In this article, I will break down the ‘popular’ myths around sugar and show you how to stop sugar cravings for life. We will also cover the ‘all or nothing diet mentality. And explore if you can lose weight without completely abstaining from your favourite desserts.
And lastly, will also share simple mindset strategies & instant food hacks that you can apply in your daily life, to keep these cravings at bay.
But before anything else, let’s understand a few facts about sugar…
PS: Although this is a thoroughly researched blog post, please don’t confuse it for medical advice. Consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet.
I will spare you the information overload and share some simple facts that can help you understand sugar better:
- Sugar is a carbohydrate and is broken down into glucose and fructose
- Glucose is the primary energy source for our body, especially the brain . In fact, institutes like heart.org and nhs.uk both have a healthy daily sugar consumption limit
- 1 gram of sugar is ONLY 4 calories!
- And believe it or not, most foods are broken down to glucose. Even broccoli
So why do we crave sugar?
The desire to eat something sweet can come out of nowhere, In the middle of a busy day, or after a meal. Well, there are numerous reasons for these cravings. It can be due to:
- Blood sugar imbalance is caused by fluctuation of insulin levels. Many factors can cause this, like:
- Release of dopamine – the brain actively seeks the ‘feel good’ emotion produced by dopamine after consumption of sugar 
But there is one reason which is more common than we would expect. And affects almost everyone who has been trying to lose weight for a while.
Our unhealthy relationship with sugar
The crazy and restrictive diets we follow to lose weight invariably lead to binges.  For most parts, it is sugar that we are binging on. Making us feel we are ‘craving sugar’;
But actually, all those cravings stem from our unhealthy eating habits.
Take one of those ’30-days no-sugar/carb diet plan’. Eliminating sugar from your diet for such a long time is likely to ruin your relationship with sugar without doing much good. It’s neither possible nor sustainable. Even if you manage to stay away from sugar for that long, you are bound to binge on it eventually. And this very pattern of restriction and binge leads to increased cravings, resulting in weight gain.
I, too have fallen prey to this vicious cycle. Several times.
I remember an instance not too long ago. It was my sister’s wedding, and I had been ‘dieting’ to fit into a fancy dress. I deprived myself of a lot of foods during that diet. The main one being sugar. And once I got into that outfit, all hell broke loose. I binged on everything I could lay eyes on, undoing all the lost weight.
Silly me. I wish I knew better.
I’ve had my learning, though. Realized that diets don’t have to be restrictive, and I don’t need to give up sugar to lose weight.
The truth is that we can easily manage our cravings if we can break free from the diet culture and form a better food relationship. So then, let’s get to the next obvious question…
Is sugar really that addictive?
How many times have you craved a spoon of sugar? I believe the answer is ‘hardly ever!’.
It is not sugar that is addictive , but instead the combination of sugar with fat and starch, as found in cakes, cookies, donuts, etc. These are the foods we are tempted to eat and lose self-control around. And since they contain a ton of calories, they make us gain weight.
So, it is essential to remember that sugar by itself isn’t evil. And definitely not addictive. The combination and the quantity we consume it in is the problem.
And remember the fundamental truth:
But isn’t sugar making us fat?
Weight gain doesn’t depend on sugar but on the total number of calories we consume. Irrespective of where these calories come from. Let me explain:
Let’s assume your maintenance calorie is 1900.
Scenario 1: You eat everything right. And by ‘right’, I mean all the socially approved diet/healthy food. But you’re consuming a total of 2200 calories.
Scenario 2: You have a healthy and well-balanced diet, including a mix of the right foods and the wrong. By ‘wrong’, I mean foods that are generally restricted while dieting – like sugar. But are consuming 1700 calories.
In which case do you think you will lose weight?
Scenario 2 for sure.
It’s because you are below your maintenance calories, i.e., in a calorie deficit. Meaning your body needs more energy to survive than it’s consuming, leading to weight loss.
There are studies that prove that even if you consume only sugary and junk food while being in a calorie deficit, you will lose weight.
Of course, it’s super unhealthy, and you’re going to have other problems because you’ll be lacking most essential micro-nutrients, but it’s true! Read the studies here and here.
And hey, caution! Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Now that we have established that sugar isn’t addictive and we crave sugar because of the unhealthy food relationship we have developed over years of dieting, we can talk about how to fix it. This involves having the right mindset when it comes to food.
So, how to stop sugar cravings to lose weight…What is the right mindset?
Dealing with sweet cravings doesn’t mean eliminating sugar completely from your diet. Instead, it’s about having an inclusive, non-restrictive approach to food and enjoying your favourite foods mindfully.
Mindfully = keeping your fitness goal in mind
Below are a few points that will help you strike a balance:
1. Do not restrict yourself
The first and most important thing is not being on a highly restrictive diet. Because that can lead to a binge, undoing all your hard work.
And if you think you’re addicted to sugar, then let me tell you that it’s probably not the case. It’s the restrictive mindset that’s making you feel this way. Here’s an interesting article that might help break that myth.
This also doesn’t mean you can eat only sugar treats all day as it is nutritionally unhealthy. Which leads me to the next point.
Moderation is the key to sustainable long-term weight loss.
