As we all know, sugar can be very hard to resist. So what can you do to beat the sugar cravings and avoid undoing all your hard work? Here are 10 ideas to try, which may help you regain control and keep your sweet cravings in check.
1. Drink plenty of water
The great thing about drinking water regularly is that, as well as quenching your thirst, it also helps to fill you up, making you less likely to go for that extra snack. So next time you feel the temptation to reach for a sugar fix, try drinking a glass of water first. After you’ve finished, wait for 15 minutes and see if your craving has passed. When plain water won’t hit the spot, try green tea or herbal tea instead. You could also try one of our flavoured water recipes.
2. Don’t skip meals
Sometimes even though we think we’re after something sweet, all we really need is any food to satisfy our hunger and provide us with fuel to function. This is especially likely to be the case if you’re skipping meals, a practice which makes maintaining a healthy weight difficult. Skipping meals can make your blood sugar levels drop and can increase your chance of making a poor food choice.
Research shows that adults who skip breakfast are more likely to be overweight or obese than those who eat breakfast. Eating lunch and dinner is just as important in order to help control your blood sugar levels and curb hunger pangs later in the day. Make sure you get enough food throughout the day. Include a good source of protein (like meat, eggs, milk, yoghurt or tofu) and fibre (like wholegrains, legumes and vegetables) at each meal to help keep you full.
3. Limit your access to sugary foods
In the case of sugar cravings, that old adage ‘out of sight, out of mind’ definitely rings true. Many of us eat sweet foods out of habit and convenience. We’re used to buying those foods and keeping them in our desk drawer or in the pantry at home. One of the best ways to change these habits is to make eating sweet foods really difficult, and to make healthy options really easy.
Identify those times of day when you have really bad sugar cravings and get to work on removing temptation. If you crave an iced coffee first thing in the morning, avoid routes that take you past the local shop or vending machine. If you find yourself reaching for the sweets when you watch TV, clear your cupboard of tempting sugary snacks and keep some pre-cut vegie sticks and dip in your fridge as a healthy alternative. Or try to occupy your hands with another task like knitting or folding washing instead. Since eating is such a social activity, getting your friends and family on board can really help if you’re trying to beat your sugar cravings. For instance, see if you can switch your afternoon coffee and cake for an afternoon walk, and ask your loved ones to refrain from bringing sweets around as gifts.
4. Shop mindfully
How often have you come home from the shops with a bag full of sugary foods, which you had no intention of buying? We’ve all done it before, so you’re not alone. Advertising is a powerful thing and sometimes those half-price specials on mint slices are just too hard to resist at the end of a long day. But there are some steps you can take to help you regain control of what you put in your shopping trolley:
- Make a shopping list and stick to it.
- Try not to shop when you’re hungry or stressed.
- Don’t shop with hungry kids.
- Grab a healthy snack before heading out to the shops.
- Avoid the confectionary aisle at the supermarket.
- Look for snack foods in the fresh produce section, the dried fruit and nuts section and the dairy section instead.
- Think twice when confronted with specials on sweets – it might cost less now, but you’ll be paying for it later!
5. Keep healthy snacks on hand
It’s no good trying to clear your environment of sugary foods without having something tasty, healthy and convenient to replace them with. That way you are less likely to go looking for that sugar fix. A snack with a good source of protein will tide you over much better than a sugary snack, and keep you from feeling the need to snack too much throughout the afternoon. Some good examples included:
A great replacement for sweets or chocolates when you start to feel that afternoon energy slump is a handful of trail mix with nuts, seeds and dried fruit (about 40g).
It’s also worth remembering that sweet doesn’t have to mean unhealthy. A piece of fresh fruit can make a fantastic snack when you’re in the mood for something sweet. Fruit is low in fat and much less energy-dense than snack foods with added sugar. Fruit is high in many important nutrients and high in dietary fibre, which can help keep you satisfied. We’re heading into summer so get ready to make the most of Australia’s delicious summer fruits. Try:
6. Distract yourself
When you feel the temptation to reach for the chocolate, one great way to stop yourself is to distract yourself with another activity to keep you physically busy and occupy your mind. It can be especially helpful to pick something you find enjoyable so that you are less likely to avoid doing it. Try:
- Going for a walk
- Reading a magazine
- Doing some puzzles
- Phoning a friend for a chat
- Playing a game with the kids
If you’re the artistic type you could keep some craft supplies on hand and try getting creative. At work, grab a colleague and take a stroll around the block. If you find that you tend to give in to your sugar cravings in the evenings, it can be a great idea to sign up for some evening classes to help fill your time with something fun and social. You could go for pottery classes, wood work, sewing, painting, dancing, yoga, tai chi, or maybe learn a new language.
