Almost all of us have experienced the urgent craving for something sweet—that feeling that says, "I need sugar now and nothing else will do." For some of us, that sensation can lead not only to overindulgence in the moment, but also to unhealthy eating habits, poor dietary choices and weight gain.
So what exactly causes sugar cravings in the first place? One of the biggest triggers of an immediate need for sweets is stress. When we are put under stressful conditions—whether from daily life or a traumatic event—the body produces the stress hormone cortisol, which creates a blood sugar imbalance in the bloodstream.
To combat the highs and lows that come with the release of cortisol and attempt to elevate both mood and energy, we instinctively reach for something sweet. When we consume sugar, it naturally increases the serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain, which make us feel good. While the sugar may "balance" us in the short term, reaching for sugar as a go-to reaction to stress is not a long-term solution.
Since sugar works quickly, we are compelled to consume more after the good feelings derived from eating it subside. Our brains make the connection between that rich chocolate cake and better moods, so we continue down the sugar path. But this type of self-medicating behavior can be very dangerous to one's overall health.
What starts as a craving can lead to a compulsion and, in many cases, overeating as well as other addictive behaviors. All that sugar can also have an adverse effect on normal blood sugar levels and put you at a higher risk for diabetes. If you already have weight issues, turning to sugar to relieve your stress may only inhibit your ability to either maintain a healthy weight or to lose unhealthy weight.
If you do find yourself reaching for sugar in reaction to every stressful situation, or if sugar begins to negatively impact your healthy lifestyle and diet, it's probably time to cut back, which is often easier said than done. Here are a few simple tips to help you overcome your sugar cravings:
Educate yourself. Read up on how sugar works in the body, why it is needed and, most importantly, why it is harmful when over-consumed.
Reach for a healthy snack. Try a piece of fruit or a smoothie instead of that milkshake loaded with sugar. If you like chocolate, eat dark chocolate and limit yourself to a square a day. Foods rich in protein, fiber and healthy fats (monounsaturated fatty acids) are good for you, keep blood sugar balanced and will help keep you full. Try eating a small handful of nuts and seeds, an avocado or a protein shake with all-natural ingredients.
Read labels. You’d be shocked at how many packaged foods are absolutely loaded with added sugars. Even foods you don’t associate with sweetness—like bottled pasta sauces, condiments and salad dressings—can have plenty of hidden sugars. Look for terms like high fructose corn syrup, dried cane syrup, invert sugar, molasses and sucrose (or, for that matter, any word ending in “-ose”) in the ingredients section.
Don’t quit cold turkey. Quitting sugar altogether will just lead to a bigger sugar crash and a bigger craving. Try cutting back on your sugar consumption gradually to head off the chance of a relapse.
Posted: 7/08/2015 by
Filed under: Cravings, Food, Healthy, Snacks, Sugar