Around three o’clock every afternoon you find yourself in the kitchen. You scale the countertop and reach up towards the highest cupboard… The treat cupboard.
Inside you can usually find a half-empty packet of cookies, some leftover Halloween candy, maybe even a couple two-bite brownies – jackpot! You’re on the hunt for anything sweet as that familiar urge takes hold… You’re craving sugar again. That Ihavetohaveitrightnow type of craving.
Even though you only find a few cracked dum-dums and a smashed tootsie roll you devour them quickly. They’re obviously a disappointment. You need more. Next you set your sights on the refrigerator. What delicious delectables lie behind that door? You jump down off the cupboard and proceed to raid the rest of the kitchen.
Does this sound familiar?
If you’re experiencing a mid-afternoon slump, a craving for pastries or donuts at breakfast, or you find yourself rummaging in the cupboards for a sweet treat before bed, you aren’t alone! There may be reasons you haven’t thought of that are giving you this hankering for sugar.
1. You’re Hungry
Have you started a new diet recently? Maybe you’re watching your portion sizes and have cut back your food intake a little too aggressively? Or perhaps you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, premenstrual, or have increased your activity significantly but haven’t adjusted your diet to account for your increase in energy needs.
Massive caloric deficits, as seen in many fad diets, are wreaking havoc on people’s lives. You WILL be hungry and craving sugar if you’re depriving yourself of calories and nutrients. And you will NOT win the hunger war with your body. We have systems in place to make sure we don’t starve.
Ghrelin, the appetite hormone is produced in the stomach to help communicate to our brains when it’s time to eat. It starts as a whisper but ignoring the signals for too long will likely leave you searching for quick, grab-and-go food to use as fuel. In fact, spikes in ghrelin have the ability to make certain foods (high sugar, high fat) look more appealing. It’s no wonder that even dry, day-old donuts look amazing on an empty stomach.
Not only can food seem tastier when hungry, studies have shown that ghrelin secretion can also impact decision making and impulse control, making it more difficult to choose fruits and veggies over candies and donuts.
The sensation of hunger shouldn’t be feared or avoided. We recommend waiting until you feel hunger to eat your next meal, but don’t let yourself get too hungry. Experiencing and appropriately responding to hunger and fullness cues can be a great way to tune in to your body’s nutritional needs. Sugary snacks may provide temporary relief when you’re craving sugar but for sustained energy and satiety ditch the starvation diet and mini-meals and grab yourself a well-balanced, nutritionally dense meal.
2. You’re Stressed and Tired
Long, exhausting days (and nights) can leave many of us fishing through the dry, hardened parade candy your kiddo collected over six months ago. It’s probably no surprise that fatigue and stress both contribute to an increase in cravings for sweet treats.
Persistent stress produces a hormone called cortisol which can ramp up hunger and motivation to eat. In addition, multiple studies have concluded that physical and emotional stress increases consumption of foods high in fat, sugar, or both. Following ingestion, those same foods can actually temporarily negate stress providing a more calming state in the body. There really is some truth behind “comfort foods”.
Most people know sleep deprivation can have unfavorable side effects on our health but a study from University of California, Berkeley has shown that after just one night of sleep deprivation, our brains respond with greater desire for foods higher in sugar and fat compared to when we are well-rested. In addition, sleep-deprived brains showed a decrease in decision-making abilities. With so many changes in our brain following just one night of little sleep it’s no wonder many sleepless mothers, like me, are raiding cabinets for anything resembling chocolate come mid-afternoon.
Candy bars and jelly beans may provide the quick, short-term pick-me-up you’re looking for but your best long term solution is to implement healthy sleep and stress management solutions. If you cannot get 7-9 hours of consecutive sleep per night try to fit in an afternoon nap or prioritize more restorative activities (like walking) rather than intense activities (like running). In Balance 365 sleep and self care are considered essential pieces of finding balance, food freedom AND in pursuing fat loss goals!
3. You Don’t Eat Enough Carbs, Protein, or Fat
Getting an adequate consumption of the three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, or fat) can result in a decrease in hunger and cravings.
Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap. They are an essential part of our diet. The details of when you eat and how much you eat are highly individual but one thing is certain, too few carbohydrates can leave you feeling depressed, anxious, tired, and scrounging for quick foods to increase energy.
