We all get those intense cravings for the sweet stuff every now and again. It’s natural to want a sugary treat occasionally – but what happens when cravings are constant and affect our ability to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle?
Why is getting on top of sugar cravings important?
Small amounts of natural sugar are healthy and necessary – but the average woman in the US now consumes over 70g or 17 teaspoons of added sugar (the recommended daily amount is just 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons).
Certain types of sugar, such as fruit sugars, are processed differently by the body. This is because they’re accompanied by fiber, alongside other nutrients and minerals that are beneficial for health.
But the types of sugar we tend to crave (found in candy, chocolate, liquid calories and baked goods) can be particularly harmful to health. This refined sugar can cause a number of issues over time, including:
*Weight gain: Scientists believe that rising obesity rates worldwide are directly linked with the overconsumption of sugar – particularly fructose, found in sodas and sweetened juices. Eating fructose increases your hunger and leads to even more sugar cravings – resulting in a cycle that can be difficult to break. This can also lead to insulin resistance and disruption in leptin levels, causing overeating.
*Increased risk of heart disease: High sugar diets can be linked with the risk of a number of diseases – including heart disease. Being obese or overweight as well as increased levels of inflammation, triglycerides, blood sugar and blood pressure can all contribute to impaired cardiovascular function.
*Increased risk of type 2 Diabetes: Excessive sugar consumption has long been linked with the development of type 2 diabetes. Studies haven’t established a concrete link – but specialists believe that insulin resistance and obesity have a role to play.
*Hormone imbalance: Insulin resistance caused by eating too much sugar is also linked with disrupted hormone levels. Eating well is especially important if you’ve already been diagnosed with a hormonal imbalance or condition such as estrogen or PCOS.
*Mental health: High amounts of sugar in the diet can exacerbate symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental disorders.
*Skin issues: Eating too much sugar can lead to a number of issues with the skin, including acne and accelerated aging.
*Issues with oral health: Excess sugar can cause cavities and tooth decay which can impact upon other areas of health and wellbeing.
Stable blood sugar is linked to wellness in a number of different ways – so paying attention to and addressing any large amounts of sugar in your daily diet is key to overall health. Checking the Glycaemic Index of foods as well as how much sugar they contain and what type can help you to determine how they will impact upon your blood sugar.
Why do we crave sugar?
There are a number of different reasons your body might be causing you to crave sugar. The body is incredibly intelligent and communicates its needs to you in different ways – some are subtle, others are more obvious. A craving for sugar can be difficult to ignore, and often becomes more intense if you do attempt not to give in to temptation.
Sugar cravings can have multiple root causes – some of the most common include:
Medication: Certain types of prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause sugar cravings as a side-effect. Checking what medications you are currently taking (including any vitamins and supplements) is an easy way to begin to identify the root cause of sugar cravings.
Hormonal imbalance: Fluctuating hormone levels are notoriously common culprits of sugar cravings. These can be natural fluctuations, such as before your period or during pregnancy, but they can also be to do with a long-term hormonal imbalance caused by an underlying condition or lifestyle.
Stress: Stress wreaks havoc with many areas of the body – including our hormones. Over time, chronic stress leads to elevated cortisol in the body, which affects appetite and leads to increased fat deposits around the middle. Busy lives led on autopilot can also make it much more likely we’ll reach for a sugary snack out of habit, rather than consciously choosing it.
Mental illness: Emotional or psychological upset or stress can cause a change in appetite – for some people this means not eating at all – but for others it can mean eating too much, or relying on sugar to get through the day. Depression and anxiety can result in dietary changes such as not eating enough or not taking proper care of yourself, whilst conditions like ADHD can cause a person forget to eat or trigger a sugar binge when hunger does strike. On a psychological level dieting can also cause sugar cravings, as you tend to focus on and obsess over the foods you ‘can’t’ have.
Health conditions: Certain health conditions can cause intense cravings for carbs and sugar. These include Type 1 diabetes, depression and eating disorders.
How to cope with sugar cravings
If you’re struggling with constant sugar cravings but want to optimize your health or lose weight there are a number of things you can do to help control your appetite and start to feel some relief. Addressing sugar cravings starts with identifying when and how they are showing up, being honest with yourself about your lifestyle and habits, then putting healthy strategies in place to deal with it. new
Acknowledge your triggers: Is there a specific time of the day when you tend to crave and/or overeat sugar? If so, consider what is happening around that time and what might be causing you to feel like a sweet snack.
Eat well: Diet can strongly influence what type of foods we crave and eat – in particular those who often eat processed and highly refined foods tend to crave more of them. Focusing on a balanced, whole-foods based diet with plenty of protein and fiber is a great way to keep sugar cravings at bay.
If you do fancy something sweet, try making your own treats using Stevia or a little unrefined sugar substitute. Energy balls made with nut or seed butter are great ways to fuel up with protein and fiber.
Eating well also means eating enough. If you’re not eating sufficient amounts throughout the day you may end up craving sugar and reaching for an unhealthy snack when your hunger catches up with you.
Pay attention to your gut health: Imbalances of bacteria in your gut can cause changes to your appetite and the types of food you crave. If you’re struggling with digestive discomfort alongside sugar cravings, an overgrowth of bad bacteria might be to blame.
Things you can do to improve gut health include focusing on a whole-foods diet filled with nutritious vegetables and fruits, drinking plenty of filtered water and considering introducing pre- and probiotic supplements on a daily basis to replenish and rebalance bacteria. Our Belly Fix blend can help you to heal your gut and optimize digestive health whilst supporting detox liver.
Practice mindful eating: Busy lifestyles often force us to eat on the go, eating quickly and often selecting sugary or fatty foods over healthier alternatives. When you’re in a rush or don’t prioritize mealtimes, you can quickly fall into a trap of over-eating or eating too many processed or refined foods on a regular basis.
Meal prep and forward planning are important if you have a hectic lifestyle, as this ensures you always have something healthy on hand to eat when cravings hit.
Getting help with sugar cravings
If lifestyle changes and self-help measures aren’t working for you, it’s important to discuss your sugar cravings with a doctor who can run tests to investigate your symptoms further.