8 Steps to kick your sugar cravings to the curb
by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
I know craving sugar can be a powerful urge. I talk to many women who are fully
aware they’re hooked and others who don’t think they eat a lot of sweets at all
— until they start keeping track. The truth is that once we include sugar in our
daily routine, it becomes more and more difficult to stop. And sugar contributes
to serious short and long-term health problems, like excess weight gain, hormonal
imbalance, skin and dental issues, as well as osteoporosis, diabetes, and even some
forms of cancer.
Craving — and eating — sugar is not simply about willpower or emotions. We now understand
that there may be several underlying physiologic causes feeding what feels like
a desperate desire for sugar. For one thing, it can affect our brains in the same
ways drugs and alcohol can, making it addictive.
There are many other physical causes for sugar cravings, too, like hormonal fluctuations,
which can disrupt one of our major hormones insulin and subsequently other
hormones like estrogen and progesterone; intestinal yeast, which thrives on sugar;
and stress, which provokes cortisol and the urge to refuel after a disturbing
event. Let’s take a closer look at sugar’s health effects and what you can do to
stop cravings, lose weight, and transform your health!
Sugar, your hormones, and your weight
Can’t lose weight — no matter what you do?
There’s often more to weight gain than too much sugar. Many women we work with have
something called weight loss resistance, when the body blocks weight loss
because of a metabolic imbalance.
Weight loss resistance can happen due to hormonal imbalances, stress imbalances,
neurotransmitter imbalances, digestive problems and more.
See if you might be struggling from weight loss resistance by taking our
Having a treat on special occasions is one thing, but when we get stuck in the habit
of grabbing a cookie or a latte for that 3 o’clock slump or even just adding sugar
to our daily coffee, the physiologic changes in the body are profound. As the image
above depicts, a sugar rush can activate feel-good chemicals and reward centers
in the brain (including neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and beta endorphin);
blood sugar spikes, providing instant energy; and eventual insulin surges that can
deplete the body of energy and contribute to insulin resistance.
The results of this roller coaster are:
- weight gain
- mental fogginess
- hormonal imbalance
- and more!
The problems I hear about most on this list are weight gain and hormonal imbalance.
Here’s what happens:
Extra sugar and carbohydrates that aren’t being used by the body are generally stored
in the liver as glycogen. If the liver is full, your body will make fat from the
extra sugar and store it in existing fat deposits around your body, which is why
there is such a direct link between sugar and weight gain.
Sugar can also directly affect you hormonally by turning off a gene that controls
your sex hormones. Without this sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) gene, levels
of testosterone and estrogen can become unregulated, leading to symptoms like fatigue,
anxiety, irritability, and more.
So here’s what you can do to stop your sugar cravings and all the corresponding
Step 1: Balance your hormones.
Just before menstruation, when estrogen is low and progesterone is on its way down,
beta-endorphin levels in your brain are at their lowest. These cyclical hormonal
and neurotransmitter fluctuations may explain why many women who experience PMS
and perimenopause also have sugar cravings and the accompanying serotonin–endorphin
bursts that high-sugar foods can provide. An herbal formulation like our
Herbal Equilibrium or PMSolution
can help naturally balance your hormones in flux, cutting cravings and other disturbing
5 Days without sugar? No way!
“Luckily, I had just finished a double scoop of chocolate gelato moments before
being roped into this research.”
Read more about Anne’s five days without sugar.
Step 2: Add nutrients.
Specific micronutrients like zinc, vitamin C and the B vitamins are particularly
helpful in calming sugar cravings by influencing serotonin production. Equally important
are omega-3’s, which are crucial for regulating mood and inflammation — factors
that are both associated with cravings. Try quality supplements like the ones we
offer in our Personal Program to cover all the bases.
Step 3: Mix protein (or fiber)
with pleasure. Combining treats with a stick of cheese, a few nuts, a
glass of milk, or some vegetables will help balance the sugar and insulin surge
and allow a gentler increase in blood sugar and insulin. Protein shakes make great
snacks, too. We offer WheySational, a
whey protein shake, as a part of our Personal Program for Weight Loss Resistance.
You can also try desserts that include protein, like custards or meringues or even
a bowl of berries and cream. Try natural sweeteners like stevia or xylitol instead
of sugar. With a less “spiky” sugar surge to the brain, you’re also less likely
to experience a crash.
Step 4: Investigate intestinal
yeast. Yeast thrives on sugar. If your intestinal (and vaginal) bacteria
are out of balance, they are more likely to welcome yeasts like Candida. An overgrowth
of yeast in the intestine (or system-wide) can lead to extremely intense cravings
for sugar, fatigue, fuzzy thinking, and digestive issues. Going on a yeast-free diet is the first step to eliminating these sugar-hungry
cells because they can’t live without sugar and refined carbohydrates. Take away
their food and they go away.
Step 5: Avoid acid-forming
foods. Red meat is high in a pro-inflammatory molecule called arachidonic
acid. Eating a lot of meat and refined carbohydrates tends to increase inflammation
and acidity, causing the body to crave sweet foods in an attempt to maintain balance.
Choosing anti-inflammatory foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, as well as those that
are alkalizing and antioxidant-rich, such as fruits and vegetables, can offset the
damage and the cravings associated with this dynamic.
Step 6: Explore food sensitivities.
Food sensitivities are more and more common these days and they can lead to extra
sugar intake by leaving us foggy-headed and fatigued. These symptoms logically drive
many of us to a sugar pick-me-up to feel better or complete our daily tasks. The
most common food allergies are to gluten and dairy, but others to explore are corn,
eggs, soy, peanuts, and citrus. I’ve seen women remove a food they are sensitive
to and find their sugar cravings go away. Keep in mind that eliminating certain
foods can lead to certain symptoms for a period of time while your body adjusts
to life without that food.
Step 7: Lower your stress.
Any stressful situation can lead to less than optimal eating habits, but stress
itself increases cortisol levels, which eventually increases hunger hormones. This
can push many women with stressful jobs and lifestyles into a pattern of nighttime
cravings, over-eating, and unwanted weight gain. Over time, these women reach adrenal
imbalance and extreme exhaustion. And they find the only way to get through the
day is to drink lots of caffeine and consume sugar for quick energy bursts.
One carb lover’s break from carbs
“Why is it that the minute I decide to give something up, I want it more than ever?”
Read more about
Joanie’s low-carb experiment.
Step 8: Refrain from sugar
for 3-5 days in a row. I know how hard it can be to do, but avoiding
sugar for just three days can make a huge difference for some women. Trust me on
this one! I’ve seen it do wonders for many, many patients and friends. For others,
it may take longer for their cravings to diminish. But eliminating the cyclical
crash-and-burn bursts of serotonin and beta-endorphin from sugar and refined carbohydrates
can help your body normalize its receptors and neurotransmitters. This way, your
brain isn’t constantly sending the message that it needs more sugar. Instead of
running to your chocolate stash after dinner, you’ll be amazed at the calm satisfaction
Bonus step: Have fun!
Many things in life can affect our serotonin and beta-endorphin levels — exercise,
balanced nutrition, rewarding work, a positive relationship, even a sunny day. The
joy we find in our lives speaks to our biochemistry. So when we are lacking positive
energy and happiness, it’s not surprising that we seek to fill that void with sugar.
One of my favorite prescriptions for patients reads: Go have some fun!
Remember that we are not striving for perfection, but progress. A little change
every day leads to some amazing transformations in your body. Letting sugar go can
be sad and stressful — we’ve been there — but we’re here to help you get there.
Related to this article:
References & further reading on sugar craving
Last Modified Date: 10/24/2012
Principal Authors: Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP