We all know that eating food with added sugar isn’t great for us if done on a regular basis. But sweet stuff has a way of calling to us and demanding our attention unlike any other food! And once we eat the sugar we crave, it seems to turn into a cycle of eating too much of it – trying to stay away from it – then craving it again and overindulging.
I was a daily ice cream eater for at least a decade – not to mention diet coke and cereal addict – and I know how sugar cravings work. But, those days are in the past, and though I love a good treat, I also know that to really enjoy sweets, you need to stop craving sugar on a regular basis.
So how do we stop craving sugar?
I’ve seen tips that range from giving sugar up altogether (which scares a lot of people) to eating frozen fruit or other “healthy” frozen desserts to attempt to satisfy the craving without going for the Ben & Jerry’s or Hershey’s. Clearly there are things that work for some people and not for others. Today, I’ll let you in on 5 steps (and a bonus!) that helped me stop craving sugar for good.
1. First, completely cut out the “hyper-sweet” food you’re eating.
Apologies in advance for this because I know it’s not what you want to hear. But processed sweets, sugar substitutes, and foods that are definitely more sweet than they should be (lots of added sugar) taste that way because they are designed to make you crave more. If you want to stop craving you have to eliminate these foods and drinks completely. You probably already know which ones you’re eating that are “addictive.” The list includes cookies, candy, regular and diet soda, sweet baked goods, most cereals, you know, all the “good” stuff. When I first did this I swear I felt like there was a part of my mouth missing. Kind of weird, but describes how the sweet taste has its grip on you.
2. Eat more fat.
When I stopped eating sugar I suddenly realized that I wasn’t eating enough food! I had been eating more for taste than for actual nutrition and was missing basic key nutrients in my diet. I quickly realized that fat was a big void in my meals. I had been “fat phobic” for years based on conventional wisdom that told me a low fat diet was the key to health. But fat is essential for satiating true hunger, once a sweet taste is not what you’re after. Start eating more olive oil, butter or ghee (clarified butter), unsweetened nut butters, coconut oil, fatty fish, grass-fed beef and fattier cuts of chicken (skin!) and even bacon, yes bacon. You will quickly realized that some of your “sugar cravings” were really malnourishment in disguise! Fat is delicious, satiating, and darn it – it IS good for you!
3. Eat whole, unsweetened fruit.
Once you’ve given yourself a solid week off of the “hyper-sweet” stuff you might start to notice that fruit actually tastes REALLY sweet when it’s good and ripe! There is a reason they call it nature’s candy, but if you’re still eating actual candy and diet soda there’s no way you’ll know this. A big caveat here is that if you are still struggling with major sugar cravings, do not turn to fruit to try to satisfy those cravings – because it won’t. Fruit can really enhance the flavor of meals and be a great dessert once you are no longer having intense cravings. A good way to figure this out is if you are eating fruit but not feeling satisfied, you probably still need more time away from the processed and hyper-sweet food before you can fully enjoy fruit in all its glory.
4. Watch what you’re drinking.
To really stop craving sugar, water is absolutely essential. Drink lots of plain (unflavored) water throughout the day when you remember and you will be even less likely to crave sugar. For reasons I don’t completely understand, thirst sometimes manifests as a sugar craving. This might be exaccerbated by how our brains are so used to craving the stuff that we manifest other physical sensations as a desire for sugar. I’m not sure, but what I DO know is that along with the other steps, keeping hydrated helps a lot!
5. Be aware of the “sugar associations” and break them if you wish.
The psychological pull toward sugar seems to be the last to go in my experience. I always ate ice cream or sweet cereal after the kids went to bed and this association has been the hardest to break. Even when I am clearly not hungry I will usually have some fruit or coconut butter at this time because it just feels comforting. And you know what? I acknowledge the association, and make the call whether I want to go with it or ignore it. The thing is that now, it just doesn’t have the pull on me that it used to, it’s a CHOICE! So some nights I think, “I’m full I’ll just brush my teeth now” and other nights it seems like the right time for some fruit and coconut butter. But the cravings, as I once knew them, are gone!
* Bonus. Recognize and understand the difference between ending your sugar cravings to improve your health, and depriving yourself of food with the hope of losing weight.
