Got a sweet tooth that is hard to control? Does your morning pastry give you a pick me up just to have you craving another sweet treat an hour later? Feel like you have to reach for a soda or candy bar to get past the afternoon slump?
As a good friend of mine said: “Bagels beget bagels,” or in other words: If we consume a lot of simple carbohydrates, we tend to crave more. Humans tend to prefer the sweet taste from birth. And not only are our brains hard-wired that way, but we also tend to reward ourselves and celebrate with sweet treats. Add to that that the sweet taste stimulates endorphins, the feel-good hormones in our body, AND the addictive nature of sugar... can be hard to fight. And while it is just fine to indulge in a sweet treat here and there, we run into problems when we overconsume sugar.
Below are a couple of strategies that you may find helpful in fighting the sugar cravings:
- Plan a small sugary treat into your daily food intake. Try to limit the sugars to less than 10% of your daily calories. Having just a little treat every day can sometimes help us steer away from feeling denied. The key is to plan out your treat and then stick to the plan.
- Try combining your treat with something else. If it’s hard to imagine just having one cookie, try dipping apple slices in some caramel sauce or some strawberries into a chocolate dip. That way you get the healthful benefits of the piece of fruit, but it feels like a decadent treat.
- For some of us, moderation does not work when it comes to sugar. If that is you, try to cut out sugar altogether, but we aware that the first 48-72 hours may be very hard. But sugar cravings tend to abate after the first three days and in time, our palate will become more sensitive to the sweetness in some of the more natural choices, like fruit. Give it a try for a couple of days – you may surprise yourself!
- Have fruit available for when the sugar cravings hit! The crunchiness and sweet taste of fruit will help satisfy the sweet tooth and you’ll get the benefit of the fruit’s vitamins and the added fiber to boot!
- Try to literally walk away from the craving! Take a short walk or a short bout of any physical activity before reaching for a sweet treat. Many times you may find that the craving will go away after ten minutes or so and you will feel good about the added activity.
- If you do indulge, enjoy! Choose a small, wonderful, high quality treat instead of a king-size candy bar and take your time to enjoy every bite of your treat.
- Don’t skip meals (or go too long in between meals) and make your meals balanced. In a perfect world, all of our meals would include some protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates. A simple strategy is to fill up half of your plate with vegetables and fruit, add a small portion of a lean protein (about the size of the palm of your hand for women, two times the size of your palm for men) and a healthy source of fat. Eating regularly and balancing out our nutrients helps control blood sugar levels and cravings.
- Artificial sweeteners are NOT a great replacement for sugar. Artificial sweeteners can elicit the same blood sugar spike (and subsequent drop) as regular sugar and do not lessen the craving for sugar, so they may not be the best strategy to help avoid those cravings.
- Reward yourself with something non-food related. Set a goal, break your goal down into manageable steps and then reward yourself with a small (or big) non-food treat when you complete a step.
- And lastly, be kind to yourself. You may find that not every strategy works all the time. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Instead, mix up your strategies and try different things. We’re all an experiment of one, not everything works for everyone all the time. Find what works for you!