Overview: What Exactly Are Cravings?
If you were to look up the dictionary definition of the word craving, you may find that it means “an intense, urgent, or abnormal desire or longing” (1).
In other words, it is a sensation that makes you want something, almost to an unmanageable, uncomfortable level of intensity.
When it comes to food cravings, you may have a few types of foods that you crave more than others.
This can vary depending on the time of day (i.e. morning versus evening), stage of life (i.e. pregnancy cravings), or your level of activity (i.e. carbohydrate cravings after a vigorous-intensity workout).
Some sources indicate that different types of food cravings may be tied to nutrients that your body is lacking (2). However, this is likely not the main cause. And that brings us to one of the most common types of food cravings: sugar cravings!
What Causes Sugar Cravings?
If you suffer from a nagging sweet tooth from time to time, you’re not alone. Our bodies tend to really love the experience of sweet taste sensations, and we’ve got the science to prove it!
Research indicates that humans are born with an innate preference for sweet taste as a survival mechanism to increase desire for mother’s milk (3).
From an early age, your brain shoots off all sorts of pleasure signals when you eat something sweet, so it’s no surprise that you like sugary foods – it’s natural!
However, if you worry that you are constantly bombarded with an intense desire for sweet foods and flavors and it makes you feel out of control whenever you eat them, there’s probably a reason outside of just a biological response.
How Dieting Causes Sugar Cravings
Imagine being a 5-year-old kid again and your mom tells you that you can’t have something you REALLY want. How does that make you feel? Sad? Angry? Maybe even a little rebellious?
Those same feelings are some of the main reasons why restrictive dieting is so tough on your body and mind.
Being told you can’t have certain foods (whether you’re telling yourself or some other external source tells you this) can intensify your food cravings. One of the main foods that “gets the boot” on traditional diet plans is sweets: donuts, chocolate, cookies, ice cream, candy, etc.
Whether you intentionally (through strict dieting for weight loss or “health reasons”) or unintentionally (like accidentally skipping a few meals on a busy day) restrict certain foods, you are likely to experience sugar cravings.
While the relationship between dieting and sugar cravings is complex, research has found that even if you are not specifically avoiding sweets, the act of selectively avoiding ANY singular food like the plague can still result in an intense desire for that food (2).
So if all this is true, what’s the solution to the problem? Unlimited access to any food you want, including sweets?? Actually, YES. That is the solution.
You’re probably thinking the following: this dietitian is off her rocker. How in the world can you prioritize health if you eat everything you want as often as you want? The answer is actually quite simple: it’s called Intuitive Eating and adopting the philosophy that “all foods fit.” No lie!
Notice I said the answer is simple; I didn’t say it is easy, per se. But I know something about you. You’re an incredible, strong, resilient woman who can conquer ANYTHING she puts her heart and mind into accomplishing.
Learning how to make all your favorite foods fit into your diet AND prioritizing your mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health and well-being is 100% possible.
And here’s how you can do it – Here’s how you can crush those pesky sugar cravings – for good!
The 9 Key Steps to Crushing Sugar Cravings
If the phrase “all foods fit” feels scary to you or you’re skeptical that this may not be a philosophy you can adopt, I encourage you to check out these 9 key steps to helping you crush your sugar cravings TODAY:
1. Hop off the dieting hamster wheel!
If you have been going on and off diets for a while, this is going to be your key first step to breaking free from the never-ending cycle.
There’s a reason why you have struggled with sugar cravings when sweets are around: you told yourself you “can’t” eat them on the diet, which only made you want them more!
Leaving the hamster wheel of dieting may feel scary at first, but trust me, none of these other tips will work if you don’t.
2. Stop categorizing foods as “good” or “bad.” Remember – ALL FOODS FIT!
So who became “food god” and gave eating a moral code in the first place?? No matter what you’ve been taught about food and nutrition, there is NO SUCH THING as “good” or “bad” foods.
An apple isn’t better than a cookie and vice versa. Food has no moral character and YOUR character is not defined by what or how you eat; the nutritive value of a single food ultimately means nothing in the grand scheme of things that matter in your life.
