sugar cravings

Lately I have been getting so many amazing questions from you all that I felt like I needed to do a blog! “What am I suppose to eat on low carb days?” or  “Low carb day is going to suck!”  Are the questions and comments I often get. 

The honest truth is… Yes, low carb day will likely suck if you are addicted to sugar.

Around 2 pm I used to get relentless sugar cravings. I would first attempt to drink some water, then some blueberries but before long I was throwing in handfuls of chocolate covered almonds or my goto Reese’s pieces snack.  The truth is, I am still trying not to sabotage my withdrawal progress with M&Ms, maple syrup and diet coke.

We all know that sugar is bad for you. Side effects are weight gain, as well as increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. So while taking the leap to ditch sugar cold turkey may be challenging, its nothing compared to having to deal with chronic disease.

Heres’ How to Break the Cycle. 

While some experts suggest scaling down over time, I believe cutting it out all together is the best way to be successful at breaking the habit. I personally cannot scale down but I recognize it is worse for some people then others. For me the little square of chocolate sets me up to want more. If you are like me and want to cut sugar out cold turkey remember that the cravings are temporary and will eventually go away.

Can Sugar Really be Addicting?

From an evolutionary perspective, it is useful for the survival of a species to have an internal desire for food. However, when food is unlimited and abused the desire may go awry.  It is far too common in our society to see an unhealthy dependence on palatable foods that interfere with an individuals well-being.

In the past I have felt so satisfied by sugar. It made me happy and seemed to relieve my stress. Why is this? Research has shown that you can actually become addicted to the sweet stuff. Like heroin and cocaine, sugar stimulates the same “pleasure” centres in the brain.

Sugar releases opioids and dopamine similar to the way substances of abuse do. Researchers believe this is why foods might have the same addictive potential. This hypotheses is supported by rat studies. After just a month of access to sugary foods rats showed a series of behaviours similar to the effects of drug abuse. The rats displayed periods of  “binging” as well as “withdrawal” symptoms such as anxiety and depression.

The science behind these behaviours is when rats binge on sugar, dopamine is elevated in the brain area called the nucleus accumbens. This is a classic effect seen in substance abuse. Consequently this rise in dopamine causes changes in the expression of the dopamine receptors.  This becomes an issue because the nucleus accumbent is important in reinforcing the “reward”. These changes promote food seeking and reinforcement of learning, incentive motivation, making the habit even more difficult to break.

Dopamine is not the only neurotransmitter to be altered by the ingestion of palatable foods. Opioids as well as several cholinergic systems in the brain have been implicated in both food and drug intake. This overlap in multiple chemical pathways is capable of creating profound cravings, as well as withdrawal symptoms.

While breaking the cycle is not an easy feat based on the brain neurochemistry described above, it is so important for your long term health.

Negative Side Effects of Sugar:

As you probably know, sugar addiction comes with a lot of negative health side effects. Do you feel any of these symptoms on a weekly basis?

  1.  Unbeatable Cravings: No matter what you do, you cannot stop thinking about sugar. You try and eat healthy as well as exercise but consistently you are forced to use extreme willpower. You shouldn’t have to feel this way. You should not be eating sugar, not because you can’t stop but because you don’t want it
  2.  Chronic Fatigue & Brain Fog: Fatigue in the AM as well as throughout the day, that can only be remediated with caffeine or sugar is a negative effect of sugar. When your blood sugar is out of whack you may also experience headaches, weakness, dizziness and issues concentration.
  3. Inability to lose weight: Do you wonder how you had so much energy when your were younger? Have you been gaining weight over the years or are you stuck in a frustrating plateau? Even you cut back calories and are exercising more you may be unable to lose weight because sugar has created havoc on your hormones. This makes weight loss biologically difficult if not impossible.
  4. Feeling Deprived: You stop eating sugar but are feeling like a prisoner to your cravings. You are at the point where food literally controls you.  You constantly feel like you are on a “diet” and missing out on the foods you really want to eat. Sugar negatively impacts your gut flora. This hostile gut environment begs you to eat more sugar so it can grow larger and faster.

If you are tired of living day-by-day hostage to your uncontrollable cravings and want to finally break free. 

If you are finally ready to lose the stubborn weight especially around your midsection.

If you are sick and tired of starting over.

If you want to live life without feeling deprived. 

Then the solution to fixing all these problems is to start with getting yourself off the sugar. If that sounds intimidating or impossible, I want to show you that it can be done. You can achieve health, and you can prevent disease. Change starts with you and I believe in you.

To get you started below I have included my 6 tips to kick the cravings to the curb.


1. Sub Whole Fruit for Sweets: 

I would much rather see clients get their sugar from fruit then gummy worms. Fruit provides fiber, vitamins and antioxidants that are lacking in sugary treats. If possible choose fruits with a low glycemic load such as watermelon and blueberries.

