Struggling with out of control sugar cravings? Here are 7 simple nutrition and lifestyle changes that can help you overcome this challenge.
Do you feel like you can never have just one cookie or one square of chocolate? Maybe you find that the second you have a tiny bite of dessert you’re completely taken over by cravings. I have so many clients who tell me when we first start working together that they can’t keep any sugar in the house, because they’ll eat a whole container, box, or package of treats in one sitting.
So, if you want to lose weight and feel completely in control around food, but you can’t get a handle on your sugar cravings…
I’m going to share with you the 7 simple habits and strategies that I’ve found to be most effective to control sugar cravings.
The first thing to understand before we get into the strategies to control sugar cravings is what cravings are and why we get them.
A craving is an intense desire for a specific food, and they can arise in response to a variety of situations.
Now, let’s talk about what you can do to control your cravings and stop feeling stressed around food.
The first big step I want you to take today is just to get curious. If you’re getting sugar cravings frequently, when do they usually happen? Is there a specific time or situation where the cravings start to pop up? Are there certain emotions that trigger them?
Every time you get a craving in the next week, jot down what was going on in that moment. For example, you might write, “I got stressed because I had too many things on my to-do list and was worried I wouldn’t get everything done.”
After you have an idea of when these are happening, you can start adjusting your habits based on what typically triggers your cravings.
There are 7 specific habit changes that you can make to help you reduce and control sugar cravings.
This step is a foundation for many of the other habit changes. It helps you avoid what I like to call “The Late Night Hunger Trap”. Here’s how this happens. Your body is pretty amazing at making you understand the specific needs it has, and one of those big needs is energy, which we measure using calories. Even if you spent the entire day lying down, you’d still be burning calories for all the processes inside your body.
When you don’t give yourself enough energy, your body is keeping tabs on that. Basically, it’s going to hand you the bill at night — it’s like it’s saying, “Hey, you were moving around a lot today, you did a workout, but you barely ate anything all day, so now it’s time for you to give us what we need so we can operate effectively.”
With this late night hunger trap, you have a strong physiological need for food because you didn’t eat enough. Then, your brain goes looking for ways to meet that need. Typically, it looks for foods that will make you happy and satisfy your emotional needs as well. So that’s why when you’re super hungry late at night, you’re probably not going to crave broccoli. You’re going to go for the cookies, ice cream, and chocolate. When you start to eat consistently throughout the day you can avoid that extreme feeling of hunger late at night.
The specific change you should make here is to add a source of protein to every meal, aiming to get around 30g or more per meal. Protein helps you feel full for longer, and studies have shown that when people increase their protein intake, it reduces late night overeating. If you want to learn more about protein, including how to get enough each day (with sample meal plans), check out this article.
Calorie density refers to how many calories are in a specific volume or weight of food.
Here’s an example:
If you had the bowl of grapes, you would feel full, while raisins you could have a couple more servings and still not be satisfied.
When you eat more low calorie density foods, you will feel more satisfied after meals and you’ll be less likely to continue snacking past your calorie needs. You can start to implement this habit change by including a fruit or vegetable at every meal.
One of the major reasons people get cravings for sugary foods is because they don’t eat meals they actually like. This usually happens when they’re trying to stick to a restrictive diet and they’ve cut out a lot of the foods they love, so all their meals are bland and boring.
When you eat meals that taste good, you get more psychological satisfaction from them. My biggest tip to resolve this cause of cravings is to come up with a list of go-to meal ideas that are healthy AND delicious. Take some time to try out new recipes, and when you find one that you really enjoy, write it down and put it into the regular rotation of meals you make.
At the same time, don’t restrict all the less nutritious foods that you typically crave. This might seem counterintuitive, but allowing yourself to eat those foods can help you avoid the intense cravings that lead to overeating.
Drinking enough water helps regulate appetite and blood sugar levels, which helps keep you feeling fuller and more satisfied. Plus, it improves digestion and reduces bloating and discomfort, which can be mistaken for hunger or food cravings.
I recommend having an overall goal to drink 64oz. of water daily at the very least.
Next up in our craving game plan is…
I’m sure it’s no surprise to you that I’m recommending you get more sleep. And I know you’ve probably heard it before, but sleep is not something you should skip if you’re trying to reduce cravings and lose weight.
Studies have found that people who are sleep-deprived have an increased appetite, because the body makes more of the “hunger hormone”, which is called ghrelin. You also tend to crave more sugary, fatty, calorie-dense foods when you’re tired. One study found that when sleep time was cut from 8 hours to 4, the participants ate over 500 more calories!
Cortisol is the main stress hormone in your body. And while it has many important roles, it can also cause problems for overall health. When your cortisol levels are high over a long period of time, you’ll crave more sugary, fatty foods.
Stress management will be different for everyone, but I recommend adding at least one activity to your schedule every day to intentionally manage your stress levels.
Now that we’ve gone through the 7 strategies, I want to finish off with a quick note about hormonal cravings. I work with a lot of women, so I know that getting cravings around your period is a huge struggle for many people.
Changes in estrogen and progesterone levels throughout your cycle cause many women to crave high carb and sweet foods. If this is a challenge for you, my first recommendation is to follow all seven of the strategies above. They will help a lot, no matter where you are in your cycle.
But, it’s also important to note that your body requires 100-300 more calories a day for the week leading up to your period, so it’s okay to indulge a bit more. Your body does need some extra energy at this time. And finally, it’s essential to remove the shame and self-judgment about having sugar cravings! This is totally natural, and having a bit of extra food around this time is not going to sabotage your progress if you’re staying consistent throughout the rest of the month.
The seven habits above are not only helpful for managing cravings. They’re also some of the top habits that drive fat loss! Mastering your sugar cravings is an important step when working towards better health and weight management. By recognizing the triggers behind these cravings and adopting the seven proven strategies we’ve discussed, you can regain control over your relationship with food. From consistent meal timing and a protein-rich diet, to low-calorie density foods, enjoyable meals, hydration, quality sleep, and stress management, these habits can transform your approach to nutrition. Even for those dealing with hormonal cravings, these strategies will help to support your goals. With these strategies in place, you can develop a more balanced and sustainable approach to nutrition and overall well-being.
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