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How many times have you told yourself that you are not going to eat any more sugar and then found yourself digging into the next cupcake or candy bar in sight? If you experience cravings for sugar (like many people) you might feel like you have no “willpower” when it comes to sweets, and may even feel like you're addicted to sugar. You might even feel pretty guilty after you eat something sweet. Well, you’re not alone.
While it’s common knowledge that increased sugar consumption has a negative impact on your health, including increased risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, it can still be difficult to stay away from sweet flavors. As research suggests, the sweet tooth is universal in cultures around the world and has even played a vital role in human evolution. The problem with sugar arises with overconsumption.
Now that sugar is so readily available at gas stations, work, and social events, it makes it harder to just say “no” every time. The good news is that with holistic strategies, you can still have your cake and eat it too. Gone are the days where you need to strictly control and restrict your sugar intake. Instead, focus on these six tools to help reduce your intense sugar cravings and find healthier alternatives to give you that sweet and sugary fix you are looking for.
1. Balance Your Blood Sugar Levels
If your blood sugar is swinging from high to low throughout the day, it’s likely that you are going to crave sugar. When your blood sugar is low, it’s common to experience low energy levels along with carbohydrate or sugar cravings to help get your blood sugar back up.
A few strategies to prevent blood sugar spikes and drops include:
- Eat your breakfast within one hour of waking up. When you wake up in the morning, your blood sugar is lower because you have been fasting all night. If you eat within one hour of waking up, it helps to stabilize your blood sugar and insulin levels.
- Include protein and healthy fats (i.e., avocado, nuts and seeds, olive oil, wild salmon) with each meal to help stabilize your blood sugar
- Avoid skipping meals. Your blood sugar will start dropping, which can lead to overeating or sugar cravings
2. Find Healthy Upgrades
Make sure to have healthy sugar alternatives on hand wherever you go. Again, getting rid of sugar cravings doesn’t mean that you have to cut out the sweet flavors all together. When everyone is passing around brownies and cookies at your office, you can go to your own secret stash and grab a healthy upgrade. This could be a homemade treat that is made with natural sweeteners or it could be some dark chocolate.
Here are some healthy recipes that you can try at home to get you started.
3. Incorporate Sweet Vegetables into Your Diet
Adding sweet vegetables into your diet will help give your taste buds some satisfaction by incorporating sweet flavors throughout the day. Some vegetables to try include:
- Roasted sweet potatoes
- Butternut squash
4. Notice Your Emotions
It’s no surprise that there is a link between your emotions and eating high-fat, high-sugar foods. If you get stressed or sad and go straight for the tub of ice cream, you might be an emotional sugar eater. There are ways to combat this.
Start by bringing awareness to what emotions you are experiencing when you have your cravings. Then, write a list down of tools that can help you to address the emotion that you are experiencing. For example:
- Feeling stressed: try adding some breathing or meditation into your life
- Feeling bored: read an article or watch a funny YouTube video on your phone
- Feeling lonely: call a friend or family member, write in your journal, or read a book
In these cases, sugar is a temporary relief to soothe unwanted feelings, but it doesn’t actually fix the problem. If you really want to change your relationship with sugar and reduce cravings, you will have to dig a little deeper to support your emotions.
5. Get Enough Sleep
A 2016 study showed that participants who got five hours of sleep or less at night showed a 21-percent increase in sugared beverage consumption. Another study showed that the appetite-regulating hormone ghrelin increased when the participants got less sleep, and this elevated ghrelin was associated with a higher intake of carbohydrates and sweets.
If you have unhealthy sleep habits such as going to bed too late or watching TV before bed (which can stimulate your mind instead of calming it), it’s time for a change. Experiment with one or two weeks of getting more sleep and notice the difference in your sugar cravings.
6. Identify the Root Cause
If you have tried steps 1 to 5 and haven’t noticed a significant reduction in your sugar cravings, there might be something else contributing to your sugar cravings. One common gut imbalance that contributes to increased sugar cravings is a Candida Albicans, also known as a yeast overgrowth. Consult with your doctor or with an alternative medicine practitioner to see if Candida overgrowth is contributing to your sugar cravings.
As you can see, there are many holistic steps that you can take to address and curb your sugar cravings. Once you implement these changes, you will see that sugar cravings are not all about willpower. By addressing your blood sugar stability and emotional state and giving yourself healthy alternatives, you will find that sugar cravings are no longer your enemy.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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Yang, Q. (2014, April 01). Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality. Retrieved from http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1819573
Basu, S., Yoffe, P., Hills, N., & Lustig, R. H. (n.d.). The Relationship of Sugar to Population-Level Diabetes Prevalence: An Econometric Analysis of Repeated Cross-Sectional Data. Retrieved from https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0057873
Reed, D. R., & McDaniel, A. H. (2006, June 15). The human sweet tooth. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2147592/