Do you struggle with sugar cravings?

15th January, 2020

When people come to see me for help with their eating, they often feel they can’t control their intake of sweet food, or “junk” food or how much they eat when they get home from work (or on weekends). I hear people say “I’m good during the day/week, it’s afterwork… or when I have something sweet… or once my partner’s gone to bed… or when I eat out that’s the issue.”

These people usually have something in common – not eating enough during the day. Sometimes not enough carbohydrate, but mostly not enough food (ie calories) and typically they’re not even aware. In fact, it’s normal to think eating less is the “right” thing to do. Almost everywhere you look – TV, social media, your social circle, family, local gyms and even well meaning health professionals (including your GP) – eating less or restricting certain foods is validated as a “good” thing, what you “should” be striving to achieve. This is the diet culture we live in.

It is true that some people do eat more than what they need, however no person or meal plan can know how much anyone else needs to eat and this results in a blanket like calorie reduction which is not enough food for most people. Even if you plug your height, weight and activity level into an app, this can’t account for differences in metabolism between different people, or the natural fluctuations in your energy expenditure across the days and weeks. Wouldn’t it be much more powerful if you could work out yourself, through listening your body, what is the right amount of food for you? This may lead to eating less, but not so much less that you’re left feeling over-hungry or craving carbohydrates/sweets. If this sounds appealing to you, check out intuitive eating.

anti diet dietitian

In addition to the omni-present influence of diet culture, three more specific reasons I frequently see for not eating enough during the day are…

Skipping breakfast – many people discover that when they eat breakfast, they feel hungry again sooner, often around mid-morning. When you’re trying hard to eat less/cut calories, this can feel highly problematic and so people delay eating as long as possible. However, feeling hungry roughly every 3 hours is completely normal and it’s a reason morning tea exists. Not eating enough earlier in the day is a common reason for over-eating later in the day.

Trying to be too healthy with food choices – carrots sticks and hummus may be perfectly tasty and nourishing, but if this doesn’t float your boat or doesn’t provide enough calories, you’re probably not going to be fully satisfied and you may find yourself craving sweets (usually as your brain actually needs glucose and is running low). If a snack of toast with jam or peanut butter, or perhaps cheese and biscuits not only appeals more to you, but provides the necessary food energy, you are going feel more satisfied eating this and you may well find yourself not craving sweets as your brain has the calories it needs. When you brain doesn’t have adequate food energy, it releases a chemical called Neuropeptide Y to make you think about food, specifically food it can get good amounts of glucose from as glucose is the brain’s preferred energy source. Therefore, so called “sugar cravings” can occur simply because you need to eat.

Cutting carbs – diet culture, including some well meaning doctors and other health professionals, tell us to cut out the carbohydrates. No bread, no rice, no pasta, no potatoes and sometimes even, no carrots, no pumpkin and no fruit! Aside from this being completely unnecessary, including for people with diabetes, such dietary restriction can lead to…

  • Strong sugar or carb cravings
  • Over-eating to the point of binge eating behaviour (often later in the day)
  • Mental and emotional distress over food, eating and body image
  • A preoccupation with food to the point of what can feel like an obsession or sense of being out of control around food (you are not obsessed or out of control, you just need to eat more – if the room you were in suddenly started running out of oxygen, your brain wouldn’t just sit there calmly, it would demand you find more oxygen and right now!)
  • Feeling tired and weak, having difficulty concentrating (your brain runs best on a ready supply of glucose)
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Constipation

If any of this resonates with you, perhaps it’s time to stop restricting food and stop following someone else’s specific advice on what, when and how much to eat and time to start tuning into, and trusting, your own body with food. You can learn to do this through a non-diet/intuitive eating approach that is fully aligned with Health At Every Size®️. You can book with us, or a find a practitioner near you.