So now that we understand the physiology of why sugar is addictive, what can we do about it? Here are my top 10 recommendations on how to kick your sugar cravings to the curb and regain control of your brain.
1. Have a high-protein breakfast. The importance of a high-protein breakfast cannot be overemphasized. Protein is needed to fuel your body after a night of sleep. Protein helps to build and repair body tissues, and it is used to produce hormones and enzymes. A high-protein breakfast will regulate your hormones and blood sugar to help you will feel more energized and ready to take on your day. Try an egg and vegetable scramble with avocado and orange slices.
2. Eat regularly. Skipping meals can set you up for undesired sugar cravings, because when you go too many hours without eating your body desires a quick fix for the energy deficit it is experiencing. To keep you from running to the vending machine for that quick fix, have a meal or snack planned approximately every 3 hours. Eating balanced meals to keep blood sugar stable is also critical- make sure to incorporate protein and fat at each meal and snack.
3. Choose whole foods. Whole foods offer our bodies the best nutrition and satiation. Packaged and processed foods tend to have a lot of added sugars to make up for lack of freshness and flavor. Choose fresh fruit and nuts to satisfy a sweet craving- this balanced snack provides vitamins, minerals, and fiber to keep you feeling fuller longer.
4. Move your body daily. Whether you enjoy walks on your lunch break, a nightly yoga class, crossfit in the mornings, or aerobics at the gym- the idea is to get more movement into your daily routine. When we exercise we relieve stress, anxiety, and unused energy. Exercise releases endorphins which will elevate our mood and keep our body in balance as well. Try to get in a minimum of 30 minutes of active movement a day.
5. Get adequate hydration. Sometimes what we perceive as a food craving is really thirst. Your hydration needs will vary depending on many factors such as, the foods you eat, your climate, and your activity level. A good rule of thumb is to drink water in amounts of approximately half your body-weight in ounces. For example, a 150 pound woman would need around 75 ounces of water a day. Those who are really active or live in a warmer climate will likely need even more. Keep a water bottle with you at all times to prevent potential sugar cravings.
6. Prioritize sleep. We often crave sugar when we need an energy lift, and let’s face it, most of us are not getting enough sleep. It is no wonder we reach for sugar-sweetened coffee beverages and soda around mid-afternoon. Our sleep-deprived brain is telling us it needs sleep, not caffeine and sugar. Making sleep a priority will do wonders for sugar cravers- aim for a minimum of 7-8 hours a night.
7. Be mindful of emotional triggers. We often use food to comfort ourselves and sugar makes us feel better when we’re feeling down. Unfortunately, that good feeling is temporary and fleeting, and the aftermath can include feelings of guilt, regret, and sadness. Learn to recognize if you are eating sugar often to soothe yourself, and call a time out. Phone a friend, go for a walk, play with your dog- find emotional support in your community. If emotional eating is unmanageable seek out a certified nutritionist, mental health counselor, or dietitian to provide additional support.
8. Address nutrient deficiencies. Deficiencies in brain supportive nutrients like omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin D may make you more likely to fall victim to tough sugar cravings. A primary care physician can test for any deficiencies and a qualified nutritionist can help you make dietary adjustments if you lack these nutrients. A wonderful food source of both omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin D is fatty fish- try salmon, tuna or halibut twice a week to increase your intake.
9. Avoid artificial sweeteners. Many people report sugar cravings and a need for more food after consuming “diet” foods sweetened with sugar substitutes. In addition, many report that once they cut back on the artificial sweeteners, their cravings disappear and it is easier to resist sweet temptations and lose weight.
10. Add herbs and spices. If you’re looking to add flavor to your food, reach for herbs and spices instead of sugar. Coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom will naturally sweeten foods. Cinnamon adds nice flavor to coffee or oatmeal, while oregano and basil add good flavor to marinara sauce.