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Craving Sugar? This Could Be Why

3 MIN READ • 22nd June 2021
Daniella Gray by Daniella Gray

Everyone loves a chocolate bar or biscuit now and again, but if you find yourself reaching for the sugary foods on a regular basis, it can often be a telling sign of certain behaviours and bodily needs that may need addressing.

According to Dr Rachel Evans, a psychologist in eating disorder recovery, craving sugar is completely normal and often, it’s just your body and mind trying to send you a message.

“When people are craving something sugary, they’ll often try and have something healthy instead of succumbing to their desire for sweet food, or if they do give in to their cravings, then they will often feel guilty like they are ‘out of control’ or over indulging around food.

“I like to teach my clients that a craving is essentially just your body and mind giving you information.

“This mindset shift, helps my clients to then feel less guilty about experiencing a craving, as they are able to look at what’s happening and make changes, rather than diving straight into a tub of ice cream.”

Here are five reasons you’re craving sugar, and what to do about them.

Hunger or low blood sugar

“When we’re hungry, we tend to think about food a lot more because our brain is trying to alert us to the fact that we need to eat. If this feeling comes on suddenly and intensely, then it’s a craving.

“If we’ve gone for a long period of time without food or if we’re following a low-calorie diet and cutting out certain food groups while trying to be ‘healthier’, then our blood sugar can drop and our body produces neuro-peptide Y, which increases our appetite and motivation to eat.

“To prevent cravings, ensure meals are balanced, satisfying and include protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. It’s also a good idea to incorporate a balanced afternoon snack for a pick-me-up.”

Restricting mentality

“Many people struggle with a deprivation mindset and try but fail to be successful in restricting what they eat. As we want what we can’t have, we always tend to crave sugary foods while we are trying to restrict them.

“Often when this happens, many of my clients believe that they just need to avoid sugar, but what actually helps to reduce cravings is eating in moderation and ditching strict diet rules.

“While people may feel like they’re overeating sugar as they move from the restrictive eating habits towards a more balanced diet, this is typically just a phase and after a week or so of eating as much sugar as they want, most of my clients are craving vegetables.”

Habits

“If we automatically crave sugar at a certain time each day, the craving could be habitual. Common timings for sugary cravings include the 4pm slump, after dinner or even first thing in the morning for an energy boost.

“Habits can also include going to the cinema and feeling the need to eat popcorn while watching a film.

“Habits are automatic patterns of thoughts or behaviours that have developed over time in response to triggers, because the thought or behaviour provided a reward, for example the sugar rush from a sweet treat.

“To combat this, it’s important to work out triggers and avoid or remove them. Try and swap the behaviour for one that still ensures a reward, just not sugary foods.”

Emotions

“Emotions can influence our food decisions much more than we think, but after eating we often find that consumption doesn’t resolve feelings which can then resurface later at some point.

“The best way to combat emotional cravings is by taking a second to recognise which feelings are causing us to reach for certain foods.

“This strategy works because emotions are processed in the limbic system (mid-brain), whereas labelling activates our prefrontal cortex (the area involved in cognitive processing); essentially it can help to activate the rational part of our brains which remembers bingeing on sugar isn’t in line with long-term goals to get healthy, and then this will help us think of alternative methods to make us feel better.”

Deep rooted connections to certain foods

“We learn a lot about food and our relationship with it at an impressionable age before we’re even seven years old. Our subconscious then stores these food beliefs for life and drives 95 percent of our thoughts and behaviours towards food.

“Many deep-rooted connections to food come from commonly conceived beliefs such as ‘food is love’ – often people crave sugar when they have the unmet need for love in life, and another belief is ‘food is a reward’ – so we have something sweet when we have been behaving well.

“This can then carry on when we believe we’ve done something well in later life, and we may think ‘I’ve worked really hard on this project’ and reach for the brownies.

“The most effective way to combat this is to recognise patterns from childhood and when exactly they are showing up in life now. Another way to tackle these behaviours is to look into hypnotherapy, to directly access the subconscious mind and find the root of eating issues, then rewire for more helpful thought patterns.”

Snacks can often be branded to give you a boost, but that’s because a lot of them are loaded with hidden sugar.

Here are five ingredients to look out for when choosing your next mini meal.

Meet the writer
Daniella Gray
Editorial assistant

Being able to write about everything that's important to me (exercising for mental wellbeing and delicious food, of course) to help people meet their health goals is pretty special. Before emails, I'm usually in the front-room with a dumbbell and on weekends, there's nothing better than the Kent countryside for a leisurely stroll.

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