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This is the 3rd and final part in our series on hunger management, snacking, and cravings, and of course, everyone’s favorite subject: carb cravings. See part 1 on hunger management and part 2 snacking.

Eating healthier is pretty much equivalent to cutting back on sugar these days. And yet, oftentimes, it seems like the single hardest thing to do. People everywhere report craving sugar or carbohydrates, needing to have sugar in their coffee, or expecting something sweet after dinner.

Overcoming these urges for sweets can be challenging, but it’s also one the best things you can do for your health and waistline. So let’s explore, the 2 primary causes of these cravings and how to deal with them.

Systemic

Years of eating a diet high in refined and quick-acting carbohydrates (and sugar!) may very well have affected the body on systemic level, including disturbing blood sugar regulation, balance of gut bacteria, and hormone production.

To rebalance the body, curb the physiological carbohydrate cravings, and move on from this nemesis of health, consider these approaches.

  • Eat more protein. When you fill up on protein, you increase satiety and the body has less need to go looking for other calories, or nutrients, or sweets.
  • Choose healthy fats. Healthy fats, like protein, increase satiety, but more importantly, they help to stabilize blood sugar. Instead of getting on a blood sugar roller coaster that has you headed straight for a sweet treat to pump up energy, good fats keep blood sugar (and energy) on nice even keel.
  • Sleep enough. In multiple studies, lack of sleep has been shown to cause people to eat more, and women especially tend to overeat sweet and starchy foods when they’re sleep deprived. So chalk up the nighttime cake consumption to lack of sleep and get thee to bed early. Adequate sleep also helps with proper hormone balance.
  • Try HIIT. High-intensity interval training is an exercise routine that alternates intense activity with brief periods of rest. Research has shown this type of fitness, compared to slow cardio, to be far more effective at improving blood sugar markers, lowering elevated insulin levels, and promoting normal hormone secretions, thus reducing the body’s dependence on quick-acting sugars.
  • Eat fermented foods and vegetables. Fermented foods contain live bacteria that help to repopulate the gut with ‘good’ bacteria–the ones that support normal body weight, crave healthy foods, and don’t have a sugar addiction. Vegetables provide the fibrous food for the ‘good’ bacteria to thrive.

Habituation

If your system is otherwise healthy–you don’t have any blood sugar, hormonal, or gut balance issues going on–and you (likely more) recently started wanting dessert everyday, it could just be something you’ve become habituated to, something you’ve come to expect.

Frequently, these types of carb cravings are more psychological and while they’re seemingly less ingrained, the mind can play awful tricks on itself to try to beat out willpower in saying it’s ok to have some sweets. So here are a few ideas to help combat the mind games:

  • Brush your teeth. Immediately after a meal, before you even think about it, get up, head straight to the bathroom and brush your teeth. Who wants chocolate banana pie when you have a clean, minty, refreshing taste in your mouth.
  • Try “Meal Enders.” There’s a product on the market specifically designed to trick your brain into thinking it’s had dessert and feels satisfied. It’s a low calorie lozenge that sometimes has flavoring reminiscent of a dessert and it can be used as a “quick tool” to help you get past the idea of something sweet. I’ve tried them, sometimes with more success than others. An herbal supplement such as gynemma can also help curb the sweet tooth.
  • Engage in a fun activity. Instead of using ice cream to procrastinate doing the dishes or cleaning up the kitchen, plan one of your favorite activities for immediately after dinner. That way you’ll have something to look forward to and won’t be tempted to indulge in dessert to avoid chores.
  • Create a negative association with sugar. Whenever I have to break my sweet tooth, I try to think of sugar as the poison it is–white death, bad for body, heart, brain, waistline, sleep, etc. I try to think about how much I love my body and how I only want to give it the best, not fill it with toxic poison. It may sound extreme, but it’s been surprisingly effective for me. Just that re-framing makes me much more inclined to have another serving of protein if I still feel like nibbling.

Oftentimes, dessert cravings are rooted in both the physiological and psychological, so we need to address both at the same time. There’s no reason you can’t use everything on this list everyday to help overcome that sugar addiction.

Wake up well-rested. Do HIIT workouts in the morning. Make sure lunch and dinner both have enough protein, fat, vegetables (potatoes are not a vegetable), and some fermented foods. Remind yourself of the consequences of eating sweets. Immediately after eating, grab a Meal Enders or brush your teeth. Then go out dancing, read a engaging novel, or put on your favorite music and just let it flow over you.

Pretty soon you won’t think about or be tempted by even your favorite dessert.

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