We’ve all experienced sugar cravings at some point - whether it’s a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, after a stressful day at work, when you’ve received some bad news, or when you need a little treat after looking after the kids all day.
When sugar cravings hit, we tend to reach for highly refined, highly processed sugary foods – biscuits, chocolate, lollies, soft-drink, ice-cream, cakes, muffins, doughnuts - you name it, we’ve eaten it.
While these foods often make us feel better at the time, they don’t stop our cravings in the long run. In fact, they cause our blood sugar levels to spike and drop quickly, making us crave more sugar - which consequently ends up creating a sugar-craving cycle.
So what causes our sugar cravings in the first place and how can we control them?
When you don’t eat enough calories, your body starts looking for fast fuel as a way to catch up. Enter sugar cravings! Sugar gives you quick energy, even though it’s not necessarily quality energy.
You need to balance out your blood sugar levels by eating regular meals - including protein, complex carbs and good fats to maintain satiety and prevent blood sugar crashes.
If you find you're still craving sugar after eating macronutrient balanced meals, try adding extra healthy fats to your meals, such as avocado, extra virgin olive oil, salmon, nuts and seeds.
When you experience a craving and hunger at the same time, force yourself to have a healthy meal rather than junk food.
Lack of water consumption is often mistaken for sugar cravings and hunger pains. That sweet afternoon pick-me-up can often be a signal of dehydration, not a need for sugar. A lack of fluid intake can make it more difficult for the body to metabolize glycogen (stored glucose) for energy, so our bodies crave sugar to provide us with a quick source of energy when we actually just need to drink a little more water.
You need to bring awareness to your situation. How much water have you drunk today? Instead of grabbing for that chocolate bar or sweetener-loaded latte, guzzle down some good old H2O. Here’s how much water you should be drinking each day.
Stress is something that we all go through, but we rarely think about its long-term effects on our bodies. From an emotional perspective, sugar is comfort food that provides a temporary escape from a stressful situation. From a physical perspective, the consumption of sugar increases our dopamine levels, the body’s happy neurotransmitter, giving us a temporary boost in pleasure.
Identify the root cause of your stress - is it work, home life, financial worries? The more you can identify the source of your stress, the more you can identify the trigger of your sugar cravings. Sugar is only a quick fix (which can actually cause more stress), so it’s time to seek an alternative stress reliever - try stretching, 10 minutes of meditation or deep breathing, go for a walk with a friend or family member, take a hot bath, and don’t forget to exercise. Regular exercise can be so beneficial not only for your physical health, but for mental health, too.
Insufficient sleep can affect the hormones that control your appetite. When you're tired, your energy levels are lowered which will tempt you to go for sugary options. Try our tips for a good night’s sleep here.
A big reason why people flock to sugary food is because it’s right there in front of them - in the cupboards at home, at the supermarket checkouts, in a vending machine beside their work desk.
If you remove these temptations, it will be a case of 'out of sight, out of mind’. Now, removing these temptations at home is far easier than when you’re out and about, it’s true. Try keeping a piece of fruit, or a homemade muesli bar, in your bag ready for when you face temptations when you’re on the go.
When something becomes a habit, especially when it comes to food, you have to ask yourself: Are you even aware you’re doing it? Do you know that every day at 4pm you’re picking up that chocolate bar? Do you really want to be doing it? Are you truly craving what you’re eating or is it just the ‘norm’ now?
When you’re really hungry and you haven’t eaten enough throughout the day, breaking a mid-afternoon sugar fix is going to be tough. But if you start to eat more consistently throughout the day and get in enough and the right types of calories, then your defences are up and it’s easier to change that habit.
Meal prep can be a wonderful way to prepare yourself for any snack snack attacks. If you feel those sugar cravings creeping up on you, instead of store-bought sugary food, tuck into your own homemade (and healthy) snacks, such as these Protein Balls or Berry Protein Muffins.
Still not sure WHY you’re craving sugar so much? Try keeping a food diary to understand when and why you experience sugar cravings. tracking what you eat, as well as your mood and energy levels, and being mindful of these patterns.
Monitoring your patterns allows you to notice the triggers - do they come after not eating a balanced meal? When you are tired or stressed? Write it all down and reflect back - once you understand the reasons why you’re caving in to those sugar cravings, then you can start finding alternative solutions.