If you don't already congratulate yourself for resisting the urge to grab a handful of candy at the office or a cookie (or two) after dinner, you should really start. Sugar cravings can be hard to ignore and even harder to conquer.
But why? Why are we able to climb both literal and figurative mountains, but saying "no" to our sweet tooth seems impossible? And how do we finally stop sugar cravings from overriding our healthy choices?
For our Ask the RDs series, we asked readers to send us their biggest nutrition questions and then posed the 12 most common to a panel of registered dietitians. Here's what they had to say about curbing cravings once and for all.
What's the Best Way to Stop Sugar Cravings?
"Sugar cravings are natural, and they can be linked to everything from increased activity — your body just wants more energy — to hormones. I think the idea for people should be not to try to eliminate sugar cravings entirely, but to reduce their cravings by eating balanced, satisfying meals.
I believe our taste buds rule the day. I don't think it makes sense to get rid of sweets completely because then you just want them more. You have to eat them in a reasonable way.
If you start cutting back on added sugars in your coffee or oatmeal, or just in recipes in general, you can cut down your sugar by a third to a half. If you re-train your taste buds and bring your sugar threshold down, then things that are naturally sweet, like fruit, are going to start to taste sweeter to you. Then, maybe a bowl of berries with a little whipped cream will be a satisfying enough dessert."
"When you take in sugar, your blood sugar spikes and insulin rises, which then brings the blood sugar down again. You can kind of get into this loop where you're on a sugar roller coaster.
If you can minimize the sugar you're eating or if you can eat carbohydrates along with protein and fat, you're going to cut down on this roller coaster of blood sugar spikes. It's about keeping the portions of sugar or carbohydrates to a reasonable amount.
"Sugar makes you to want to keep eating more and more because it tastes good, it feels good and the brain gets sort of a high off of it."
Or, if you're someone who finds you do better on a low-carb diet, then that's a great way to reduce your sugar cravings. At first, you might have some really rough cravings. But a few days in, your body gets used to it and you're off that roller coaster.
Sugar makes you to want to keep eating more and more because it tastes good, it feels good and the brain gets sort of a high off of it. But at the end of the day, that's where portion control is always going to come in handy. If you want to have something sweet every night, that's totally fine, but have it in a portion-controlled manner."
"One way to limit cravings is to really sit down, close your eyes and visualize what it would be like to have the thing you're thinking of having. Really picture eating it, chewing it. Sometimes when you have this visualization, you may find that's not really what you want at all.
I think there's a lot that goes into fulfilling sugar cravings, and I know that for many of us, we're eating because of emotional reasons. Some people restrict themselves so much from eating the foods that they really love that when they finally decide, 'the heck with it, I'm having it anyway,' they wind up feeling like they can't stop themselves.
The better way to handle cravings is to allow yourself to include foods in your diet that you love so you don't deprive yourself and end up going overboard."
"I think allowing yourself a little bit of sugar every day can help get rid of cravings. I think we deprive ourselves and of course we want it.
So, before you go to bed, allow yourself a 100- to 150-calorie Greek yogurt bar or a little dark chocolate or some type of sweet that's going to give you that kicker at the end of the day. Allow it."
The best way to reduce sugar cravings is to start cutting back gradually on added sugars in things like coffee or morning oats. Being too restrictive about sugar can actually make your cravings worse and lead to impulsive overindulging. Instead of cutting sugar altogether, allow yourself a little bit each day in moderation. (Portion-controlled desserts around 100 to 150 calories are great for this.) Pair treats with protein and fat to help keep your blood sugar levels stable.
Confused about nutrition? Get answers to more common questions in our Ask the RDs series.