There are probably hundreds of sites with long lists of facts regarding sugar cravings taken from research papers written by so called “experts”. What I’ve created here is a list of the seven main things to keep in mind while fighting with your own sugar demons. As a sugar addict myself, I find it best to keep things as simple as possible and focus on what gives me hope or at least some sort of advantage. Here are the seven things you need to know about sugar addiction:
1. Sugar cravings take place below the level of conscious thought.
Sugar cravings come from the limbic system or “lizard brain” as it’s known. It’s referred to as the “lizard brain” because if you took away all the other parts of your brain, what you have left is basically the same as what a lizard has. Your limbic system is responsible for things like fight or flight response, the urge to reproduce, and feeding yourself. Notice “deep thinking” didn’t make the list, but it is responsible for rewarding you when you accomplish the things that are. It does this with a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Whenever you do something that benefits your survival (like eat food) your limbic system releases dopamine as a reward so that you’ll keep it up. Unfortunately sugar tends to elicit a greater release of dopamine than other healthier foods which is why we get addicted.
If you’ve ever found yourself standing in your pantry scanning for snacks without any memory of consciously choosing to do so, it’s probably because you didn’t. Your limbic system is fantastic at guiding you when your mind is inactive. It’s even strong enough to override you in certain circumstances when you’re trying to avoid eating sugar. When you’re thinking “I really shouldn’t eat that piece of cake” but the urge to eat it is stronger than your conscious directive to not eat the cake, that’s your classic limbic system override.
All this tells us is that it doesn’t help to try and will power your way through this problem. In fact, concepts like will power and discipline when it comes to eating are mostly ploys by certain industries to keep us buying their sugar laden products. Sugar addiction is beatable, but will power and discipline aren’t part of the strategy. Having a solid plan of action for dealing with sugar addiction is the only way to successfully conquer your sugar demons.
2. Sugar cravings are predictable.
Most people go through life barely paying attention to what’s going on around them much less what’s going on inside of their own bodies. I was one of those people. I used to think my sugar cravings just sort of happened to me randomly, but nothing could be further from the truth. Sugar cravings are super predictable.
All it takes is spending some time paying attention to when you’re reaching for the candy jar. Meditation gurus on the internet call this “mindfulness” and will sell you an expensive online course on how to listen to your body, but I’ll give it to you for free right here. Take a few days to notice when and where you are wanting to eat sugar. You may choose to keep a journal but just making a mental note will likely be enough. After a couple of days you’ll see a pattern. Most people experience strong cravings after lunch or the end of the workday and again in the evening right after dinner. Everyone is different and some may have more cravings throughout the day than others, but we are all creatures of habit and we all form patterns of behavior.
When it comes to making a plan for beating your sugar demons, knowing when the cravings will come is an important piece of the puzzle. With this knowledge you can mentally prepare yourself for the craving, preemptively take a supplement to reduce the craving, interrupt the craving with a planned activity or action, and have a healthy alternative ready to go. It puts you in charge of the situation rather than at the mercy of it.
3. Sugar cravings get stronger when you feed them.
Basically, the more sugar you eat the more you crave it. This is why it’s often compared to cocaine in terms of addiction. Starting the day with sugary cereal or pancakes is a recipe for disaster. You’ll crave sugar the whole rest of the day. Even if you wait until evening to indulge your sugar demons, you’re virtually guaranteed to have strong cravings the next day. The only way to quiet you sugar cravings is to avoid sugar all together for an extended period of time.
4. Sugar cravings get weaker with time.
The longer you can avoid eating sugar the less you’ll crave it. This may seem obvious in terms of addiction, but the time domain may surprise you. In roughly a week of not eating sugar, your cravings will start to drop in intensity. It’s what I like to call “the promised land”. After a week or so of intense cravings and withdrawal symptoms you finally reach “the promised land” where cravings are weak and you feel back in control of your life. Just remember that eating even one sugary treat can bring back the cravings with a vengeance.
5. There are supplements you can take to fight sugar cravings.
There are many companies advertising supplements claiming they can help you combat sugar cravings. Most of them are bogus. There aren’t any miracle products out there that will simply cure you of your addiction or allow you to eat sweets without consequence. Don’t get caught up in marketing hype that seeks to take advantage of your dysfunctional relationship with sugar. The few things that do work are fairly cheap and can be purchased almost anywhere. Check out my other post about getting through sugar withdrawal if you’re interested in using supplements to battle your sugar demons.
6. You must have a plan for dealing with your sugar cravings.
I could write an entire book on strategies for dealing with sugar cravings. In fact, I am writing a book. But the bulk of my strategy with regard to sugar cravings is based on first knowing when the cravings will come (see #2) and then taking some sort of action before, during, and after. This generally requires you to lay the groundwork by A. paying attention to your body and B. doing some meal prepping so you have some control over your food options. My experience has taught me that even with a solid plan and decent preparation you can still fall down. However, you will get better over time so long as you learn from your mistakes. It’s a process, and having a plan is just the beginning. The only thing that’s certain is that without a plan you will more than likely succumb to your cravings.
7. Ultimately, sugar addiction is emotional.
Getting over the physical addiction to sugar is actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it. It only requires a few weeks of sticking to your plan before the cravings die down and your in “the promised land”. What comes after is figuring out a way to deal with why you became addicted in the first place. It requires you to ask yourself some tough questions. What were you using sugar to cope with and why? What situation in your life makes you want to eat instead of facing your feelings? In some cases, it may be best to work through this with help from a professional therapist.