It’s 3pm and like clockwork, that bar of chocolate in the cupboard starts to call your name. Loudly. You only just ate lunch …but you’re also desperately craving a sweet hit to get you through the afternoon.
Trust us - you’re not alone! We’re all prone to cravings from time to time, and the reasons behind our cravings can be physiological, psychological and/or social.
Sugar cravings, in particular, are among the most common and tempting cravings - we’re hardwired to be drawn to the instant ‘pleasure’ consuming sugar gives us. It makes us feel good in the moment - and we’re drawn to wanting to experience that good feeling again and again. For some people, it’s a true addiction that can be seemingly impossible to break, for others - it’s something that fall victim to when they’ve ignored their body’s signals at other points of the day.
So with that in mind, we’ve laid out the 6 common traps that predispose you to those incessant sugar cravings. Being aware of these and safeguarding yourself against them will not only weaken your cravings themselves, but also strengthen your ability to ignore them if they do strike.
1. You’re under-eating or restricting your food
You may think you’re ‘being good’ by skipping breakfast and opting for a light salad at lunch - but in the long-term you could actually be setting yourself up for failure in the afternoon and evening instead.
Fasting, skipping meals or ‘banning’ yourself from your favourite foods often leads to significant hunger and cravings - even in those of us with the strongest of willpowers! Restricting your intake too much is like a slingshot being pulled back more and more - until all of a sudden you ‘snap’ and propel forward and land into the most palatable foods in sight, which are also often the most calorie dense! In minutes you’ve gone from starving hungry, to a frantic episode of over-eating just to satisfy that immense hunger you could have avoided had you opted for a balanced meal earlier in the day.
Don’t let your efforts to be healthy backfire - eat regularly and consistently, and give your body the fuel it needs when it needs it. This includes a little treat every now and then to stop yourself feeling deprived and more prone to bingeing or falling victim to insatiable cravings!
A good relationship with food is the easiest way to keep your hunger and blood sugar levels stable, your energy levels high, your willpower strong and keep cravings at bay.
2. You’re not eating balanced meals
Similar to the above point, even if you feel like you’re eating regularly enough - you may be missing out on certain macro and micronutrients in your meals, leaving your body constantly searching for something else (read: sugar!).
Protein and healthy fats are often missing from people’s breakfasts and meals earlier in the day - just think of popular breakfast cereals and you’ll realise how easy it is to solely consume carbs for breakfast and not much else!
Because protein and fats slow the release of sugar into your bloodstream, not consuming enough of them can cause abnormal spikes in your blood sugar levels throughout the rest of the day. These rises and crashes cause your body to crave quick energy in the form of sugar - and that’s often when we reach for that chocolate bar! Pair your breakfast cereal or toast with a source of protein like Greek yoghurt or milk, and add some nuts or nut butter for healthy fats.
Similarly, not getting enough fibre in your meals can leave you feeling unsatisfied and hungry for more. A simple way to boost your fibre intake in your meals is to opt for a fibre-enriched cereal or oatmeal for breakfast, and a decent serve of veggies or fruit at every meal.
A well-fuelled body is the best weapon against cravings. Embrace a more balanced diet and watch yourself be drawn less and less to sugar.
3. You didn't sleep well last night
A bad night’s sleep leaves your body fatigued, low in energy and desperate for a quick pick-me-up to keep you going throughout the day. Many of us have become reliant on caffeine and sugar to ‘get us through the day’ - a habit that leaves us crashing and burning and increasingly relying on more and more stimulants and calories, whilst also setting us up for another night of bad sleep. It’s a vicious cycle of feeling tired, reaching for sugar, getting wired, crashing and repeating.
The best way to break this cycle is to get a good night’s sleep. Regular sleep deprivation drastically alters our appetite-signalling hormones like Ghrelin and leptin - leaving us more prone to make poor food judgements, to feel insatiably hungry and to keep seeking out quick bursts of energy from sugar-dense foods.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, then it’s important to address this and implement ways to improve your sleep hygiene - things like turning off all devices an hour before you go to bed, ensuring all lights are off and trying to go to bed at the same time each night.
A well-rested body makes better food choices, doesn’t require sugar to ‘keep it going’ and is less likely to fall victim to those pesky sugar cravings.
Keep an eye out for Part 2 where we delve into 3 more surprising culprits behind your sugar cravings!