Craving sugar is an irresistible urge. Some women know
they’re hooked while others don’t think they eat a lot of sweets — until they start
keeping track. If you love sugar you already know it’s a highly addictive substance
— research shows it affects your brain the same ways that drugs do. But regular
sugar consumption can also lead to serious long-term health problems, including
excess weight gain, hormonal imbalance, skin and dental issues, osteoporosis, diabetes,
and even some forms of cancer.
There are many physical causes for sugar cravings. Hormonal fluctuations can disrupt
major hormones like insulin, estrogen and progesterone. Intestinal yeast thrives
on sugar. Chronic stress stimulates cortisol production that contributes to cravings
Understanding sugar’s effects can help you stop the cravings, lose weight and transform
Sugar, your hormones, and your weight
Can’t lose weight — no matter what you do?
There’s more to weight gain than eating too much sugar. If you can’t slim down despite
your best efforts, you may have weight loss resistance, when a metabolic imbalance
blocks the weight loss process.
These imbalances can be caused by:
- low thyroid
- digestive problems
Are you struggling with weight loss resistance? Find out by taking our
Having a treat on special occasions is okay but if you’re stuck in the habit of
grabbing a daily cookie for that 3 o’clock slump or pouring a heap of sugar in your
coffee, the physiologic changes happening in your body are profound. As the image
above shows, a sugar rush activates feel-good chemicals and reward centers in your
brain, including neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and beta endorphins.
It also causes blood sugar spikes and eventually insulin surges that can drive insulin
The results of this roller coaster are:
- weight gain, especially around the belly
- mental fogginess
- hormonal imbalance
- depression and anxiety
The problems we hear about most are weight gain and hormonal imbalance. Here’s what
happens: Carbohydrates (including sugar) are generally stored in the liver as glycogen.
If the liver is full, your body will make fat from any excess sugar and carbohydrates
and store it in existing fat deposits around your body. That’s the direct link between
sugar and weight gain.
Sugar can also turn off a gene that controls your sex hormones. Without this sex
hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) gene, levels of testosterone and estrogen can become
unregulated, leading to symptoms like fatigue, anxiety, irritability and more. But
you can stop your sugar cravings and the corresponding health effects.
Eight steps to stop craving sugar and prevent its negative effects
You can see how much trouble sugar can cause once it gets into your system. Our
proven steps can help you break the hold that the sweet stuff has over you. Choose
one or more of these to help you put sugar in its place as just an every-now-and-then
Step 1: Balance your hormones. Just before menstruation,
when estrogen is low and progesterone is on its way down, beta-endorphin levels
in your brain are at their lowest. These cyclical hormonal and neurotransmitter
fluctuations explain why women in perimenopause or with PMS have sugar cravings
and the serotonin-endorphin bursts that high-sugar foods provide. Herbal formulations
like our Herbal Equilibrium
or PMS Solution can help naturally
balance fluctuating hormones to kill cravings and other disturbing symptoms.
5 Days without sugar?
“Luckily, I had just finished a double scoop of chocolate gelato moments before
being roped into this research.” Read more about Anne’s five days without sugar.
Step 2: Nourish with nutrients.
Specific micronutrients like zinc, vitamin C and B vitamins are particularly
helpful for calming sugar cravings by influencing serotonin production. Equally
important are omega-3s, which are crucial for regulating mood and inflammation —
both are associated with cravings.
Step 3: Mix pleasure with protein. Combining your
treat with a few nuts, or even a high-quality
protein powder, balances blood sugar and helps prevent eating to many sugary
treats. This lessens the “spiky” sugar surge to the brain and makes it less likely
you’ll crash after.
Step 4: Balance your bugs. Your gut always seeks
a balance between “good” and “bad” bacteria. If intestinal and vaginal bacteria
are out of balance, they’re more likely to invite yeasts like Candida. An overgrowth
of yeast in the intestine (or system-wide) can lead to intense cravings for sugar,
fatigue, fuzzy thinking and digestive issues. Taking a
probiotic and temporarily going on a yeast-free diet can help restore healthy
bacterial balance while eliminating sugar-hungry bugs that can’t live without sugar/refined
Step 5: Skip the sugar for 3-5 days in a row. It
can be hard to do but avoiding sugar for just three days can make a huge difference.
