How to Beat Sugar Cravings

Ask yourself these questions: Do you just have to have something sweet after meals?  Does the idea of living life without bread and pasta scare you? Does afternoon fatigue prompt trips to Starbucks or a candy binge on a regular basis?  If someone offers you cookies, cakes, ice cream or candy at a party is it impossible for you to decline them?  Is it hard for you to stop after one cookie, candy, etc.?  Is drinking black coffee or tea without sweetener out of the question? Do you obsess over your next sugary treat?  If you answered “yes” to any of these questions you are probably addicted to sugar.

Sugar is addictive. Many doctors now recognize the damage of sugar addiction, although it might be several more years before we can sue Coca-Cola for pushing its “drug” on kids.  Maybe it’s not as noticeable as illegal street drugs, but sugar does give you a mild “high” – why else would we jokingly call it “kiddie crack”?  I’m not fanatical or preaching sugar abstinence.  I love ice cream just as much as the next gal, but I find that many of my clients are plagued by sugar cravings and feel out of control when it comes to their diet.  I can relate.

You’re talking to a girl who single-handedly picked every chocolate chip out of her roommate’s trail mix (sorry, Monica). I remember when I was little stealing cookies from the jar at my grandmother’s house and eating them behind the couch so I wouldn’t get caught. I’m pretty sure I also remember also eating an entire frozen pound cake – while it was still frozen. I am no angel when it comes to sugar.  My history with sugar goes deep into the core of my psyche – but although I love the occasional treat, I am no longer consumed by sugar. I rarely have insane cravings, and I can stop after just a couple bites. How did I achieve this you ask?

Well first let’s define what I mean when I say sugar. I’m talking about any refined sugar product, but mainly sucrose, which is table sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Natural sugars count too like honey and maple syrup, fruit juices and agave – just because it’s “natural” doesn’t mean it’s good for you! However, I would also add any blood-sugar-spiking starchy carbs like wheat flour, potato chips, and other processed foods. Starches are long-chain sugars that break down into simple sugars during digestion, affecting blood sugar in a way similar to simple sugars.

Yes, just plain sugar and HFCS are the worst enemies. With the average American consuming 32 teaspoons of sugar a day this is the main culprit to our health problems.  Excess sugar plays a role in a wide variety of different health problems including: depression, hyperactivity, anxiety or panic attacks, type 2 diabetes, hypoglycemia, obesity, candida overgrowth, high cholesterol, anti-social behavior such as that found in crime and delinquency, insomnia, decreased immune function, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, alcoholism, acne, PMS, OCD, fibromyalgia, cancer, bingeing, chronic fatigue, addiction – just to name a few.

But sugar is not the only problem. A diet free of classic table sugar and HFCS can still have major problems if it’s full of loads of carbohydrates. So yes, your breakfast cereal counts as a “sugar”… even if it’s Kashi Go Lean or Cheerios. Check out my girl Diane’s blog comparing Kashi cereal to the egg.  Eating cereal for breakfast starts you on an all-day blood sugar cycle that is hard to break.Whatever you put in the cereal is not helping either. Dairy spikes insulin and soy/rice/almond/hemp milk all contain sugar(unless you buy the unsweetened kind that taste like watered-down chalk). Top that meal off with a glass of OJ, and we have a recipe for metabolic disaster.

We live in a world where grains are rampant in every meal.  Whole grain or not they are all high in carbohydrate and, in the case of gluten, just as addictive as sugar, so I’m putting them in the same category when I talk about sugar addiction. Think of it more like sugar/starch/carbs/sweets addiction. Also, if you are “sugar-free” but still addicted to the sugar substitutes that is not sugar freedom in my opinion. To be a truly recovered sugar addict you have to be off the chemical stuff too like sucralose and overuse of natural sweeteners like stevia. That stuff is not healthy either. You have to break the sweet tooth entirely.

