One of the most frustrating things about adopting a healthier eating lifestyle is dealing with the cravings for no-so-healthy foods that come with it. These cravings can be so powerful that you physically feel like your body needs them. People experience all different types of cravings, but they most typically involve salt or, probably the most common, sugar. This comes as no surprise seeing as how the average American diet leaves adults consuming roughly 150 lbs of sugar per year.
Sugar cravings are worse for those that seem to have a sweet tooth, but really affect essentially everyone. Sugar is so common in processed foods, even those that don't register as "sweet" like bread, that even cravings for foods that aren't candy could be a sugar craving. Some foods naturally have sugar, like fruit, but many processed foods have a surprising amount of added sugars in various forms. Out of the 150 lbs of sugar consumed on average, these added sugars make up about 66 lbs of it.
It goes without saying that when a craving hits hard, it takes a lot of willpower to say no, especially if your favorite dessert or candy is right there in front of you. Some say that food cravings, including sugar, are your body's way of saying you're missing a nutrient and therefore indulging isn't a big deal. Others believe the average American is very likely addicted to sugar and sugar cravings need to be carefully dealt with to avoid bingeing or other unhealthy habits.
If you suffer from a sweet tooth and find that you're having a hard time sticking to clean eating, here is what you need to know when your brain is telling you to eat that chocolate bar or have that slice of cake.
What Causes Sugar Cravings?
Before we get into how to get help sugar cravings it's important to get a little background on what causes them to happen. You may have already heard that sugar cravings are now being treated as an addiction, just like a drug addiction.
Some health authorities even go to far as to say the processed sugars in their various forms so common in the typical diet should be considered toxic and an actual drug. This may be a bit extreme, but it is true that you can become addicted to sugar.
There has actually been a significant amount of research done on how sugar affects the brain and causes cravings. One study featured in the Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews journal found that humans can indeed develop both behavioral and neurochemical changes caused by access to sugar. These changes in the body can lead to bingeing, strong cravings, symptoms of withdrawal, and more. Across the board, in various studies, you'll find that researchers agree that humans can become addicted to sugar.
The reason humans can so easily become addicted to sugar is because our brains believe we need to. It doesn't have to be said that eating your favorite sweet food makes you feel happy. Often times we even use sweets as rewards for ourselves, others, and even our children. Feeling happy while eating your favorite sugary food isn't just in your head, your body actually releases dopamine in the brain.
The Queensland University of Technology did a worldwide study that determined about 1.9 million billion people are overweight or obese. There is also an obvious correlation between the growing number of people that are overweight and increased sugar consumption. As a person consumes sugar dopamine is a released, which is what our brain sees as pleasure. Consuming alcohol or drugs can also have the same effect. Our brain says eating sugar feels good and feeling good is what most people want.
The problem with the release of dopamine is two-fold. First off, people can easily become obsessed with this feeling which leads to overeating sugar-filled foods. When these people become stressed or otherwise uncomfortable, they will immediately want to go to sugar to get that feeling of happiness from the release of dopamine. Secondly, the body will eventually start getting used to the sugar and soon the same amount won't deliver the same "happy" effect. This means your body requires more sugar to get the same reaction. Thus a sugar addiction begins.
There really is no way to completely stop cravings for something sweet, but there are ways to help control it. The first step is to switch to a clean diet, one that is fairly free of processed foods and sugar. You will experience strong cravings during the first few weeks but eventually you'll find your cravings change from wanting a tub of ice cream to perhaps wanting some fruit instead.
What is a Healthier Way of Combating a Sweet Tooth?
There is no magical way to completely stop cravings for sweets, but there are some ways to manage your sweet tooth as you become used to a low-sugar diet.
Here are a few ways that may help you:
Switch Out Candy and Processed Sweets for Fruit
Fruit has natural sugar in it, which is much better for you than processed sugar. Your body will metabolise it differently, plus you'll get other important nutrients at the same time. For example, a medium-sized apple has about 19 grams of sugar in it but you'll also be getting about 4.5 grams of dietary fiber, vitamin C, potassium, and some healthy carbs for energy. Just be sure you don't overeat on fruit, as you can still gain weight if you eat a lot of it.
Indulge On Occasion but the Smart Way
If you already have a pretty good grasp on healthy food habits and aren't prone to bingeing then you can safely indulge if you have a sugar craving. The key is to carefully choose what you plan on treating yourself with. Making a yogurt parfait with some fruit, chopped nuts and a low-fat greek yogurt it a smarter way of giving in versus having ice cream. Instead of milk chocolate have dark chocolate. If you're craving a Snickers bar, have one of the many protein bars modeled after candy bar flavors.
Try Fruit-Flavored Sparkling Water
Soda is really awful for health, and honestly diet soda isn't that much better. Instead of just going diet or low-cal/low-sugar, skip on soda all together. When you're craving something sweet and bubbly grab a fruity sparkling water instead. You can buy these at the store or make them yourself with fruit (frozen or fresh) and sparkling water.
Consider Trying Guided Meditation
Most of the time sugar cravings are worse for those that don't have a lot of self-control with food. If you are trying to go cold turkey off sugar or know that you are someone that shouldn't indulge as it could lead to a binge, consider guided meditation. Guided meditation or hypnosis videos can be found for free all over the internet and can really help. You can even find guided meditations specifically designed for sugar cravings, though many willpower and developing healthy habit meditations can also help.
Go for a Walk or Workout
A very simple thing that can be very helpful is if you are tempted by something sweet or really feel like you need some sugar just get up and go for a walk. If you tend to get cravings at certain times of the day you can plan for walks then or workout at that time. This simply serves as a distraction. When you're exercising it is difficult to think about other things. Moving your body can also help with physical symptoms of sugar cravings.
Try Chewing Sugar-Free Gum
Last but not least, sometimes just chewing a stick of gum can help you avoid a sugar binge. Choose a tasty sugar-free gum and when you really want something sweet, go ahead and chew a piece. This gives a little sweet kick but also tricks the brain into thinking you're satisfying the sugar hunger by the chewing motion of the gum.
Sugar cravings are very frustrating and it may take a while before you feel like you have them under control. Going cold turkey is a highly recommended way to go, and maybe the only way if you have a severe sugar addiction. Remember to consult your doctor before you make any changes to your diet, especially if you plan on drastically changing your whole lifestyle and exercise lifestyle.
Zoey is a part-time blogger and a full-time nurse. She is the founder and editor of leanrecipes.com an avenue for sharing her passion about juicing, plant-based diet and living a healthier lifestyle.
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