Combating Sugar Cravings: 5 Easy Tips

dried plums and apricots

Kudos to anyone that can correctly identify these objects.

Beating sugar cravings is not easy. It requires a level of self-discipline. I promise you though, once you’ve beat a few sugar cravings, it gets much, much easier to beat the rest until you no longer pine for sugar. Use these tips to help you get over a bad sugar craving.

1. Do something else. You’re home from work, you’ve had a stressful day, and you’ve got chocolate chip cookies in the pantry. Fourteen of those would taste wonderful right now. But the last thing you should do is go sit on the couch and glance over at the pantry every ten minutes. Get up and do something–go sweep your sidewalk, throw in that load of laundry that’s been sitting on your bedroom floor, play with the frisbee with the dog (or go for a walk), weed your flower bed, tidy up the house, chop fresh vegetables for the week, help prepare dinner for the night, etc. Literally do something that will make you forget those cookies are in there and that you’ve had a stressful day.

2. Mislead your brain. You’re doing something else sure, but you still can’t take your mind off of those cookies. You’ve got to get your sweet fix. At least choose something that has redeeming nutrition, but will turn off the “need sugar” alert in your brain. Some examples include: dried fruit, frozen smoothie pops, a piece of fresh or frozen fruit, a small bowl of plain oatmeal/hot cereal with cinnamon, or carmelized pineapple with cinnamon (so delicious). Cinnamon has a pseudo-sweet taste and actually helps maintain healthy blood sugar. Be careful how much dried fruit you eat–no more than a small handful will be plenty to shut off a sweet craving. I keep prunes, apricots, craisins, and raisins on hand and they work marvelously. Plain hot cereal with cinnamon provides the carbohydrates your body is craving, but instead of it being delivered in a single shot (like a shot of alcohol or espresso), it’s in slow-release form (like a beer or cup of coffee). The term “redeeming nutrition” means the food has some kind of nutritive benefit, be it fiber, vitamins, or minerals, that makes the sugar contained in it worthwhile to eat.

3. Mindful eating. You’ve got three prunes in your hand and you’re looking at them like “what has my life been reduced to that I’m eating prunes instead of cookies.” I bet you think three prunes can’t stifle your massive sugar craving. Nibble at the prunes, take very small bites and mash the small bites around your mouth with your tongue. They taste a bit like a fruit-chew. You want your tongue to pick up the sugar that is in the dried fruit, as it will relay the message to your brain: “Sugar acquired, cease the alarm.” This works for any kind of craving–salt, sugar, fat, carb–the longer the food sits in your mouth, the longer your tongue enjoys that food, the quicker your brain will shut off the alarm, meaning your won’t eat as much of the food (portion control), and the ol’ bait and switch described above will effectively work for any kind of sugar craving.

4. Herbal backup. My herb of choice is gymnema sylvestre. This herb is known to reduce the ability of your tongue to taste sweetness–this is important for people who have no self control: if gymnema is taken before indulging on one’s favorite sugary food, the food will not taste as delicious as expected. Even if you do manage to shovel down a dozen Oreos after taking gymnema, the herb has a beneficial effect on blood sugar control. No it will not completely counteract the negative effects of a blood sugar spike from binging on sugar, but taken regularly, with active efforts to maintain a healthy diet, it can help manage blood sugar. Effective doses start at 400mg of gymnemic acids daily.

Cinnamon, the common spice, is also effective at helping control blood sugar within a normal range. It does not have an effect on the way you taste sugar, but itself can taste a bit sweet. Like gymnema, this will not completely counteract a blood sugar spike from downing a box of Girl Scout cookies, but when consumed as part of an otherwise healthy diet with some sugar snuck in, it can help keep blood sugar in a healthy range.

5. Cheat day. If you’re a star all week long and watch your diet like a champ, you deserve a cheat day. No more than one day per week you can indulge on absolutely any food you want, all day long. When I practice this, I literally eat as much as I can of one thing–do this to elicit an “ugh I’m sick of this food” response, and then you will have a refractory period where you can’t even stand to see that food again for a period of time (a pitfall of mine: pasta alfredo. If I eat too much, I feel sick and then don’t want it again for another few months).

The cheat day is not for everyone. If you are inactive (less than 3 days per week of some kind of structured exercise and/or have a sedentary job), have diabetes or another nutrition-related disease, sub-par liver/gall bladder/kidney/stomach/intestine function, hypoglycemia, some autoimmune diseases, or an eating disorder, this kind of free-for-all eating in an attempt to overload your system is not the best course of action. This technique is effective for people who are active regularly, have an excellent diet to begin with, and are otherwise healthy.

Combating sugar cravings is tough. This is not an all inclusive list, and in fact, there are long-term nutritional practices than can further eliminate sugar cravings (we’ll get to those another day). Do you have tips of your own? Please share with us!

Whaddya think?