You will be pleased to know that you don’t have to quit sugar to stop sugar cravings! But I do encourage you to become more mindful of why you reach for sugary drinks and foods.
It might be difficult to tell the difference between having a “sweet tooth” and sugar cravings.
And you won’t be surprised that this really is a mind-body thing! It is not all psychological or physiological; it can be a bit of both.
By ‘sugar’ I am referring to added sugar in highly processed foods, rather than natural sugars found in whole foods.
Researchers are undecided about whether sugar addiction occurs. It is thought that sugar has addictive qualities, but there is insufficient research in humans to prove this.
We also know that sugar affects everyone differently.
What we do know from research is that sugar has a powerful impact on the brain’s reward system. The reward system involves a number of natural chemicals called neurotransmitters.
Dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters in the reward system. This system is activated when we participate in activities that are essential to the survival of our species – eating high-energy foods, having sex, and interacting socially.
Other activities that we find pleasurable also activate the reward system.
Dopamine appears to have a role in coding our memories of what we find pleasurable. So this is where it becomes tricky between the psychological and physiological aspects of sugar.
Believe it or not, “not everyone craves chocolate because not everyone finds it pleasurable to eat”!
Quitting added sugar leads to varying responses. Some people adapt quite quickly, whereas others experience withdrawal effects.
#1 Understand your drive to eat sugar
When we skip a meal or don’t eat enough protein and fibre with our meals we feel hungrier more often.
Increased stress hormones can increase our drive to eat sugar. But also our perception of whether sweet food is pleasurable will impact on our choice of foods.
Eating high sugar foods every day, such as lollies, chocolates, cakes, sweet biscuits, and sugary drinks, means we a likely to reach for a sugar hit out of habit, rather than due to hunger or cravings.
Research suggests that when you find yourself looking for something specific to eat e.g. chocolate, cake, or ice-cream, and are not quite sure why then boredom could very well be the reason.
A lack of sleep can catch up with you at any time. Long term sleep debt raises stress hormone levels driving you to seek out high sugar and high-fat foods.
#2 Regular meals based on whole foods
Sorry, I am not promoting a new fad diet here, rather what the research shows.
Base meals on vegetables and add in protein from animal foods or plant sources such as legumes and tofu.
Depending on how physically active you are, have at least three whole-grain serves of cereal and grain foods during the day.
#3 Tune into hunger
Physical hunger is one of the nine Eating for You Drivers for eating, and I think of it as the gateway to eating.
Knowing your hunger levels helps you to identify your reason for eating, and how much you need to eat.
#4 Counteract stress
Reaching for a sweet treat might seem like the ideal solution to stress at the moment, but unfortunately, it doesn’t reduce the cause of the stress or support the body to reduce the level of stress hormones.
Having a daily mindfulness practice will help to reduce stress, as will exercise.
If you find that you are under a constant high level of stress, please ask for support from your healthcare practitioner.
#5 Prioritise sleep
As I have mentioned in other posts,
adults need 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep each night.
If you have trouble falling to sleep or wake during the night, please have a check-up with your healthcare practitioner.
#6 Reduce added sugar slowly
Tackle one habit at a time e.g. reduce the amount of added sugar to coffee, decrease the serving size of ice-cream or cake, and have fresh fruit available as snacks.
#7 Eat mindfully
Mindful eating starts before the experience of eating. By tuning into hunger you can decide whether eating is the best choice in the present moment.
Eating without distraction means you get to enjoy the colours, flavours, aromas, and textures of food. You can also keep a check on your hunger level.
If you are interested in learning more about how a mindfulness approach can help reduce sugar cravings.
Then I invite you to a free Eating Habit Profile Call, click on the button below to learn more.