Sugar is everywhere, whether you realize it or not. It goes by different names--sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, maltose--which makes it hard to spot and even harder to avoid.
And sure, we know sugar is bad for us...Oh, let us count the ways. It’s bad for our skin, it’s bad for the aging process, it’s bad for our mood, and…let’s just say it’s bad for our bodies. So why do we keep coming back to it like some ex we know is bad for us? And as we move toward a more body-positive culture, can we have our sugar and eat it too--without all that baggage?
In short, yes. But the reasons we crave it go deeper than “it tastes so good.” Only by addressing these underlying causes can we come to control our sugar cravings--instead of letting them control us.
Get Enough Sleep
If you have trouble not reaching for an afternoon handful of Swedish Fish (hey, we’ve been all there), a lack of sleep may be to blame. Research suggests that when you sleep enough you have better impulse control. When you’re tired, it’s harder to restrict yourself and make healthy choices.
Junk food cravings also increase after a night of bad (or zero) sleep. Researchers at UC Berkeley found that brain activity in the frontal lobe, which controls decision making, was impaired after a restless night. But the part of the brain that responds to rewards (i.e. loves to eat deep fried Oreos and drink rosé while watching a Keeping Up with the Kardashians) was more active than usual.
In another study, groups of adults who increased their sleep reduced both their fat and sugar intake. Evidence like this gives new weight to the phrase “beauty sleep.”
So how do you go from night owl to Sleeping Beauty? Get back to the basics. Exposure to light suppress the release of melatonin in your body, which means it may take you longer to “feel” tired even when you are.
Do yourself a favor: turn off bright lights and your phone two hours before bed. You know what they say, “no pain, no gain.”
Part of the reason we love sugar is because it provides a quick release of dopamine, which gives us that “sugar high” we crave. But that high is always followed by a crash. This means we need alternative ways to relax and destress that don’t involve chocolate.
Meditation is a popular way to control your mood because it forces the body and mind to slow down. This can help you eradicate stress at the source so it doesn’t result in unhealthy eating habits.
And, to be perfectly honest, we could all use a ten minutes to check in with our breath and chill the F out. As Ghandhi said, “be the change you want to see in the world.” If meditating means you can get through a workweek without daydreaming of ways to fake your own disappearance while reducing your sugar intake at the same time, we’re all for it.
Exercise’s positive effect on our energy levels makes it a great way to combat sugar cravings. As anyone who heads into the snack cabinet at 3pm knows, we’re prone to grabbing something sugary when we’re feeling groggy (see tip #1).
Beating the afternoon slump isn’t impossible, it just requires tweaking our daily habits. Those who exercise regularly have been shown to have a reduced interest in high-calorie foods and lower levels of fatigue. Talk about a win-win!
And no, exercising doesn’t mean you have to go all Arnold Schwarzenegger at the gym, it just means creating a routine that works for you. Because, believe it or not, our bodies were not designed to sit at a desk for 9 hours. Whether it’s spin or yoga or just a bike ride through your local park, exercise will go a long way in upping your vibe.
Because as the very wise Elle Woods once said, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t kill their husbands. They just don’t.”
Kicking sugar to the curb isn’t going to happen overnight, but with the right adjustments to our habits and expectations it can happen over time.