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How to reduce sugar cravings

This blog is written by Jocelyn Fu, Student Dietitian (University of Queensland)


We've all experienced sugar cravings at some point. Perhaps it is something that you’re currently struggling with and it's hindering your healthy lifestyle. This blog discusses several ways we can tackle sugar cravings.


To be able to understand why we have sugar cravings, we need to know what sugar actually is and why people get ‘addicted’ to it.


Sugar is everywhere we go


We live in a world where food is advertised everywhere and is accessible for most of us. Sugar is a cheap ingredient that can be easily purchased in a lot of packaged foods such as lollies, chocolate bars, jams and so much more [2,4].


As we become accustomed to these foods, it's really easy for us to get sugar cravings especially when they are so easily accessible.



Sugar makes us happy


When we consume sugar, dopamine is realeased in our brains, which are the chemicals that produce a sense of reward and pleasure [1]. Hence when we consume sugary foods, we tend to go back to it because it makes us feel good, which then creates a cycle of sugar cravings.



Does that mean sugar is BAD?


Absolutely not! Sugar is just another form of carbohydrates, which provides energy. The only time it becomes an issue is when we start to consume it in excessive amounts that could potentially lead to weight gain and development of chronic diseases (type 2 diabetes, obesity, etc).


What causes sugar cravings?


While there are several reasons why we get sugar cravings, one of the most common reasons is that we’re simply not eating enough. Ever find yourself skipping a meal because you’re too busy to eat that day? When that happens, your body looks for quicker ways to obtain fuel, and usually that’s through sugar.


The other reason is habitual. Sometimes without realizing, we might grab that snack to chew out of boredom even though we’re not that hungry [2].



So how do we stop the cycle of sugar cravings?


To know how to deal with sugar cravings, you should firstly identify which hunger you are experiencing.


There are 3 types of hunger [2,3]:


1. Taste/mouth hunger


This type of hunger occurs when your senses trigger a desire for a particular food. For example, watching a fast food ad on TV makes you crave for hamburgers, or seeing your housemate grab piece of chocolate.


Whenever this type of hunger comes out, instead of reaching for those foods, try to make it a habit by removing any triggers from your surroundings (turning off the food ad from the TV or going to your room where your kitchen is out of sight) and give yourself 10 minutes to distract yourself and afterwards ask yourself again if you’re still craving those foods.


As you keep practicing, you’ll find yourself being able to distract yourself for even longer up to the point where the cravings subside and is no longer there.


Remember that this takes time, and it may take several days or even a week before you realize the cravings starts to reduce.


2. Stomach hunger


This is the type of hunger that occurs when your body is physically in need of fuel. For instance, when you haven’t eaten in a few hours, so your body signals to you through stomach growls [2,3].


Remember that when this type of hunger occurs, it is important that you make healthy, balanced meals which will keep you satisfied for longer. This means ensuring you have the right amount of protein, carbohydrates, and vegetables in your plate. Part of the reason we get sugar cravings is because sometimes we just don’t eat enough to keep our blood sugar levels stable.


The Baker Institute shows a guide on how we can portion our plates and fill them with whole foods that can keep us satiated and fuller for longer. Click on this link below to find out what ideal portion sizes look like for a satiating meal.

https://baker.edu.au/health-hub/fact-sheets/the-portion-guide



3. Emotional hunger


A lot of us may resonate with this hunger. This is the type of hunger where we desire certain foods not because we’re physically hungry for it, but because it brings us emotional comfort.


For example, eating a tub of ice cream when you come home from a stressful day at work; or eating a bag of lollies when you have a huge assignment due the next day.


If you have this type of hunger frequently, it may be worthwhile asking yourself, 'does eating that tub of ice cream will actually help solve the issue?' [3]


Once you’re able to identify those emotional triggers, instead of using food as a way to cope with those emotions, try replacing it with something non-food related to help cope with our emotions [2].


Finding yourself eating a bag of chips out of stress? Next time, instead of reaching out for those chips, perhaps you could go have a walk or clean the house. Feeling stressed from a hard day at work? Instead of gulping down a pack of lollies, perhaps you could call a friend or loved one for some quality time [2].


As you start building the habit of replacing emotional eating with other activities, you’ll gradually find the sugar cravings decrease and learn how to recognize the different types of hunger associated with a particular food.



Hope this blog helps! As usual, if you have any particular questions and concerns, or if you're in need of some personalised diet advice, click the enquiry button now and make an appoinement!



References:


1https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0031938408000103

2https://leanneward.com.au/beat-sugar-cravings/#more-2291

3https://www.abbeyskitchen.com/food-addiction-sugar-obsession/

4https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/enjoy-food/eating-with-diabetes/food-psychology/sugar-cravings

5https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/guidelines/australian-guide-healthy-eating








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