How to Win the War Against Sugar Cravings
Sugar is a powerful enemy. Not only does it come in many different (and oftentimes, sneaky) forms, it's also incredibly addictive. So addictive, in fact, that studies show sugar–and artificial alternatives–craves sugar; each bite you eat fuels a perpetual unhealthy cycle.
One study at Connecticut College even found that Oreo cookies are more addictive than cocaine and heroine. That explains a lot, like why that whole sleeve of cookies disappears in one sitting. So it's no surprise that a nasty craving will strike each of us every now and again, and it's important to be prepared to fight it.
We sat down with Carolyn Brown, MS RD of Foodtrainers on Manhattan's Upper West Side to get the ins and outs of sugar, how to banish those cravings and strategies for fighting off that late-night chocolate binge.
Problem: You can't watch your favorite TV without some ice cream.
Well, you can actually fight sugar with sugar. It sounds too good to be true, we know, but think of naturally sweetened treats as your secret weapon. Some days you might not need to pull them out, but they're good to always have on-hand. No matter how healthfully you eat, there will be a moment of weakness when a sugar craving strikes. Ignoring it completely by white-knuckling it through only leads to a binge later on. Brown suggests fruit in your time of need: "Frozen grapes and banana soft serve do the job when you want a sweet treat after dinner."
Problem: Your 100-calorie snack pack leads to another.
If your body is demanding the artificial stuff, that's okay; after all, it was made to hook you. Just be sure to limit yourself when you do give in. "While ingredients are generally more important than calories, a good rule is to allow yourself 100 calories maximum of sweet stuff after dinner," Brown says. That will let you nibble on approximately 1 ounce of dark chocolate without blowing your whole diet. Try Sweetriot's cacao nibs for pre-portioned bites. When it comes to sweet treats, they're one of the best snack foods out there.
Problem: It's 10 p.m. and you want to give in to that late-night craving.
Instead, fix yourself a cup of tea.
"Teas are fantastic," Browns says. Mint, ginger, cinnamon, and chai teas will all help you fend off those longings by hitting that "sweet spot" without sugar overload, and with so many varieties, it's hard to get bored of tea. If you need to sweeten it up, add just a teaspoon of honey, which is healthier for you (and your blood sugar) than straight sugar or sweeteners.
Problem: You just ate a full meal, but dessert sounds so tempting.
Trust your spice cabinet. It sounds strange, sure, but it works. Foodtrainers recommends their clients chew fennel seeds after meals to help stave off yearning for sugary treats, because they're naturally sweet without any sugars, so they will help quell your cravings. And, as an added bonus, fennel seeds are known to combat bloating and act as an appetite suppressant, giving you a double dose of belly-trimming benefits.
Problem: You can't stop reaching for that office candy.
Keep your hands busy! Sugar cravings are like any other at a basic level: Distract yourself long enough and they pass. An activity food, Brown explains, can be a powerful tool against moments of sugar weakness. By, for example, peeling a clementine, your mind (and your hands) are distracted, leaving you far more equipped to avoid diving into that pint of ice cream than you were five minutes ago. Brushing your teeth can also work to put a cap on the night's dining, reminding your body that the kitchen is closed.
Problem: You're thinking about sugar all day long.
First, take a good look at your morning coffee.
"Having sugar in your coffee first thing in the morning sets you up for all day long sugar cravings," explains Brown. Just as many studies have suggested, sugar loves company ("The more sweet you eat, the more sweet you crave," she says), so one way to minimize those cravings is to simply wean yourself off of it, starting with eliminating sugar in your morning coffee. And yes, that includes artificial sweeteners, because they trick your body into craving more of that sweet taste, too! Take advantage of those sweet spices by mixing some into your coffee grounds before brewing; you'll get a touch of sweetness with no added calories.
Another way to lower your sugar intake (and thus your craving of sugar) is by going cold turkey—but only temporarily.
"We recommend what we call 'savory days,' where you don't eat anything with sugar for a full day," a policy that includes artificially added and naturally-occurring sugars Brown suggests. And while the zero-sugar policy only lasts for a day or two, doing two days in a row can majorly empower you to fight that sweet tooth and make your taste for sugar far more sensitive.