Six steps to managing sugar cravings, minimizing over-eating and creating more mindful eating habits.
“I have suuuuuch a sweet tooth” is a common complaint from clients when exploring their barriers to their weight loss goals.
If you’re experiencing something similar, you’ve probably come across plenty of “dieting hacks” in the past but what they often don’t consider is the reasons you experience cravings in the first place.
Superficial solutions like “substituting chocolate for chewing on sugar free gum” for what can be much deeper issues are only going to get you so far.
It’s important to establish an awareness of your current eating habits and what they’re shaped by.
Contextualise your cravings.
I’d first like to reassure you that your “sweet tooth” ISN’T a moral dilemma and that you’re not “bad” or “un-disciplined”.
Modern society and other external factors can cause us to become disconnected with our innate hunger/fullness systems. Hunger cues and our sense of fullness can be stifled or heightened by a number of things including:
- Stress – you might seek out “comfort food” or find you’re not hungry at all.
- Caffeine – may act as an appetite suppressant. Try having food before caffeine in the morning and limit having caffeine as a meal replacement.
- Habit and environment – our environment is often behind a lot of our habits and can create a lot of triggers as a result.
- Old beliefs or food rules from childhood (i.e. being told to finish your whole plate).
“Junk foods” are specifically designed to be hyperpalatable and they override your satiation signals so you can easily eat more than intended as a result. While this factor is outside of your control there are ways of navigating these foods or cravings with intention.
Stop relying on your future “willpower”.
Sometimes it’s necessary to be proactive when it comes to eating rather than reactive. Telling yourself when you’re feeling motivated (or guilty after a “slip-up”) that “next time” you’ll simply be more strong-willed in the moment is the easy way out.
So, here are six-steps to managing sugar cravings, minimizing over-eating and creating more mindful eating habits to set you up for sustainable, long-term success.
1). Eat regular, balanced* meals throughout the day
Large gaps between meals or skipping meals entirely can lead to increased hunger (potentially in the form of increased sugar cravings) later in the day.
And what we perceive as a “lack of willpower” in the evening after “being so good during the day” may actually a signal from your body that you need more fueling than you think.
Can you curve the ravenous feeling before it hits by fueling yourself earlier in the day by having breakfast, making an intentionally larger lunch or utilising a strategically placed afternoon snack?
*Balanced meals prioritise protein, fiber and micronutrients from vegetables and complex carbohydrates, as well as “healthy” fats. All helping with energy support, assisting metabolic function and hunger management.
Try to eat more mindfully without distraction i.e. without your phone, laptop or television this will allow you to notice when you’re starting to feel full and reduce the likelihood of over-eating. Chew your food sufficiently to support better digestion.
“But I’m not hungry during the day/morning”
What you’re doing that’s allowing you to survive may still be limiting your capacity to thrive. Your brain needs fuel too.
Your daily activities will feel much harder than they need to if you’re consistently relying on your body to run on fumes which may be why you feel lethargic and mentally exhausted and crave everything in the cupboard when you get home.
2). Take full responsibility for your own success.
Do you choose to ‘graze’, snack or skip meals? Even if you’re convinced you don’t “eat much” at all. BLT’s (Bites, licks, tastes) can add up without actually fueling you or making you feel satisfied or satiated.
Do you choose to find time to create well-rounded meals for your kid/s but fail to extend the same level of care towards yourself?
Do you choose to work or busy yourself through meals?
Is the pursuit of productivity leading you to put yourself last and actually inhibiting your mental and physical performance as a result?
Do you choose to watch “one more episode” instead of making your lunch for the following day? There’s nothing wrong with the desire to wind down at night and tune out, however you can easily fall into a counterproductive cycle if you fail to prioritise your basic needs.
That extra hour of sleep you lose could be what’s keeping you hitting the snooze button right through what could be your breakfast (or gym?) time.
If you’ve “never eaten breakfast” it might be your normal but it might not necessarily be supporting your health and/or weight loss goals. Nothing changes if nothing changes. So I’d encourage you to be open to experimenting with it. Start with something small and build your way up.
Meal prepping or options that are easily put together like a shake or smoothie might come in handy here.
3). Trouble shoot your environment and make the optimal option the most convenient option.
Organise your fridge and cupboard so the “healthier” option is more visible than the less nutritious, less satiating, energy dense ones.
If you always get home in the evening feeling ravenous, or you’re prone to “comfort eating” make the optimal option easily accessible and convenient. Prepare more filling, nutrient dense snacks in advance that are both satisfying and satiating.
Protein, fiber and fat sources can help you feel more satiated for longer being slower to digest. Protein when paired with carbs help to slow the release of sugar into the blood stream to help avoid sharp energy spikes followed by rapid drops.
COMMUNICATE with those around you and outline some clear expectations as to how they can support you. For example, if your partner has a tendency to bring “treats” home ask them to limit how often they do this.
If you’re a social butterfly let your friends know that you would like to hang out in situations that don’t revolve around takeaways, restaurants or alcohol as much.
4). Give yourself permission to honor your cravings in a way that best serves your goals and your future-self.
If you’re really craving something in particular give yourself options, telling yourself you can’t have it full stop can only heighten your desire to have it.
You could give yourself the option of having it – portion out a serving or two on a plate and make a decision leave it at that.
Sit down without distractions if possible so you can fully appreciate it. Make a mini-meal of it adding additional sources of protein or fiber to the mix.
Picking at food directly from the cupboard/fridge here and there while you cook/clean etc. can feel like you’re “just having a little” but again it can add up quickly.
5). Negotiate with yourself.
Consider how long making dinner will really take, can you hold out till dinner before deep diving in the cupboard? Can you duck into the supermarket if you’re on the go to choose options that will better serve you?
If it’s not long to your next meal time or if having an actual meal would better serve you instead can you include it in your meal or can you wait instead?
Take pause and learn to distinguish between true hunger and emotionally driven cravings. If you’re feeling stressed, sad, frustrated is there a different way to address the uncomfortable feelings you’re experiencing that don’t rely on comfort food i.e. a walk, a phone call with a friend/family, journaling.
Remind yourself that whatever the food you’re craving it’ll still exist and be there for you tomorrow.
6). Set realistic expectations
Any learned food-related habit can be unlearned. But coaching yourself out of counterproductive or even harmful eating habits can take time and you’ll have weeks where your old-habits will resurface.
When this happens (and it will) resist the urge to criticise yourself or throw in the towel all together because it’s “too hard”.
Building a positive relationship with food is not something that’s fixed or transformed overnight. Persistence over perfection. Whenever you have a “set back” set aside some time for compassionate self-reflection consider what happened and how you might deal with the same situation in future .
If you’re struggling to go it alone and no longer want to settle for quick-fix approaches with short-term results but want to bring about deeper change that has you feeling positive, confident and empowered when it comes to your nutrition choices feel free to send me a message, spots are available now for my 12-week online health and fitness program “STRIVE”.
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