Sugar cravings!! Gah. Do you ever feel like once you get that craving for a sweet sweet morsel of sugar it takes over you mind until you finally feed it what it is demanding. What exactly is causing these insanely addicting- can’t get you off my mind- thoughts?
Before I go over the emotional and the physical part of where sugar cravings come from I want to touch on the psychological relationship with sugar and to get a feel for where that is at for you personally.
It is so important not to demonize sugar. Demonizing sugar will subconsciously make you want it more (ah that cliche but oh so true- we want what we “can’t” have), and then once you “give in” and eat that sugar- it will leave you feeling “bad”. Sugar has many functions in life that we should celebrate- family gatherings, birthdays, holidays, etc. You don’t need to feel bad for enjoying a slice of cake at your cousin’s birthday party. You aren’t a “bad” person for enjoying that cookie your aunt made on Christmas. These memories are life’s greatest treasures that we shouldn’t insert our negative self talk into! It is when we feel prisoned to our sugar cravings or need to work on our hormonal health and/or have insulin resistance, PCOS, etc is when its very important to look at the emotional/physical components of where they cravings are coming from and how to work with them.
If you feel like you are trapped in this vicious cycle of sugar cravings- keep on reading!
Emotional Cravings: since we are emotional beings, it’s no surprise that our emotions can be a driver for cravings- regardless of if it is sugar or if it’s something else. When I struggled with disordered eating and had a negative relationship with food, most of my cravings morphed into this emotional piece. This is when there is no physiological feeling of hunger, for example you just ate lunch or dinner but want to continue snacking, or have the need to have something sugary. You may also find yourself never really feeling satisfied, even after you ate that cookie (or those cookies) and this is because the underlying emotion that is driving the craving cannot be satisfied through foods.
Emotional cravings is something I strongly suggest you start to recognize and look at deconstructing/processing. Once you can start feeding those emotions with what they really need (which is not sugar) then you will notice most of your sugar and food cravings will actually go away on their own!
When cravings strike, slow down and see if you can sort through the root of your craving- where it is coming from? Is there something stressful going on in your life, did you have a chaotic day, is there tension somewhere in your life that is manifesting itself into these cravings? See if you can work through those thoughts first. Go for a walk to the decompress and sort out the thoughts, or really do anything you love and that makes you feel good- then see if these cravings still exist.
Now, let’s chat about the physical components that can be driving these cravings- an interesting connection with your brain, blood & gut!
YOUR BRAINS OBSESSION WITH SUGAR:
When you eat sugar, it stimulates a release of dopamine, which is the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. In fact, research has used rats and compared its addictive qualities of sugar vs. cocaine by giving rats the option to even choose between cocaine or sugar (after they had become addicted to both) and rats will most of the time go for the sugar (1) . YIKES! No wonder we can’t get enough- the stimulation of dopamine from sugar is making us feel SO dang good.
On the reverse end- this is why you will notice people talk about how awful they feel when they try to remove sugar from their diet. They are legitimately experiencing withdrawal type symptoms. A super great visual below demonstrates a MRI of a brain on sugar (left) and on cocaine (right).
Another reason that sugar is so addicting is that is causes a fast spike in blood sugar. This will result in your blood sugar crash which will leave you feeling like you need sugar again just to bring back that spike in blood sugar- and the cycle goes on, and on, and on..
YOUR BLOOD’s OBSESSION WITH SUGAR:
Yes, your blood is also obsessed with sugar! This is called the insulin cycle. You can particularly notice this when you eat a big meal, immediately feel exhausted, then about an hour or two later have an intense craving for something sweet.
At a high level here is what happens:
-Eat sugar/simple carbohydrates/processed foods
-Brain releases serotonin & increases endorphins (where eating makes us feel SO good)
-Sugar in blood spikes
-Blood sugar quickly crashes
-Body may feel lethargic OR is “craving” sugar because it wants to get back to that euphoric spike.
-cycle repeats itself
A fast increase in blood sugar causes sudden drop in blood sugar leaving you fatigued, irritable, anxious and gives you an intense feeling of needing to get back to that euphoric feeling full of serotonin and endorphins.
See below for an interesting graphic
When you are constantly going up and down in the blood sugar chart, it can lead to insulin resistance, weight gain, and even hormonal imbalance which includes thyroid disfunction and infertility.
YOUR GUT’S OBSESSION WITH SUGAR:
Yes- sugar cravings can also come from your gut! Sugar cravings can come from the bacteria within your gut micro biome which means that the more sugar you consume in your diet, the more the bacteria in your gut will continue to crave sugar. Studies have been conducted taking two individuals and putting them on an identical diet for a short period of time and observing both their cravings and their gut micro biome. The individual who craved more chocolate and sugar type foods had a very different micro biome than the individual who did not crave the sweet. That individual had reported a history of always loving sweets and chocolate which gives suggests that the foods we eat do indeed alter our micro biome in our gut and can be a driver of cravings (2, 3). It is interesting to notice when you feed your body with more nourishing foods, it will start to crave those foods!
JC Rathmell suggests that cravings for sugar, breads, dairy and fruit have a “inner ecology” that is out of balance and that when we eat sugar, we are feeding the candida yeast and other harmful microorganisms living in the gut (4). Once your gut lining is vulnerable it can be susceptible to even more candida overgrowth which can take over your appetite, as well as crate nutritional deficiencies making it hard for your body to absorb the nutrients that you are eating.
It probably feels like these sugar cravings are coming at you in all different angles- and they are! I have totally been in the cycle of cravings sugar, specially in the afternoons, and I have found a few things that have worked for me to combat these sugar cravings!
My go to when I feel like I am starting to get into a cycle of sugar cravings
-Go for a walk, either by myself or call a friend to join in
-Warm/Froth some almond milk with cinnamon, cacao & drop of organic stevia
-After dinner have some apple cider vinegar (1 tbsp) mixed with water (1/2c) or sparking water, and a sprinkle of ginger root and turmeric root.
-Have a bowl of fresh organic berries
-Take an epson bath
-Start an organizational project that I have been putting off
-Call a friend/family member to catch up
I am curious! Do you feel like you are in a cycle of sugar cravings?
(4) JC Rathmell, et al. Glucose metabolism in lymphocytes is a regulated process with significant effects on immune cell function and survival. J Leukoc Biol. 2008 Oct;84(4):949-57.