Food cravings are a normal part of life. Once in a while we’re all ‘in the mood’ for something, whether it’s crunchy, salty, savory, or sweet. Too often, however, food cravings can be heightened just when we need them the least: during our efforts toward weight loss. If food intake is restricted too much, or with high levels of exercise, the body perceives a ‘threat’ to survival, as if there’s a famine. This can set one up not only for food cravings in general, but for sugar cravings in particular. The very act of restricting favorite foods and swearing off all treats – which dieters often do – can increase a sense of deprivation, and create a threat to self-control.
There are several reasons for this; if blood sugar drops too quickly, or is chronically low and a person is thus experiencing constant hunger, sugar and refined carbohydrates are often craved because they provide a quick source of energy. Over time, lower intakes of carbohydrates and protein can also affect the neurotransmitters in the brain affecting mood, which research suggests also plays a role in cravings, especially for sugar and sweeter-tasting foods.
Temptation to eat sweets, foods high in added sugars such as candy, sweetened beverages, and/or refined grain products (think ‘white flour’) such as cake, doughnuts, pastries, breads, bagels, sugary cereals etc., are common in those actively trying to lose weight because of these cravings. While it’s true that these foods can temporarily increase blood glucose (sugar) levels, they lack staying power: blood sugar will decrease more quickly compared to after eating foods that also have protein and fiber. Quick changes in blood sugar can increase cravings and the urge to eat, leading to a roller coaster of energy, mood, and hunger.
14 Tips to Manage Sugar Cravings and Balance Blood Sugar Levels
1. Eat regularly. Try to eat something every 3 to 4 hours.
- This will help to keep blood sugar levels more even.
- Size (portion) of meals and snacks should be individualized, based on energy requirements and personal goals.
2. Don’t skip breakfast (blood sugar is already low at this point).
Avoid eating a ‘carb heavy’ or ‘carb only’ meal such as a bagel or toast with jam. Instead, include foods that also contain protein and fiber. For example:
- Oatmeal with chopped almonds, milk, an egg, and a piece of fruit
- Organic soy or Greek yogurt, bran cereal, ground flax seeds, and fruit;
- 100% whole grain toast/bagel, natural peanut butter, double fruit/low-sugar jam, cheese, and whole fruit
- Even leftovers from dinner can work, e.g. chicken/beef or legumes, vegetables, and whole brown rice
3. Include protein with meals and snacks throughout the day.
- Eggs, milk, organic vegan or Greek yogurt, or dairy, nut, or fermented soy cheese
- Chickpeas, lentils, dried beans and peas, fermented or sprouted soy
- Beef, chicken, lamb, pork, turkey, fish, or game
4. Keep sugary snacks out of your house, car, office, etc.
It’s difficult to snack on things that aren’t there. If going ‘cold turkey’ backfires, consider cutting back gradually: each time you give in to a craving, eat a little less or less often than the time before – small changes can add up and eventually become new, healthier habits.
5. Allow yourself some so-called sweets/treats a couple of times each week.
Planned treats help to prevent a sense of deprivation, and reduce cravings and the risk for over-eating. What is considered an appropriate serving size/portion will vary from person to person.
6. When craving sugar, try eating a high-protein sweetened snack, such as yogurt, or high-fiber sweet such as a piece of fruit or small serving of dried fruit instead of a nutrient-poor options like chocolate bars,
candies, gummies, doughnuts etc. Sometimes even drinking a comforting beverage associated with sweets, such as tea, can calm a craving.
7. Add spices to your foods like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves to naturally sweeten them.
8. Get enough sleep. When we’re tired, we often use sugar and/or sugary foods for energy to counteract exhaustion.
9. Read labels, and use sources of added sugar in moderation to prevent the glucose spikes and drops that can lead to cravings. Sugar goes by many names:
- agave syrup
- brown sugar
- brown rice syrup
- coconut sugar
- corn sugar
- corn syrup
- date sugar
- glucose solids
- fruit juice
- fruit juice concentrate
- icing sugar
- invert sugar
- malt syrup
- palm sugar
- raw sugar
- turbinado sugar
- yellow sugar
10. Be mindful of emotional issues around your sugar cravings. Consider keeping a food diary to track your emotions and what you eat to learn to identify triggers for eating.
11. Drink water. Often, what we think is a sugar/food craving is really thirst.
12. Avoid artificial sweeteners, which may reduce satiety and increase sugar cravings.
13. Try to distract yourself from your cravings: go for a walk, answer email, put some laundry in the washer, read a magazine, engage in a hobby. Most cravings last between 10 and 20 minutes, so if you can distract yourself, you can often wait out the craving.
14. Remind yourself that not overindulging in unhealthy foods is more than a temporary tactic for weight loss, and is an investment in lifelong well-being.
I just asked and they said both Stevia and Monk Fruit are safe all natural sweetening alternatives.