7. Treat yourself with something else
Sweet foods are culturally recognised by us as a reward for good behaviour or a job well done. This can make it really hard to say no to sugar cravings when we feel like we deserve a pat on the back for getting to the end of a long, hard day at the office, an evening of gruelling study or an impressive 2-hour gym session.Unfortunately, these ‘rewards’ often become a daily habit, which can seriously increase our sugar intake.
When you feel like you’ve earned a treat, it’s best to try something other than food. The ideal kind of treat is something that will make you feel good now and feel no remorse later. Take a nice long bath, watch an episode of your favourite TV show, or call your best friend to share your success. When the occasion really does call for something delicious to eat, choose something you won’t regret. Using a small amount of something sweet to spruce up a nutritious food is the perfect way to make a guilt-free treat. I like to add a scattering of flaked almonds and two crushed amaretto biscuits over a small bowl of natural yoghurt with berries. Yum! Other ideas are a tropical fruit salad or raisin toast with ricotta and honey.
8. Manage stress and mood levels
When we’re feeling stressed or unhappy we are more likely to cave to sugar cravings. Unfortunately, eating these foods can then make us feel worse, leading to a vicious circle of emotional eating. As a result, taking measures to manage your stress levels and lift your mood can be an essential step in controlling your sugar cravings. Two things that can help reduce stress are making sure you get a good night’s sleep, and including some exercise in your day. It can also be a good idea to talk to someone and spend time with people who care about you.
9. Be physically active, but try to enjoy it!
Personally I’ve noticed that being physically active makes me crave healthier foods. After a long hike there’s nothing I like better than a big fresh salad, some grainy bread and piece of grilled chicken or fish. If you’re anything like me, a day spent on the couch is much more likely to see you reaching for the chocolates. If you find yourself craving something sweet on a sedentary day, try going out for a short walk or run in an effort to kick your craving.
Being physically active is a major part of healthy weight management, but be careful not to fall into the trap of rewarding yourself for the exercise with sugary foods. Research has shown that when people perceive physical activity to be fun, they are less likely to consume unhealthy snacks afterwards as a form of compensation. So to help reduce your temptation to add a sugary treat, pick an exercise routine that you find enjoyable and fun. Go for a run while listening to your favourite podcast, or grab a friend to join you for a scenic bike ride.
10. Choose quality over quantity
It’s important to remember that trying to control your sugar cravings doesn’t mean cutting out sugar altogether. There’s no reason to completely deny yourself the enjoyment of your favourite sweet foods, as long as you’re comfortable with your choice. When you do decide to have something sweet, pick something you truly enjoy. Don’t give in to just any old thing; be sure to really make it special. When I’ve decided to eat something sweet, I like to pick something small but expensive. That way I can’t bear to just mindlessly devour it and I savour it so much more.
If you’d like further help with your nutrition please click below:
This article was written by Julia Christenson, intern from the University of Canberra at The Healthy Eating Hub.
Duyff, R.L., Birch, L.L., Byrd-Bredbenner, C., Johnson, S.L., Mattes, R.D., Murphy, M.M., Nicklas, T.A., Rollins, B.Y. & Wansink, B. 2015, “Candy consumption patterns, effects on health, and behavioral strategies to promote moderation: Summary report of a roundtable discussion”, Advances in Nutrition, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 139S-146S.
Elder, S.J. & Roberts, S.B. 2007, “The effects of exercise on food intake and body fatness: A summary of published studies”, Nutrition reviews, vol. 65, no. 1, pp. 1-19.
Laska, M.N., Hearst, M.O., Lust, K., Lytle, L.A. & Story, M. 2014, “How we eat what we eat: Identifying meal routines and practices most strongly associated with healthy and unhealthy dietary factors among young adults”, Public health nutrition, vol. 18, no. 12, pp. 2135-2145.
Morris, M.J., Beilharz, J.E., Maniam, J., Reichelt, A.C. & Westbrook, R.F. 2015, “Why is obesity such a problem in the 21st century? The intersection of palatable food, cues and reward pathways, stress, and cognition”, Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, vol. 58, pp. 36-45.
Rampersaud, G.C. 2009, “Benefits of Breakfast for Children and Adolescents: Update and Recommendations for Practitioners”, American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 86-103.
Tal, A. & Wansink, B. 2013, “Fattening fasting: Hungry grocery shoppers buy more calories, not more food”, JAMA Internal Medicine, vol. 173, no. 12, pp. 1146-1148.
Werle, C.O.C., Wansink, B. & Payne, C.R. 2015, “Is it fun or exercise? The framing of physical activity biases subsequent snacking”, Marketing Letters, vol. 26, no. 4, pp. 691-702.