You can break your addiction to the sweet stuff
A red velvet cupcake at a holiday party, a sliver of cherry pie on your birthday, a bowl of java nut crunch ice cream on a steamy summer day: These are some of life’s sweetest treats.
But for many (most?) of us, sugar isn’t just an occasional pleasure. It has become an overwhelming temptation we feel powerless to resist. We don’t occasionally indulge in special-occasion sweets; we’re mainlining sugar.
But no matter how much you think you need a sugar fix, you can break your addiction to the sweet stuff. Try these tips to crush your sugar cravings:
- Figure out your “need.” When you drive past Krispy Kreme on the way to work every morning, do the donuts scream your name? Mentally scroll through your day and identify when you are most susceptible to sugar’s siren call. Ask yourself why you “need” sugar in those moments. Is it because you’re hungry when you race out of your front door, and the red light signaling fresh donuts is too tempting to resist? Learn healthier alternatives you can use to meet your need. Perhaps eating a healthy breakfast should be on your menu so you can speed right past the donut hole.
- Eat a protein-packed breakfast. Studies show protein in the morning makes it difficult for sugar cravings to take hold later. Opt for lean protein options such as eggs, Greek yogurt, peanut butter and low-fat cheese. These produce less of the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin and more PPY, a hormone that signals fullness. As long as you eat your breakfast by 10 a.m., you should be able to tamp down that late-afternoon sugar craving.
- Don’t skip meals. Meal skipping, which lowers blood sugar levels, causing you to overeat the rest of the day, is a guaranteed way to stoke sugar craving fires. Eat five times a day—three meals and two snacks—to keep hunger at bay and your blood sugar levels steady.
- Stay hydrated. If you’re feenin’ for sugar something awful, grab a glass of water. Dehydration can make sugar cravings spike. Institute of Medicine guidelines recommend that women get 91 ounces of water a day and men 125 ounces daily, but not all of that water has to come from the faucet. Stick to the 80/20 rule: At least 80 percent of your water intake should come from water and beverages and the other 20 percent can come from food. So include lots of fruits and veggies in your diet.
- Sleep. Key to stopping sugar cravings in their tracks is balancing the hormones ghrelin (an appetite trigger) and leptin (which signals satiety). When these hormones work in harmony, you experience fewer cravings. But if you get less than the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, you throw off that hormonal balance. One study found that just a few sleepless nights were enough to drop levels of leptin by 18 percent and boost levels of ghrelin by about 30 percent, causing cravings for sugary foods to rise 45 percent. Lack of sleep not only makes sugary foods more appealing, it may also lower your ability to resist them. The parts of your brain responsible for reining in cravings aren’t as active when you’re tired.
- Boost flavor. There’s a vast array of flavors out there that you may be missing out on if you always reach for sugar. Experiment with herbs and spices, and add other flavor boosters like balsamic vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, hot sauce, and lemon and orange zest. Use cinnamon in your pancake mix or sprinkle paprika on air-popped popcorn. Be bold!
- Crank up movement. Get your body moving to help fight off strong sugar cravings. Moderate exercise also helps keep muscle cells sensitive to insulin. Strength training builds stronger muscles, which burns more glucose. Any physical activity will help get sugar off your mind.
- Take supplements. Are you taking a daily multivitamin? Good! Several studies suggest that multivitamins containing vitamin D and calcium may lower cravings. Though popping vitamin tablets won’t replace a healthy diet, this extra nutrition “insurance” can’t hurt.
- Manage the real problem. The connection between emotional comfort and sweets is primal. Were you rewarded with sweets as a child? You may still treat yourself to dessert when you meet a goal. To disconnect the emotional link between emotions and food, become aware of the feelings that drive you to crave sweets. Ask–as you reach for those jelly beans in the doctor’s office—“Why am I reaching for this?” Then say to yourself: “Stop. Slow down. Think.” That will give you space to figure out whether you really want the sweet or whether you are just feeding your emotions.