The Science on Sugar & How to Beat Cravings
Learn a step-by-step process for kicking sugar cravings to the curb.
You may be feeling a little post-holiday sugar “crash” over the past week or so. That’s normal - especially since on average, we consume 150 pounds of sugar per year. Today we’re going to be talking about how to crush those sugar cravings with 4 simple steps.
But first, let’s get into the science of understanding the effects of sugar on your brain. Sugar acts on the same brain reward pathway as other drugs, which can lead to strong cravings for the sweet stuff. When you consume sugar, your brain releases the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine.
Although the answer may seem simple “Just eat less sugar” - our brains are hardwired to tell us otherwise. Especially in society today with sugary foods around every corner, it can be a daunting task to avoid. Most of us have also been conditioned from an early age to associate cakes, ice cream, and other treats with celebrations or rewards.
As you may know, habits are highly unconscious and automatic - and can become (literally) ingrained in our brains’ neural pathways. Each time an action is paired with a reward, like eating your favorite treat while relaxing after the kids go down to sleep, you are creating a deeper groove in this neural pathway to solidify this habit. But thankfully, there are clear steps to break these habits and replace with new, nourishing ones.
Now let’s go through 4 steps to breaking the sugar craving cycle:
BREAK THE ASSOCIATION
If every time you drive home past your favorite frozen yogurt shop and start craving this cold treat - you could take another route home that would break the association between driving home and frozen yogurt. If you have a strong craving for something sweet at 3pm - you could take a walk around your office instead. This will "decondition" yourself to remove this association.
Identify a time of day or location when you find the desire for sweets the strongest - then replace that habit with something more nourishing, like a healthier version of the food or a rewarding activity.
By focusing on adequate protein at each meal, you are setting your body up for success on a biochemical level. Your blood sugar will be stabilized and your hunger hormones will be kept in check after consuming a more balanced diet. This is especially true for your first meal of the day.
Start your day with a blood sugar-balancing breakfast, like a protein smoothie (checkout my Smoothies to Reset Guide below for inspiration!). This will allow you to not go into your next meal with a blood sugar crash that could have you reaching for a sugary latte in an attempt to bring your blood sugar back up.
LIMIT EXPOSURE (i.e. DON'T TEMPT YOURSELF)
Oftentimes, we "try a bite" of something to satisfy the craving. Unfortunately, this typically backfires and has us wanting even more. When possible, maintain an environment with limited high-sugar, processed snacks and foods. This will make your body less likely to crave sugar without the visual trigger or cue. It will also be easier to avoid out of the physical distance from the processed foods.
Do a pantry review - and get rid of (or simply hide) those processed snacks and foods for now. Tempting yourself when you may have some lingering blood sugar imbalances is not setting yourself up for success.
GIVE THE GIFT OF TIME
After reducing their sugar intake, four weeks seems to be the average length of time when a majority of people stop craving sugar. Researchers have found that people on low-carb diets (low in sugar) eventually have diminished their sugar cravings by not consuming it.
Give your body (and your mind) a little break from sugar. Be forgiving and allow for grace in this process. There might be stumbles, but the most important thing is the overall trend towards lowering your sugar consumption. That's a huge win! We all want a quick-fix now, but sometimes it takes a little bit of time for your body and brain to get fully on board with your new lifestyle changes.
CRUSH SUGAR CRAVINGS & BOOST ENERGY
If you are looking to kick your sugar habit to the curb, checkout my Smoothies to Reset Guide below for six delicious smoothies you can make in less than 5-minutes.