Sugar cravings and sugar addiction is one of the most common problems in society today and one of the biggest contributors to thousands of mental and physical health problems. There are two reasons the body craves sugar; for energy and to ‘feel good’ through the secretion of the Dopamine hormone. We will explore each as well as all the contributing factors creating the need for energy or Dopamine.
The effects of lack of sleep:
Sleep plays such a huge part in your life and effects all areas of your health, both mental and physical. Insufficient sleep can cause absolute havoc!
- When the body is tired due to insufficient sleep it needs energy to keep going. So your brain will make you crave sugar for a quick burst of energy.
- Being tired increases the body’s stress levels and so increases the secretion of Cortisol hormone. When cortisol is elevated you secrete more Ghrelin hormone which is the hormone that tells your body it is hungry, and suppressed the Leptin, I am full hormone. So between the sugar cravings and the Ghrelin hormone, you find yourself constantly wanting to eat sweet things when you are tired.
- This state of tiredness, stress and increased cortisol, also reduces your insulin sensitivity which means you cannot secrete adequate levels of insulin to remove excess glucose from the blood. You therefore find yourself with high levels of glucose due to your cravings and overeating, coupled with the inability to remove the glucose out of the blood. This can lead to insulin resistance and Diabetes type 2, if you experience insufficient sleep on a regular basis.
- Tiredness reduces your metabolism, and the elevated cortisol then reduces the amount of fat you burn. Together they lead to increase fat stores, all due to lack of sleep.
- Being tired also brings down your mood. As such your brain works on getting you a Dopamine hit so you can feel better. Enter more sugar cravings!
Aim at getting 7-10 hours of good quality sleep every night. This will help boost your energy and mood and reduce sugar cravings, which will all ultimately improve your health and fitness goals.
- Glucose triggers the Dopamine receptors in the brain, secreting the Dopamine hormone, which as we have stated, is your ‘feel good’ hormone. It also triggers the Opioid receptors in the brain, which are the addiction receptors. This is why it is so many people get addicted to sugar.
- Studies have shown, if you look at MRI scans of someone that has taken cocaine, and someone who has consumed sugar, they are almost identical in the way they impact the brain. As such, the withdrawal symptoms are extremely similar when trying to break the addiction. They are so harsh, that it is extremely difficult to break the habits, causing people to relapse.
- Dopamine is also the reason people emotionally eat sugar. When someone is feeling down, you don’t see them turn to broccoli and chicken to help them feel better. They turn to high carb foods or sugary foods, as these all contain glucose, and trigger the Dopamine hormone.
Find ways to help lift your mood in other ways that do not include food. Some suggestions may include:
- Phone a friend for a chat. Laughter with a friend elevates Serotonin, your happy hormone.
- Go for a walk in the sun. The UV rays from the sun help synthesise more Serotonin hormone.
- Get good quality sleep.
- Exercise, get active. Movement increases the production of Serotonin.
- Speak to a counsellor.
- Find ways to reduce your stress and therefore improve your mood such as:
- Warm bath
- Color in
- Do a puzzle
- Take up a hobby such as drawing, crafts, gardening etc.
- Write in a journal
- Enjoy a spa or sauna
- Read a fiction book
Insufficient good fats in the diet:
- Good fats are vital for hormone synthesis and thousands of other functions around the body. They are also higher in calories than carbs so keep you fuller for longer.
- When you don’t eat enough good quality fats, your body will crave fuel because it is hungry. The quickest and simplest way to get fuel as we have already said, is glucose. The body doesn’t need to work as hard to break it down and turn it into usable energy, hence your cravings for sugar.
Eat adequate amounts of good quality fats with each meal.
- Your body needs a certain number of calories per day just to keep it alive and functioning. So, if you are not consuming enough fuel throughout the day to keep your body functioning optimally it will cause you to crave sugar for quick calories.
- This is evident not only for people who don’t eat enough calories per meal, but also people who skip meals. If you skip meals, once again your body will crave energy and lead you to selecting high sugar foods for quick energy.
- The secretion of the Ghrelin hormone we discussed earlier continues to cause havoc and so leads to binge eating and, in the end, overeating by the end of the day. So skipping meals or cutting portions right down, doesn’t work in the big scheme of things.
- People who are undereating through the day will find themselves craving sugary foods late at night.
Eat adequate portions throughout the day of high quality food to reduce sugar cravings.
Over consuming carbs and sugar foods, the vicious circle:
- The more carbs and sugary foods you consume, the more Ghrelin you secrete, the more Dopamine you secrete, the more you want to eat. It becomes a vicious cycle which is extremely difficult to cut.
- The only way to stop the cycle is to stop all sugary foods, including fruit, and all simple carbs, cold turkey. A bit like an alcoholic has to stop alcohol.
- You need a minimum of 14-21 day without these to break the addiction.
- You will very likely experience withdrawal symptoms for the first 3-10 days, which can be extremely harsh, which is why so many people give up giving up.
- We help people get through this with our Nutrition Coaching Program.
Sugar cravings happen to everyone at some point. When you can understand and pin point why you are craving sugar it makes it easier to handle the cravings, avoid succumbing to it and lead a healthy life.
- Coach Terri