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Why Do We Crave Sugar? Exploring the Reasons Behind Our Sweet Tooth

Let’s talk about cravings! That feeling that you just have to have that specific something to eat or drink NOW! You know what I’m talking about, right? 

There are 5 primary reasons for cravings and often it is a combination of one or more of them. See if you can relate to any of them. 

1. We crave the familiar and we are creatures of habit. Think of any holiday gathering and you will be transported back in time. There are those very specific dishes that are always a part of this particular celebration and if they are missing something feels “wrong.” Another scenario might be a sports event or a movie. Is popcorn a must? And the list goes on and on. 

2. Your body needs a specific nutrient and you seek out foods that have that nutrient. Did you know that craving chocolate is often a sign that your body needs more magnesium - an essential mineral that many of us are deficient in, particularly when you have many processed foods and/or sugar in your diets? Do you crave salty foods? It may not be sodium, (the most common ingredient in table salt) but rather other minerals that are found in sea salt. 

3. We are sensitive to a specific food yet we keep wanting it! This one seems counter-intuitive but the fact is, when you eat a food that you have an intolerance to, your body will try to protect itself by producing antibodies, antihistamines, or endorphins to counteract the negative effect. It is that positive protective response that feels good and makes us want to eat more of the offending food. 

4. The “yeasties and the beasties!” We humans are, in fact, host to trillions of microbes. The vast majority of which live in your small and large intestines (your gut). They are there by design and, when all is well, they live in harmony with each other and you. However, if there is an imbalance, like too many toxins, medications, sugar, stress, etc., the “bad” microbes can overgrow. Your immune system will do everything in its power to restore balance but sometimes there is too much to contend with. Skin rashes, irritability, inflammation, and those darned cravings are clear signs of imbalance. 

When you crave things that don’t really help your body (sugar being one of the biggest offenders here), it’s important to recognize that it is not because you have no willpower, or you are weak or “bad” in any way. The many microbes that you host need food, too. The “yeasties and beasties” typically need sugar as their main source of fuel. When you crave sugar, it may not be you, but these microbes who are making you want the sweet stuff. DO NOT feed them! If you deprive them of their sugar, you may not feel so great for a few days. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Those yeasties and beasties are fighting for their lives and they will literally starve to death. This starvation is a simplified explanation of a true detoxification. When you feel those “die-off” or “detox” effects which don’t feel good, keep

eating real, nutrient dense foods. You will feel a whole lot better and the cravings will diminish! 

5. We crave something that is not food. When we are stressed, bored, lonely, sad, angry, even happy, we often reach to food for comfort. A certain situation, or stressor, or even time of day can lead us to “want” a certain food. Becoming aware of this and recognizing it is the first step in changing this pattern. The next step is to literally do something differently. Turn left instead of right. Write about what it is you really need in that moment. Move to a different place, or just move your body. Drink water. Acknowledge what is really going on and deal with that. There is definitely another way to nourish yourself! 

If you find yourself giving into cravings or dealing with identifying emotional vs physical hunger, use the HALT method:

It may not stop that craving, but it can help you to create new healthy habits from a place of awareness and a desire to make a change!

Looking to dive a little deeper into kicking that sugar habit? Join my RESTART program and get to feeling physically better and more confident in your nutrition choices!

All content of this blog is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this blog.

Kelly Sherman, MS, NC, CGP, CPT, is a licensed nutritionist specializing in empowering women to reclaim their health by cutting through misinformation and ditching the diet culture. She has a master’s degree in nutrition and is degreed in exercise science as well as a certified personal trainer. With over 20 years of experience in the field, she combines the best of both nutrition and exercise sciences to best help her clients reach their potential. To nourish is to flourish!


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