Though it may take longer for cravings to completely go away, eliminating sugar’s
cyclical crash-and-burn bursts of serotonin and beta-endorphin can normalize your
sugar receptors and neurotransmitters. Then your brain isn’t constantly sending
the message that it needs more sugar.
Step 6: Develop stress-busting daily habits. Meditation,
yoga and journaling have all been shown to reduce pro-inflammatory markers in the
blood. Many women with demanding jobs and lifestyles fall into a pattern of nighttime
cravings, over-eating and unwanted weight gain. Over time that leads to adrenal
imbalance and extreme exhaustion, along with a reliance on caffeine and sugar.
One carb lover’s break from carbs
“Why is it that the minute I decide to give something up, I want it more than ever?”
Read about Joanie’s
Step 7: Avoid acid-forming foods. Conventionally-raised
meat is high in antibiotics and hormones that create pro-inflammatory molecules
such as arachidonic acid. Highly processed carbohydrates also tend to increase inflammation
and acidity, causing cravings for sweet foods. Choosing anti-inflammatory foods
high in omega-3 fatty acids, along with alkalizing and antioxidant-rich foods, such
as fruits and vegetables, can offset associated damage and cravings.
Step 8: Explore food sensitivities. Common food sensitivities
can leave you so foggy-headed and fatigued that you turn to sugar for a pick-me-up.
The most common food sensitivities are to gluten and dairy, followed by corn, eggs,
soy, peanuts and citrus. When you remove a food you are sensitive to, your sugar
cravings may go away. (NOTE: Eliminating certain foods can lead to temporary symptoms
while your body adjusts to not having that food.)
Bonus step: let your life be sweeter!
Many things in life positively affect serotonin and beta-endorphin levels — exercise,
balanced nutrition, rewarding work, a loving relationship, even a sunny day. Any
joy and fun you find (or make!) in your day “speaks happiness” to your body. If
you lack positive energy and happiness, you may fill that void with sugar. That’s
why this is our favorite piece of advice: go have some fun!
Remember, we are not striving for perfection, but progress. Little changes every
day lead to amazing transformations. Letting go of sugar can be stressful — we’ve
been there — but the benefits you feel in your body and mind will keep you going.
1 Rouch, C., et al. 2003. Extracellular hypothalamic serotonin and plasma
amino acids in response to sequential carbohydrate and protein meals. Nutr. Neurosci.,
6 (2), 117-124. URL (abstract): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12722987
Wurtman, R., & Wurtman, J. 1995. Brain serotonin, carbohydrate-craving,
obesity and depression. Obes. Res., 3 (Suppl. 4), 477S-480S. URL (abstract):
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8697046 (accessed 10.03.2008).
2 DesMaisons, K. 2008.Potatoes Not Prozac: Solutions for Sugar Sensitivity
[Revised edition.] NY: Simon & Schuster.
3 DesMaisons, K. 2008. p. 145.
4 DesMaisons, K. 2008. p. 75.
5 DesMaisons, K. 2008. p. 145.
6 DesMaisons, K. 2008. p. 185.
Amazines. 2007. Sugar withdrawal symptoms: don’t let them stop you from
kicking your sugar habits. URL: http://www.amazines.com/article_detail.cfm?articleid=207328
7 DesMaisons, K. 2008. p 84.
8 Lipski, Elizabeth. 2004. Digestive Wellness, 3rd ed., p 92.
NY: McGraw Hill.
9 Lamb, R., & Goldstein, B. 2008. Modulating an oxidative-inflammatory
cascade: Potential new treatment strategy for improving glucose metabolism, insulin
resistance, and vascular function. Int. J. Clin. Pract., 62 (7), 1087–1095.
URL (abstract): http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=2440526
10 DesMaisons, K. 2008. pp. 145-147.