For many people, the hardest part of sticking to a healthy diet and achieving their weight loss goals is dealing with the sugar cravings that come along with it. Sugar cravings can mean the difference between hitting your calorie goal for the day and totally blowing it, and if you do that often enough, you might be tempted to give up.
All is not lost, though! It is possible to completely rid yourself of sugar cravings, and all it takes is a little knowledge and a little willpower–if you’ve gotten as far as knowing that you need to change your habits, you’re already halfway there.
The secret to eliminating sugar cravings is in how and what you eat, and when you eat it. Keep reading to learn about why you crave sugar and how to avoid indulging in sugary treats and feeling guilty (and tired) the next morning.
Why do we crave sugar?
It might help you to think of sugar as addictive–this isn’t strictly true, but it can certainly feel like it is! The only difference between craving sugar and actually being addicted to it is that addiction would mean you needed more of it to get the same feeling. Most of us know that even the smallest amount of extra sugar can leave us feeling awful later, especially if we’ve been successfully avoiding it for a while. So don’t worry–you’re not addicted, and you can get through this!
It’s not realistic to completely cut sugar from your diet, but you can definitely aim to get your intake under control. Sugar cravings exist because we use sugar as a fast way to get energy–even if we don’t necessarily think of it that way. We reach for high-sugar snacks when we’re feeling stressed or run down, we get a quick boost from the sugar, and then we associate sugar with feeling better. Until the inevitable sugar crash makes us feel worse, and we search for another hit.
Breaking the cycle is simpler than you may think, though–while you may suffer for a day or two, if you persevere and stick to all the things you’re about to learn, you can be free of your sugar cravings once and for all. All it takes is a simple switch: swap your sugary snacks for high-protein ones instead. Musclefood has a great range of high protein snacks, check their offers here.
Why protein-based snacks?
The ideal way to solve your sugar cravings is with protein based snacks, and there are a few good reasons for this. Firstly, protein has a lower caloric density than carbs or fat–that is, you can eat a greater volume of it without gaining a great deal of excess energy.
Secondly, protein is the slowest-release energy source. Where simple carbohydrates (sugar) take only 2-3 hours to hit our system, protein can take up to 10 be digested. This may sound like a bad thing, but it’s really not. The longer digestion period evens out the rate at which we receive energy from our food, which means that the peaks and troughs of getting most of our energy from sugar are eliminated.
Thirdly, high-protein foods tend to be nutritionally dense, and often contain micro-nutrients that will make you feel less tired–iron, for one, which makes it easier for oxygen to travel around the body, giving our muscles and organs an easier time to do all the things they do for us. Another example is tryptophan, which many protein sources are high in, and which is converted to serotonin in the brain. In turn, this reduces stress and increases happiness, which means we don’t feel as much of a need to reach for a sugary treat.
The important thing to know is that protein-based snacks target both of the main causes of sugar cravings–physiological and psychological. Not only will they even out your blood sugar levels, but they also leave you feeling less run down emotionally, which saves you from having that chocolate dessert to make yourself feel better. Protein-based snacks will help you feel better, physically and mentally, the right way.
Eat less, more often
If you’re serious about changing your sugar habit, then you should consider snacks and absolutely essential part of your diet. Instead of eating three big meals a day and snacking on empty calories between them, you should aim at somewhere between five and eight smaller meals, depending on your preference and the time you have available to eat.
Eating regularly, and making sure that the majority of your calories are coming from protein and fat, will keep your energy levels nice and even throughout the day. This will help you lose weight, make your sleep much more restful, and lower your stress levels, because your body isn’t constantly freaking out about its energy needs.
Even if you can’t quite manage smaller meals, more often, you can replace your snacks with protein-based ones–but make sure you actually eat them! Failing to eat when you need to will play havoc with your energy levels, and tempt you back to a bar of chocolate just to get a quick boost. You don’t want that, so it’s imperative that not only do you replace your snacks, but you make sure you finish them. They can’t help you if they sit on your desk all day without being touched.
End your sugar cravings for good
The truly magic thing about incorporating more protein into your diet is that over time, your tastes will actually change. High-sugar foods will taste too sweet to you, and everything else will taste better, too.
The thing about sugar is that our brain convinces us it’s what we want, because it knows it’ll feel better for a while if we eat it. It tells us sugar tastes better, because it truly thinks it’s the best option for survival–because we’ve consumed so much sugar before that it has no other frame of reference to judge by. This isn’t our fault–our food landscape is full of convenient, high-sugar snacks, and when we get used to it, it can be hard to step away from old habits.
What protein-based snacks will do, over time, is retrain your brain into a much healthier way of thinking. Because your palette will change, so too will the kinds of foods you feel like, once your brain gets the message that it can get everything it needs without the ill effects of its previous quick fix. Your body will thank you in many, many ways when you make the switch.
How to maximise your benefits from protein-based snacking
Okay, so, we know now that in order to kick our sugar cravings, we need to increase our protein intake. But how? What kinds of things can you snack on to get the maximum sugar-busting impact?
Well, the sky’s the limit–anything protein-based can make a great snack, depending on what you like–but you can start with these suggestions and figure out what works best for you from there:
- Nuts are possibly the easiest protein-based snack you can get your hands on. You can choose your preferred variety, but one of the best options is skin-on peanuts, which are packed with protein and healthy fats, but also fibre, from the skins. Do be careful about the amount of salt in supermarket packets of nuts, though. A neat way to avoid this while still getting a delicious nut-based snack is to roast your own nuts, in the herbs and spices of your choosing. Roasted nuts are better for you and tastier, anyway, so this is an awesome option if you want to take the easiest possible route.
- High protein trail mix is the next step up from plain nuts, and usually contains seeds and oats, which are both great for you and contain a lot of essential micronutrients. Make sure you don’t buy one with candies in it, or make your own and flavour it however you like!
- Beef jerky and salami sticks are both great. Jerky is handy, because it doesn’t need refrigeration (but watch out for added sugar via marinades!), but salami sticks have that great smoky, umami flavour that makes them a highly craveable snack, and that will work to your benefit when you’re first trying to kick your sugar cravings. If there’s something even more appealing than chocolate on hand, you’re much less likely to give up.
- Cheese is a great option, and also highly snackable. Cheese cubes are about one of the simplest snacks you can have, but you can also go a little fancier (and save the need for refrigeration) by turning hard cheeses into one-ingredient cheese crackers. This is ridiculously easy, but you may need to defend them from your work mates if you bring them into the office (or make enough to share, if you’re in a giving mood)
- Protein bars are also quick and easy options–though again, watch out for the ones with a lot of added sugar. To avoid this, you can make your own. The basic process is pretty straightforward, and once you’ve got the hang of it, the possibilities are practically endless.
Whatever protein-based snack you choose, make sure it’s one you’re going to enjoy–that’s key to breaking the psychological hold sugar has over you. Once you’ve gotten that far, and replaced your sugary snacks with healthy, protein-based ones, sugar cravings will soon be a thing of the past, and your body will thank you for it.