Sure, you can have sugar, carbs, or any other “forbidden” item. But this is fine only till it is consumed in moderation. Honestly, all foods in moderation are fine.
Also, it’s easy to over-eat sugar because it tastes so nice.
3. Track your calories and macros
As mentioned earlier, the only way to lose weight is to be in a calorie deficit. So sure, you can have sugar, but till you are not overshooting your calorie and macro targets.
Now you must be thinking, but daily calorie management can be challenging! Damn right, it is. The easiest way to do this is by adding your food in a journal/app and looking at these numbers on a weekly basis. Calorie cycling can be a helpful tool to hit your weekly macros and to ensure you are on track.
4. Quantity Vs. quality of calories
After the amount of calories, the next most important thing is where these calories come from.
Make sure your diet consists mainly of whole foods. Beans, vegetables, fruits, grains, etc. are great options as they have a lot of micro-nutrients
5. Be selective about food
To be honest, I follow this for all kinds of food and not only desserts. The idea is to be selective and only eat the things you really enjoy. Ironically, not having any restrictions is what makes it possible.
So, don’t eat the cake because it’s someone’s birthday. Or because the cake is in front of you. Eat it because you really like it and are willing to make up for those extra calories elsewhere.
6. Keep an eye on the goal
I mention this here because it has helped me tremendously. Reminding myself of my fitness goal helps me say no to a lot of things.
7. Don’t lose control
Make sure that you never lose control of yourself around food. This is possible when you know that sugar is not restricted. It’s up to you to eat it.
So, if you really crave something, go for it, but don’t let this craving go out of hand. It’s very important to understand the difference between freedom and indulgence.
8. Don’t eat because of emotions
Lastly, make sure you are eating because you are truly hungry and not because you are bored, depressed, or anxious. We all have times when we find comfort in food. But this shouldn’t be a habit.
As the sages in the weight loss world say…
In addition to these, I have a few tips that can also come in handy…
Actionable tips for manage sugar cravings
Below are a few tips that will help you apply this non-restrictive food mindset in your daily life:
1. Have a full meal
Make sure your meal consists of various whole food meals to get your daily macro and macro-nutrients. Not eating certain food groups is linked to reduced satiety and an increased desire to eat them. Case in point, your favourite dessert.
2. Don’t get too hungry
Managing hunger is crucial. Managing hunger is crucial. Ensure that you never reach the starvation point. Making rational food choices at that time is impossible! And thus, super easy to over-indulge in sugar.
Water is given less importance than it deserves. Our body can very easily confuse thirst with hunger, so it’s very critical that you’re well hydrated. Additionally, water has a thousand other benefits. So, make sure you are drinking enough water during the day. Everyday!
4. Keep the temptation away
You know what your weakness is. Maybe it’s ice cream (like me!). DON’T BUY THAT BIG TUB. (apologies for the tone there, but it had to be said like that)
If you really want to eat it, buy a single serving and get done with it. Don’t store extra at home.
5. What to eat when craving sugar – low-calorie alternatives
A lot of times, we have sweet cravings. It isn’t a particular thing, but just ‘something sweet.’ This happens to me after lunch pretty much every day. So, I make sure I have some healthy sweet options handy. This way, I can satisfy my craving without any guilt.
Here are my go-to healthy sugary treats that I eat almost regularly without any guilt:
Low-calorie sweet snacks to buy (No prep needed)
- Diet / low-calorie drinks (My favorite is 7up Zero Sugar)
- Fresh Fruits (Pick whichever you love the most. No one ever became fat by eating fruits. Ready to eat Watermelon is my go-to option. Filling and delish!)
- Sugar-free gum
- Dried Cranberries
- Low-fat Greek yogurt (Try Chobani Non-Fat Greek Yogurt – Peach flavour)
- Low-calorie ice cream (Halo Top’s Sea Salt Caramel flavour is quite yummy)
- Handful of low-calorie breakfast cereals (Add milk to make it more filling. Check out some great healthy options here.)
- Low-calorie chocolates (I love KIND Thin Bars & Fiber One chewy bars)
- Protein bars (My favourite is Caramel Cashew Barbells Protein Bar. Doesn’t have the least calorie, but it’s delicious and keeps you full for long.)
- Ready-to-drink protein shakes
- Yogurt + fruit (Check out Activia Probiotic Lowfat Yogurt)
Can you do a little bit of prep? If yes, then check out some more really simple yet filling options to satisfy your sweet tooth:
Low-calorie sweet snacks (A bit of prep needed)
- Small latte with skimmed milk (add low-calorie sweetener)
- Hershey’s low-calorie chocolate syrup + PBfit All-Natural Peanut Butter Powder on a toast
- Banana berry smoothie
- Overnight protein oats
- Low-calorie maple syrup + apple bowl
- Acai banana smoothie
- No-bake vegan protein bars
- Banana pancakes with low-calorie syrup of choice
And that it’s possible to lose weight while eating your favourite treats in moderation. Whether that’s a soda, ice cream, donut or a burger;
Remember calorie deficit.
That, my friend, is the secret of any long-term weight loss program.
And the best part of knowing that a food item isn’t forbidden anymore makes it easier to say no to. Because now you’re in control of the diet and not the other way around.