7 Surefire Ways to End Sugar Cravings and be Less Stressed about Eating
I love frozen yogurt.
In fact, there was a month last year when I had frozen yogurt probably 15-20 times. A full-fledged crisis, if you will.
On days that I would walk to the gym (3-5 times per week), I would stop on the way home and get frozen yogurt from one of the many “off-the-wall” shops. And I didn’t like just the frozen yogurt. Nope – I loved the M&Ms and chocolate chips that I would mix in.
Everyone who worked at the shops knew my name. I, on the other hand, made it a point never to learn their names. Let’s just say that I wasn’t excited to be their favorite regular.
I Can Justify Anything!
The worst part is that although I enjoyed the 5 minutes of eating the fro-yo, I was stressed for the other 23 hours and 55 minutes about NOT going to the frozen yogurt shop.
In the morning, the first thing I’d think about was that today would be a better day, and I wouldn’t give in to my cravings. Before I’d go to the gym, I’d tell myself that there was no way I was going to be weak on my way home. And yet, every time, I’d end up savoring the cookies-and-cream flavored fro-yo.
And afterwards, I’d start stressing about why I’d given in. Many days, I’d even find ways to justify it to myself.
I’d tell myself that the sugar was helping my thyroid and metabolism stay active and high. If I’d done well that day at the gym, then I would convince myself that the sugar would help me recover and build muscle more easily.
I was REALLY good at coming up with reasons for why eating junk was actually OK, or even good for me.
Peeking Behind the Curtains
Let me take a step back for a moment, and tell you something that you suspect but might not know for certain.
Most of the bloggers and authors that you read have secrets that they don’t share very often. Many are still addicted to sugar, many go on week or month-long binges, and many barely eat well at all.
Very few people eat as well as you think they do. There are some exceptions to this, but in general, it’s the rule.
Louise (my fiancee) and I actually eat very well most of the time. I’m not saying this to brag or set ourselves apart. Quite the contrary.
As you can see from my story above (which was just a year ago), I still have big lapses, despite the fact that I’ve been “eating well” and Paleo for about 8 years. There are people out there who eat almost perfectly, but they’re far fewer in numbers than you think.
It’s important to know this because I see and talk to so many people who constantly beat themselves up about not being able to do better and to eat better.
And beating yourself up for not eating well is not a good or healthy relationship to have with food.
How I Stopped Loving Frozen Yogurt
Just kidding about the heading – I never stopped loving fro-yo. But I did stop eating it. How did I do it?
I moved into a different apartment and started going to a different gym that was not close to any frozen yogurt shops.
You might be wondering…did I do this specifically in order to break my habit? No. Of course not. It was just coincidence.
I want to be able to tell you the one secret way to end your craving. It doesn’t exist. Your cravings and the reasons behind those cravings are, in many ways, unique to you.
However, after fighting cravings for most of my life, and after helping many other people deal with their own cravings, I’ve learned that there are tactics that work for and help almost everyone.
Some of the tactics below are very specific, while some are more general. Use them all…
7 Tactics for Ending Your Sugar Cravings
1. Remove the Trigger if Possible. This is #1 for a reason. For me, going to the gym and working out was my trigger for eating frozen yogurt. It’s not that I didn’t eat it at other times in the past, but at that particular time last year, I ate it almost exclusively after going to the gym.
Your trigger could be anything. It could be a time of day (maybe your office has cookies in the afternoon), it could be an emotional state (maybe when you get angry at your significant other), or it could be anything else.
If it’s possible for you to remove the trigger, then this tactic will help you more than anything else.
This is not always possible. You can’t avoid getting upset. Nor can you avoid eating dinner if that’s a trigger for dessert. But you can remove many triggers.
For instance, if your trigger is driving by a certain restaurant or shop, then you might be able to drive a different route. If your trigger is seeing cookies in your pantry, then it’s extremely easy to just not have them in your home.
The point is that removing the trigger, if possible, provides an almost immediate resolution to some of your worst sugar cravings.
2. Give Yourself a Different Reward. This requires a little bit of work on your part, but it will pay off handsomely. I used to work in a law firm, and many days around 3 or 4 pm (which is really middle of the day, since we worked pretty late), I’d go downstairs to get a snack from the store. Very few of these snacks were healthy, and most were things like cookies.
One day, just by chance, one of my friends who worked at the firm, asked if I wanted to go for a quick (10-minute) walk on an errand with them to the bank. This was around 3pm that day. So I went along.
Low and behold, when I got back to the office, I didn’t stop and get a snack, nor did I need one for the rest of the day. It turns out, that I was just bored every day and needed some sort of distraction for a while in the afternoon.
It was complete chance that I figured out what was causing me to eat sugary junk in the afternoon, but you don’t need to leave it up to the universe. You can figure it out.
In order to figure out what kind of reward your sugary treat is giving you, you need to start substituting other things for it. Start with something that will entertain or distract you. If that doesn’t work, move to a healthy food to see if you’re actually hungry. Try drinking some water to see if it’s thirst. Hang out with someone to see if it’s social interaction that you’re seeking.
You will eventually find an activity that gives you the reward you really desire, and I promise it isn’t a sugar rush.
This requires some experimentation, but once you figure out your reward, it’s very easy and simple to substitute activities that give you at least as much reward as a cookie, with none of the downside.
3. Eat More! I tell people this ALL THE TIME, but very few people actually get it. Sugar cravings rarely happen at meals. It’s usually between meals or at the end of the day.
And while there are many possible triggers and causes for sugar cravings, eating more at meals will almost always diminish (or obliterate) the craving.
When people move to a Paleo diet or real food way of eating, it’s very common to not eat nearly as much as they did prior to adopting a healthier diet. And in some ways, that’s good, especially if you’re trying to lose weight.
