It’s 3 p.m. — do you know where your candy stash is?
If you routinely find yourself crashing and burning by mid-afternoon, you’re not alone. Most people experience intense food cravings at some time or another, and many feel the need to feed their sweet tooth when they’re tired, stressed, or just plain bored. This overwhelming desire for sugary snacks isn’t surprising; humans are hard-wired to crave sweetness, the taste we prefer from birth. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate, and carbs stimulate the release of serotonin and endorphins, the feel-good chemicals that create that yummy sense of calm and happiness.
But while a heaping bowl of pasta, a king-sized candy bar, or an entire night’s worth of trick-or-treat loot can leave you feeling blissed out in the short term, the long-term effects aren’t so fun. Americans over-consume sugar in so many ways — not just at dessert. Sugar is lurking in everything from yogurt to salad dressing to barbecue sauce to the point where Americans average about 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day (equivalent to about five and a half Twinkies, 27 ounces of Coca Cola, or about 27 Oreo cookies!) . That’s a lot more than the six teaspoons for women and nine for men that the American Heart Association recommends.
Sugary snacks create a vicious circle so you to crave more sugar later, creating a recipe for dietary disaster. Without the balance of protein and fat, simple carbs can quickly satisfy hunger and boost energy, but leave you feeling hungry again soon after, desperately seeking more sugar.
Unfortunately, the news may be worse for women: one study found females have a harder time ignoring cravings, and also express a greater initial desire for food due to biological differences between sexes. Additionally, research has shown that 90 percent of women experience food cravings several times a month, compared with just 50 percent of men.
So if the looming holiday season has you dreaming of sugar and spice (and more sugar), check out these tips for combating cravings:
1. Find balance first
According to One Medical nutritionist Samantha Treyve, RD, the only foolproof method for sidestepping cravings is consuming nutritious, balanced meals with protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats to re-calibrate the body’s physiology and stabilize blood sugar. “Ultimately, cravings boil down to blood sugar regulation,” she says. “A lot of people recognize their cravings dissipate when they start eating well-balanced meals, particularly adding protein and fat.” Not sure how to build a balanced meal? Check out our guide to creating a healthy plate. Treyve says just one or two days of sensible eating can significantly cut cravings.
2. Press pause and evaluate your feelings
Before reaching for a snack, stop and ask yourself if you’re truly hungry? Maybe you’re actually stressed or tired. Eating in response to stress creates an association in the brain, leading you to crave that food every time you’re anxious.
3. Find another stress-buster
If you realize stress is driving your cravings more than hunger, find other ways to soothe your nerves and calm down. Try listening to music you love, journaling, reading a compelling book, taking a bath, or doing any other form of self-care that’s not food-related until the cravings pass.
4. Take a walk
You don’t have to hit the gym to outrun your cravings; one study found that a 15-minute walk was enough to curb cravings in a small group of overweight participants, compared to those who didn’t walk.
5. Eat enough throughout the day
Strict dieting (including diets that eliminate an entire food group, i.e. low/no-carb) can set you up for intense cravings. One study found that “restrained” eaters are more likely to experience cravings and to overeat “forbidden” foods when given the chance. Try not to banish any foods, indulging in a moderate amount lessens the likelihood of binges.
6. Get enough sleep
One study found that sleeplessness can cause a significant drop in leptin (the hormone responsible for signaling satiety) and boost ghrelin (the hormone responsible for increasing appetite). These changes significantly increased the desire for carb-rich, calorie-dense foods up to 45 percent.
Drink a big glass of water before reaching for food – one study found that two 8-ounce glasses before meals helped participants shed more weight than those who didn’t because the zero-calorie beverage replaces sugary drinks and fills the stomach.
8. Stock up on fruit
Keeping fresh fruit in a visible spot in your kitchen or on your desk can do wonders for curbing junk-food cravings. Fruits like green apples, pears and grapes can satisfy your desire for sweetness, while delivering fiber and nutrients.
9. Indulge with intention
If you’re going to indulge, pick a high-quality treat made of good ingredients, instead of splurging on something low-quality and unsatisfying. A small piece of fine dark chocolate can be more satisfying than a $1 candy bar.
10. Portion out your snacks ahead of time
Use measuring spoons and cups to make sure you’re eating the correct serving sizes of nuts, crackers, and even the occasional candy treats to avoid mindlessly overeating.
11. Make smart substitutions
Rather than reaching for chips, choose something else with a satisfying crunch, like celery or carrots with hummus; the texture may be enough to satisfy your craving.
The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.
Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. The One Medical Group entities and 1Life Healthcare, Inc. make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.