Sugar cravings—are they real, or something made up by the diet industry to get you reaching into your wallet to pay for the hottest cleanse, supplement, or program?
With holiday season here, we’re going to be hearing a lot more about sugar detoxes with grandiose claims of “fixing and controlling your blood sugar” and stopping your sugar cravings “so you can stop downing half a pint of ice cream in one sitting.” (Gag.)
In my opinion, sugar cravings can be real, but I also think we overuse and misuse this phrase. As a registered dietitian who helps people find food freedom by way of mindful eating and listening to their bodies, I’m acutely aware of the power of permission—even when it comes to sweets.
I know it sounds impossible, but when we give ourselves permission to just eat all foods—without rules—sugar loses a lot of its appeal. This is a real thing. I’ve witnessed it with hundreds of private clients, and now thousands of students who have taken my modern mindful eating online course, F*rk the Noise Fundamentals.
Contrary to what most think, our bodies won’t drive us to annihilate all the cake and cookies available if we’re not eating off a list of approved and unapproved foods.
When a food is no longer thought of as “bad,” the desire for it actually decreases. Plus, with permission on your side, you’re now quieting those voices in your head that used to say “omg, this is so bad for me, I’ll just eat this now and start my diet tomorrow.” Instead, you’re able to pay attention to if the food tastes as good as you expected, if it’s satisfying you in this very moment, or if you’re over it.
Imagine, for a second, grabbing a big chocolate pie, reaching into a bag of your favorite holiday candy, or sticking a spoonful of ice cream into your mouth and realizing that it tastes too sweet. If that sounds crazy to you, I can relate. I thought nothing could ever be too sweet for me—until, of course, I gave up the food control gig and started listening to my body’s feedback signals.
Listen, I’m not telling you to skip that salad and salmon burger and instead exclusively eat candy, soda, and cake. I’m a nutritionist who wants you to be your healthiest and feel your best, and the cornerstone of my anti-diet work is to help you find balance. You can ditch food rules without abandoning your health and well-being.
A more sustainable (and mentally less draining) way to eat less sugar and decrease those cravings is to make sure that what you’re eating is nutritious, substantial enough (quantity-wise), and versatile. Instead of going 30 days without any sugar, think about what you can eat daily to balance your blood sugar.
Small changes include swapping out your protein bar (which is likely filled with both fake and real sugars) with carrots and hummus, or targeting natural sugars found in an apple by pairing it with healthy fats of peanut butter or tahini. If your evenings are filled with summer nights of wine and dessert, try choosing nights to do either/or rather than both.
Most sugar detoxes are going to be low protein, low fat, and overall low in calories. It may work for a short time, but by restricting and making sugar the enemy, you’ll be running back to sugar as soon as the detox is finished.
With all of this being said, honing your “Outer Wisdom” (a term I teach in my mindful eating course) is key to living a healthier life. Outer Wisdom is using nutrition education to your advantage and ignoring the marketing jargon—the noise—that’s telling you what’s “healthy” or what you “should” be doing.
We can learn to recognize the amount of sugar hidden in nut butters, oatmeal, salad dressings, pasta sauces, and even protein powders, and how it contributes to unnecessary sugar in our diet. That’s not to say every meal needs to be sugar-free or that you should avoid a restaurant because you can’t see all the ingredients. It just means that being aware of the sugar intake that’s sneaking in can help you control your intake without feeling like you’re sacrificing living. Plus, with less sugar in your body, you’re going to be better able to taste when something is too sweet.
Sounds like sweet deal to me.