But if eating less leads to you snacking on junk, then you need to attack the root of the problem and JUST EAT MORE FOOD. Sorry to yell, but that’s one of the few ways that this point seems to get across to some people.
I understand why this is a hard point to understand, because we’ve been told for most of our lives that overeating is bad. But that is generally untrue if you’re eating nutrient-dense foods like veggies, meats, and seafood.
Eating more will ideally provide you with more nutrients, which can be key in preventing cravings.
4. Meditate. I almost made this my #1 suggestion, but I know that you’d probably have stopped reading at that point. You’ve heard 10,000 times how great meditation is, so hearing it again is kind of boring. I get it.
Meditation is kind of boring. I absolutely love it now, but it’s one of the habits that I found hardest to put in place. I’ve been trying to meditate more for years, and I only recently feel like I’ve gotten fully into the habit.
And it’s counter-intuitive that meditation would have much effect on sugar cravings. But it does.
The beauty of meditation is that it eventually makes you more self-aware in every sense. And this includes when you’re craving sugar.
When I crave sugar now, I’m much more able to stop, analyze the craving in my head, separate it from myself, and usually figure out why it is that I’m craving sugar. And once you figure that out, you can usually take steps to solve the craving.
This takes time. Meditating today is not going to solve any sugar cravings tomorrow. But it might help 2 months down the road.
And 2 years from now, you’ll be a completely different person. Do it for 2 minutes per day at first. Or even 1 minute. Whatever it takes to get started. You can change your life.
5. Sleep!!! I’m a hypocrite when it comes to this. And I know and admit it. I might sleep 9 hours per night for a few weeks, but then I’ll have a week or 2 when I don’t get nearly enough sleep. Like last week.
Not getting enough sleep has a slew of effects on your body. Less lepitn and more ghrelin are produced, making you hungrier, your cortisol is elevated, and you get less glucose to your prefrontal cortex, making you more susceptible to urges and cravings.
In other words, not getting enough sleep leads directly to having more sugar cravings.
It’s not 100% certain whether lack of sleep actually leads to more sugar cravings, or just worse decision-making, since most junk food that is easy and quick to eat is very high in sugar. Either way, though, if you’re not sleeping enough, then you’re making worse decisions and eating more junk that is usually high in sugar.
If you’re telling yourself right now that you’re the type of person who only needs 5-6 hours of sleep, then you’re also fooling yourself. You can survive on that little sleep, but you can’t thrive.
And if you’re still having sugar cravings or difficulty avoiding junk, then there are few things that will help more than getting enough sleep (at least 7, preferably 8-9 hours per day).
6. Moderation is your worst enemy. I’ve known alcoholics. It’s not a pretty picture. But I’ve also known people who’ve gotten over it, rebuilt their lives, and stayed sober for decades or longer.
Do you know that those recovered alcoholics do? They never go near alcohol.
They don’t even go to events where alcohol might be served. They know that if they drink, even “in moderation,” the game is done for them.
Sugar is just as addictive as alcohol, and for good reason. From an evolutionary standpoint, foods that were sweet tended to be both safe and high in calories, 2 important traits for your ancestors. So they – and you – developed a sweet tooth.
It made sense for your ancestors to get easily addicted to sugar, but it’s a problem for you.
Unlike an alcoholic, you can’t 100% avoid going to places or events that might have sugar. Because it’s everywhere. Still, though, you need to take a similar approach, at least for a while.
If you’re trying to break your sugar cravings, you should never tell yourself that it’s OK to have a sugary treat just this once. If you do, it will be infinitely harder for you to resist the cravings for the next few days.
In mainstream health and nutrition, moderation seems to be the cure-all. And for certain foods, like nuts and seeds, moderation might be a good approach. But for someone trying to end sugar cravings, moderation is your worst enemy.
Eventually, it’s possible for most people to eat some sugar without developing cravings. I don’t know when that time will be for you, but it’s not now – not if you’re still having continual fights with the sugar demons.
7. Supplement. I’ve never supplemented for sugar cravings. Just not something I’ve personally done.
But I know many people who have, and it can definitely help.
The most common supplement is L-Carnosine, which helps to reduce glycation and thereby reduce sugar cravings. However, although L-Carnosine is the most popular supplement for fighting sugar cravings, it’s not necessarily the one that is right for everybody.
As Chris Kresser points out in this article, there are many other possible micronutrient deficiencies that can lead to sugar cravings, including Carnitine, Riboflavin, Magnesium, Chromium, Biotin, and CoQ10.
That’s a lot of different supplements, right? Really, though, these should be Plan B (or even Plan E or F). Tactics 1-6 above will work for almost everyone if applied correctly.
If you’ve done all that, however, and you still find yourself fighting cravings all the time, then trying several of these supplements can potentially help.
Be Better. Be Great.
Sometimes, you have to decide that your life and body are more important than your comfort. I make that decision on a daily basis.
Most people who tell you that they never have sugar cravings and never cheat are lying through their teeth to you. I still have cravings, and I still cheat sometimes.
For the past 8 weeks, I’ve been amazingly good and have eaten about as well as I can imagine, but I’m sure that there will be a time when that’s not the case again.
You shouldn’t beat yourself up when that happens, but you do need to make a commitment to being better. It’s fun (for a very short time) to eat sugary junk, but that’s all it is – a little bit of fun.
For myself, I want bigger and better things. I don’t want to feel tired or sluggish, and I want to be as lean and productive as possible. That’s not the case when I’m giving in to cravings.
The 7 tactics above can take a little or a lot of work, but what’s your alternative, really? Settle into being an unhealthy version of yourself?
I’d love to hear from you! What are your best tactics for dealing with cravings? Let me know in the comments below!