Reaching for the sugar regularly can be a telling sign of certain behaviours and bodily needs that may need addressing.
From eating habits, to low blood sugar, emotional control and restricting mentality – an intense desire for sugary food can often be an indication of nutrient deficiencies, personal habits and behaviours.
Cravings are basically just your body and mind giving you information. Craving sugar is completely normal and satisfying these cravings doesn’t make your eating habits ‘bad’. Instead of feeling guilty look at what’s happening and make changes, rather than diving straight into a tub of ice cream or a dairy milk oreo.
Here are the five reasons you may be craving sugar and what to do about it:
Hunger or low blood sugar
When we are hungry, we tend to think about food a lot more because our brain is trying to alert us to the fact that we need to eat, if this feeling comes on suddenly and intensely, then it is a craving. If we have gone for a long period of time without food or if we are following a low-calorie diet and cutting out certain food groups whilst trying to be ‘healthier’, then our blood sugar can drop and our body produces neuro-peptide Y, which increases our appetite and motivation to eat.
To prevent cravings, ensure meals are balanced, satisfying and include protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. It’s also a good idea to incorporate a balanced afternoon snack for a pick me up.
Many people struggle with a deprivation mindset and try but fail to be successful in restricting what they eat. As we want what we can’t have, we always tend to crave sugary foods whilst we are trying to restrict them. Often when this happens many people believe that they just need to avoid sugar, but what actually helps to reduce cravings is eating in moderation and ditching strict diet rules. Whilst people may feel like they are overeating sugar as they move from the restrictive eating habits towards a more balanced diet, this is typically just a phase and after a week or so of eating as much sugar as they want, most people then crave vegetables.
If we automatically crave sugar at a certain time each day, the craving could be habitual. Common timings for sugary cravings include the 4pm slump, after dinner or even first thing in the morning for an energy boost. Habits can also include going to the cinema and feeling the need to eat popcorn whilst watching a film. Habits are automatic patterns of thoughts or behaviours that have developed over time in response to triggers, because the thought or behaviour provided a reward e.g. the sugar rush from a sweet treat. To combat this, it’s important to work out triggers and avoid or remove them. Try and swap the behaviour for one that still ensures a reward, just not sugary foods.
Emotions can influence our food decisions much more than we think, but after eating we often find that consumption doesn’t resolve feelings which can then resurface later at some point. The best way to combat emotional cravings is by taking a second to recognise which feelings are causing us to reach for certain foods. This strategy works because emotions are processed in the limbic system (mid-brain), whereas labelling activates our prefrontal cortex (the area involved in cognitive processing); essentially it can help to activate the rational part of our brains which remembers bingeing on sugar isn’t in line with long-term goals to get healthy, and then this will help us think of alternative methods to make us feel better.
Deep rooted connections to certain foods
We learn a lot about food and our relationship with it at an impressionable age before we are even seven years old. Our subconscious then stores these food beliefs for life and drives 95% of our thoughts and behaviours towards food. Many deep-rooted connections to food come from commonly conceived beliefs such as ‘food is love’ – often people crave sugar when they have the unmet need for love in life, and another belief is ‘food is a reward’ – so we have something sweet when we have been behaving well. This can then carry on when we believe we have done something well in later life, and we may think “I’ve worked really hard on this project” and reach for the brownies.
The most effective way to combat this is to recognise patterns from childhood and when exactly they are showing up in life now.
Next time you’re about to reach for the ‘treat’ because you’re sad, stressed or feeling low, grab a piece of paper and write on it, ‘I am about to eat ice-cream/brownies/popcorn because what I really feel is…’ and let your inner writer take over. It’s cathartic and who knows, you may have written a song, a poem or even the beginnings of a novel by the end of it!