3. Don’t skip meals (especially breakfast!).
Skipping meals is like practically asking for sugar cravings. Studies show that when you skip meals (especially breakfast), your body will begin to upregulate your hunger hormones and tell your brain that it needs fuel…
Having regular, filling and satisfying meals and snacks throughout your day will help keep those hunger signals calm and tame the “hangry” beast within.
4. Make a list of any “forbidden” foods.
Chances are you have some foods you think are “off limits” for you. We all have them at some point in our lives.
Find a journal, scrap piece of paper, or the note section on your phone and write down your top 5-10 foods that you tend to restrict because of your sugar cravings for them. You may have heard some sources call these “forbidden” foods, “trigger” foods or “fear” foods.
These are the ones that you have felt “out of control” around in the past because you struggle to maintain a sense of self-control when eating them.
When I did this exercise, these were a few of my forbidden foods: gourmet jelly beans, watermelon sour gummies, and Christmas Tree cakes (yes, you know the ones).
5. Buy one of these listed foods TODAY.
This one’s a toughie, but I know you can do it! Go to the store/restaurant (or order the food online for delivery if you prefer) and buy one of the foods on your list.
Make sure you buy enough of the food to last you at least 1 whole day. For me, this meant buying a large bag of gourmet jelly beans instead of the small bags you’d find at a drugstore.
6. Include some of this food at each meal for 1-3 days.
This is why you need multiple servings; you’re going to eat it all day long. Yes, you read that correctly. THIS DIETITIAN IS TELLING YOU TO EAT SWEETS.
Before you panic, here’s how you can frame this: give yourself a small amount of the food (you can use the serving size on the package for guidance, if needed) with each of the meals you eat for 1-3 days.
Start with one full day and see how it goes from there.
7. Pray and thank God for the food that you are about to enjoy.
Don’t skip this step. It is just as important as all the rest because it forces you to pause, take a few deep breaths, and focus on gratitude.
Giving thanks to the One who blesses you with food that nourishes your body and soul, for the means to obtain the food, and for the ones who grew/made/prepared/transported the food will TOTALLY shift your mindset.
For more information about why I encourage this step, click here!
8. Journal any thoughts/feelings that come up each time you eat the forbidden food.
As you eat the food with your meals, ask yourself these questions:
Do I feel out of control with this food right now? Am I craving this food now that I know I will eat it again in a few hours? Do I like the taste of this food after eating it for the __th time?
Record any specific thoughts or feelings that come up throughout the day.
As for me, I noticed that it felt pretty satisfying to eat these foods at first, but after the 2nd or 3rd time, I didn’t really want them as much anymore (in fact, I started to even DISLIKE them a little!). This is called the habituation response (6).
9. Pause halfway through the meal to “listen” to your body.
Imagine that this is like your long, 20-second “timeout” at half-time (I don’t really watch sports, so I had to Google this one). How does your stomach feel? How does the food taste? Would you be satisfied if you stopped eating now?
Your answers to these questions matter less than what you choose to do next and why.
If you find that your stomach feels comfortably full but you want to keep eating, there’s nothing wrong with that!
It may be helpful to recognize the reason why (for example, you still enjoy the taste enough to keep going beyond the feeling of hunger), but there is NO RULE that says you can’t eat outside of hunger.
Bonus Step! Repeat steps 5-9 once or twice a week (or as often as you like) until you’ve finished the whole list.
As you continue down your list, you may notice that some foods take a little longer for you to reach the habituation response.
But no worries!
The point is not to finish in exactly 1-3 days, but to recognize that reintroducing these forbidden foods into your life will STOP you from craving them. It really works!
Main takeaways: All Foods Fit: The Keys to Crushing Your Sugar Cravings
Now that you know what sugar cravings are, why your body experiences these cravings and how to crush them for good, you’re well on your way to discovering your own version of the Joyfully Nourished Life!
By realizing that all foods fit, you will begin to adopt one of the most important principles of Intuitive Eating (Principle 3: Make Peace with Food) that will totally transform your relationship with food and your body – forever!
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Much love, friends!