It’s hard to stay healthy if your sweet tooth is constantly trying to sabotage you. Here’s how to outsmart it.

by Bonnie Bayley

Do you ‘need’ something sweet after every meal? Find yourself reaching for a sugary energy boost mid-morning or in the afternoon? Or do you turn to treats to make you feel better after a stressful day? Whatever guise your sweet tooth takes, there’s no denying it can be a tough habit to break. Still, it is possible to reduce your cravings, if you know the underlying cause and have strategies in place to tackle them.

Craving cause: Eating to soothe emotions
From a young age, we’re taught that cake, chocolate and sweets are a reward, a treat, something we celebrate with. No wonder we reach for these feel-good foods when we’re stressed, frustrated, upset or depressed. The problem is, any comfort we derive is short-lived and can be part of an emotional eating cycle of guilt, deprivation and bingeing.
Try this: Next time a sugar craving strikes, ask yourself what you’re really craving. Is it food or actually emotional nourishment that you want?
Try something comforting like a warm bath, hugging a loved one, calling a friend or listening to relaxing music. Stepping out for a walk could also help. Adding to the mood-boosting benefits of exercise, a 2015 Austrian study found a 15 minute power walk tames cravings for sweets when people are stressed.[1]

Craving cause: Nutritional imbalances
If you skip meals, eat erratically or don’t balance your plate to include a combination of complex carbohydrates, protein and some good fat, you could be setting yourself up for blood sugar fluctuations, which are thought to trigger sugar cravings. Case in point: a Yale University study found that drops in blood sugars make our brains desire high-calorie foods more.[2]
Try this: Keep your blood sugar levels on an even keel by including complex carbs (think whole grains, brown rice, quinoa and legumes), lean protein and some healthy fat (such as avocado or nuts) with each meal.

Craving cause: The addictive nature of sugar
While once we may have blamed a weak willpower for our sugar cravings, research is increasingly indicating that sugar is a genuinely addictive substance. In a Harvard study, for example, scientists found that a high-sugar, high-GI meal stimulates the nucleus accumbens, a region of the brain associated with reward, craving and substance addiction.[3]
Try this: To wean yourself off the sweet stuff, reduce how much of it you’re exposed to at home. Don’t keep sweets in the house - why tempt yourself? - and keep an eye out for sneaky sugars in seemingly healthy foods like cereal, muesli bars and tinned soup (aim for less than 15g of sugars per 100g).
Also, keep healthy snacks on hand for when cravings strike. Think fresh berries and yoghurt, dates with nut butter or baked apple with cinnamon.

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