How do I stop sugar cravings?

It’s 3 p.m.  Where’s that candy bar?  Where’s my mocha latte?  The Sugar Craving gremlin strikes again, ruining a dieter’s best intentions.  Why does it happen and how can you stifle it?  I get this question all the time from clients.  And for most, there are common themes that can drive sugar cravings throughout the day.  Here are some of the major ones:

#1: Low protein/high sugar breakfast: The worst thing you can do to your metabolism is start the day with sugar and not much else.  And it’s easy to do: a can of soda and a cereal bar, sugary cereal with milk and a glass of juice, a large sweetened latte or chai, pastries, sugared coffee and tea… The list goes on.
All of these are quick and popular, and all are low protein and full of sugars.  Unless you burn off that energy with a long run or walk right after breakfast, you should cut out the sugar and find some high protein foods to add to your morning meal: eggs, yoghurt, cheese, nuts or nut butters and even lean meats.  A low sugar/moderate protein meal sticks with you longer, cutting hunger and blood sugar ups and downs, so you’re less likely to find yourself fatigued and craving quick energy later on.

#2: Schedule an afternoon snack: it’s perfectly normal to be hungry 3-4 hours after you ate lunch.  Don’t fight it; plan it better.  Here’s the typical approach:

I shouldn’t eat anything until dinner.  But I’m hungry.  Now I’m really hungry and tired.  I give up, I’ll grab a candy bar because it’s quick and there are no other choices.

If you’re at work, in the car or at home, PLAN a snack.  Think of it as a mini-meal.  In England, they call it Tea Time.  Choose foods that include protein and fiber, and are not sugary-sweet.  My favorite suggestion is a tossed salad with some high protein add-in like cheese or nuts, which helps curb hunger and shut down sugar cravings.  Other ideas:

  • raw veggie sticks with hummus or low-fat Ranch dip
  • fruit salad with yoghurt
  • a small wrap with chopped veggies and a touch of cheese
  • a handful of unsalted nuts and some fresh fruit or vegetables.

A snack shouldn’t just be some junky indulgence – make it count towards health.

#3: You’re in the habit of indulging in sweets in the evening, after dinner: the key word here is Habit.   There’s nothing essential about eating sweets at this time.  Unfortunately, this is one habit that can easily spiral out of control, since you’re at home, with down-time, and may feel like rewarding yourself for a hard day.  So if you’ve created that habit, you need to think of alternatives and have some self-restraint.  Strategies I recommend include:

  • Go cold turkey, cutting out sweets after dinner
  • Drink hot tea, lemon or cucumber water or iced herb tea
  • Make sure fresh fruit is available at home
  • Don’t buy tempting treats; if they not easily available, you can’t eat them
  • Brush your teeth right after dinner
  • Do as the French do: instead of dessert, have a cheese course to end your meal.  Cheese is definitely not sweet, and a thin slice or two might turn off your sweet tooth, since it’s also high protein
  • Make sure your dinner is filling and has significant protein.  A big salad or plate of sauteed veggies will fill you up, leaving no room or interest in sweets.  I recommend having 3-4 meals per week that are primarily vegetable-based, with added protein, such as a stir fry with meat/fish/tofu, a big salad with chicken or cheese or nuts.

Sweet cravings are either a habit or due to true hunger.  If you find you’re susceptible to them at predictable times of day you need to first figure out if it’s habit or hunger, and plan accordingly.  If it’s hunger, you need to schedule a time to eat something a shortly before the sugar cravings hit.  You need to plan on healthy food choices and then make them available by purchasing them.

But sometimes you just deserve a treat.  Instead of buying big cartons of ice cream or packages of cookies to keep at home, make it a special occasion and go out for an ice cream cone.  That way you have built-in portion control.  Buy a small cone.  When you’re finished, there’s no more ice cream to pick at.  The same strategy can be used with cookies or truffles or any other treat food that is sold by the piece at speciality shops.  Just buy one.  Share if it’s a large portion.

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