5 Specific Steps to Stop Sugar Cravings, According to a Brain Doctor
We're all guilty of it at some point: sneaking an extra cookie from the box or another spoonful of ice cream from the tub after you've told yourself you've had enough. While sugar plays a role in giving your body the energy you need to live, when you eat too much of it, it can lead to some serious side effects—and constant sugar cravings.
"Sugar is associated with fatigue, weight gain, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's and other dementias, inflammation, and general malaise," explains Susan Peirce Thompson, PhD, a brain and cognitive scientist specializing in the psychology of eating, founder of Bright Line Eating, and author of Rezoom: The Powerful Reframe to End the Crash-and-Burn Cycle of Food Addiction. "And the biggest trouble with sugar is that it's as addictive as cocaine—so scratching the itch just makes it itchier," says Dr. Thompson.
If food freedom and true flourishing is your goal for this year, consider letting go of sugar and kicking those cravings to the curb to live a longer, healthier life.
To do so, you can either cut out all added sugar from your diet for good (keep reading for Dr. Thompson's tips) or consider a short detox period.
"If you have a long history of sugar cravings, consider letting go of sugar altogether. It really is true that, for some people, with some substances, none is easier than some. But if you're aiming for a detox period followed by a re-introduction, give yourself eight weeks to recalibrate your system. Your taste buds will adjust after two weeks, and the addiction centers of the brain will follow suit with significant healing after eight weeks," says Dr. Thompson.
Read on for brain doctor Dr. Thompson's science-backed and result-oriented tips that anyone can implement, and for more on how to eat healthy, don't miss The Best Foods to Crush Sugar Cravings and Lose Weight Fast.
QUIT, don't moderate.
Sorry, but you have to go cold turkey if you want to curb sugar cravings for good. "Just like a new non-smoker gets re-addicted with the first puff, when it comes to sugar, none is actually easier than some," says Dr. Thompson.
She recommends creating a "bright line" for sugar: "a 'bright line' is a clear boundary that you just don't cross. If you're firm with your bright line, it won't take long for the cravings to recede," she explains.
Don't worry, you won't have to swear off all things sweet to curb sugar cravings. Dr. Thompson is talking about added sugars here, not natural sugar: "Natural sugar in whole, fresh fruit is fine—the fiber slows down digestion and protects the system from the spike and crash you get from fruit juice, smoothies, or dried fruit."
Avoid all artificial sweeteners, too.
Curbing sugar cravings involves more than just cutting out added sugars. Dr. Thompson says that you also need to cut out sugar replacements, like artificial sweeteners.
"Our taste buds have direct connections to the addictive centers in the brain, so triggering them with artificial sweeteners (some of which are 600 times sweeter than sugar) just keeps the cravings alive. Plus, artificial sweeteners dysregulate our gut microbiome, leading to poor glucose and insulin regulation," says Dr. Thompson.
Tough it out for two weeks.
Yes, it's possible to accomplish your goal in just 14 days! "The good news is that every single taste bud cell in our tongue will be dead and gone and replaced with a brand-new cell in just two weeks. So after you quit sugar and stop assaulting your taste buds with fake sweetness, within just two weeks everything you eat will taste sweeter!" says Dr. Thompson.
Make sure you eat ENOUGH of the foods your body needs.
…Especially adequate protein and large quantities of vegetables. "The need for fuel can tip over into cravings; when the tank is full, you're less likely to fall prey to the combination of hunger, stress, and a cue for a sugar-laden snack," says Dr. Thompson.
Here's a tip: "If people aren't commenting on how much you're eating (veggies in particular), you're not eating enough!"
Keep your food simple.
While you're cutting out sugar for two weeks, don't go overboard with lengthy, in-depth recipes. Try to keep your meals as simple and easy as possible.
"[Eating simple meals] will keep your cravings low, even as you lose weight and get healthier," she says. "Simple food is proven to cue the brain to lower the adiposity set point so that it won't fight you with a hormonal barrage as your excess weight drops off. In fact, when researchers simplified people's diets to the extreme, feeding them one, tasteless food for all their caloric needs, the weight melted off and both hunger and cravings dropped to zero," Dr. Thompson explains.
"By following these suggestions, research shows that cravings will steadily decrease for eight weeks until they bottom out at little-to-no cravings anymore, ever!" says Dr. Thompson.