If you want to quit sugar to lose weight and do not have other health goals in mind, these steps will not work. Why? Because you will go into it with a “diet” mentality and an attitude of deprivation. Ending sugar cravings is not about depriving ourselves of sweets. It’s about nourishing ourselves properly and thoroughly without the distraction of the cookies, ice cream, and other zero-nutrition junk calling to us. With this in mind, think hard about how much nutrient-dense food you eat during the day and if you notice yourself skimping on food, work on adding more fat, protein, and unprocessed carbs into your meals. A happy and well nourished body and mind is a lot less likely to crave sugar!
Do you struggle with sugar cravings or have you in the past? How have you approached it?
Reader Reviews & Comments
debbie ramirez says
Michele, it’s the HARDEST!! I’ve given up gluten, grains, legumes, dairy, soy. All relatively easy compared to my craving for sugar. I try to limit it to whole fresh fruit and dark chocolate, but I find myself straying from that plan more often than I’d like to admit. When I was pregnant and breastfeeding, I gave it up and wow…I felt fantastic. in fact, when I took my first bite of something sugary after I weaned my kids, I felt sick. I know this and yet, it’s crazy hard. One day at a time…
Yeah I think this is the hardest thing for most poeple, and it’s easy to slide back into having more and more sugar even when you’ve eliminated a lot of it!
For some people a “zero” approach probably works the best, meaning just don’t eat sweet food at all! I found that once I quit sugar substitutes, diet soda and processed foods my sugar cravings almost disappeared. I feel great just having fruit maybe once a day and actual sweet stuff doesn’t taste good! I think that making sure you’re eating enough overall is important too.
Why did you give up grains and legumes, Debbie?
Amber Villanueva says
Well legumes and grains cause inflammation in the gut. Plus legumes are considered a night shade veggie because of the amount of pectin night shades naturally produce. And lectin is usually a defense tool for the veggie itself but a harmful tool for the human gut.
Amber Villanueva says
LECTIN*** CORRECTING AUTO CORRECT TYPO
Kirtley Freckleton@ The Gist of Fit says
Love all your ideas–I am super passionate about kicking sugar addictions!
I’m ‘free’ now but it took awhile to get there. I thought it would be impossible when I was in the trap.
So many things happened to make it possible, but one of my favorites is just how my mind frame changed about sugar. I just see it differently now. I see how harmful it can be, so it just sounds gross most of the time.
I mean, this is extreme–but if you knew something was toxic, but tasted good, how often would you consume it?
Thanks! Awesome post!
I hear you and I feel the same way now too. It’s amazing how you can completely change the way you taste things just by eating whole and fresh food. I am fine with fruit and it tastes better to me now than any of the junk I used to eat.
I just found your blog off of Hungryrunnergirl and I love it! I am currently trying to cut out sugar! ( I go back and fourth) I have PCOS so eating this way is what I should be doing all the time! I work at a hospital and I tell my nurses that sugar is like an addictive drug, once you start you can’t stop. I eat well at home but at work its a different story! I need to pre- plan my meals for the week! Ice cream is my drug of choice! I am so glad I found your blog great article!!
Yay glad you found me! I used to be in total denial about how hooked I was on sugar, justifying that I used splenda and stevia and all that garbage and also that it wasn’t making me gain weight so it wasn’t a problem. BUT I hated feeling that pull toward getting a sweet fix all the time! Different things work for different people, but I really do believe doing a pretty strict elimination of sweeteners is necessary when people are really craving it a lot. A paleo way of eating is also a great way to approach PCOS from what I’ve read/heard. Glad you enjoyed reading!
Great post … I think my ‘#0’ would be ‘try moderation’ … BUT as we know, for most people that doesn’t work.
I still have occasional ice cream (as Instagram can attest!) and diet soda, but have completely cut out processed and packaged sweets. And I really haven’t wanted them, so it wasn’t like I had to ‘quit’ … I just stopped.
And the key is how once you have switched away from over-sweet stuff, you lose your taste for it. I love fruit smoothies with unsweetened almond milk, and I make it thicker and it ends up like soft serve ice cream and as a result I eat much less ice cream.
