For a long time, sugar was my enemy.
I felt I couldn’t control myself when sweets were around. I berated myself almost daily for eating candy when I “knew better” being a dietitian.
If this sounds like you, then keep reading!
In this article, I share my story with sugar, what may be causing your sugar cravings, and how intuitive eating has helped me (and countless others!) heal my relationship with sugar.
My Sugar Cravings Story
From a very young age, I was taught that sugar was “bad.”
That knowledge alone didn’t do anything to stop my cravings though. As a kid, I loved sugar and would do anything to have it – including sneaking it from wherever my parents hid it.
As I got older, I started caring more about what others thought of my eating, especially my friends and peers. I often would wait until I was alone or with trusted friends to eat candy or other sweets so others wouldn’t think I was unhealthy or “addicted” to food.
During the process of becoming a dietitian, I tried even harder to kick my sugar habits.
I tried keeping it out of the house (which only left me searching the cupboards all evening for anything even close to sweet).
I tried limiting my portion by tracking calories and grams of sugar in an app. That failed since I always went back for more, totally blowing my calorie budget.
I switched to artificial sweeteners which didn’t taste nearly as satisfying and sometimes upset my stomach. And I tried picking “healthier” options, such as fruit, but ultimately, I still ended up eating the treats I was really craving.
I struggled for many years looking for the magic solution to kick my sugar cravings. My eating felt out of control.
I called myself a hypocrite as I told my patients they had to give up sugar, but I couldn’t keep my own sugar intake in check. Guilt and feelings of hopelessness consumed me until I latched onto intuitive eating.
How Intuitive Eating Helped Lessen My Cravings
Intuitive eating says that there are no foods that are off-limits. Food is neither good nor bad.
That meant I was allowed to have sugar!
My response to this idea was relief and fear. How could eating as much sugar as I wanted be healthy for me?
After digging into the research on intuitive eating, I came to this profound discovery:
Restriction of any kind worsens cravings and bingeing.
I ran with this idea and tested it thoroughly! I gave myself permission to eat all the foods that were forbidden and said to hell with the guilt.
I was in the honeymoon phase of intuitive eating. And to my surprise, when I had enough, no, an abundance, I became satisfied.
The sugar cravings I never thought would stop tormenting me were FADING!
When I accepted that food held no moral value and didn’t define who I am as a person, its power over me dissipated. The result is fewer sugar cravings and a relationship with sugar that feels less scary.
Now when I get a craving, smaller amounts satisfy me.
Candy or other sweets can be in the house for days or weeks and don’t call to me anymore.
I don’t feel the need to consume the whole thing because I know I can eat more later if I choose to.
I am picky about what sweets I actually want to consume (whereas in the past, any sugary treat would do). I let myself fully enjoy sweets without guilt.
What causes sugar cravings?
I first want to say that although it might feel like it, you are not addicted to sugar.
Research on sugar addiction and food addiction continues to be skeptical in humans. Typically the only way researchers can induce increased sugar intake in rats is by starving them.
Which leads me to cause number 1:
You’re not eating enough
Your body is designed to keep you alive at all costs. When you don’t eat enough (or are cutting out food groups), the body’s first response is to increase your drive to eat.
Your body may specifically be asking for sugar or carbohydrates as they are an easy and quick source of energy for the body – hence cravings for sugar.
You are restricting sugar
Whether you are purposefully keeping it out of reach, or mentally guilting yourself every time you eat it, restricting sugar can lead to craving it!
Think of a toddler who always wants their parent’s cell phone.
The toddler gets the cell phone, the parent takes it away, and the toddler cries and is upset.
Anytime that cell phone is within reach, the toddler goes for it!
On the other hand, the toddler doesn’t care about their own toys because they are always available.
When you restrict sugar, it becomes the coveted cell phone.
You are using food to cope with emotions
Using food to cope with emotions isn’t inherently a bad thing (which is not what diet culture wants you to believe).
Just think – your brain was smart enough to latch onto a fairly harmless coping skill when it needed relief.
You deserve to escape from negative feelings. If food is that pathway for you, that may be why you automatically turn to sweets when you feel upset or stressed.
Using Intuitive Eating to Lessen Sugar Cravings
- Eat enough food. Do not skip this step! Cravings can stem from hunger. Try increasing your food intake.
- Give yourself permission to have sugar whenever you want it without the guilt trip. Seriously, any amount you consume is okay!
- Incorporate sweets/desserts into your day. Have some with your meals throughout the day.
- Keep sugary snacks with you all the time. I keep some with me at work, in the car, in my purse, and in the house. When you have an abundance available to eat at any time, the excitement starts to wear off.
- Practice eating mindfully. Be present in the moment with your food and let yourself enjoy it.
- If your cravings are strongest when you are upset or stressed, keep a feelings journal to start getting in touch with your emotions. Still allow yourself to eat in order to cope — remember you have full permission no matter why you chose to eat!
- Consider working with an intuitive eating nutritionist to help guide you through this sometimes overwhelming process.
Dealing with sugar cravings can be manageable. I’m not saying you will never have a craving again.
What I am saying is that through intuitive eating, your cravings can be lessened and the way that you think about them and manage them can change.
You can do the hard work to heal your relationship with food and sugar!
For more information about sugar cravings and intuitive eating, check out my book The Anti-Diet Workbook.
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