Many of us experience those dreaded sugar cravings during the day – some more than others. But why exactly, and how can we go about resisting temptation?
You know the score. All of a sudden you have an incredible urge to eat something sugary. Maybe just a chocolate bar or a biscuit to start with - anything for a little burst of energy. You succumb to your craving and tuck in, feeling guilty but sated. But the effect soon wears off, and you’re ready to crash again. Or tuck in again…
If any of this scenario feels somewhat familiar, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many of us get sugar cravings during the day – especially during that afternoon lull. And it’s hardly surprising, given our modern diets.
Sugar, sugar, everywhere
Whether we realise it or not, we’re all eating more sugar these days. In fact, global sugar consumption has increased markedly over the last few decades – not because we’re constantly binging on sugary treats all day, but because many of the processed foods we enjoy are loaded with the stuff.
But what is it that makes these processed foods so attractive, and always seems to leave us wanting more? To discover the reasons, we need to delve into the science.
Explaining the craving
There is a common misconception that our bodies crave the foods that contain the nutrients they are lacking – an in-built evolutionary intuition, if you like. Unfortunately, the truth can be quite the opposite.1 In reality the very food we crave, like sugar, is exactly the culprit. And the more we eat, the more those sugary cravings kick in.
It’s not dissimilar to an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Sugar triggers the release of dopamine in our brains, helping us to feel happy and content. A sugar fix, essentially, coupled with a spike in energy. Then comes the crash, which means our bodies crave more of the stuff that made it feel good before, and so on. A vicious cycle, essentially. But one that, with a little knowhow, can be easier to break.
Gimme less sugar
If you often find yourself tempted by a quick sugar fix, here are some of our top tips to get those cravings under control:
1) Eat a healthy breakfast
A nutritious breakfast can set the tone for the rest of your day, and help you make healthier choices as you go. So try to avoid sugary cereals first thing, as they will make your blood sugar spike and leave you more prone to those mid-morning snack attacks. Aim instead for something with healthy protein and fibre – a bran cereal perhaps, or good old-fashioned poached eggs on wholemeal toast.
2) Take fewer bites
Next up, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional sugary treat. But next time you succumb, be mindful of what you’re eating. Some research suggests that the first bite is the most pleasurable, and after that your level of satisfaction drops. So if you find this to be the case, maybe put the remainder of that sugary snack down and save it for later – that way you’ll spread the enjoyment, and the sugar.
3) Break those bad habits
We humans are creatures of habit – our bodies crave routine – which as discussed can also work against us. So if your daily rituals involve sugar, try to break those habits. For example, adding too much salt to your dinner can make you crave a sugary dessert, to help counteract the saltiness. Or if you just can’t go without something sweet after a meal, try chewing some gum or brushing your teeth to change things up. Talking of which…
4) Try swapping things out
If cutting down on sugar seems an uphill battle, try taking things slowly by putting your regular diet to the test. For example, choose a healthier form of bread with less sugar (oh yes, you’ll find it in there on the cheaper white brands). Or cut down on those more tomato-based pasta sauces. Remember, the more sugar you eat, the more you will crave, and simple swap-outs can help you on your journey.
5) Make fruit & veges your friend
It sounds obvious because it is - fruit can be a much healthier substitute for a sugary snack, so be sure to have some to hand throughout your day. Nuts and seeds are good options too. And although vegetables don’t usually contain as much sugar as fruit, as carbs they will help you to stay fuller for longer, and cut down on those naughty snacks in between meals.
6) Distract yourself
When a sugar craving hits, try ignoring it by occupying your mind with something else. Complete a task on your to-do list, strike up a conversation with a friend or colleague, or just go for a stroll around the block - whatever it takes to make you forget that urge. Over time, it should get easier just to walk away from the sweetness.
7) Keep your stress under control
For many people, sugar fulfils an emotional need rather than a physical one. Some of us even use a sugary snack to help us deal with stress. Again, the dopamine hit might improve your mood temporarily, but it will soon bring you crashing back down. So try to deal with your stress in a more productive way. Maybe by distracting yourself (see above).
8) Get more sleep
Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of sleep. Quite apart from restoring and refreshing both brain and body, a good night’s shut-eye can help to boost your energy levels, reduce your appetite and thus curb those sugar cravings. A win/win all round.
Hopefully you’ll find these ideas helpful in your battle against those sugar cravings. It’s really just a case of figuring out what works for you, and sticking to your guns. But please remember, breaking any bad habit takes time, so make sure you’re kind to yourself during the process. Then you’ll be sweet.