Eat Empowered, Sugar

Sugar Cravings: 4 Reasons They Happen and How to Stop Them


Sugar cravings are the worst.

It’s like a little army of meanies grab hold of you and torture you until you feed them jellybeans, right?

Give into this craving too often and you might be setting yourself up for a slew of negative health outcomes. All that extra sugar can lead to higher caloric intake and contribute to chronic inflammation. In a randomized controlled trial of 29 healthy young men, sugar-sweetened beverage consumption increased inflammatory blood markers in just three weeks. On the flipside, data from a national US cohort study found that reduced sugar-sweetened beverage consumption was correlated with a reduction of inflammatory and chronic disease biomarkers. Understanding this research makes it not surprising that excess sugar consumption is linked to an increased risk of conditions such as heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and obesity

Yet, sugar cravings can still be so hard to resist. 

In this video, my good friend Natalie Jill and I talk about sugar cravings, especially the kind that seem to attack as soon as you’ve finished eating a meal.


Sugar cravings affect everyone—myself and Natalie Jill included. Clients ask both of us about this quite often, so we thought we’d explain why they happen and what you can do to fight them. 

The key to dealing with sugar cravings is to start with understanding why you’re getting them in the first place.

To some extent, we’re hardwired to want sugar. Our bodies use glucose as a primary fuel source, so our brains have evolved to like sweet foods. Consuming sugar activates the mesolimbic dopamine system aka the brain’s reward system. Dopamine, the feel-good chemical messenger, is then released and reinforces our desire for sugar. When we frequently consume sugary foods, our brains adapt to require more sugar to reap the same rewarding feeling. In other words, the more sugar you consume, the more you want it. 

We’re designed to enjoy sweets, but why do we sometimes really crave sugar? This craving can be due to a variety of reasons including diet, lifestyle, and environmental cues. 

For more on why you’re craving sugar, scroll down to read up on the four most common causes and what to do when that sweet tooth strikes.

4 Reasons You Have Sugar Cravings

  • 1. Sugar Craving Cause: You didn’t eat enough, or you ate the wrong things

    When you don’t eat enough calories, your body starts looking for fast fuel as a way to catch up. So what happens? You crave sugar! Sugar gives you quick energy, even though it’s not necessarily quality energy.

    How to Stop the Craving

    So one way to get around this little conundrum is to just choose something sweet with artificial sweetener in it, right? Wrong! So, so wrong. Artificial sweeteners might momentarily satisfy that sweet craving, but they trick your body into thinking it’s getting fuel when it’s not. Your body soon goes looking for more calories in the form of, you guessed it, sugar, and you’re right back where you started.

    Calories are the only thing that provides real energy, so eat them consistently, in the form of whole foods which provide adequate protein, healthy fat and fiber. Take a look at your diet. Are you skimping on or eating any of these nutrients inconsistently? 

  • 2. Sugar Craving Cause: You picked up a bad habit

    Some people smack their gum without even realizing it. Some people have picked their fingernails their entire lives. And, sigh, some people eat a chocolate bar every day at 3:00 p.m., because, well, they eat a chocolate bar every day at 3:00 p.m. Yep, bad habits.
    When something becomes a habit, especially when it comes to food, you have to ask yourself: Are you even aware you’re doing it? Do you really want to be doing it? Are you truly craving what you’re eating? When you’re really hungry and you haven’t eaten enough throughout the day, breaking a 3:00 p.m. vending machine run is going to be tough. But if you start to eat more consistently throughout the day and get in enough and the right types of calories, then your defenses are up and it’s easier to change that habit.


    How to Stop the Craving

    One thing I often suggest to help break this afternoon or after dinner sweet habit —in addition to making sure adequate calories and macronutrients are being consumed—is to replace the sweet indulgence with a sweet herbal tea. This works particularly well for my afternoon chocoholics. The afternoon ritual can be the dominant factor here. The tea allows for the ritual to be continued but the sweet treat habit to be broken. Naturally sweet teas such as apple spice or vanilla almond that have no calories and nothing artificial added are good options.

  • 3. Sugar Craving Cause: You ate too much starch and not enough fat and/or protein

    When you eat a heavy, starchy meal, like a giant bowl of grandma’s spaghetti, you’re pretty much setting yourself up for a guaranteed gelato craving. All that pasta with no fiber or protein (and depending upon the sauce, perhaps not enough fat, either) is like a big bowl of sugar that will lead to a blood sugar spike and crash, leaving you yearning for more sugar! Those calories in that bowl of spaghetti are absorbed fast and don’t keep you feeling full or satisfied.


    How to Stop the Craving

    What’s a pasta lover to do? First, practice proper portion control. Next, add a little olive oil for some healthy fat and a portion of lean protein. You need a little protein for satiety and to help prevent blood sugar spikes and drops that leave you craving sugar not long after you’re done eating. I also suggest flip flopping your bowl of pasta. Instead of a bowl of pasta with a few veggies sprinkled in, choose a big bowl of veggies and top that off with a little pasta.

  • 4. Sugar Craving Cause: You chowed down on salty foods

    When you dine out or eat highly packaged, processed foods, your food has more sodium in it than you probably even realize. This usually remains true even when you’re eating something healthy such as grilled salmon and sautéed or steamed spinach from your fave “healthy” restaurant. Here’s the kicker: oftentimes, the saltier your food, the bigger your sweet craving.

    How to Stop the Craving

    The first step here is to be aware that this may happen to you. Just being aware may reduce the craving. Then, the more you actually skip the chips or fries, the less you’ll want the donuts or cookies after. When you eat more naturally salty foods like cheese or olives versus highly processed, your sweet cravings will lessen, and you’ll tend to go for naturally sweet snacks like herbal tea or fruit when that craving comes on. See? Choosing healthier, whole foods leads to choosing more healthy whole foods, no matter what the craving.

    (Photos: Shutterstock)


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