Everybody loves sweet stuff. But when your relationship with sugar is distorted, it causes chaos in your brain and becomes biologically addictive. 

With  sugar hiding in 74% of packaged foods, it’s not exactly a walk in the park to get rid of sugar cravings.

The physiological causes of sugar cravings

Sugar cravings are driven by our brain’s reward system, not your body’s need for food.  It should not be confused with hunger.   There are 4 main areas in your brain that drives the reward system:

  • An area that control emotions, e.g. how you feel
  • An area that control your body’s motor functions, e.g. how you move your body
  • An area that controls your focus, attention and planning
  • An area that creates memories out of your experiences with emotions attached to it.

When you experience some form of pleasure, like a hug, you feel good. You brain releases dopamine that creates that ‘feel-good’ feeling.  So, here’s’ how cravings are created:

When dopamine is released, it travels to all the above areas of the brain and it gives your body a message of “this was good, let’s do it again”. This is a completely natural process in the body.

How does it work when you eat a piece of cake?

When you take the first bite, the part of your brain that deals with feelings and emotions, will make you feel good. The memory part of your brain will say “let me store this in a memory somewhere so that I can remember this feeling”. The part responsible for movement will tell your brain “go ahead, take another bite”. The final part that focusses on focus and attention, will damn well make sure your attention and focus stays on the piece of cake.

The moment you take another bite, the whole process will start again.

“The obesity pandemic is due to our altered biochemistry, which is a result of our altered environment.” – Dr Robert Lustig

How do cravings start?

In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear describes the habit loop and how the four factors Cue, Craving, Response, Reward, works together to form a new habit.  Each phase plays an important role in building a new habit.

First there is a cue.  A cue triggers your brain to initiate a behaviour.  It will use the information and memory that’s stored in your brain to predict a reward.  If you eat a piece of cake and based on previous experience, you felt accelerating and a rush of energy, your brain will predict the same reward when you see a piece of cake.

Because the cue indicates to you that you are close to a reward, you will start to crave the feeling of the reward.  Cravings are like a motivational step behind every habit.  If there’s not craving, you have no reason to act or to eat the piece of cake.  Any piece of information can trigger a craving and we discuss that in detail in my 90-Day Sugar Detox course.

Eventually there will be a response. I.e. you eat the actual piece of cake.  And finally, there will be a reward.

The craving has nothing to do with the actual piece of cake. It has everything to do with wanting the reward that comes from eating a piece of cake.  We crave rewards because it satisfies us, and it teaches us something.

How long does it take for sugar cravings to stop?

How do you stop sugar cravings?

Although your brain can be a challenge to your willpower, there can be cues in your day-to-day that can trigger your longing for sugar food.  These cues can be anything from some form of habit, like brushing your teeth, to actual food that can trigger your binge, e.g. yogurt.

In order to fix the distortion in your brain, you must fix your brain chemistry by eating the correct food.  Protein and good quality fat is satiating and make you feel full for longer. Once your body learns to fuel itself without carbs and sugar, the cravings will disappear.

How long does it take for sugar cravings to stop?

It can take anything from 2-4 weeks. It depends on the extend of your current diet and how much sugar you consume daily, as well as the type of food you consume.

Some trigger foods can also be hard to eliminate.  It’s like detoxing from a drug. You will go through the exact same process and side effects.

Are there supplements for sugar cravings?

There is no scientific evidence that supplements can help to combat sugar cravings.  Since sugar cravings stem from a chemical imbalance in the brain, you need to fix the chemical imbalances first.

Once you understand what the triggers are, you will be able to address the problem, whether it’s habitual or a specific food.

How to stop sugar cravings?

There are certain foods that can help to combat sugar cravings. There are also foods that will make your cravings worse.

  •  Your first goal should be to cut out all processed and sugary foods and drinks.
  • Eat a moderate amount of good quality protein. Protein will keep you satiated for longer as well.
  • Eat a higher amount of good quality fat. Do not confuse this with a high-fat diet, especially if you have weight to lose.
  • Never ever starve yourself at the cost of hunger. You will not lose weight or get rid of sugar cravings and hunger by starving yourself.
  • Eat until your satiated and eat when you are hungry. You do not need to eat if you’re not hungry.
  • Understand what foods trigger you. Some people will need to avoid fruit altogether as well as food like dairy and nuts. This is different for every person and is something you will have to test in your own nutrition.
  • Avoid artificial sweeteners or any natural sweeteners. These sweeteners can trigger cravings for you and you want to avoid them all together.
  • It is important to distinguish between hunger and cravings. If you’re hungry eat a filling meal with protein and healthy fats.

If you continue to find yourself experiencing sugar cravings regularly or feel out of control around sweet foods, then it’s worth taking a closer look at your diet.  Our meal plan review offers a review of your meals tracked for a period of time and include some changes and small adjustments you can make to improve your health.

Sugar cravings should be treated seriously. It’s not a lack of will power, neither a lack of self-control.  If you constantly find yourself falling off the bus, you might want to consider a food addiction program.  Our 90 Day Sugar Detox Course offers behavioural therapy as well as group coaching sessions to support you through your 90 day sugar detox journey. This course is specifically focussed on changing the emotions attached to events in your life, which caused certain behaviour or habits to make their way into your daily life.

No 5-step or 10-step eating plan will release you from your sugar cravings if you don’t change the emotions you attached to your food including the triggers and the habits.

There a lot of people like you struggling with cravings. You don’t need to do it alone.

Stay strong!