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Hooked on sugar? 3 surprising ways to break the habit for good

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Looking around the internet, you’ll find most of the advice around how to get rid of sugar cravings centered around avoiding sugar entirely. This is not only impractical, but also ineffective for reducing sugar cravings. If you’re hooked on sugar, here are three ways you may be inadvertently setting yourself up for those cravings, and how to fix them.

What causes sugar cravings?

Here are three of the biggest culprits for why your sweet tooth is raging — and how to stop it.

1. Not getting enough sleep

Several studies, including one published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, have linked lack of sleep with food cravings and weight gain. The reasoning behind this is based in the mechanisms involved in regulating metabolism and appetite.

Sleep is the time when our bodies produce hormones that help control appetite and regulate blood sugar. When you’re sleep deprived, the body will increase its production of a stress hormone called cortisol and insulin, the hormone that regulates glucose processing and promotes fat storage.

“Lack of sleep can fuel sweet cravings by messing with the body’s systems for regulating blood sugar levels,” says Rachael Hartley, a certified intuitive eating counselor and author of the book “Gentle Nutrition.” “Getting less than about seven hours of sleep has been shown to increase insulin resistance and cortisol levels, and can also dysregulate hunger and fullness signals, all of which can set you up for pretty ravenous sweet cravings.”

Have you ever noticed that you’re especially hungry on days you don’t get enough sleep? Many studies, including one published in the Journal of Sleep Research, show that lack of sleep is associated with lower levels of leptin, a hormone that tells the brain it has had enough food, and higher levels of ghrelin, which stimulates appetite.

This stimulation in appetite translates into your brain craving quick energy, like sugar. Simply making sure you are consistently getting enough sleep makes a big difference in sugar cravings.

“We all have occasional bad nights of sleep, and it’s no big deal if eating more sweets the next day is the result,” shares Hartley, “but chronic sleep deprivation can lead to more significant impacts on health.”

2. Eating while distracted

Setting time aside to enjoy your meals without technology distractions will prevent you from mindlessly inhaling your food, and from overeating, too. In a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that distracted eaters felt significantly less full after lunch than those who ate without distractions. They also ate about twice as many cookies 30 minutes later than those who ate lunch without distractions.

Similarly, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that those who work and eat at the same time not only ate faster and couldn’t remember what they ate, but also reported feeling less full than the non-distracted eaters.

3. Not eating enough or waiting too long to eat

If you are under-eating at breakfast or lunch — either not enough calories or a lack of macronutrients — sugar cravings will come on strong in the afternoon and evening. Make sure that both breakfast and lunch include a mix of carbohydrates, protein and fat. Carbohydrates include grains, fruit and starchy vegetables like potatoes. Protein picks are meat, fish, beans and legumes. And for fat, aim for mostly plant-based fats like nuts, seeds and avocado.



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