How to Stop Sugar Cravings Before They Start


Whether you’re craving a bar of chocolate or a bowl of ice cream, when that sweet tooth hits, it can be hard to ignore.

For those who get the cravings at night, it can make you feel like a sugar gremlin raiding your fridge for a sweet morsel to satisfy those hungry taste buds.

Hey, no judgment here! We’ve all been there.

That’s because sugar cravings have become a normal part of being human in the 21st century, all thanks to the limitless access we have to sugary junk food.

Nowadays, you don’t even need to leave your house to get your favorite junk foods. We’re looking at you, Instacart and UberEats!

So, what do you do when those sugar cravings hit? Believe it or not, you don’t have to go cold turkey or totally deprive yourself of your favorite snacks to reduce sugar cravings.

Here’s How to Curb Your Sugar Cravings

Can we really be blamed for craving sugar? Sugary treats are sometimes the perfect reward after a long day or to celebrate a milestone event.

However, for those who are ready to turn a new leaf in their pursuit of a healthier diet, putting a stop to the sugar cravings is imperative.

So, whether your goal is to lose weight, maintain a more stable blood sugar, or just improve your overall health, there are ways to put down the sugary foods and pick up more healthful choices.

Here’s how to stop sugar cravings and possibly kick your sugar habit for good.

A graphic entitled "5 Tips to Curb Sugar Cravings," featuring tips (accompanied by images) such as "moderation matters," "hydrate to sate," and "quality sleep."

Don’t Completely Restrict Yourself From Sugar

If you’re trying to reduce sugar in your diet, this might seem counter-intuitive.

However, for some individuals, severe restriction can just make you crave sugar more. This can even lead to disordered eating habits like binging.

That’s why satisfying your sugar cravings once in a while is not a bad thing and can even help keep you on track. This is why even fitness enthusiasts have cheat meals!

Additionally, choosing healthier sweets (such as your favorite fresh or dried fruits) can reduce the sugar craving you may be used to feeling.

Don’t Go Cold Turkey

While it’s tempting to just toss out all the junk food in your pantry, this is a recipe for disaster.

Much like the advice above, moderation is key, and making lasting and sustainable changes to your diet starts with baby steps.

Improving your diet and reducing your sugar intake begins at the grocery store.

Make healthier decisions with the food you choose to put in your cart, slowly replacing the sugary foods in your pantry with better options.

If you go out to eat, consider sharing dessert instead of getting one just for you.

If you like a sugary treat at night, find a fruit that can still satisfy your sugar craving without the processed sugar, or reduce your usual nightly snack to just two or three times a week.

Pro tip: If you still want to reduce the amount of sugary foods in the house and you have unopened products, consider donating them to your local food bank.

Prevent Cravings by Drinking More Water

Drinking more water is often the answer to many of life’s little annoying aches and pains.

Have a headache? Try drinking more water. Feeling drowsy in the middle of the day? Drink some water before you get another coffee.

If you find yourself staring at a vending machine full of sugary snacks, get a water first to see if that will reduce your sugar craving.

If you’re not a fan of plain water, try lightly flavored carbonated water like La Croix or add a bit of water flavoring like Crystal Light or Mio.

While it’s not recommended to consume too many artificial sweeteners, this can help decrease sugar cravings when you’re just starting out on your health journey.

Get Enough Sleep

It’s true; we experience more intense cravings for high calorie foods when we’re tired.

Why does this happen? Well, researchers think they have discovered the answer: those same neural pathways that are impacted when we consume THC are also affected when we lack enough sleep.

These neural pathways affect our sense of smell—a major driver of our appetites—making us crave sugar and other tasty snacks.

So to prevent cravings, simply try to get more sleep—especially high-quality sleep. Good sleep starts with good sleep hygiene, so put the phone down at least 30 minutes before bed, go to bed at the same time each night, and keep your room dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. You might also consider a melatonin supplement for additional sleep support.

Eat Regularly and Eat Whole Foods

While it might seem an obvious connection to make, it needs to be said anyway: hunger and sugar cravings go hand in hand.

When we eat highly processed foods with tons of added sugar that lack protein, complex carbohydrates, and fiber, we tend not to stay full throughout the day.

By eating minimally processed whole foods, you will greatly improve your body’s ability to avoid unhealthy food cravings in general, but especially for sugary foods.

Try to pair high-fiber foods—such as lentils, black beans, chia seeds, almonds, vegetables, and chickpeas—with a protein and a complex carbohydrate such as rice, oats, or potatoes.

By eating food that keeps you fuller for longer (and eating regularly throughout the day and avoiding skipping meals), you can stop sugar cravings before they start.

But Why Is Sugar Bad for Us?

Well, hundreds of studies have been carried out over the years exploring the potential effects that sugar could have on the human body.

In short, sugar has been implicated as a potential source of heart disease, weight gain and obesity, insulin resistance leading to diabetes, metabolic disorders, mood disorders, and even cancer.