I also find it easy to have ‘just one bite’ – when we went on our department boat trip, we got a dessert to split between a bunch of us, and I had just a bite, and easily let it sit there and even some of it got discarded (something I would never have done before). One bite was good, but rich and very sweet … two would have been overload!
Agree with all of it! Unfortunately most people can’t do moderation with sugar, I tried and it never worked. I think once you lose your taste for the super sweet junk you know you’re “off” sugar, and also if you can do the “just one bite” thing. I recently went out and had a few bites of an ice cream sundae and it felt like more than enough of that taste. Seriously if you knew me in the days when I worked at friendly’s making sundae’s (which were really piles of candy, brownies and cookie dough with a scoop of ice cream thrown in) you would laugh at what I’m saying.
I love your insta ice cream pics! You look like a happy little kid with a cone 🙂
This is such a great post. And really helpful for me – especially #5 and the bonus 🙂
Right! Because once you’ve done all the rest those 2 are all that might linger. I am okay with having dessert now but it will never be the stuff I used to eat and it’s rarely more than fruit or coconut butter! The bonus I threw in there because I can’t ignore the diet mentality that most of us carry around with us from years of thinking that way. If we feel deprived – even if it’s purely psychological – we’ll continue to crave!
Linda @ Fit Fed and Happy says
Agree with the first point. You have to cut out that food you want really badly and replace it with something else, like fats. Many times a craving is purely psychological, and not something your body needs.
Totally! Especially with craving sugar – the psychology around it is hard to separate from the physical – and the psych part lingers longer, as with the associations. I never used to want to hear that I’d have to eliminate it from my life, but it’s the only thing that worked and wound up making me feel great 🙂
I love this post – I was born a sugar junkie from day one, my mom will admit to even dipping my pacifier in honey so I wouldn’t cry. No wonder I’ve spent half my life at the dentist, but oh well. Knowledge is so empowering!
I’ve done everything it seems to quit sugar, but like you said if it’s not for health purposes rather than vanity, it doesn’t stick. Right now my mindset is more about health and instead of thinking about cutting out sugar, I make sure to get more of the good stuff. I like to focus on eating lots of greens and yummy nutrient-dense things, and if I still have a sweet craving then while fine. I spent years and years hurting my body in extreme ways, a more gentle approach is much more soothing for my mind and well being. I strive for balance yet the more healthy foods I eat, the more I want to feel good. I don’t want to feel like I can never have something, but one thing I don’t want is fake sugar. I’ll have some chocolate covered almonds any day over a diet coke. That stuff kinda scares me 🙂
Oh, and I love LOVE a bit of coconut butter at night! I will mix it with cacao and then drizzle that on berries… seriously it’s better than anything. And like you said, it’s a choice not a requirement now 🙂
Love love love your posts, thank you!
That sounds like an amazing bedtime snack! And I agree that above all else learning how to treat ourselves well is the most important thing! It’s hard to really focus on true health in a weight and appearance focused culture but if it’s not about really feeling good on the inside, the efforts just won’t work! I am completely with you on artificial sweeteners – they are terrible for so many reasons.
There are days I never think about eating sugary sweets, but then there are other days when that’s all I am craving! I actually have been doing much better about not eating sweets every night after dinner. Those days when I am craving a sweet treat, I just let myself have it otherwise nothing I eat seems satisfying and then I end up over eating because of my craving!
I think that goes with the whole deprivation mentality – if you feel like you “shouldn’t” then you’ll just eat other things that won’t feel satisfying and it doesn’t make sense. I think once you can have a small dessert and it feels satisfying and doesn’t lead to further cravings it’s a great thing.
Marnie @ SuperSmartMama says
This is a nice little summary of how to simplistically approach eliminating sugar from your diet. Of course… I know how hard it is. I was able to cut out sugar gradually when I decided to go Paleo this past February. Sugar was, by far, the hardest part of going Paleo. It took me about 4-6 weeks of eating apples with almond butter before I was able to stop craving dessert at night (a psychological issue more than a physiological one).
I’ve just finished my first trimester and have noticed I tend to go “low” sooner/faster now that I’m not eating strictly Paleo, so I can’t wait to get back to a more Paleo way of eating!!
