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Sugar Cravings: Why We Crave Sugar and How to Stop Them?

Sugar Cravings: Why We Crave Sugar and How to Stop Them?

Is sugar craving preventing you from losing weight? Here you can discover the causes and the actionable steps you can take to beat those cravings.

sugar cravings

Sugar cravings are one of the main reasons people have a hard time losing weight and eating healthy. Image via Shutterstock

With the new year, you may be wanting to lose weight. In fact, it may be your only New Year’s Resolution, or at the top of your resolutions list. Yet one of the reasons you may be struggling to lose weight is sugar cravings.

With the holiday season, you may have felt as if these cravings were out of control. From Christmas cookies to pies and cakes, sugar seems to be everywhere.

But what exactly is a craving?

Overview

According to the Food Craving Inventory, a craving is defined as an intense desire to consume a food or food type that is difficult to resist.

Ever suddenly get a craving for sugar?

Do you crave ice-cream, cookies, or chips, pizza, or fries?

These are all sugar cravings.

If those cravings hit you hard you may have wondered, “Why am I craving sugar?” The second question you may have is, “How to stop sugar cravings instantly?”

Cravings for certain foods, including sugar, are extremely common. While these cravings are more common in women with 97% of women affected, men are hit by them as well.

You may have experienced these cravings many times. Picture it, you have just come home from a hard day of work and you have a craving for something sweet. Or, in the evening, after dinner, you crave that piece of pie and then another piece.

Does this sound familiar?

Sugar cravings can hit at any time during the day. Yet one of the most common times for such cravings is in the evening after dinner.

Here are some reasons that may apply to you as to why you are craving sugar:

  • You are using artificial sweeteners
  • You sleep poorly
  • You are stressed
  • You are eating to soothe your emotions or to feel better
  • You body needs certain minerals

The above are the most common reasons why many of us, especially women crave for this.

1. Artificial Sweeteners

According to Mayoclinic, artificial sweeteners have been commonly used as an alternative to sugar for years.

You may use them to cut back on the amount of sugar you consume since they have no calories. They are a lot sweeter than regular sugar and range for 180 times sweeter to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar.

The most common artificial sweeteners are:

  • Sucralose (the yellow packet – brand name Splenda)
  • Aspartame (the blue packet – brand name Equal)
  • Saccharine (the pink packet – brand name Sweet ‘N Low)

Even if you do not use them to sweeten your coffee or in the foods you make, they are everywhere. If you use any foods that are not fresh, chances are you are eating an artificial sweetener.

Artificial sweeteners are in:

  • Puddings
  • Soft drinks including non-diet drinks
  • Canned foods
  • Dairy products like yogurt
  • Pasta sauces
  • Granola and other cereals
  • Powdered sports drinks
  • Low fat salad dressings
  • Diet foods
  • Frozen foods

Though these artificial sweeteners are zero calorie and may decrease the total amount of sugar you consume, they cause you to have more craving.

Since they are so much sweeter than regular sugar, they change how you taste the food. They make you want more sweetness and you, as a result, crave sugar.

Here are other ways artificial sweeteners affect you:

  • Increase your craving for food
  • Cause you to eat more foods with sugar the next day
  • Cause you to want higher calorie and high fat foods including sugar
  • Heightens sugar cravings and dependence because they are sweeter than sugar

So, if sugar cravings are affecting your weight, you may want to reconsider that artificial sweetener.

2. Poor Sleep

Lack of sleep, or sleeping poorly, is another cause of sugar cravings. When your sleep is disrupted and it causes you to sleep less than 7 hours, the hunger hormone ghrelin is increased.

Ghrelin causes you to be hungry, and when you sleep poorly, your body makes more ghrelin. When this happens, you crave food, specifically high-calorie foods like sugar.

Effects of poor sleep include:

  • Increase in the hunger hormone ghrelin – you eat more high calories foods especially sugar, the next day
  • The appetite suppressant hormone leptin is decreased
  • You have after dinner cravings causing you to eat more high calorie sugar rich foods even when you have had a big dinner
  • Low energy the next day so you subconsciously reach for a bagel, pastry or donut for a sugary energy boost
  • You eat more food the next day
  • You don’t feel satisfied, so you crave sugar

For more information on how sleepless nights affect your weight, see the article on Do Sleepless Nights Prevent us from Losing Weight?

3. Stress and Your Emotions

Stress is another cause of your sugar cravings. You do not need to feel stressed out for stress to affect you.

Even low levels of stress and relational tension whether it be with a friend, family member, partner, or co-worker can cause you to crave sugar.

According to the Study.com, Chronic stress is the stress that is long in duration such as chronic pain or recurs, again and again, such as staying late at work multiple nights. More than 40 million of us deal with chronic stress.

Stress causes you to crave sugar. Here is what happens:

  • Relationship stress causes higher levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin, so you crave
  • Social stress makes you eat more sugar and other high carbohydrate-rich foods
  • Stress causes restless sleep and lower energy which makes you crave sugar
  • Stress lowers the appetite-controlling hormone leptin leading to hunger and cravings

Stress also affects our emotions. It can cause you to feel down, angry, frustrated, and overwhelmed. Sugar cravings can be a result of your emotional state.

Even if it is not stressed that is causing you to feel sad or down, sugar does elevate your mood. It causes an immediate sense of well-being and elevates your mood when you get that sugar rush. This is emotional eating.