Okay, so now that you know more about how sugar is defined you can understand the severity of my history. I was raised vegetarian and for 20 some years lived off a diet full of grains, beans, cheese, veggies, and fruit.  I lived off sugars, in their many forms and it was a vicious cycle. With my blood sugar spiking at every meal, I was always hungry and never satisfied. Once I was in college, I started eating meat and noticed some improvement in my sugar cravings, but with all the college drinking I can’t say it helped that much. I ate cereal every morning and was starving by 11 am. Later in my twenties upon moving to California I returned to my roots and went raw food vegan thinking that would help, but it only made things worse, and my immune system became very weak. It wasn’t until I found the Paleo diet and got off the grains that my sugar cravings disappeared. It took a few months; it wasn’t overnight.  I slowly made permanent changes. But the effects were very noticeable. I was competing in Muay Thai by then and was amazed that it was so much easier to stay away from sugary foods and processed carbs. I had improved performance, better muscle mass and it was much easier to cut weight and feel in control of my cravings.  I even wanted to binge on bad food less after fights. I’d restructured my metabolism through eating primarily meats, fish, eggs, veggies and some fruit and nuts. I became more adapted to burn fat as fuel, and I wasn’t on the sugar merry-go-round anymore.  Today I feel great, and my weight stays right on point with little effort. Some people think I’m nuts when I tell them I never eat bread, pasta, cake, waffles, doughnuts, etc. But it’s true! I’m not hungry in between meals and don’t get low blood sugar signs like fatigue, dizziness, etc. My body fat is low, and my energy is good for a small business owner who works her butt off. I wish I had known at 16 what I know now, so I try to share this journey of mine with my clients…

When clients complain of sugar addiction to me, the first thing I tell them to do is get off gluten – anything with wheat flour.  I also strongly suggest they don’t use processed gluten free bread and pastries to substitute, but instead look to adding more veggies to their diet.  I also help them realize the benefit of good fats like grass-fed meats, pastured eggs, coconut oil, and fish. Often people with sugar cravings are eating too many carbohydrates and not enough fats, particularly saturated fats (no they don’t give you heart disease) in their diet. I also get them to go of any liquid sweets, even sports drinks, and sweetened coffee or tea. I will sometimes use stevia in this transition until they can get off the sweet stuff completely.

Lifestyle factors like sleep, negative self-talk and exercise must also be addressed. Sleep is a big one because if you don’t get enough it will make you insulin resistant and sugar cravings will worsen.  I’m a fan of EFT for the mental-emotional component of cravings. Cravings can be linked to emotional trauma and stress. EFT helped me discover how my fear of financial insecurity was linked to my sugar cravings.  There are several factors that go into rehabbing a client’s sugar cravings, but as long as they are committed to change it’s possible to be free from the cravings.

It’s a process, and the key to it is thinking in terms that it’s a lifestyle choice, not a diet.  You are not going back to your old crappy way of eating after two weeks of “detoxing.” You are making a choice to do something different for the rest of your life. Sure you can live a little sometimes, but don’t you want those moments to be pleasurable and not filled with intolerable cravings, guilt, and remorse?

Is it easy? No.  But it’s simple, and it’s worth it!  How would you like to feel freedom from food, have more energy, lose weight and not stress about it all so much?  It’s possible. I am proof of that.

What if you eat a healthy Real Food diet already and still get the occasional sugar craving?

Or what if you are committed to change but to struggle with the transition?

Here are some tricks of the trade to help you beat sugar cravings:

  1. First, ask yourself is it a craving or are you hungry? If you are hungry get a real meal first with protein, fat, and veggies, then ask yourself again if you still have the craving.
  2. Drink a glass of water. Wait 15 minutes.
  3. Eat 1-2 small squares of 85% dark chocolate. Let each one roll around in your mouth as it melts slowly. Savor them letting the chocolate’s natural endorphin creating properties make your brain satisfied. Wait a few minutes; you are probably satisfied.
  4. Mix a serving of L-glutamine powder in water and drink.  I got this one from my mentor Sean Croxton. Not sure exactly why it works, but it’s a safe amino acid, and it does the trick with some of my clients.
  5. Workout!  This applies more to those afternoon cravings, but a workout will take your mind off the sweets, and you can treat yourself to a banana after if you still really need something sweet.
  6. Brush your teeth and go to bed.  Don’t stay up late hung up on your sugar craving. Brush your teeth after dinner and read a book until you fall asleep. You’ll get a solid recovery with the extra sleep and no sugar hangover the next day.
  7. Play the tape through. Think about how you will feel after eating the box of Oreos. Will the pain, guilt, bloating, etc. be worth it?
  8. Don’t buy junk for the house – don’t use the excuse it’s for your kids either.  Why are your kids eating junk? Don’t you want them to be healthy too?!
  9. If someone peer pressures you to eat junk in public or at home just tell them, “I don’t eat (insert junk item here) because they make me feel bad.” They can’t argue with that statement, and you aren’t attacking their choices, so it’s a safe answer, and it ends the argument there.
  10. Suck it up. Willpower is a muscle you have to use it to build it. So let the craving subside overtime and flex your willpower with pride!