I recently had a friend reach out and ask me for some tips on how to manage sugar cravings. Specifically, she struggles with chocolate cravings. But we all struggle to manage cravings in some way, shape, or form.
And I get it…sugar cravings are real. I know because I have them myself. I have to pay really close attention to my lifestyle and my daily choices or else my sweet tooth will try to take over. So I wanted to share my insight around what I’ve learned causes my sweet tooth to go nuts, and the steps I take to tame it as much as possible (with the occasional vegan ice cream sundae of course…because balance, amiright?).
Here are my tips to manage sugar cravings:
1. Make sure you get enough sleep: When you aren’t getting adequate sleep, it affects your body’s levels of two important hormones called ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is the hormone that makes you feel hungry and crave simple sugars. Leptin is the hormone that helps you to feel full and satisfied. When you’re well rested, ghrelin levels decline and leptin levels increase. When you’re sleep deprived, ghrelin levels stay high (read: more hunger and cravings) and leptin levels stay low (causing you to feel insatiable, now matter how much food or sugar you eat). This is why good sleep really is crucial to reaching weight loss goals and to manage sugar cravings.
2. Drink plenty of water: Some research has shown that it’s common to mistake thirst for hunger. If that’s true, keeping your body well hydrated throughout the day might help you to manage hunger and sugar cravings. There are many other reasons to stay up on your water intake during the day, including skin health benefits, keeping energy levels high, assisting healthy digestion and elimination, and more. Shoot for half of your body weight in ounces of water each day. For example: a 140 pound person should drink about 70 ounces of water each day.
Tip: I drink about 12 ounces of warm water with lemon first thing in the morning when I wake up. I do this before I drink coffee, tea, or anything else. You’ve gone all night without water while you slept, so you already wake up in a dehydrated state. Caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea will further dehydrate your body. Try to drink water first thing when you wake up, but drink it warm or room temperature to benefit your digestive system. You can either warm up the water in a tea kettle, adding lemon if you’d like, or set out a glass of water the night before so that it’s room temperature when you drink it. It’s a great way to get a head start on your daily water intake, too.
3. Eat more naturally sweet foods: Eat more naturally sweet foods, like roasted sweet potatoes and other veggies that are sweet when cooked (onions, peppers, squash, etc), as well as fruits, to make sure you are getting plenty of the sweet flavor profile in your daily diet. The natural sweetness of these whole foods should help you to better manage sugar cravings.
Tip: I roast sweet potatoes every three or four days and keep them in my refrigerator for salads or just to snack on if I’m craving something sweet. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Scrub two or three large sweet potatoes (Japanese yams are my favorite variety, they’re extra sweet) and cut them into uniform sized one-inch pieces. Place them on an unbleached parchment paper sheet on top of a roasting pan. Roast for about 25 minutes, stir with a wooden spoon, and roast for about 15 minutes more or until fork tender. Let them cool and store in a covered container in the refrigerator.
4. Eat regularly throughout the day: For some people (myself included), eating more regularly throughout the day can help to increase satiety and decrease sugar cravings. Intermittent fasting is without a doubt one of the top dieting trends right now, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for every person. If you are trying intermittent fasting and you feel like your cravings are stronger, you might be one of the people it’s not going to work for. Try having three reasonably sized meals each day (not so much that you’re uncomfortably full after you eat, but enough to hold you over for three or four hours) and a small mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack to tide you over until the next meal. Just be sure to choose snacks that are full of nutrients (fresh fruit, whole grain crackers with some fiber, hummus and veggie sticks, etc) and not just empty calories.
5. Enjoy little treats throughout the week, in moderation: If you’re able to enjoy a few bites of dark chocolate without eating the whole bar, go ahead and have some. Just choose a high quality dark chocolate that’s at least 70% cacao to make sure you’re getting some health benefits and not just a dose of sugar. Other healthier sweet treats to try in moderation: one or two medjool dates, a small handful of dark chocolate chips, or one or two healthier cookie options like Fig Newman’s. If you have trouble with portion control, buy individually wrapped dark chocolates (Endangered Species and Alter Eco both make these).
I love a little bite of something sweet after dinner most nights. But I’ll rotate my after dinner sweets. Every other night I’ll have a small bowl of fresh fruit which I’ll sometimes top with cinnamon or a sprinkle of cacao nibs, and the other nights I’ll have a square of my favorite dark chocolates or a couple of Fig Newmans cookies.