Eating too much sugar may lead to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, and also appears to be responsible for epidemic rates of obesity[*][*][*].
And if you follow the keto diet, it doesn’t take much sugar to kick you out of ketosis.
But when it comes to dealing with cravings, knowing that sugar is harmful isn’t always enough to do the trick.
Luckily, it may not be as hard as you think to end your sugar habit.
Learn why you really crave sugar, plus 10 helpful tips to curb sugar cravings for good.
Why You Crave Sugar
Sugar is More Addictive Than Hard Drugs
First of all, sugar is habit-forming and addictive.
This statement may sound obvious, but what’s not so obvious is just how addictive sugar really is.
Recent studies have demonstrated that addiction to sugar works through endogenous opioid reward systems in your brain[*].
Not only that, unlike most addictive drugs that don’t touch your taste buds, eating sugar also interacts with hunger hormones and disrupts your body’s ability to maintain a healthy weight[*].
This excerpt from a 2013 paper published in the journal Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care drives home the fascinating reasons that sugar is so addictive:
“Available evidence in humans shows that sugar and sweetness can induce reward and craving that are comparable in magnitude to those induced by addictive drugs…Overall, this research has revealed that sugar and sweet reward can not only substitute to addictive drugs, like cocaine, but can even be more rewarding and attractive. At the neurobiological level, the neural substrates of sugar and sweet reward appear to be more robust than those of cocaine, possibly reflecting past selective evolutionary pressures for seeking and taking foods high in sugar and calories” [*]
Additionally, most artificial sweeteners do the same thing[*]. In other words, replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners is a bad idea if you want to stop your sugar cravings!
Emotional Eating for Stress Relief
Second, as if the addictive properties of sugar weren’t enough, many people eat sugar emotionally–for stress relief.
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Even if you aren’t usually addicted to sugar, stress can trigger sugar cravings.
Peer-reviewed research suggests these eating patterns involve reward pathways, hunger hormones, serotonin signaling, and glucocorticoid receptors in your body[*].
Brain Insulin Resistance
Your brain is small, but it uses about 20% of your overall energy intake each day[*].
And if you aren’t in ketosis, your brain runs primarily off glucose, a simple sugar.
But when you eat too many carbohydrates and spike your blood sugar levels, the metabolic hormone insulin becomes less effective. This effect is called insulin resistance.
In a nutshell, insulin resistance prevents your body from using glucose effectively.
When your neurons and brain tissues become resistant to insulin, they don’t get the fuel they need[*].
Scientists think brain insulin resistance can make you feel hungry and crave sugar–even when you’re eating plenty of calories[*].
Over time, this problem can create a vicious cycle of sugar cravings, increased sugar intake, and greater brain insulin resistance.
In the scientific literature, brain insulin resistance is also associated with inflammation, Alzheimer’s, and other forms of dementia[*].
An Imbalanced Diet
A diet that’s deficient in protein or micronutrients can also cause sugar cravings. This effect works similarly to the way brain insulin resistance causes sugar cravings.
When you don’t eat enough protein, vitamins, or minerals, you can be “overfed but undernourished”[*].
Essentially, if you eat a lot of sugar but don’t get the nutrients you need, your brain may send hunger signals that you interpret as sugar cravings.
10 Ways to Stop Sugar Cravings
#1: Eat More Fat
Eating more healthy fats may be the simplest, easiest way to overcome sugar cravings.
Fat is very effective at curbing hunger[*].
According to a 2017 peer-reviewed paper, one cause of the obesity epidemic is “excessive emphasis on low fat intake resulting in excessive intake of simple carbohydrates and sugar”[*].
Fat doesn’t make you fat, but excess calories and sugar do. And when you don’t eat enough fat, you’re more likely to overeat sugar.
#2: Eat Less Sugar (Or None)
“Eat less sugar” may sound overly simplistic.
But keep in mind what we learned earlier: sugar is addictive.
