I used to struggle with intense sugar cravings on an almost daily basis. It felt like a constant battle. It was an endless cycle of being consumed by the need for sugar, then bingeing on sugar, then telling myself that that was the last time I’ll ever eat that much sugar, and then having the cycle start all over again.
However, as my diet started to change in my late 20s and I developed more healthy habits overall, my sugar cravings drastically diminished. I wasn’t even consciously trying to reduce my sugar consumption. Over time I just noticed fewer cravings as a by-product of adopting healthy eating habits.
Don’t get me wrong, I still indulge in desserts and baked goods once in a while, but I can eat them now without spiraling into an endless craving and bingeing cycle. Although I’ll still experience some sugar cravings if my healthy eating habits get off track for too long, I’ve learned how to stop them pretty quickly. By consistently following the strategies below, I finally feel freedom from sugar cravings.
1. Eat More Whole Food and Less Processed Food
This was probably the number one change that contributed to my having far fewer sugar cravings. Processed foods have lots of hidden sugar, and the more sugar you eat, the more you want it. Eating a clean diet of mostly whole food reduces your sugar consumption and increases your nutrient intake, which in turn will reduce your sugar cravings. Once I started buying less pre-made meals and sugary snacks and started cooking more with whole food ingredients, I no longer had daily sugar cravings. Consistent meal prepping was what really helped me minimize my intake of processed food.
2. Stay Hydrated
I’ve noticed that I have fewer sugar cravings when I drink a sufficient amount of water, ideally at least 8 cups per day. If you eat too much sugar and have an excess amount of sugar your bloodstream (i.e., high blood sugar or hyperglycemia), you will urinate more as your body attempts to regulate your blood sugar levels. Eventually, this will lead to dehydration. Staying hydrated will help your body maintain your blood sugar levels. I try to always keep a water bottle with me. If you don’t enjoy plain water, try flavored seltzer, sparkling mineral water, or add some cucumber slices or mint leaves to filtered water for added flavor.
3. Eat Balanced Meals
My sugar cravings occur less frequently when I eat nutritious meals that include protein, fiber, and healthy fat, in place of carbohydrate-filled snacks. A well-balanced meal will help stabilize your blood sugar and avoid a sugar crash. It will also make your meals more filling and satisfying, thereby decreasing the urge to mindlessly eat sugary snacks. Focus on including quality protein and whole food fats, such as avocado, coconut, and olives, in your meals. Also, ensure that you are eating enough food throughout the day. If I get too hungry, grabbing a sugary snack is far more tempting than making a healthy meal.
4. Get Some Physical Activity
Being physically active has been an effective way to stop sugar cravings. I tend to crave sugar in response to stress or feeling overwhelmed, and exercise helps to alleviate those feelings. The exercise does not have to be intense, even a walk or some gentle yoga can help. However, the endorphin boost from a more intense workout is almost guaranteed to eliminate the desire for unhealthy sugary foods for a while. I’ve found that shorter intense workouts like strength training circuits or HIIT workouts are most effective at stopping sugar cravings.
5. Grab Some Fruit
On occasion, I’ll get the desire for something sweet after a meal. When this happens, I try to reach for fruit. Berries, pineapple, or sliced apple sprinkled with cinnamon can usually satisfy that need for a sweet treat. In fact, over time I’ve come to prefer fresh fruit over more processed desserts like cookies or candy. You are still consuming sugar when you eat fruit, but you’re also getting fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Furthermore, I don’t have a compulsion to overeat fruit. If I eat an apple, I don’t have a desire to eat four more apples. If I eat a cookie, however, it’s hard to keep myself from eating at least four more.
6. Have Some Dark Chocolate
If I’m craving something chocolatey, I go for a few squares of dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cacao. Chocolate with a higher percentage of cacao has fewer grams of sugar per serving. I’m amazed at how I can be satisfied after eating only a couple of squares of quality dark chocolate. Another way to satisfy your chocolate fix with minimal sugar is to use cacao powder as the base for healthy desserts. A quick Pinterest search will give you some recipes for using cacao powder to make hot chocolate, brownies, or even fudge. Just be sure to minimize the amount of added sugar you use. As I started consuming less sugar, my taste buds changed and I began to prefer less sweet options, like 85% dark chocolate. Now, some of the sugary treats that I used to love are actually too sweet for me to eat.
7. Get Enough Sleep
I crave sugar the most when I’m sleep deprived. When you don’t sleep enough your body produces more ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite and increases blood sugar levels. Increasing your sleep time by as little as ½ hour can reduce your sugar intake. In a 2018 study of 42 healthy adults, those who increased their time asleep by an average of 32 minutes per night, reduced their added sugar consumption by an average of 10g per day. Work towards making your bedtime a little earlier, even if you start out with only getting an additional 15 minutes of sleep per night. Getting sufficient sleep will prevent you from impulsively grabbing something high in added sugar because you’re exhausted and need a quick energy boost.
8. Don’t Keep Sugary Foods Around
Don’t keep high sugar foods in your house or your desk at work. It will be too tempting to grab a sugary snack if you’re stressed or hungry. You can’t eat it if it’s not there. I eat the least amount of added sugar the weeks that I don’t buy any of those foods when I grocery shop. You will be less likely to eat these foods if you have to physically leave the house to go to the store just to get dessert. Next time you go grocery shopping, don’t buy any dessert type foods or snacks with a lot of added sugar. See whether you end up consuming less sugar that week.
9. Drink Herbal Tea
I like to drink herbal tea when I get the urge to snack on something sweet but I’m not actually hungry. This tends to occur at night or when I’m bored. Some types of herbal tea have a sweet undertone even though they don’t contain any sugar. I’ve found that herbal tea blends that contain vanilla, mint, cinnamon, or hibiscus satisfy my desire for something sweet. An added bonus is that drinking herbal tea will help keep you hydrated. If you’re not already an herbal tea drinker, pick up a blend that looks interesting the next time you’re at the grocery store and try it for a nighttime snack.
10. Eat Something Sour or Bitter
A trick that I’ve used to stop myself from eating more sugar once I’ve already started giving in to a craving, is to eat something sour or bitter. I’ll have some water with lemon juice or a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar for something sour. Bitter foods also work at preventing a sugar binge, like green tea, dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, or even dark chocolate with a high cacao concentration (85% or more). Eating these foods takes some of the edge off of an intense sugar craving and may help you stop eating sugar after you’ve started.
Battling with consistent sugar cravings can be very taxing emotionally and mentally. It was something that I struggled with for well over a decade. However, over time I learned ways to prevent them or stop them once they started. I hope that some of the tips mentioned above can help you with minimizing the hold that sugar cravings have on you. Start with trying just one strategy and slowly incorporate more into your daily habits.