Sugar really is the hardest thing for so many people. I agree that the psychological associations are the hardest to break!
Great suggestions! I’m not a crazy sweets/treats lover, but I know I often consume more sugar than I should. I’ve found that incorporating more fruit in my diet, unrestricted, really helps. If it limit fruit (because “all the carbs/sugar!!” haha), then I start craving something sweet and go immediately to the straight up junk like chocolate. So having permission to have as much fruit as I want works well for me…maybe like reverse psychology? 😉
Fruit is such an amazing thing but I really found I didn’t appreciate it until I stopped eating all the other processed stuff. Now it really feels like a treat!
This is such good advice! Sugar is my thing (like give me dessert over the main course any day) and I’ve found eating more fat helps kill the sugar cravings quickly. Love this!
Glad you enjoyed! When I look back I can’t believe I restricted fat for so long. It’s become a hugely important part of all my meals and snacks now. Without it I don’t feel satisfied.
Girl! Got me on this one lol. I’m actually usually really good about sugar intake. One desert night a week is my go to. Keeps me looking forward to a treat but it’s not enough to make me crave it every day. But lately, ooh, I haven’t been as good. Love the point about water. I drink it all day and it totally helps. That and sometimes a cup of decaf coffee in the afternoon haha.
Water and a good snack filled with fat and protein and I don’t think about sweets anymore or crave them! It’s one of those things that’s easy to slide back into once you start having a bit more.
Huh. I wonder if this is why after never liking fruit for my entire life it suddenly tastes sweet and yummy to me. I still eat sugary stuff on occasion, but I cut a whole lot of it out of my diet last year. And now apples and cherries are like dessert to me!
Same here! I never really appreciated how good fruit is until I stopped eating all the other stuff. Now it’s more than sweet enough to be dessert for me! The strangest stuff tastes sweet now to me – like raw cashews – I would have punched myself in the face for saying that a year ago 🙂
Meg @ Meg Go Run says
I crave sugar after an intense workout… which makes sense as I have depleted my energy stores and my body wants immediate replenishment. I have been known to eat a small bowl of Lucky Charms or chug some apple juice immediately following a long run. Then I shower and dig into some chicken breast and some sort of slower digesting carb. Now, this is just me. Obviously someone who is overweight, is addicted to sugar, or is diabetic may not want to take this route. But an otherwise healthy athlete shouldn’t be afraid to consume sugar after an intense training session as it will get to your muscles quickly and recovery will be faster. Oh, a big glass of milk is a great way to get some simple sugar post workout too!
That’s a good idea and something I usually do after a very long run! After a normal run for me though I don’t crave anything but the usual. Now in the past, every single one of my breakfasts was sweet and I “needed” my diet coke every couple of hours. Crazy life I led.
Meg @ Meg Go Run says
I am with you on the diet coke thing…. I recently got back in the habit and am determined to kick it. 🙁 I could blame it on stress but that’s just an excuse
Skinny Fitalicious says
Great post! I couldn’t agree with all of these more. I cut out sugar several years ago when I was losing weight. You do not miss it and like you mentioned, you realize that you’re craving more real food when you’re hungry. Another interesting thing I’ve experienced is now when I do eat sugary treat, it does not taste that good anymore.
This is a great post! I am really trying to wean myself off the sugar–not real sugar—but the artificial crap! I eat really well opposed to that. I do notice that if I overtrain and undereat my sugar cravings come out big time! I am working on getting more healthy fats in for sure! Hopefully that will help!
I used to eat so much of that stuff and now I really look at it as worse than real sugar. It makes you crave sugar in the same way plus it promotes a restrictive diet mentality which I’m really fed up with in our culture! I had to really just eliminate it all at one for it to work. Otherwise I would slide back.
Oh my goodness, I have read this at just the right time…I am a long life sugar addict. I consider myself healthy, but my permanent cravings for bread, starch, sugar, chocolate and ANYTHING sweet after a meal or at certain times of the day is not normal…You had a really blunt statement in there which really woke me up – I seriously do eat for taste over nutrition!!! I envy these people who can choose medleys of vegetables and meat without having to base the entire meal around a starch! Ugh. Thanks for writing this so indepth, it has really inspired me to get a move on with it! I totally agree with eating more fat – Eating meat really does fill a big gap in your stomach that you never knew was even there until you fill up on meat rather than carbs. Thanks again!
