Why You Struggle to End Sugar Cravings

When you’re trying to lose weight, detox, or go on a clean eating program, it seems like the biggest obstacle standing in the way of success is sugar. When you stop eating processed sugar, it doesn’t take long before the cravings start. 

Cravings, followed by fatigue, mood swings, and headache are all part of kicking the sugar habit. I know, talking about withdrawal, cravings, and habits makes it sound like I’m talking about drug addiction. 

That’s because, in a way, I am.

Let’s look at exactly what leads to sugar cravings and some simple hacks to stop sugar cravings in their tracks.

Nutrient Deficiency

Are you getting enough iron, calcium, and magnesium? If you’re struggling with sugar cravings, a deficiency in these vital nutrients may be to blame. Your body understands that when it needs something, it’s going to send strong signals to your brain letting you know it needs a nutrient. These cravings for nutrients may get mixed in the brain and actually make you feel like you need sugar instead. 

So, if you’re struggling with a craving, consider reaching for foods that are high in calcium, iron, and magnesium, such as plain Greek yogurt with berries, or an orange paired with magnesium-rich almonds, cashews, or sunflower seeds.  

Eating Too Much Starch and Not Enough Fat and Protein

When you eat a loaded baked potato, a big bowl of pasta, or attack the bread basket at a restaurant, you’re eating a lot of carbohydrates and not a lot of healthy fats or proteins. Carbohydrates digest quickly, spike your energy by turning to glucose, and lead you to feeling hungry fast. On the other hand, fats and proteins take longer to digest, lead to sustained energy, and keep you feeling full longer. 

By eating a meal that’s heavy with starch, your body is going to cry out for more food fast! Fortunately, this can be easily avoided by eating balanced meals that include whole grains instead of processed grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Remember that bowl of pasta? Cut the pasta portion in half, add some grilled chicken, steamed broccoli (or vegetable of choice) and a tablespoon of olive oil with fresh herbs like basil and oregano – delicious and nourishing! 

Too Little Sleep

When you’re yawning at your desk or struggling to stay awake during a meeting, your brain is telling you to get a candy bar or a soda. This is for two reasons. When you’re tired, your body produces more ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and less leptin, the hormone that helps you feel full. So, from the start, you’re setting yourself up to want to eat more. 

Plus, when you’re tired, sugar spikes your blood sugar, giving you a quick burst of energy, but it’s soon followed by a nasty crash. So, unless you can take a nap (unlikely during a work meeting!), your body is telling you to reach for more sugar to spike your energy. Pretty soon, you’re on a sugar roller coaster of cravings, eating sugar, spiking your blood sugar, and then crashing. 

To battle this reason behind your sugar craving, aim for eight hours of sleep a night, and during the day, opt for foods that keep your blood sugar stable, like lean proteins and fresh fruits and vegetables. 


When you’re stressed out, your body releases cortisol, a hormone that controls your “fight or flight” response if your body senses danger. While this was meant to keep our ancestors safe, in our modern society, our body has the same reaction to things like being late, meeting a deadline, or being stuck in traffic. When your body feels stress and releases cortisol, a side effect is a sugar craving, which, in prehistoric times was a sign to eat and store fat in the coming months, but now, it’s just a way to reach for cookies.

This is a double-edged sword because not only is your cortisol triggering a sugar craving, but you’re also getting the serotonin release from eating sugar. Combat this craving by easing stress through exercise, meditation, or a calming activity.


Eating simple carbohydrates raises your serotonin levels, making you feel happier and more content. Coupled with that, eating sugar also triggers dopamine, the neurotransmitter that acts as a “pleasure center” in the brain. When you eat a cookie, you trigger dopamine and the reward reaction occurs, so you feel happy, but soon the sugar wears off, you want to feel happy again, so you eat ice cream. 

Unfortunately, over time, it takes more stimulus (in this case, sugar) to trigger that dopamine release, which leads to more severe sugar cravings and addiction.  

If you struggle with depression or mood instability, talk to your physician, and instead of reaching for sweets, aim to get 30 minutes of physical activity a day. Countless studies have shown that exercise also releases endorphins and is an effective natural treatment for depression. 

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