Research suggests binging on sugar, even occasionally, reinforces the addictive behavior–just like addictive drugs[*].
According to a 2017 peer-reviewed study based on the results of a two-year weight loss study, any food craving–including sugar–disappears over time as long as you avoid the food[*].
If you have a hardcore sugar addiction and want to beat it, try removing sugar from your diet indefinitely. Rewarding yourself with sugar will only make things harder.
#3: Check Your Macros
There are three macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Sugar, of course, belongs to the carbohydrate category.
If you aren’t eating enough protein, you’re more likely to experience cravings and other appetite issues[*].
However, if you’re eating too much protein, that means you aren’t eating enough fat (or are eating too many carbs).
In other words, finding the right balance is vital if you want to get your sugar cravings under control.
If you’re following the keto diet, make sure you are eating the right keto macros for your goals. You can use the free keto diet macronutrient calculator to double-check.
#4: Consume Enough Calories
Along with getting the right macronutrients, eating enough calories is another way to solve sugar cravings.
Even if you’re trying to lose weight, undereating all the time can make you feel hungry. And if you’re hungry, it’s harder to resist the temptation of sugar.
Basically, if you’re not sure you’re eating enough or if you’re in an intentional calorie deficit, you may need to increase your caloric intake with healthy keto foods to stop your sugar cravings.
Fortunately, low-carb diets like keto are superior for reducing sugar cravings compared to low-fat, high-carb diets[*].
For more information, check out Do Calories Matter on Keto? and How To Use The Ketogenic Diet for Weight Loss.
#5: Test Your Ketones
The keto diet can suppress your appetite and dramatically reduce sugar cravings, but only if you’re actually in ketosis[*][*].
And the only way to know for sure is by testing your ketone levels.
For more info read the Perfect Keto Guide to Testing Ketone Levels and use ketone test strips.
Don’t make the beginner mistake of “going keto” to fight your sugar cravings without confirming that you’re in ketosis.
#6: Take Ketogenic Supplements
Similar to following the keto diet, taking ketogenic supplements is an excellent strategy for overcoming sugar cravings.
Supplements like MCT oil, MCT powder, or beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) can boost your ketone levels and also help you achieve ketosis faster[*][*].
According to a 2018 study published in the journal Obesity, a ketone drink containing BHB lowered participants’ hunger and desire to eat[*].
Not only that, the same scientists discovered that BHB lowered the subjects’ ghrelin levels.
Ghrelin, sometimes called the “hunger hormone,” also plays a role in glucose homeostasis (your body’s ability to use sugar in a balanced way) and obesity[*].
If you want to reduce your sugar cravings but aren’t in ketosis or don’t follow the keto diet, ketogenic supplements are a fantastic choice.
#7: Try Mindful Eating or Urge Surfing
If your sugar addiction relates to binging or emotional eating, mindful eating and urge surfing are your must-try techniques.
Research suggests that mindfulness around eating is effective for addressing these types of eating issues[*].
In a nutshell, mindful eating means paying more attention to your food. As a result, you’ll enjoy healthy meals more, and may also have an easier time avoiding sweet foods.
Here’s how to do it:
- Begin by paying attention to your appetite–don’t eat when you’re not hungry, but don’t wait so long you become ravenous.
- Start with a small portion.
- Appreciate your meal by engaging all your senses.
- Take small bites, chew thoroughly, and eat slowly.
- Stop eating when you are no longer hungry. You don’t need to be stuffed. Just watch for the hunger to go away, then stop eating.
On the other hand, urge surfing is more useful for dealing directly with sugar cravings whenever they come up.
Urge surfing was originally invented by the psychologist G. Alan Marlatt, Ph.D, to help people deal with cravings to use addictive drugs. (Remember that sugar can be more addictive than drugs.)
It’s based on the idea that cravings or urges are like waves that gradually become more intense, peak, and then crash on their own if you don’t act upon them.
Here’s how to surf your urges:
- When you first notice an urge, take a few moments to locate the physical sensation that alerted you to the urge. It may help to close your eyes.
