As a registered dietitian who has worked with thousands of women, I understand how difficult it can be to stay on track with healthy eating when faced with relentless sugar cravings.
You start the day off well, you choose healthy meals and snacks, practice portion control, and feel great about your choices. Then all of a sudden, 3 pm strikes … and all you can think about is sugar.
At first, you try to ignore the urge to indulge in your favourite sugary snacks, but then your colleague enters with a box of donuts for the office and you surrender to temptation.
If that sounds familiar, then you aren’t alone!
There are several reasons WHY we experience food cravings but there are an equal number of strategies for counteracting them.
In this blog, I will discuss these challenges and offer practical solutions that will teach you how to stop sugar cravings in its tracks.
Let’s dive in!
While we all deserve to indulge in our favourite sweet treats from time to time, too much sugar can cause weight gain and negatively impact our health.
According to the American Heart Association, too much sugar is associated with obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, pancreatic cancer, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and nerve damage.
Sugar cravings can feel overpowering, and cab trigger us to turn to high-sugar foods that provide temporary pleasure and energy. This can also lead to us feeling totally “out of control” around sugar.
These intense cravings can feel very difficult to manage. Sugar has addictive properties and lights up the reward centres in our brains that tell us to keep eating. Many of our favourite sugary treats have been strategically designed to keep us hooked! The more we have them the more we want them.
There are several strategies we can employ, but below are my top 5 tips on how to stop sugar cravings.
Every woman has a different set of triggers for sugar cravings.
Common triggers include stress, fatigue, excess caffeine, boredom, or simply having sugar right in front of you.
The first step in how to stop sugar cravings is to identify what your unique set of triggers are. Then, you can look at ways to manage your triggers and work on reacting differently to them.
For example, if your trigger is stress then you could look at helpful ways to manage stress such as physical activity, meditation, or therapy. If these things help reduce your stress levels, then you aren’t as likely to crave sugar or use sugar as a coping mechanism.
Cravings are often the result of hunger. Many women don’t pay attention to (or ignore) hunger signals during the day because they are busy, stressed, don’t have any food prepared or because they are trying to watch their weight.
This will always backfire! Undereating can cause an overactive appetite and cravings, making it very difficult to control ourselves around food…especially foods high in sugar and other refined carbs (think bread, crackers, pretzels, and baked goods)!
Always make sure to check in with your body and hunger cues throughout the day. When you are hungry, take the time to eat, no matter how busy you are. And remember to eat something that you enjoy, that will fuel and nourish you, and keep you full and satisfied until your next meal/snack.
You can also try “front-loading” your food, meaning that you are eating the majority of your calories during the day, to help avoid late-night sugary snacking.
There are many foods and patterns of eating that can lead to a spike in hunger hormones.
When you are building your meals and snacks it’s important to prioritize PROTEIN and FIBRE. Try to make sure about 50% of your plate contains vegetables (and eat at least some of these first!).
These both help to trigger our fullness hormones and keep us satiated for longer. They also help with blood sugar control which further helps us to manage our hunger and sugar cravings.
Examples of great protein-rich foods include eggs, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, meat, fish, poultry, seafood, tofu, tempeh, edamame, lentils, beans, pumpkin seeds, and pistachios. Try to ensure you are getting a healthy amount of protein at each meal/snack.
Examples of fibre-rich foods include fruit like apples, non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, legumes like chickpeas, whole grains like steel cut oats or sprouted grain bread, and nuts/seeds like hemp seeds.
Planning and preparing meals and snacks in advance empowers you to make healthy decisions and resist the temptation of sugary snacks when hunger strikes.
Stock your pantry and fridge with whole food options to avoid relying on ultra-processed sugary snacks packed with unhealthy fats and additives.
These types of foods (i.e. cookies, candies, sugary granola bars) spike our blood sugar levels which is then followed by a drop. This drop in blood sugar can lead to another round of sugar cravings and the cycle repeats itself.
Some examples of satisfying and healthy snacks include:
You could also try making healthier versions of your favourite treats such as:
It’s important to remember that cutting something out completely can be difficult, unsustainable and unrealistic for many women.
A more realistic approach to stopping sugar cravings can include creating a “treat budget” which allows you to indulge in your favourite sugary treats now and then.
Doing this helps many women feel like they have freedom and flexibility with food which can actually help them be more consistent with their healthy eating routine.
Restricting your favourite foods could lead you to crave them more and overeat them when you do finally permit yourself to indulge.
Here is how to set a treat budget:
Note: some medical conditions do require a strict sugar budget. Speak to your doctor and dietitian about how much sugar is right for you.
Many of us experience sugar cravings after a meal. If you typically crave something sweet at this time then try the following:
Learning how to stop sugar cravings can be a difficult journey, but one that can be overcome with simple strategies like the ones listed above.
By understanding the triggers behind our cravings, adopting healthier habits, and incorporating balanced nutrition into our daily lives, we can empower ourselves to break free from our habits of excessive sugar consumption.
If you’re struggling with sugar cravings and need additional support, book a call with a registered dietitian like myself. I will act as your trusted guide with nutritional expertise and a customized plan to meet your specific goals. Take charge of your cravings and change your relationship with food today!