The Urge: Managing Sugar Cravings 101

The Urge: Managing Sugar Cravings 101

We all know the feelings and thoughts associated with cravings.  There is the usual mental chatter that is involved with whatever we are craving at the moment whether it’s sugar, fat, or salt.  What’s behind that chatter, how can you prevent it, and what are some friendly ways of managing cravings?  

Here are my top three tips:

Practice Mindfulness:

Satisfying a craving is powerful in that it causes a domino effect that involves the release of the “feel good” neurotransmitters such as serotonin in our brain, and we get instant gratification— kind of like a drug.  Next time you have the urge to reach for a cookie, chips, soda or whatever it is you are itching to eat, check in with yourself and notice what that craving is trying to satisfy.  Are you upset? Bored? Irritated? Frustrated?  Fearful? 

Try the following:

  • Take time to write down or note what the craving means to you.  
  • Have your meals away from your phone or computer, and engage your taste buds and other senses during a meal.  Reading during a meal prevents you from being fully present.
  • Practice proper breathing.  Most people breath from their chest causing the body and mind to feel stressed out.  When you allow yourself to take deep abdominal breaths, you not only improve blood flow to the digestive tract, but you also send a signal to your brain to relax, rest, and digest. 

Eat a Balanced Meal:

Part of my job involves analyzing people’s diets and meal plans, and making the appropriate modifications based on how they want to feel.  Here are some ways you can get the most out of your meals and keep your blood sugar at bay:

  • Combine carbohydrates with protein and/or fat: even if you’re following a strict low carb diet, when you consume carbs such as berries or veggies, throw in some protein from a meat or vegetarian source, and healthy fat such as nuts or avocados.
  • Eat smaller meals, but more frequently:  even if you are the type who does better with just three meals a day, having one or two snacks during the day in between meals will help you prevent the mid-morning/afternoon sugar crash.
  • Hydration:  staying hydrated is just as important as having a proper meal.  Most people are dehydrated.  Calculate the minimal water intake you should have: 1/2 of your body weight in ounces, then add an additional cup for every hour of exercise, caffeinated beverage, and for every alcoholic drink.

Manage Lifestyle:

Our lives are on the go most of the time.  This effects the quality of our sleep, energy, relationships, and quality of our food.  Check in with the following top factors that can impact your sugar cravings and more:

  • Sleep: do you feel refreshed upon waking and during the day?  Feeling tired can make you more prone to giving in to sugar cravings, especially in the afternoon.  Getting quality sleep is essential to curbing cravings and feeling good.
  • Nutrition: even with a balanced diet, our bodies only absorb a certain percentage of nutrients.  Depending on your age and lifestyle, you may need additional support from supplements.  Be sure to consult with your doctor, who can better help you identify the best supplements to suit your lifestyle.
  • Stress:  stress serves as the foundation for absence of health.  Practicing mindfulness techniques as mentioned earlier can help you manage stress, decrease the stress hormone cortisol, and help you find sweetness in the moment without additional sugar. 

Incorporate these simple techniques into your daily life to help manage cravings and live a more balanced life.  Remember that this is a daily practice, and sometimes you’ll deviate from your routine.  Get back on track, and allow yourself to discover what works!

Dr. Elena Zinkov, ND, is a co-founder of Proactive Health: a Naturopathic Clinic.  She specializes in nutrition & digestive care, sustainable weight loss, and pain management using innovative techniques and therapies.  Visit proactivehealthnd.com for more information and to start optimizing your health.