You've been "good" all day and stuck to your diet, so why do you succumb to sugar cravings in the afternoon? It takes more than will power to stop a sugar craving. Our desire to eat sugar is a complicated combination of biological, microbial and emotional factors.
These are some of the reasons you might be reaching for sugar in the afternoon:
1. Not eating enough earlier in the day
It's important to eat in a way that supports healthy blood sugar levels. A dip in your blood sugar level might cause you crave something sweet. We need a mix of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats to fuel us for a busy day.
Even if you're on a diet, I recommend that you eat some protein and healthy carbohydrate choices early in the day to help sustain your energy.
Examples of healthy breakfasts and lunch are:
eggs with avocado, mushrooms and baby spinach
muesli with yoghurt, granola and fruit
chicken with avocado and tabbouleh salad
salmon with Greek salad
If you don't have a good understanding of nutrition and how it affects your health, I recommend that you get some professional advice. A well balanced diet has many health benefits beyond energy levels and weight loss.
2. Imbalances in gut microbes
When our gut bacteria or yeast are out of balance it can make us feel lethargic and cause us to crave sugar.
You might have noticed that after even only a few days of eating sugary foods you start to crave them? This might be the result of gut microbes becoming unbalanced from poor diet choices.
Imbalances in gut microbiota can be caused by antibiotics, the oral contraceptive pill, stress, or eating a high sugar diet. Seek help from a naturopath to help you plan a diet that supports healthy gut microbiome and is suitable for you.
Studies show us that the bacteria in the gut of healthy people is different to that of overweight people and those with insulin resistance. Balancing your gut bacteria can be easy with a varied diet that includes a wide range of fruits and vegetables.
3. Are you under stress?
Stress can make us reach for sugary foods because they make us feel good. There are many types of stressors that we are subjected to everyday. Exercise, rushing, relationships (at home and at work), finances, trying to do too much, and perfectionism are all examples of everyday stress.
When we are stressed we tend to slip back into old habits. Even if we are trying to eat well and stay away from sugar, our brain and body find it easier to stick to old routines when we're under pressure.
If you're trying to cut back on your sugary treats, choose a time when you are not under a lot of additional stress. For example, changing jobs or moving house is not a good time to try to make changes to your diet.
4. Could you have nutrient deficiencies?
There are a number of nutrients that are essential for blood sugar management. These nutrients should come from your diet.
Magnesium, chromium, zinc, manganese , vitamin B6 and biotin are some of the nutrients that we know play a role in healthy blood sugar metabolism.
In my clinic I teach people how to change their diets to include foods that contain these minerals and vitamins.
In the short term, while you are making diet changes we might use vitamin and mineral supplements. Herbal extracts such as cinnamon and gymnema are also beneficial to support blood sugar levels in some people.
5. How are you sleeping?
This might sound like a strange question, but it's a fact that sleep can affect the hormones we produce. A night of poor sleep can cause changes in our leptin and ghrelin levels and result in cravings and over eating.
Try getting to bed at the same time each night and aim for 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep. If insomnia is a regular problem for you, it could be part of the reason you struggle with fatigue and sugar cravings. A naturopath can also help you with this.
6. Does your period make your cravings worse?
Changes in oestrogen and progesterone during our period can make us hungrier and affect our blood sugar regulation. Leading up to a period can be a time when sugar cravings increase.
PMS with sugar cravings is common but not healthy, and a naturopath can help you to establish a cycle free of PMS symptoms using diet changes and short term herbal medicine.
Peri-menopause and menopause can be a time when blood sugar levels can vary and worsen the symptoms experienced at this time. Managing blood sugar fluctuations is one of my priorities when I work with menopause.
Making gradual changes
Trying to use willpower to stop eating sugary foods is very difficult if you have a stressful life, nutrient deficiencies, gut microbiome imbalances or hormone imbalances. Making gradual changes to your diet can be the best way to get rid of sugar cravings for good. I recommend gradually decreasing the sugary foods and gradually increasing the healthy foods.
Swap out sweet foods for less sweet foods. Chocolate can be replaced by dark chocolate. A donut can be replaced by a punnet of blueberries. Cereal swapped with an omelette for breakfast.
Just do your best and don't feel bad if you occasionally fall back on bad habits. The important thing is to understand and remember why you are making diet changes.
Increase not just the amount but also the variety of vegetables in your diet to improve the balance of gut bacteria. Try to have at least 40 different vegetables in your diet so that your gut can benefit from the variety of fibres and nutrients.
If you need advice and support to make diet changes, please contact me for an appointment.
I am a naturopath, nutritionist, herbalist and certified wellness coach.
I welcome clients to my clinic in Gladesville, Sydney.
This blog contains information from my Bachelor of Health Science degree, continuing research, and from experience gained from working with women in my clinic.
The blog is not intended as individual health advice and you should seek assistance for medical conditions.