You’re at work, feeling pretty good about yourself having completed your early morning workout and treated your body to a protein smoothie and homemade chicken and kale salad, when the dreaded sugar cravings strike. Suddenly those healthy, nutritional vibes go straight out the window and you would literally steam-roll Karen in accounting for the last chocolate, cream filled biscuit. But why? How did you go from feeling totally satisfied and in control of your healthy eating plan, to being all over sugar like donkey on waffles….
Like everything else, we can get into the habit of including a sweet treat after a meal, particularly dinner. If you think back to when you were little, you might have been one of the lucky ones that heard, ‘if you eat all of your dinner you can have dessert.’ So even from a young age, we are taught that eating a full savoury meal, means a reward of something sweet to finish. This habit is then carried into our adult life and we can find ourselves indulging in desserts or sweet treats every night after dinner.
Studies have shown that as the day progresses, our attitudes towards unhealthy foods tend to change. When the day starts we may have the best intentions, have a nutritious breakfast, pack a healthy lunch and go to the gym, however as the day progresses the thought of eating sugary foods seems more acceptable to us. This is possibly because we consider it a reward for all of the healthy eating and exercise we have already done that day. Also, it is more socially acceptable to eat sweet foods in the afternoon or evening, such as having a coffee and cake, so we don’t place the same negative thoughts on those foods later in the day.
You haven’t eaten enough
If you have skipped breakfast or lunch, the body will crave those lost calories at some stage during the day and when it does, the feeling can be quite intense. This may also result in a drop in blood sugar levels, leaving the body wanting high calorie foods. Suddenly your body wants immediate gratitude from the food it eats, which it gets from high sugar, sweet foods.
Lack of sleep
When the body has not had enough sleep the night before, the afternoon and evening can a particularly exhausting time. The body needs to get its energy from somewhere, so it turns its attention to sugar in order to get an immediate energy hit. Despite the fact this won’t last long and you will find yourself even more exhausted when the high wears off.
Everyone else is doing it
You may be in a situation where you actually don’t crave sugar at all, but because the rest of the office sits down to a cup of tea and a biscuit, you soon find yourself doing the same. A good example of this is, ‘I only eat that when I’m at work because there is a biscuit jar and myself and Carol have a chat and an afternoon treat, but I don’t do it over the weekend.’
So how can you avoid these cravings?
If you are someone who indulges in a sweet treat every afternoon or evening, going cold turkey may cause you to binge eat. So it’s important to make those changes to your diet slowly, so that you feel in control of your eating habits. Start by recognising the times of the day when your cravings generally start and write down what you are consuming during those periods. After a week, you should have a pretty good idea of when, how much and what you are consuming. Once you know this, you can work towards slowly decreasing the amounts you are eating, for example going from a full sized chocolate bar to a fun size, or from 2 biscuits to 1.
Once you have started to lower the portion sizes, it might be time to look at substituting the sweet treat for something more nutritious. Some options include a cup of flavoured tea, handful of nuts, Greek yoghurt and berries, nut butter and veggie sticks and plain popcorn.
Being thirsty can occasionally be confused with being hungry. So having a glass of water before eating can help you reduce the amount of food you eat and help with those cravings.
When I found myself indulging in chocolate every night I started by switching to dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is obviously quite rich, so I didn’t eat as much of it and being less sweet than milk chocolate meant I slowly started to not crave the sugar. Once I was down to 1 piece in the evenings, I found some days I simply didn’t crave chocolate at all anymore. I still enjoy it when I eat it, but I no longer need it…