If you're frequently dipping your hand into the office candy bowl or have unsettling cravings for the sweet stuff, you're not alone. First off, it's pretty normal to have sugar cravings, as we're wired to seek reward, and sweet, yummy treats provide neural sensations equivalent to winning a prize or engaging in something pleasurable. And, of course, pleasurable things make life better!
Unfortunately, all those sweets might taste great going down, but they aren't making life better in the long run. Excess sugar can lead to weight gain, blood sugar and heart complications, and a sluggish feeling a few hours after consumption. Here's why you keep craving these sugary treats to begin with, and some tips for having more control and reducing sugar intake overall.
You're Not Eating Well
You might crave sweet foods if you're not eating well to begin with. It can lock you into a cycle, where you keep reaching for unhealthy foods to satisfy your appetite and lack of nutrients, and your brain gets hooked on wanting more and more.
A solution? Eat nutritious foods and keep sugar in moderate doses, instead. Next time you want a cookie, reach for something naturally sweet but still good for you, like an apple.
You're Not Eating Enough
It can also come from being too hard on yourself, if you're focused on a restrictive diet.
"While many people assume they have a 'sugar addiction,' a frequent desire to eat sweets may be due to restriction! Often people try to make up for an indulgent meal and by doing so may deprive their body of adequate energy and carbohydrates," says Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN.
"The body requires a consistent stream of energy to function mentally and physically. Low energy intake and lack of carbohydrate make it harder for you to maintain normal blood sugar levels," she explains. So, as a response, "primal hunger kicks in where the body wants you to eat what you can to get blood sugar and carbohydrate stores up as quickly as possible," she says. This can happen to people on a daily basis: where they crave sugar each night if they begin each day with a mentality to eat less, she explains.
You're Ditching Sugar Completely
On another note, the simple act of telling yourself you can't have something you like will make you think about and want it more.
"By telling yourself you're going on a 'sugar detox' or that sweets are bad and you shouldn't have them at all, you'll think about them more and be more likely to crave them, while also being more likely to eat quickly and have more when you do eat them," she says.
"If you adopt the mentality that you can have cake, for example, whenever you feel like it, it occupies less brain space and the chance you'll overindulge decreases," she explains. Then, once you have cake, you'll likely be more apt to eat it slowly and mindfully, truly enjoying it and stopping when you've actually had enough. (Instead of polishing off the whole darn thing.)