Since October is a notoriously sugar-friendly month, there’s no better time to get real about sugar cravings. We’ve all had them, however the question becomes whether it’s a true physical desire for food or a mental one. When I see clients who tell me they have sweet tooth, there are usually some common threads:
Lack of sleep
Many studies have linked a lack of sleep to weight gain, and the reason has to do with hormones. When you’re not getting enough sleep your body increases production of a hormone called cortisol (aka the stress hormone), which causes the body to store fat. People who are sleep deprived also tend to feel hungrier, which is an effect also explained by your hormones. Ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite is higher in those who are sleep deprived, while leptin, the satiety hormone, tends to be lower. Cravings are highest for simple carbohydrates and sugar because they provide the quickest jolt of energy.
Not eating enough during the day
In an attempt to restrict calories, people often severely limit their food intake earlier in the day only to end up overeating later on in the day because they’re starving! It’s also much harder to make rational food decisions when your body needs something right away. To avoid this trap, make sure you’re going no more than 4-5 hours without eating and listen to your hunger cues.
Following a restrictive diet
Chronic dieters tend to develop all-or-nothing thinking when it comes to food. They label foods as “good” and “bad” and feel like they completely blew their diet if they have even a little bit of the “bad” stuff. The guilt that comes with failing the diet leads to overindulgence and the promise to start fresh on Monday. Healthy eating is not that black and white though, so start to look at your eating habits as shades of gray. Your diet will be much more sustainable if you include treats in moderation!
Often times, people use food to cope with their emotions whether it be boredom, sadness, loneliness, or even joy! The types of food the person turns too depends largely on the person and what they are feeling, but rarely have I seen a client turn to salad when they’re feeling sad. Next time you go to grab a late night cookie, stop and ask yourself whether you’re angry/bored/etc., or actually genuinely hungry. Then, learn to cope with your emotions in a way that doesn’t involve food.