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Sharon Curtain

Sharon Curtain

Accredited Practising Dietitian
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The real reasons you’re craving sugar

Experts — Posted 23/05/16

Cupcake calling your name? Here's what could be behind your cravings – and how to outsmart them.

Sugar, sugar, sugar. Why is it so hard to kick the sugar habit? Are cravings just in our head, or is there a physiological explanation for the desire to indulge in all things sweet?

It turns out, we have both mind (psychological) and body (physiological) triggers that have helped shape our sugar habit. And the secret to beating all habits is find a new and more positive behaviour. 

When you take notice of what is going on in your body and your mind you can work out your craving triggers and replace them with a healthier habit.

Here are some of the most things that drive sugar cravings – and what you can do to outsmart them. 

1. You could be thirsty

Sounds crazy? In fact it’s not uncommon for us to mix up the signals for thirst and hunger. Drinking plenty of water will keep you hydrated and help you avoid the urge to sugar splurge. When a sugar craving hits, drink a tall glass of water and wait 15 minutes. 

2. You could be on a blood sugar roller coaster

When blood sugar levels drop our brain tells us to find more sugar. We crave carbohydrates (including sugar), and once we’ve eaten them our blood sugar levels rise. In response, our bodies release insulin, a storage hormone, to move sugar into the cells and our blood sugar levels drop again. 

If carbohydrates are prominent in every meal and snack, our body is on a sugar roller coaster – fully reliant on carb top-ups throughout the day. 

The best way to jump onto stable sugar level ground is to:

• Swap all your carbs for low glycemic index choices – heavy multigrain breads, quinoa and less processed grains.

• Eat smaller carb serves.

• Add protein and healthy fats to each meal to help reduce the sugar highs and lows. 

3. You could be bored

A sweet treat is a delicious distraction, but the extra kilojoules can quickly add up.  Make a list of some enjoyable ways you like to take a break and recharge. You could change the scenery by heading out for a walk, sit in the garden for some green time, do a short YouTube workout or yoga routine, listen to music or a podcast, read a book or blog, or do some colouring in. 

Put the list somewhere prominent to remind you next time you are tempted to remedy boredom with sweets

4. You could be tired

Reaching for sugar when our energy levels dip is both a psychological and physical response. You do get a short surge as your blood sugars levels rise, but once insulin kicks in you’ll feel just as tired, if not more. 

The best strategy to beat an energy slump is exercise. It boosts your energy levels and takes your mind off those cravings. Make it a priority to get enough sleep, and investigate other possible causes of fatigue. 

5. You could be feeling flat, stressed or sad

Anxiety, depression and stress and very real and very common. Food, no matter how delicious, is not therapy. Instead of turning to sugar for a mood lift, look for positive ways to release stress. Try sitting with your thoughts and decide whether you need to recharge, connect with friends, or whether counselling can help you deal with deeper emotional triggers.

You don’t need superhuman willpower to beat sugar cravings – you just need to take the time to work out your triggers. Once you’re hydrated, re-balanced, and in-tune you can indulge out of choice, not habit.

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