- Once you’ve located the urge, focus your attention on it. If there are multiple areas, start with the most intense area.
- Take note of the sensations in this area of your body. Notice and label the sensations. For example, do they involve warmth, coolness, pressure, tingling, or movement?
- Once you’ve identified the sensation, shift your attention to your breath. You don’t have to change your breathing at all. Just focus on your breath for one to two minutes.
- Shift your attention back to the part of your body where you first noticed the urge. Is it more intense, less intense, or the same? Has it changed? If it’s overwhelmingly intense, repeat step 4.
- Watch the intensity rise and fall over time, like a wave. Notice how the craving comes and goes on its own. When it gets more intense, use your breath to “surf” the urge instead of giving into the desire to act on it.
- When you’re done, thank yourself for doing something different with your craving, and set the intention to do more urge surfing next time you experience a craving.
The best part of urge surfing is that it doesn’t take very long. Even if you can only spend a minute or two focusing on the craving and your breath, you’ll find you get better at it very quickly.
Both of these techniques can take some time to master. If they don’t work immediately, give them some time and don’t give up.
#8: Improve Your Insulin Sensitivity
As we covered in “Why You Crave Sugar?”, for some people brain insulin resistance causes sugar cravings.
For example, one study found that suppressing insulin release in severely obese people resulted in better insulin sensitivity, less caloric intake, and fewer carb cravings[*].
Luckily, you can use powerful tools like ketosis, intermittent fasting, and exercise to improve your insulin sensitivity.
Nutritional ketosis achieved with the keto diet or ketogenic supplements can improve markers of insulin resistance like glycated hemoglobin, fasting insulin, and fasting blood sugar[*].
Intermittent fasting has similar effects[*].
Last but not least, exercise is also a phenomenal way to improve your insulin sensitivity[*].
Additionally, exercise can help you beat sugar cravings by releasing endorphins, feel-good chemicals that can help recalibrate your body’s reward system[*][*].
And best of all, you can combine ketosis, fasting, and exercise for a three-pronged approach to reverse insulin resistance and overcome your sugar addiction.
For some people, addressing sugar cravings could be as simple as preventing dehydration.
When you’re dehydrated, thirst may increase your hunger and cravings[*].
And if you drink sugary beverages instead of water, you’re more likely to overeat at meals, too.
One study found that sugary beverages could increase food intake at meals by 7%, which adds up fast[*].
And a 2010 study published in the journal Obesity found that drinking half a liter of water (about 17 ounces) helped overweight adults on a low-calorie diet lose more weight[*].
Bottom line: cut the sugary beverages out immediately and drink more water. It may help you overcome sugar cravings, but it will definitely boost your overall health and fat loss.
#10: Plan Ahead
As someone once said, “If you don’t have a plan, you become part of somebody else’s plan.”
This statement is certainly true when it comes to eating a healthy keto diet and avoiding sugar.
Here are some simple tips to aid your sugar avoidance quest:
- If you’re going somewhere with tempting foods, bring your own food or eat ahead of time.
- Rehearse what you’ll do if a craving hits (for example urge surfing, drinking a glass of water, or eating a non-sugary snack).
- Practice politely saying “no” when someone offers you a sweet treat.
Having a game plan for temptations, social situations, and travel is essential if you want to stick to your resolutions.
And preparing for those situations beats relying on willpower alone, every single time.
Now you’ve got ten extremely effective methods to troubleshoot your sugar cravings.
But you don’t have to implement them all at once. Instead, start with what seems most appropriate to your situation.
You may find that combining two or three strategies works best.
It could take a few weeks or longer to fully overcome your sugar cravings, but you’ll enjoy the freedom and health benefits for the rest of your life.If you’re not dealing with sugar cravings or sugar addiction, but you want to find healthier substitutes without the downsides of sugar, consider keto-friendly sweeteners, delicious sugar-free keto desserts, and keto-friendly fruits in moderation.