Hi, glflake. Coconut sugar is definitely a better choice than regular sugar. Just note that it still has carbs and can add up – one tablespoon equals a carb exchange.
Is coconut sugar a good substitute in my coffee?
To PICTORIAL if you ever read this; I,m new to the club, but, I too am on meds. for anxiety and they combat the seratonin in my body-I don,t know what Sheraton is. But, I find the side effects of some of the DRUGS cause sugar cravings, especially, the drugs Seroquel, Abilify & Prozac, to my knowledge. Because I’ve been on meds. since age 19 & i’m 67.I’ve had to fight constant low blood sugar & sugar cravings all that time! There was wt. gain and loss and gain again till the last loss from heart disease, then gain again after my cardiac stent-that is why i’m here now. Good wishes to all of us.
Hi, Joycefreeman. Fruit sugars tend to have high glycemic indices or are mostly fructose, both of which may work against your goals here. If you use it, then try to keep it to a minimum.
What about fruit sugar? Is that ok to use as it is made with natural fruit,
Im having to use xylatol sugar instead of normal sugar, as my body makes too much sugar. The thing is when using this i find cake recipes and other recipes taste very bland, the recipes are from the website. can anyone help me with this please.
What about stevia, I’ve been adding it to my tea, thinking it’s fine because it’s natural? What about licorice tea, which is naturally sweet?
Thank you for all those tips. Although I hardly use sugar, I tend to put a 1/4 tsp of honey in my tea or coffee. Should I avoid this in future? Amethyst
my biggest issue has been the 4PM craving. can set a clock by it! after reading your article I did something I enjoy w/o going for my favorite granola bar or cup of cocoa… I had a cup of coffee and curled up in my favorite chair & wrote a friend… that must have saved me at least 100+ calories of the wrong thing, not to speak of the sugar spike we need to avoid. It really did satisfy me and calmed down the craving…on other days I’ve tried about 4 Rosemay Triscuits and 1 stick of mozzarella cheese.
in less than a week, I think I’ve broken that bad habit! surely hope so…… 🙂
Thanks for these 14 these wonderful helpful tips!
just had a sugar craving, so had natural yogurt with drizzle of honey, and some grapes…all in my menu. Now satisfied, really hope this diet works, as i am sick and tired of yo-yo diets. Want to reach my …th! birthday next year, at least 2 stone lighter. brilliant to have a forum which is useful. thanks.
A very helpful article with lots of information that will be useful when looking closely at the labels of foods.
very helpful,good alternatives
very helpful just booked holiday today for sep that has given me goal to aim for.
I am just starting today. I picked a recipient for a drink called Fat Flush Water FFW – Normally I do not drink water at all just soda water with a hint of juice in but I have been drinking nearly 1500mls of this water. Large jug cold water 1 whole orange peeled & sliced+ 1 lemon peeled & sliced, a whole cucumber thinly sliced & mint leaves crushed quite a bit. It’s a required taste but it is sweeter if you put in some fresh pineapple. Put in fridge & drink as required. It supposed to help detox your system but since drinking it I have not had any headaches, & been to toilet regularly & generally feel better it also keeps the hunger pans at bay & is so refreshing first thing. My grandchildren like it with the pineapple in & it has no additives.
Great information! Very helpful! Cindy Thomas
Hi all is it OK to put a bit of squash with water just to give it some kind of flavor, i really hate drinking plain water help.
I appreciate all of the tips and information I read today and my prayer is that we all achieve our goals for a more confident, comfortable and healthy lifestyle. This is my first day, so here I go !!!
What about stevia??
Thank you, lots of helpful information! I like the idea of printing the article to use as reference and support throughout the day. The suggestions and tips to help with the cravings are ideas I never thought about. Maybe now, I can manage and even avoid those cravings. Thank you! 🙂
sorry forgot to add this information very helpful
#12 says to avoid artifial sweetners what about stevia and trivia
Good reminder to go do something else until the craving is over. If you go for a walk, you kill two birds with one stone.
Tx, this is very helpful, the sugar information really helps a lot.
The tip about not using a sweetener was a surprise. One problem I have is that I suffer from panic attacks and anxiety and my medication releases Sheraton to combat that. Will I have to make any extra adjustments?
Thank you! I’m an emotional eater and tend to go to sweets for whatever emotion I’m feeling. I found this article very helpful and have posted it on the fridge, so when the need arrives I’m armed with information. One day at a time (SMILE).
Thanks for identifying the different names for sugar we might find on labels,invaluable info. Since becoming a member about 3 mos. ago I have lose 27 lbs. thanks
This was very helpful as I am still in old habit of diet starvation.Thanks.
This very very well explained and encouraging, so here it goes, hopefully to a new life.
This was very easy to understand
This was very informative and easy to understand
This reading was very informative for me.