Very glad you could relate to this and found it helpful! For some people who really feel “addicted” to sugar the best thing is really to just stop eating foods with added sugar altogther! Tough at first, but after not much time at all the cravings really disappear. Hope you have success with this!
Jo-Ann Osipow says
This is a great post Michele – so relevant to so many of us! A couple of thoughts occurred to me regarding some of the reasons we crave sugar so much. One is that, as babies, sugar was very important to our healthy growth and breast milk actually is sweet. To be more specific, the breast milk at the front end of a nursing session is sweet and thin, quenching the baby’s thirst, while the milk at the end of the session has less sugar and more fat, providing needed nutrition and comfort. My guess is that’s one source of the comfort associations you mention about having something sweet at the end of the evening. So to some extent we’re programmed to like sugar, but in combination with fat. A big mistake we make, as you’ve pointed out many times, is removing the fat and then getting in trouble with sugar. Another thought I had was your mention of our bodies getting confused between thirst and sugar craving. Again a guess, but I think this may be related to our energy level. I know personally when I feel tired I used to go for something sweet but lately I realize that drinking a bottle of water brings back my energy. I think we’re sometimes dehydrated, which causes fatigue, and we mistakenly think it’s sugar we need when it’s actually water. We mix up thirst with sugar. Just a guess.
The energy thing might be a piece of it for sure. I think the main problem is that companies have taken the science behind our preference for sweets and created processed “hypersweet” food that is designed to be addictive both physically and psychologically so we continue to come back for more and they get more $$$. That’s another reason I believe that the cheap high fructose corn syrup appears in everything. Once people realize that they can stop eating these products that have zero nutrition and be satisfied with fruit and other nutrient dense foods, it is very freeing and of course much healthier. I know you know about market research mom!
Lisa @ Running Out Of Wine says
I definitely agree with all of this! Not only do I not crave sugary stuff but I don’t even really like it anymore. I find that fruit is plenty sweet for me! While I enjoy baked goods I prefer to make my own with natural sweeteners like bananas or honey. When I’m offered cake or something at a social event I don’t feel like I want it and I know I’ll feel gross after if I eat it. There are a few things that I know have added sugar and I still enjoy from time to time- like ice cream or my mom’s pumpkin bread:) I think I just gradually got to this point by cutting out the sugar- and I’m so glad I did!
That’s awesome! And it’s amazing how quickly we can go from craving the cookies/cake to truly being satisfied with fruit once we just stop eating the processed stuff. It’s a great feeling!
Jordan @ The Balanced Blonde says
Wow, this is such a fabulous post! I am so thrilled I came across it via Amy’s blog (and so happy that I discovered your blog this way– I will definitely be back for more!). I am so impressed by your balanced tips and overall wellness mentality. It is SO TRUE that if we go into it with the goal of losing weight, we will slip up because we will feel deprived. Going into it with the goal of FEELING BETTER and feeling completely healthy overall is 110% the way to go. I have been experimenting quite a bit with all of this myself, and I am definitely going to incorporate some of your tips into my healing process. This rocks! Xox
So glad you found me and related to the post! Overall I feel like most of the advice we get on health is still slanted with a weight loss/diet focus and that just makes us feel bad about ourselves, deprived, and clouds the true benefits of living a healthy lifestyle and eating well. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this, it’s great to connect with like minded people!
Almost Getting It Together says
Great tips! I did the 21 day sugar detox and now I use NO added sugar in anything… if I need something sweetened, I’ll use bananas/applesauce/figs/dates. 🙂
Yup same here, it’s funny how once you stop eating it the cravings just go away! Glad you enjoyed this 🙂
Susan Fischer says
Michele I was reading back through this older post, and I wondered how your eating has changed since 2014. Have you done a recent WIAW? You have lots of paleo baked goods on your blog, how do you feel about eating them these days? Just curious as a long time reader and someone struggling with sugar 🙂