Have you ever felt like once you start eating something sweet you just can’t stop? While food addiction is not fully recognized by the medical community, you know that intense sugar cravings are real. There is truth to your sugar cravings beyond your perceived weakness, yet there are also ways to curb sugar cravings.
Research surrounding addictive properties of sugar
Whether it is a true addiction is up for debate, however food and sugar addiction is getting attention and being researched. The research is designed to better understand the reasons for sugar cravings and ways to curb the cravings.
- A study by Blass and colleagues in 1987 showed that sugar acts similarly to an analgesic drug. This means that sugar can, at least to some extent, relieve pain. This is an explanation as to why sugar is easy to reach for when you are feeling sad or have “the blues.”
- In 2002, Princeton researchers studied sugar consumption in rats. They noted that when fed a sugar solution, equivalent to the sweetness in regular soda, they became dependent on sugar. In this study the rats decreased their food consumption, and increased their sugar consumption by 200%.
However these results are not necessarily for sugar, but for sweetness. There may be no calories associated.
- Researchers say that sugar and the taste of sweetness stimulate the brain by activating endorphin (the feel good hormone) receptor sites, which is the same activation that happens in the brain by the ingestion of heroin.
- Finally a study in 2008 shows that the opioid and dopamine in the brain changes with the consumption of sugar. These neurochemical changes are related to the same chemical changes that occur during a drug addiction.
How to curb sugar cravings
While you know that you have a sweet tooth, there are a few things that you can do to curb sugar cravings. Here are a few tips that may help.
Sleep is the foundation for wellness. If you are not sleeping well, either getting enough quantity of sleep or getting good quality sleep, you are more likely to crave foods with sugar.
You know that eating a sugary treat can give you a “pick me up.” Thus when you are fatigued your brain naturally gravitates toward one of two things – sugar or caffeine. Either of these (or both) will give you a boost of energy, but unfortunately you come crashing down leaving you wanting more. Which is when you reach for something else with sugar.
Sometimes these quick boosting snacks are obvious. However, some are innocently disguised with a health halo – granola, breakfast cereal, fruit bars, yogurt, coffee drinks, or high protein cookies. Even healthy looking foods can have more sugar than you bargained for. It can be easily overlooked if you are fatigued.
balancing blood sugar
You do not have to have diabetes to have fluctuating blood sugar. Changes in blood sugar that mimic a roller coaster can leave you craving something sweet. Blood sugar that gets too low is dangerous, thus if you are trending that way your natural inclination is to eat as a means to protect yourself from danger. Keeping your blood sugar balanced and stable prevents cravings. You can stabilize blood sugar by eating protein and fiber.
Our foods are made up of only three macronutrients – protein, fat, and carbohydrates. The addition of protein is a way to stabilize blood sugar. There is much controversy regarding how much protein is needed to keep you well, however here are a few rules of thumb to aid with avoiding sugar cravings.
- Never eat naked carbs – this means never eat carbohydrates by themselves, you should always dress them with a source of protein
- Use the protein to carb ratio of 2:1
Fiber is underrated. While technically fiber is a carbohydrate it is not digested by the body, thus slows down how quickly food moves through your digestive tract. This can serve several purposes, but in this case it will stabilize your blood sugar. Some foods that naturally have fiber include:
- beans and legumes – hummus, edamame, black beans, lentils
- nuts and seeds – individual nuts or seeds, or mixed, trail mix, or nut butters
- avocado has an unsuspecting amount of fiber
- vegetables to varying degrees
choose your environment and support people
The things you see and the people around you have great influence on the foods you choose. Whether you are gawking at the candy jar on your co-workers desk or scrolling through dessert recipes in social media, both make it hard to think about anything else.
“Your people” also make a great impact on you. If you are building a life that moves you away from sugar treats in the regular, make sure the people around you know. Gently give them direct and specific ways that they can support you.
“Let’s go for a walk in the park instead of grabbing ice cream”
“Please put your sweet treats in your desk drawer instead of the pantry, so I don’t have to see them.”
These are a couple of suggestions in how you can be direct, yet gentle with your requests for support.
When you’ve tried everything, or just need some extra support there are a couple of supplements that can help you. Gymnema sylvestre is an herb, and glutamine is an amino acid, that can be taken in supplement form. These can both be useful to “take the edge off” of your sugar cravings.
When decreasing sugar consumption, sometimes it take a little bit of white knuckling through a craving to get on the other side of it. Yet, setting up your lifestyle can go a long way in getting you started.