2. Remove all temptations: 

“Out of sight, out of mind.” In order to set yourself up for success trash or donate any sugary temptations at home or at work. The key to curbing sugar cravings is to control the environments you can. There is nothing worse then having to exercise superhero willpower all the time. If I was to look at chocolate long enough eventually I will eat it. To prevent this I don’t bother having it in the house.

3. Plan Ahead:

If you know you are going out for dinner and expect to be overwhelmed with temptation the worst thing you can do is go hungry. Before you go out have a light meal. Focus on consuming protein and fats to keep you full and satisfied. The goal is to not have a sugar crash right before the dessert comes out. If you do saying “no” will be next to impossible.

3. Artificial Sweeteners Must Go: 

You cannot replace sugar with aspartame, sucralose, saccharine or even large amounts of stevia. Research shows many artificial sweeteners still raise insulin. In addition, when you consume something that tastes sweet but introduce no real sugar into the blood system you may throw off the body’s normal response mechanism. Over time blunting this response can cause you to overeat and consistently have higher blood sugar levels, predisposing you to type two diabetes. In addition artificial sweeteners have a negative health profile which includes obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome as well as cardiovascular disease.

4. Assess Any Nutrient Deficiencies: 

Chocolate sugar cravings in particular are extremely common in women. It has been hypothesized that because chocolate is high in magnesium, then a deficiency in magnesium may play a role in chocolate cravings. While this is possible I question why other food sources high in magnesium, such as nuts, are rarely craved for. Chocolate cravings in my opinion likely have more to do more with the sugar and fat contents effects on the dopamine system that are outlined above. While further investigation is needed before we can attribute cravings to a specific deficiency, you can ask your doctor to check your levels. As a self experiment you can try to curve the craving by eating magnesium rich foods such as dark leafy greens, legumes and nuts.

5. Seek Support:

In my experience those who are able to commit to healthy diet and lifestyle are those that have a strong support system. Having a coach or mentor to keep you accountable should be a top priority. Join an online fitness group or find a friend to commit with you. Seeking encouragement will be what helps to keeps you going.

6. Use Cation with Everything in Moderation:

While there is no need to feel like you are on a “diet” all the time, I don’t believe in eating everything in moderation. The goal is to find a healthy lifestyle and nutritional plan that allows you feel satisfied but I want to caution you on “moral licensing”. Get away from thinking you are “good” for eating “good” food or “bad” for eating “bad” food. When you do this you are more likely to give yourself permission to eat junk tomorrow because you ate food food today.

It is also very important to separate your nutrition choices from your self worth. Food is just a tool we use to fuel our body and nothing more. When we self-judge based on food choice we destroy our ability to create a healthy relationship with food. I want you to eat healthy foods to optimize your health and prevent disease. Whether or not you eat nutrient dense foods or not – you are neither a good or bad person.


The Wrap-up:

The idea of “food addiction” is becoming more prominent and gaining acceptance. The alarming rise in obesity in conjunction with research illustrating parallels between drugs of abuse and palatable foods has given credibility to this idea.  According to animal studies sugar is capable of creating “dependency” as well as some pretty profound “withdrawal” symptoms.  Overuse of sugar creates changes in the brain that perpetuate the problem.


  • Appleton N.  Lick the sugar habit. Nancy Appleton; Santa Monica: 1996.
  • Avena NM, Carrillo CA, Needham L, Leibowitz SF, Hoebel BG. Sugar-dependent rats show enhanced intake of unsweetened ethanol. Alcohol. 2004;34:203–209.
  • Avena NM, Hoebel BG. A diet promoting sugar dependency causes behavioral cross-sensitization to a low dose of amphetamine. Neuroscience. 2003b;122:17–20.
  • Avena NM, Rada P, Moise N, Hoebel BG. Sucrose sham feeding on a binge schedule releases accumbens dopamine repeatedly and eliminates the acetylcholine satiety response. Neuroscience. 2006;139:813–820.
  • Bassareo V, Di Chiara G. Modulation of feeding-induced activation of mesolimbic dopamine transmission by appetitive stimuli and its relation to motivational state. Eur J Neurosci. 1999;11:4389–4397.
  • Bello NT, Lucas LR, Hajnal A. Repeated sucrose access influences dopamine D2 receptor density in the striatum. Neuroreport. 2002;13:1575–1578
  • Berridge KC. Food reward: brain substrates of wanting and liking. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 1996;20:1–25.
  • Bray GA, Nielsen SJ, Popkin BM. Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;79:537–543.
  • Cell Press. “The dark side of artificial sweeteners: Expert reviews negative imact.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 July 2013.
  • Corwin RL. Bingeing rats: a model of intermittent excessive behavior? Appetite. 2006;46:11–15.
  • Colantuoni C, Schwenker J, McCarthy J, Rada P, Ladenheim B, Cadet JL, Schwartz GJ, Moran TH, Hoebel BG. tExcessive sugar intake alters binding to dopamine and mu-opioid receptors in the brain. Neuroreport. 2001;12:3549–3552.