Signs of Emotional Eating:

  • Craving and eating when you are not physically hungry
  • Craving is influenced by your emotions
  • Seeking sugary and other high carbohydrate foods for comfort
  • Feeling guilt and shame after you give in and eat the sugar

What Deficiency Causes Sugar Cravings?

Certain deficiencies can also cause you to crave sugar. Women are especially hit with this when they crave chocolate. Chocolate is the most craved food.

One explanation for this is a deficiency in the mineral magnesium. Chocolate contains magnesium and many other vitamins and minerals such as iron and manganese.

You can have that chocolate without the guilt or affecting your weight.

How to Indulge in Chocolate without the Guilt

  • Eat dark chocolate that has at least 70% cocoa as it has less sugar
  • Eat only 1 ounce
  • Let it melt in your mouth and savor it

NOTE: Talk to your doctor about taking a magnesium supplement.

How to Stop Sugar Cravings Instantly?

To help you jumpstart those New Year’s Resolutions here is how to end those cravings.

  • 1. Lower your stress

  • Do deep breathing exercises. Take a deep breath in, hold if for five seconds, and slowly let it out. Do this as many times as needed. Mediate or listen to some calming music. You can also journal as a way to get out of your head and lower your stress.

  • 2. Get better sleep

  • Sleep in the dark. Use blackout curtains or a sleep mask. See more tips on how you can sleep better in this article.

  • 3. Check your foods for artificial sweeteners

  • Cut back on the amount you use. Check the ingredients labels on the foods in your cabinets for artificial sweeteners so you know how much you are consuming.

    Switch to stevia or erythritol as they have not been shown to cause such cravings.

  • 4. Check-in with your emotions

  • Are you hungry for sugary foods due to physical hunger or to elevate your mood? What is the emotion behind the craving?

    Find healthier alternatives such as going for a walk, talking to a friend, or writing in a journal.

How to stop sugar cravings in the evening

  • Go for a short walk – get away from the temptation
  • Eat more protein at dinner – protein fills you up and satisfies so it cuts those cravings
  • Stay away from diet sodas at dinner as they contain artificial sweeteners causing cravings

As you have read, such cravings are not all in your head. They are real and they have real causes.

Learning what causes sugar cravings is just the start. When you start to implement strategies to end your cravings you will be able to jumpstart your New Year’s Resolutions.

Want to dive deeper? My gift to you is a free End Cravings Breakthrough Session. This is a free consultation to help you get a start on your goals for the new year. To schedule yours Click Here
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References

[1] Bartolotto, C. (2015). Does consuming sugar and artificial sweeteners change taste preferences? The Permanente Journal, 19(3), 81–84. doi:10.7812/TPP/14-229 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4500487/
[2] Fowler, S.P., Williams, K., Resendez, R.G., Hunt, K.J., Hazuda, H.P., & Stern, M.P. (2012). Fueling the obesity epidemic? Artificially sweetened beverage use and long-term weight gain. Obesity, 16(8), 1894-1900. doi:10.1038/oby.2008.284
[3] Chao, A.M., Jastreboff, A.M., White, M.A., Grilo, C.M., & Sinha, R. (2017). Stress, cortisol, and other appetite-related hormones: Prospective prediction of 6-month changes in food cravings and weight. Obesity, 25(4), 713-720. doi:10.1002/oby.21790 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28349668
[4] Gardner, M. P., Wansink, B., Kim, J., & Park, S. (2014). Better moods for better eating?: How mood influences food choice. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 24(3), 320-335. doi:10.1016/j.jcps.2014.01.002 https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2014-27562-003
[5] Jaremkaa, L.M., Beluryb, M.A., Andridgec, R.R., Malarkeyade, W.B., Glaseraef, R., Christianaghi, L., Emeryadg, C. F., & Kiecolt-Glaseraegh, J.K. (2014). Interpersonal stressors predict ghrelin and leptin levels in women. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 48, 178-188. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.06.018
[6] Knutson, K.L. & Van Cauter, E. (2008). Associations between sleep loss and increased risk of obesity and diabetes. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1129, 287-304. doi:10.1196/annals.1417.033.
[7] Lavin, J.H., French, S.J., & Read, N.W. (1997). The effect of sucrose- and aspartame-sweetened drinks on energy intake, hunger and food choice of female, moderately restrained eaters. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 21(1), 37-42. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0800360 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9023599
[8] Markwald, R.R., Melanson, E.L., Smith, M.R., Higgins, J., Perreault, L., Eckel, R.H., & Wright, K.P. (2013). Impact of insufficient sleep on total daily energy expenditure, food intake, and weight gain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(14), 5695-5700, doi:10.1073/pnas.1216951110 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23479616
[9] White M.A., Whisenhunt B.L., Williamson D.A., Greenway F.L., & Niemeyer R.G. (2002). Development and validation of the Food-Craving Inventory. Obesity Research, 10, 107-114. doi:10.1038/oby.2002.17
[10] Yang, Q. (2010). Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings: Neuroscience 2010. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 83(2), 101–108. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20589192
[11] Yanovski, S. (2003). Sugar and fat: Cravings and aversions. The Journal of Nutrition, 133(3), 835S–837S. doi:10.1093/jn/133.3.835S https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/133/3/835S/4688015
[12] Yau, Y. H., & Potenza, M. N. (2013). Stress and eating behaviors. Minerva Endocrinologica, 38(3), 255-67.
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Pamela Pedrick, RN, CHC

Pamela Pedrick is a registered nurse and a certified health coach and is committed to helping women to see their value and worth and to...

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