How to Stop Sugar Cravings

We’re evolutionarily predisposed to like the taste of sweet stuff—but if your enjoyment has crossed the line to craving, it might be time to work to create a healthier diet and lifestyle. Learn how to stop sugar cravings with these helpful tips.

| May/June 2014

Women Jogging

Three major lifestyle reasons for sugar cravings are lack of sleep, lack of exercise and stress which all create blood sugar roller coasters notorious for awakening sugar demons.

Photo by iStock/Aleksey Ubozhenko

Calling all cookie monsters and candy junkies: If you struggle with sugar cravings, you’re not alone. The desire for the taste of sweet is natural, and common among humans. But if your enjoyment of the sweet taste has crossed the line to craving, that indicates some sort of physiological, nutritional, lifestyle or emotional imbalance is occurring—and it’s worth investigating what the cause (or causes) might be.

We’re Biologically Programmed to Love the Taste of Sweet

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, five tastes exist: sweet, salty, sour, pungent and bitter. The “sweet” taste corresponds to the energy of the earth, which is nurturing and maternal. (Does that help explain why a bad day seems better after a few bites—or maybe a little more—of ice cream?) And from an evolutionary standpoint, fruit—nature’s candy—was a cruical part of our ancestors’ diet. “Our ancestors ate a lot of fruit when it was available in the summer and fall, and thus became prediabetic,” says Nori Hudson, a certified nutrition consultant, professor at Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition and owner of “That was actually a good thing, because they were about to enter a period of famine during the winter. They’d go into their caves and use up the energy they had stored from the sugar, which protected their cells from freezing.”

Enjoying a sweet flavor, in and of itself, is no problem. “Mother’s milk is sweet. Safe herbs are sweet. Sweet is nature’s way of signaling that the taste is safe. It also tells you that the food contains energy,” Hudson says. However, if you’re battling ongoing cravings, there’s something else going on. When I talk about “craving,” I don’t mean looking forward to a special dessert once in a while; I mean thinking often about your next sugar fix, planning when you’ll eat it, being disappointed or even angry if you don’t get it, and pleased, satisfied or even a little high if you do. (And don’t forget alcohol, a very sugary substance, falls into this category as well.)

As a licensed clinical social worker and holistic nutritionist, I help women transform their relationship with food. I know that learning how to stop sugar cravings can be tricky because there are many potential causes, and it’s not usually as simple as “I don’t have enough willpower” or “I need to stick to a certain diet.” If you’ve been fighting a losing battle with what I call “the legal white powder,” start by exploring these possible physiological, nutritional, emotional and lifestyle culprits—and try my tips for kicking them to the curb.

Physiological Causes of Sugar Cravings

Certain foods provoke addictive reactions. You’ve probably experienced this. Notice how you never compulsively crave kale or brown rice? If you’re good at listening to your body, you may notice when it’s asking for them, but I find this type of slow, healthy, nurturing request feels very different than the hectic, sped-up feeling of a craving.

But sugar does elicit those addictive reactions. Here’s how: Consuming refined sugar (and refined flour, and highly processed foods in general) creates a number of problematic reactions in the body. For instance, it can make our blood sugar erratic, resulting in false hunger pangs. “The pancreas notices our higher blood sugar, and secretes insulin in order to create homeostasis in the blood sugar,” Hudson says. “It often overshoots the mark and secretes too much insulin, which ends up reducing the blood sugar below a normal range. When that happens, it sets off an alarm in the body to restabilize the blood sugar; that effectively turns on an appetite, which is actually unhealthy. We go for refined carbohydrates because it helps our body raise our blood sugar quickly. But these refined carbs go in too quickly, which re-creates a hypoglycemic cycle and keeps turning on hunger.”

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