Insufficient protein intake can also increase hunger and cravings. Adequate protein with meals can help stabilize blood sugar, increase fullness, and may reduce cravings. Many women do not eat enough protein throughout the day. General protein guidelines suggest anywhere from 0.4 grams of protein/pound of bodyweight for more sedentary individuals to 1.0 grams of protein/pound of bodyweight for athletes or higher active individuals.
Fat is also part of a balanced diet. There are many reasons to include fat in your diet but for this article’s purposes we’re going to talk about satiety (the feeling of fullness). Lack of fat as been related to what some nutrition professionals refer to as “SnackWell’s Syndrome,” a situation where individuals overeat low-fat or fat-free foods without ever feeling full.
Eating well-balanced meals comprised of sufficient servings of proteins, fibrous carbohydrates, and fats are a great way to stay satisfied and ensure your sugar cravings are kept to a minimum.
4. Because You Think Sugar is Bad
Many have read the alarming headlines “Sugar is Poison” and “Sugar is Toxic”. Before you empty your pantry of any signs of that sweet salvation take into consideration that sugar, regardless of whether the sugar originates in fruit, candy, or yogurt, is a simple carbohydrate that breaks down into glucose to be used as fuel for your entire body. In other words, sugar is not poison or toxic. Sugar in moderation isn’t “bad”. Too much sugar (or any food for that matter) is what leads to adverse health effects.
Additionally, research has shown that assigning moral values to food as being “good” or “bad” (i.e. ice cream is bad) and the restriction of “bad” foods can result in the binge eating of those foods as well as an increase in preoccupation with said food. It’s like when my parents told me not to date the bad boy in school. The minute they told me I couldn’t, it’s all I wanted to do.
Bottom line, food deprivation isn’t good for our mental or emotional health. Sugar can be included in moderation as part of any healthy, well-rounded diet. So go ahead and enjoy your favourite chocolate bar without guilt, and move on with your life!
5. You Think Your Only Option is All or Nothing
There is a large spectrum of sugar consumption with “no sugar, ever” on one side and “sugar all the time” at the other. In our opinion the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle. The middle, or sugar moderation, is where we can enjoy birthday cake at parties or ice cream on a hot day without guilt, deprivation, or overindulging.
Of course an important part of food is that it provides us with fuel. But food is also meant for enjoyment! For many of us, foods made with sugar like donuts, chocolate, and cake are associated with enjoyable activities and social gatherings. Life without these activities (or these foods) makes us feel… Well, sorta sad. That’s understandable! I don’t want to live without birthday parties or birthday cake!
Mastering moderation, the practice of eating foods without excess or extremes, is a practice full of trial and error and learning experiences. We know in a world of extremes, it’s hard to believe this is possible. But it is. We’ve helped thousands of women ditch dieting and take control of their food choices! Once you get the hang of moderation, it’s a skill that can bring you balance, freedom, and total happiness.
Yes, we crave sugar for many reasons. But no, we are not addicted.
Despite what you’ve read on social media and from diet gurus in the last few years, the latest studies we have point to NO, people are not addicted to sugar. If you were, you would be eating it straight from the bag with a spoon. Consuming sugar does light up reward pathways in the brain but so does laughter, falling in love, and hugging your child (and we don’t ever complain about being addicted to those things). This is GOOD news! If you previously were led to believe your sugar cravings were because of an addiction, you can now start focusing on the REAL issues…
All studies point to restriction leading to food preoccupations, cravings, and overeating. We have to stop the cycle of yo-yo dieting, and start favoring well-balanced meals, get some sleep, and learn to destress in a healthful manner. Master moderation and you will find your desire for sugar is greatly reduced.
Our program teaches busy women how to systematically create a healthy, balanced diet by introducing nutrition habits one at a time. Sugar cravings are a part of life and are not something anyone should fear or be ashamed of. You will never be able to eliminate sugar cravings altogether, but you can learn to decipher what they’re telling you. This can help you keep your sugar consumption to a balanced and moderate amount.
It’s a very freeing place to be when you can objectively decide what you *truly* want to eat. Personally I want to save my sugar splurges for something I truly enjoy, not dried out donuts or squished tootsie rolls.
Stay calm and ice cream on! (Does anyone else think this should be on a t-shirt?)