets and carbs are inherently “bad.” It’s because you need to eat carbs! Remember, carbohydrates are not these evil toxic substances diet culture wants you to think they are. They are, very simply, the body’s preferred source of energy. And, when you’re not eating them, even if you’re having a ton of protein, fat and vegetables, you will probably crave sweets and carbs. The easy remedy here is to eat carbs, and eat them regularly. Carbohydrates can and should have a place in every meal of the day. Try to choose carbs that have some fiber, like whole grains, potatoes with the skin, beans and legumes, and fruits to help promote satiety and keep blood sugar steady.
EAT (SOME) SUGAR
You heard it here first — this dietitian is telling you to eat sugar. And yes, I’m aware many individuals in this country consume too much added sugar, which may in some way contribute to risk of chronic disease. I have a point, I promise. We’ve talked about some of the physiological reasons we may crave sweets. But the psychological ones are important, too. If you deprive yourself of a food you enjoy, let’s say cake, it feels sort of miserable. Then you start to want the cake more and more, until you finally “cave” and have that cake and eat the whole darn thing. Feelings of discomfort and guilt follow, and the deprivation starts all over again. It’s possible to change course here! What if you removed cake from your “off-limits” list completely, and made it available for you to have if you want it? Sure, at first you may eat more cake every single day. But over time, the cake loses its power and so do your cravings for it. Including some sweets regularly in your diet can actually decrease the amount of sweets you consume over the long term.
THE BOTTOM LINE
We need to stop thinking our cravings for sweets and sugary foods need to be “controlled.” Instead, let’s think a little deeper about what might be missing from your diet and what your relationship with food is like. If this work seems daunting or difficult, working with a registered dietitian who uses a “non-diet” approach can be helpful.
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