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  • Writer's pictureJackie

Why You Might Be Craving Sugar

Sugar cravings are real. We all have them occasionally. We all cave in to them sometimes. If you experience them to a maddening degree, however, you may want to explore why. Frequently indulging them can lead to some very serious health effects.

Why concern ourselves with high sugar intake? According to the CDC, 31 million Americans currently cope with diabetes. That’s one in 10 (90-95% of whom have type 2). In excess, the stuff causes all kinds of health damage, including not only diabetes but heart disease and chronic inflammation. A splurge here and there or a dessert that keeps us within the recommended daily threshold for sugar won’t do lots of harm, literally & figuratively making life a bit sweeter, but when cravings & indulgences ramp up, we should pause to think about why. Here are some of the main reasons why we experience those maddening and potentially damaging sugar cravings.

Restrictive Dieting

Maybe you’ve heard of this experiment on how our brains work: If I say, “Don’t think about a white bear,” what are you suddenly unable to stop seeing in your mind’s eye? Of course, it’s a white bear. Now, substitute thoughts of cookies, and what happens? Non-stop daydreams of dancing Oreos? Seriously, though, we DO automatically hyper-focus on things when we’re told NOT to. What’s a top rule of dieting? Do not eat sugar! When we know we “cannot” have a beloved treat, then huge cravings can ensue. For those of us who know we’re prone to experience these, we might actually keep them in check by designing a meal plan that incorporates a small daily delicacy. To be sure this move does not undermine healthy goals, actually calculate daily sugar intake and stay within current recommendations.

Extreme Fasting

Like extremely low calorie diets, fasting taken too far will quite basically lead to very, very intense hunger. When ravenous, what do you reach for? A salad or a Snickers? (There’s a reason those TV commercials are so relatable.) If it feels deprived or believes itself to be at risk of starvation, the body will drive us to consume the fastest form of energy to be found: yes, if available, sugar. Making sure the body receives adequate calories throughout the day (NOT necessarily at night when we need to allow it to shift into digestion & repair mode) can stave off that intense need to eat sweets.


Using the “white bear” example but subbing back in the cookie, if we’re thinking “Oreos, Oreos” but have none at hand, we can’t eat them. If we’re trying to reach health goals, we probably won’t go out to get them either. (If this does happen, be nice to your beautiful self, simply try to understand why, enjoy a little snack, and start healthy pursuits again immediately.) A great deal of sugary snacking happens because the items “are just there.” Consider purchasing a single portion with an exact plan for consumption. Maybe even only eat your portion when you’re out of the house. Field trip to DQ, anyone?


If you exercise on most days of the week, maybe you explain to people that it’s “just what you do.” In other words, it’s become a habit, and chances are you can barely imagine a week with no exercise at all. Habits drive behavior in a huge way. They have momentum, whether they involve workouts or sugary snacks. According to the NIH, pleasure based habits are especially hard to break (as we’ve all noticed) because they trigger the reward centers of the brain and a release of dopamine. While tricky, these habits can be thwarted. Instead of employing a single strategy (like sheer willpower), the NIH suggests compiling an array of approaches to break a habit. For example, when the force of habit hits, you might call on a supportive friend. The next time, perhaps you’d visualize your goal. Maybe you’d get up and take a walk. Over time, this layering helps to reinforce a shift in habits.


Many of us realize that we crave sugar when we’re stressed, but did you know that hormonal changes during stressful situations can actually drive up blood sugar? (USCF Diabetes Teaching Center) In fact, according to the UCSF, “During times of stress, individuals with diabetes, may have more difficulty controlling their blood sugars.“ This is all the more reason to tamp down sugar intake during stressful periods. One study suggested that sugar intake during stress somehow changes cortisol levels and brain activity, though more research is needed. While we may crave sugar to relieve stress, it’s a double edged sword.

Sleep Deprivation

Not only does eating sugar cause poor sleep quality, including lots of nighttime waking, lack of sleep causes us to eat more sugar. (What a vicious cycle this can be!) cites lots of research on this, explaining, “Sleep deprivation alters the brain's reward system, making people more likely to indulge in foods that are high in sugar and fat. People who don't receive sufficient amounts of sleep are also more likely to consume more calories overall, eat the bulk of their food later in the day, and favor snacks over proper meals.” For many people, simply realigning sleep patterns will lead to eating less sugar, not to mention overall better health.

In our culture, sugar cravings are extremely common and incredibly easy to feed, but if we perpetually try to quell them, we really do imperil our health. Life can be just as sweet without as much of the sweet stuff—figuratively, even sweeter.

Photo by Pegah from Pexels


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