Wouldn’t dieting be so much easier if you didn’t instantly want 20 snacks on day 1? Or, if your sweet tooth didn’t come for a not-so-surprise visit everyday at 10PM? Honestly, how many diets have come to an abrupt stop due to your afternoon snack attack that can’t seem to be cured without a proper dose of sugar? It feels like a major roadblock to your health success, right? Let’s get down to the foundational root of WHY this happens and HOW to stop it!
Solving Your Sweet Tooth for Weight Loss
A craving or a stress response?
First of all – let’s discuss the difference between a healthy craving and a stress response; what actually causes a sweet tooth?
Remember, it’s normal and healthy to have a diverse taste for different types of foods, textures and flavors! This can actually, in the long run, prevent the binge and restrict cycle due to the wide variety of foods you always have in your normal routine.
But the strong, sudden, desire for a specific food that comes on from emotional triggers is not a healthy craving; that’s a stress response! If our body is in a state of stress, there is an increased likelihood of cravings. Hence the term “stress eating?” In a stressed state, the adrenal glands release a hormone called cortisol, which can cause increased appetite. Keeping cortisol levels in check is important to manage stress, cravings and (full circle) our blood sugar.
This response, a powerful longing or desire for something particular, usually manifests in an intense desire for cookies, cocktails, chips or cupcakes. Interestingly enough, a study showed that while men tend to crave savory, salty foods, women tend to crave sweet, high-fat foods (hello chocolate ice cream?!).
First, try this hot tip! In a really stressed season, add more minerals into your diet. We use Jigsaw’s adrenal cocktail to provide the adrenal system more of the fuel it needs (minerals!) to maintain a relaxed state.
When we decrease stress responses, cravings still hang around. Why? Because cravings are normal! But, there are healthier ways to handle them when trying to maintain good health!
Being aware of when your body is telling you, “I’m hungry, please provide me with energy”, versus “I’m stressed AF, let’s soothe with sugar” is one of the best ways to decipher between these stress responses, hunger and a healthy craving for palette diversity.
If you’re consistently having strong cravings, lean into it. Ask, is it a craving, or is it a stress response from one of these popular culprits:
- Not eating enough at a meal.
- Not sleeping enough at night.
- Starting your day with caffeine and not hydration.
- Cravings can also stem from the body being depleted of certain vitamins or macronutrients. This deprivation of nutrients leads the body to say “feed me a burger” which may actually translate into “I am anemic!”. Completing routine blood work and mineral analysis can be hugely beneficial for this.
As a dietitian, I help my patients honor cravings with blood sugar balance in mind, all while addressing hunger signals.
When we address a craving, we want to pair it with hunger. Hunger is the body telling you that it needs fuel, calories or substance to continue functioning. This is a great time to pull in diversity and balance a craving; one that has slowly built over time. Instead of “I need pizza to improve my bad day” perhaps you realize that “having pizza with the girls on Friday would be fun, and I can still start with a greek salad for balance!”
So, “How can I cure my cravings and sweet tooth once and for all?” Use these three recommendations the next time your cravings come to call!
1. Portion Problems
Here’s the trick when it comes to portion control tips – take the focus off calories in and out, and focus on the macronutrient balance instead. Depriving your body of something entirely, such as carbohydrates, will just cause it to crave it more! This results in binging or chronic late night snacking and insatiable evening hunger. Pair your cravings with a meal and see where they fit in the VPFC breakdown. For example, if you’re craving macaroni, approach it with your blood sugar in mind. Add ground turkey and roasted broccoli to your plate, alongside the pasta dish. Building your plate with a protein and non-starchy veggie, then add a serving of macaroni, allows for better satiating. Digest, rest and reevaluate your craving – did that meal satisfy it?
2. Hamster Snack Wheel
Do you have those days where you just never seem full and can’t stop snacking? Without a doubt, we’ve all been there, including me! The first step in addressing your consistent snacking is discovering the root cause.
First: are you eating enough at meal times?
It should be noted, a balanced proportional meal should last you 4 hours. Excessive snacking evolves from inadequate mealtime calories. Take a moment and evaluate your protein and fat intake at meal time. These two macronutrients tend to be what my patients unintentionally under serve themselves on. Aim for a hand size of protein and one thumb size serving of fat at meal time. If you fix your portions, your snacking tendencies will decrease!
Second, allow your body to eat when it’s hungry, don’t ignore it.
If hunger builds too long, you are prone to not feel satisfied by your next meal and instantly jump onto the snack wheel, again! This is where intuitive eating, or “the ability to listen to your body, eat when you’re hungry & stop when you’re full” comes into play.
Lastly, remove yourself from risky routines that cause overeating and excessive snacking.
The four common behaviors I see correlate with snacking habits are:
- late nights out without enough food but excessive alcohol consumption
- eating distracted in front of the TV
- skipping breakfast
- and not refueling properly within an hour of a workout (especially if it’s a morning one!)
Snacks can be helpful when we’ve had a busy day, when actual hunger shows up, or if we need to boost the protein content of a meal. Keep these items on hand. Because they are all protein-rich, I call them hunger blocks!
- A serving of greek yogurt with berries, cinnamon and slivered almonds
- Hard-boiled eggs with baby carrots and hummus
- Deli style-sliced meat with grass-fed cheddar cheese and veggies
- Purse jerky. Period.
3. Satisfy your sweet tooth in the right way:
Remember, our goal is never to ignore a craving, but to clearly identify what it is. If it isn’t stress, if it’s actually a healthy slowly growing desire for a lemon cupcake, then let’s act on it, shall we? Addressing these cravings for diet diversity is a key step in sustainable health. This doesn’t mean eating a sleeve of Oreos or taking down a pint of ice cream without intention and purpose around every bite. Learn to satisfy a sweet tooth in a healthy way and you’ll be able to manage any craving that arises!
Social Sweets is how I successfully stopped shaming myself for my cravings, spent more time with friends, and diversified my palette.
Use My Social Sweets Method if you’re ready to honor your healthy craving but nervous about overdoing it. Call a friend, meet at the bakery, share your cupcake over a cappuccino and some sweet catch up time. Social sweets are a win in the Whitness Nutrition handbook. You’re very unlikely to eat 13 cupcakes if you’re with a friend; this builds confidence in your healthy craving habits!
Work through these questions if you are suffering from a sweet tooth to mitigate the problem and identify the cause
First, did I eat enough today?
- Did I cut out specific food groups? Most of the time, late-night intense cravings arise because of extreme calorie deficits. Your body really doesn’t like to be deprived. Increase the frequency and balance at mealtimes to fix this.
Am I really stressed out?
- If so, this isn’t a craving, and self-care in the form of rest, relaxation, mediation, a walk, social connection, sunshine on your face, or a walk, might be best. Finish your walk and still need a piece of dark chocolate? Then, enjoy it!
Upcoming Birthday parties, happy hours, and other group gatherings that will be filled with sugar?
- Prior to these gatherings, plan ahead and eat a protein-rich meal or snack ahead of time to keep your blood sugar balanced and cravings at bay. Avoid going to the party hungry. And, if you do want to enjoy a slice of birthday cake or a spicy margarita, do it, intentionally, and make sure it brings joy (seriously, avoid any pressure to participate if you don’t want to. A nice “no thank you” works when you don’t want to participate!)
Ready for support to reduce your stress eating and handle your cravings? Sign up for the weekly Whitness Nutrition newsletter where I share some of my favorite finds and research. Hop on the waitlist and schedule a call with me today to find your blood sugar bliss!