Are you a dessert fanatic? A lover of all things frosted, a champion for cookies and a complete pie-a-holic? Do you dream in chocolate, dally in the candy aisle and feel that your day just isn’t complete without a taste of something sweet?
If so, in the past you’ve probably blamed your sugar cravings on your sweet tooth, an imaginary body part like the funny bone. And while a sweet tooth doesn’t literally exist in your mouth, pulling your lips towards that ice cream sundae - your body is indeed craving sugar. Why? Because you are an addict, because you haven’t had enough protein, because you’ve used up your willpower and because you associate sugar with sweet feelings and fond memories.
Discover why you crave sugar to understand its hold on the human brain, so that you can combat your natural instincts, put the chocolate down and walk away from the candy dish.
You most likely crave sweets because of one of the following reasons:
1. Sugar is a drug, a fantastically effective dopamine enhancer that works along the same lines as caffeine, nicotine and alcohol – all substances that people love to indulge in, even though it is well known that they aren’t good for the body. A diet loaded with sugar generates excessive reward signals in the brain, and over time, these pleasurable brain chemicals can override your willpower to create an addiction. Just like cocaine – only to a lesser extent – this white powder feels so fantastic to your brain that it usurps your willpower in order to get its next fix. Your brain sends out powerful signals to obtain a sweet release, and your hand reaches for the cream cheese pastry. Like any addiction, it’s not easy to beat – take small steps in reducing your sugar intake, and reward yourself with something other than dessert for each little victory.
2. You aren’t getting enough protein in your diet. The body needs fuel to survive, and the best source for this energy is protein. If your body doesn’t get enough protein throughout the day, it starts to lose energy. Your brain sends out panic signals: I need energy now!!! Nothing gives your body a boost of quick energy like a mouthful of sugar – just ask any kindergarten teacher. You reach for a candy bar in the afternoon, because you didn’t eat enough protein in the morning. Make a point to eat a high protein diet – and watch as your sugar cravings virtually disappear.
3. You have used up your willpower for the day. You wake up early for a run, skipping the snooze button, order a healthy breakfast of oatmeal instead of a doughnut, and then decline the chocolate cake at the office birthday party. You walk right past the bowl of gummy bears on your co-workers desk, order a salad at lunch (dressing on the side) and drink water instead of juice during the afternoon. You’ve been “good” and practiced restraint all day – so when your husband brings home a package of gourmet cookies in the evening, you devour them. All of them. Willpower is a finite resource; it’s a bad idea to go on a diet, try to trim your household budget and stop shopping online all at the same time. You can’t follow the rules exactly every minute of your life, so at the end of the day when you are tired and your willpower is too – you reach for a cookie. And another. Learn to recognize what triggers your evening sugar cravings, and plan to reward yourself in a non-edible way when you feel the urge to eat sweets coming: buy a bouquet of flowers, go for a walk with your dog or watch a funny movie.
4. Sweets remind you of happy times. As children, we are given sugary treats when we behave well or when times are happy (like holidays). We learn to associate the taste of sugar with happy feelings, and as adults, we try to recreate those sweet childhood memories with a chocolate chip cookie, popsicle or ice cream cone. While everyone deserves to indulge now and then, emotional eating rarely brings the satisfaction you crave – and often it just makes you eat even more as you search for those happy feelings. Let yourself have one awesome treat each week, like a hot fudge sundae or scrumptious cupcake, eat it very slowly and enjoy every minute of it. This way you won’t feel like you are denying yourself – and you can sample the sweet treats that you truly want without giving in to cravings.
Image: Darwin Bell