By no means do these studies imply that you should completely remove sugar from your diet.

In fact, your body needs glucose to keep cells functioning. However, the source of these sugars is important.

Highly processed, simple carbohydrates (like the oft-villainized Twinkie) are not a source of glucose that your body will benefit from, and excess consumption can cause blood sugar spikes, among other serious problems. Getting your recommended daily sugar intake from healthy foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates (whole grains such as oats, beans, potatoes, and quinoa) will serve your body much better in the long run.

How Much Sugar Do We Need per Day?

But how much sugar is too much sugar? Well, per a 2017-2018 study by the USDA, the average American consumes about 17 teaspoons of added sugar per day, which is equivalent to 270 calories.

This far exceeds the recommended daily calories from added sugars by the CDC, which recommends that adults limit their intake to about 10% of their total daily caloric intake.

So, if you consume 2,000 calories a day, you should limit your intake to 200 calories of added sugars per day.

This isn’t always an easy task when you consider you can easily reach that number with a single sugary coffee from Starbucks, a bottle of Coca-Cola, or a bowl of your favorite sugary breakfast cereal.

Why Do We Have Sugar Cravings?

There is a widely held belief that your body knows what you need before your mind does.

It can even try to let you know in some very odd ways. For example, if you find yourself craving ice chips, paper, or clay, this is a syndrome called “pica” which is our body’s misguided attempt at signaling an iron deficiency.

On a day-to-day basis, our bodies also tell us when we need water, when we need to eat, and when we need to sleep (with bathroom breaks in between).

The reasons why we crave sugar and other unhealthy foods are not as obvious as why we feel thirsty (not drinking enough water) and not as odd as pica, but lies somewhere in the middle.

It’s our body’s way of saying, “Hey, you need this. I don’t know why, but figure it out.”

There are a variety of factors, some of which include:

  • lack of sleep
  • psychological conditioning
  • undereating
  • stress levels
  • low blood sugar

There is also some evidence that sugar cravings could result from our body lacking certain minerals. A magnesium deficiency is a known culprit for high-calorie cravings, but in most cases, it will be due to one of the reasons above.

Additionally, certain hormones might be responsible for sugar cravings, such as the reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone, which increase in the 7-10 days prior to the start of a period.

This could be the source of the “craving chocolate” stereotype associated with periods. Consuming sugar can impact how serotonin—the feel-good hormone—is produced and processed in the body. Since we humans are conditioned to seek out serotonin, it makes sense that sugar cravings might arise from a desire to get that sugary serotonin hit.

Sugar Craving FAQ

Do natural sugar and artificial sweeteners affect the body differently?

Yes. While zero-calorie artificial sweeteners and plant-derived sweeteners are often touted as being bad for your health, they are a better alternative for some individuals—mainly in that they do not impact the body’s blood sugar levels the same way that natural or processed sugars do. They also do not have the same potential for tooth decay. This makes these sweeteners a better choice for those with diabetes or people looking to lose weight.

However, these sweeteners typically don’t have the same micronutrients as natural sugars, so be mindful that you’re getting your natural sugars from healthy sources such as fresh fruits.

How long does it take to detox from sugar?

For most people, so-called “detoxes” will just set you up for failure. As we’ve covered, you shouldn’t go cold turkey from sweet foods. If you slowly wean yourself off sugar, your sugar cravings will eventually recede.

What vitamin helps with sugar cravings?

While supplementing with vitamins can be a good way to counteract certain deficiencies in our diets, nothing beats a healthy diet, exercise, and sleep for reducing sugar cravings.

Why am I so desperate for sugar?

Sugar cravings are normal for many people. However, our desire for sugar can sometimes become insatiable if we develop an unhealthy relationship with these foods. Becoming mindful of why we crave sugar, how it makes us feel when we eat it, and working through those emotions can sometimes help with the journey to reducing consumption. This sometimes requires the help of a health professional, such as a registered dietitian or therapist who specializes in eating disorders. In most cases, though, your sugar cravings will decrease as you eat less and less of it.

What hormone makes you crave sugar?

There are a few hormones in our bodies that can play a role in our cravings. A rise in the stress hormone cortisol can lead us to seek out high-calorie foods that will release dopamine and serotonin, our “happy” hormones. Estrogen and progesterone also play a role in sugar cravings as they rise in the 7-10 days prior to the start of periods.

Is all sugar bad?

No, not all sugars are bad. In fact, we need glucose to survive. It’s the source of sugars that matters and moderating how much of it we eat each day.

What are good sources of sugars?

Foods rich in micronutrients that also happen to have sugar are excellent sources of good sugars that can give us the quick boost our body’s need for energy throughout the day. The best options are fruits such as bananas, grapes, blueberries, citrus fruits, melons, etc., but most importantly, the fruits that you enjoy eating. Forcing yourself to eat fruits you don’t like is no fun and may chase you back to your usual sugary snacks.

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