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It isn’t easy to kick sugar to the curb. Comfort foods and sugary delights hold a tight grip on us, stirring up both physical and emotional responses. Yes, food is emotional! When Doc was a kid, he’d visit his grandfather at the bar he owned, and “Grandpa” would always give him a Kit Kat and a Coke. Those happy childhood memories with his grandfather were closely associated with Kit Kats and Cokes. So, despite Doc’s extensive health knowledge, those cravings linger.

Sugar’s hold on us isn’t just emotional; it can affect us physically, too. Sugar is a very inflammatory food that messes with your gut. Because it alters the balance of gut bacteria, it can increase your sugar cravings even more. Sugar can also be addictive because it stimulates the reward center in the brain, releasing dopamine and internally produced opioids. Some studies even suggest it’s more addictive than cocaine.

Chronic excess sugar consumption causes long-term damage to our bodies, and most of us consume way more than we should. Over time, it can lead to serious health issues, like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. That’s why we need to be proactive about fighting sugar addiction. While it does get easier over time, here are a few tips to get you started.

How to Reduce Sugar Cravings

1 – Quit Cold Turkey – You can slowly reduce the amount of sugar in your diet, but the fastest way to stop sugar cravings is to cut sugar from your diet all at once. That means all sugar — even the locally produced maple syrup or raw honey. Many people experience die-off symptoms during this time, but after your body detoxes, you won’t feel the intense sugar cravings, and your taste buds will change (for the better).

2 – Stay Hydrated – Sometimes, thirst can be mistaken for hunger or cravings. Drinking water can help curb cravings.

3 – Eat Whole Foods That Are Healthy for You – Find healthy replacements for your food cravings and be sure to eat! If you wait too long to eat, your sugar cravings will be stronger. Be sure to follow your food allergy list, as we often crave the foods we’re allergic to. It’s not certain why that is, but it may be due to the temporary stimulation we get from the inflammatory response to that food.

4 – Plan healthy meals and snacks – Having healthy snacks on hand can help you avoid falling victim to eating a pint of ice cream in front of your favorite TV show. Raw nuts, organic beef jerky, and cruciferous veggies are great choices for most people. Chia pudding can also be a satisfying treat. We have several ideas in our recipes section.

5 – Get Your Protein in! – Eating a high-protein diet is known to promote satiety, meaning you’ll feel satisfied after eating. [1] As a side benefit, you’ll likely consume less sugar because you don’t feel a need for a dessert after a meal. Some people even experience weight loss –just from increasing their protein! [2]

6 – Don’t Forget Healthy Fats – Healthy eating involves fats! Dietary fats don’t necessarily contribute to weight gain or heart disease, as you’ve been told. The devil is in the details. Not all fats are the same. Industrially processed genetically modified seed oils like canola and soybean (“vegetable”) have an entirely different effect than beef tallow and coconut oil. You need fat for your brain, your hormones, proper cell function, and more. Getting adequate fat in your diet can help reduce cravings for unhealthy high-sugar foods. Even having half an avocado or a square of dark chocolate can help.

7 – Choose Complex Carbs and Wait Until Dinner – Did you know we tend to process carbs better when we eat them later in the day? If you have any problems maintaining balanced blood sugar levels, starting the day with carbohydrates like cereal or toast is not a good idea. Enjoying complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, legumes, and whole grains like oats or rice at your evening meal may be a better idea.

8 – Use Alternative Sweeteners Sparingly – Sweeteners like stevia, monk fruit, and xylitol are natural sweeteners that can satisfy your sweet tooth without the blood sugar spikes. Use them sparingly so you can change your taste buds. Eventually, you may not crave as many sweets.

9 – Avoid Artificial Sweeteners – Artificial sweeteners like sucralose, aspartame, and saccharin aren’t recognized by the body and may do more harm than good. For example, some studies link these “non-nutritive sweeteners” to blood sugar imbalance and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. [3] They may even INCREASE cravings and weight gain! [4]

10 – Support a Healthy Gut – An imbalance in your gut can lead to certain bacteria or yeast taking over, which can contribute to sugar cravings. Take care of your gut by avoiding inflammatory foods and adding some fermented foods like sauerkraut or kimchi, if tolerated.

11 – Get Plenty of Sleep – Sleep deprivation can make those cravings stronger and more challenging to overcome. That’s actually backed up by science. A clinical trial published in 2013 found that sleep deprivation changes brain activity and increases cravings for high-calorie foods. [5] A 2019 study discovered the cravings associated with sleep loss were due to a food-reward mechanism, not hormonal changes. We essentially compensate for the lack of sleep with pleasurable foods — like sweet treats and junk foods. [6]

12 – Exercise – Yes, exercise can help reduce sugar cravings! The rush we get from eating sugar releases feel-good chemicals like beta-endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine. The good news is that exercise can do the same thing! Instead of eating sugar, take a walk or try yoga to get those happy neurotransmitters. There’s research to support this! Even brisk walking can reduce people’s cravings for chocolate and other sweet foods. [7]

13 – Reduce Stress – Yes, stress can make you crave foods! A study published in the Journal of Health Psychology found that chronic stress had a direct effect on food cravings and emotional eating. [8] Take care of yourself and find ways to reduce stress. Support your mental health by making time for loved ones, hobbies, and getting out in nature.

14 – Chew Xylitol Gum – Gum or mints sweetened with xylitol and have a dual purpose! Chewing gum, in general, may reduce cravings for snacks between meals. [9] But making it xylitol gum (or mints) may also improve your dental health! A 2011 study found that habitual use of xylitol as a sweetener can reduce the buildup of plaque and interfere with cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth. [10]

15 – Mix Up Your Routine – Look at the ways your habits sabotage you and find new ones. Do you always have dessert after dinner? Take a walk instead. Always have a sugary coffee drink or soda mid-morning? Find a healthy swap. Know your pitfalls and avoid them.

Get Support to Curb Your Sugar Cravings

The average American now eats over 100 pounds of sugar a year. Imagine that! Sugar is in everything these days. It takes being proactive to avoid giving in to the cravings and giving yourself a healthier diet. Here’s a bonus tip: Seek out a supportive network – friends or other like-minded people – who will hold you accountable and vice versa, creating a mutual support system. We all need people to remind us that the Kit Kat and Coke (or other sugary foods) aren’t worth it.

Check out our No Sugar Challenge group on Facebook. It’s full of people sharing ideas and supporting each other in following a healthier lifestyle. They share great recipes, too! You’ll find some great ones to start with in our recipe section. We know it’s not easy to eat healthy foods and avoid the added sugar, but it’s worth it.

Originally posted April 30, 2020. Updated January 4, 2024.

Learn more about sugar with Dr. Patrick Flynn in this video:

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Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Wellness Way clinic or personal physician, especially if currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Pregnant women, in particular, should seek the advice of a physician before trying any herb or supplement listed on this website. Always speak with your individual clinic before adding any medication, herb, or nutritional supplement to your health protocol. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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