How to stop cravings for sugary foods

I am sure many of us know that intense desire to eat a specific food when you know you are just not hungry. Usually, it's for something we consider "bad", that we think we "shouldn't be eating too much of".

There are a number of reasons why this might be, and in this article, I am going to share with you my eight top tips to help overcome cravings.

1 - Be specific and track patterns

Can you pick up any specific patterns? For example, if it's chocolate, what type of chocolate? Naming a brand and flavour, and identifying the times of day that you find most difficult may come in handy over the next few paragraphs. If you're not sure, you could try keeping a little journal to identify patterns.

2 - Tune in with your hunger

I quite often hear that cravings for particular foods occur at 3-4pm in the afternoon. When I hear a history of what a client's eaten that day (perhaps cereal/porridge for breakfast, and a salad for lunch) they have often not eaten enough, and it's no wonder they are simply just hungry. Check in with what you've eaten throughout the day and allow yourself a proper snack. That could be a couple of biscuits and a yoghurt perhaps, or a dash of Nutella on toast with a banana if you are looking for that sugar hit. Combining a little sugar with some more nutritious food can be a good balance. Forbidding yourself from eating the sugary food will only fuel cravings further.

On the other hand, there are different types of hunger we face. Sometimes it's belly hunger, and sometimes it's mouth hunger (where we just need that little something extra to round off a meal). It's okay to finish your meal with something sweet. A boiled sweet, yoghurt, fruit, a cup of tea, or a chocolate may be just what you need to feel satisfied and keep your mind off of food for another few hours. It may prevent you from plummeting into the biscuits an hour after lunch.

3 - Quit forbidding food and give yourself permission

It's pretty hard to sell the idea of 'eat what you want' when you're probably thinking - "that's exactly what brought me here in the first place". However, the alternative approach to restriction and deprivation probably hasn't worked either. Bingeing is a natural reaction to deprivation/restriction. Foods are not good or bad. You are not a good person if you eat lettuce and a bad person if you eat chocolate. They are all just food. Neutralising the language can take the pressure off.

Write out a list of foods that you forbid yourself to eat and start experimenting with them. Take one at a time a few days apart. As you eating your forbidden food, slow down, savour it and tune into how much you need to feel satisfied. This eating meditation practice may help:

As you become more comfortable with this practice of eating your 'forbidden' food, the foods become more ordinary and truly allowed. It's a process called habituation. The food no longer has any moral value and doesn't have control over you.

4 - Identify emotional triggers

Once you have ruled out hunger and restriction as reasons for cravings, quite often what is thought to be an emotional eating problem, disappears. If you still find yourself wanting to dive into a tub of ice-cream regularly when you know you're pretty stuffed perhaps your body is trying to tell you it needs something else. Tune into your emotions. Using an emotional feelings wheel can help with identifying what emotions you are feeling. Once identified, coming up with three to five alternative strategies to soothe these emotions can be helpful. Saving these on your phone screen or writing them somewhere you will see them can be helpful too. It is, however, important to remember that emotional eating is normal and part of being human. It's only a problem if you become reliant on food to soothe your emotions regularly and don't have other coping mechanisms.

5 - Rule out thirst

It's really common to mistake hunger with thirst, so make sure you're topped up throughout the day. Teas, coffees, herbal teas, sparkling water and pretty much any fluids except alcohol count towards our fluid intake.

6 - Avoid long gaps between eating

Leaving long gaps between meals fuels the risk of getting too hungry. This is when cravings can be at their strongest and it's likely you will want to eat any food in site regardless of what it is. Eating every three to four hours, with three meals and two to three snacks in a day is what many people find works for them. It's important to recognise what works best for you and to tune into your own hunger cues.

7 - Pack your snacks

Of course, the office chocolates or vending machine look more appealing than the brown squashed banana or bruised apple at the bottom of your bag. Pack tasty and delicious snacks that you look forward to eating. This way may be less likely to crave other foods. One of my favourites is oat cakes with nut butter and squashed berries or banana.

8 - Get on top of your sleep

Tiredness makes cravings more intense, especially for fatty and sugary food. Your body is less likely to be giving out accurate hunger signals, so stick to eating regularly, bite the bullet and get yourself into bed early!

And finally...

Cravings can be a way of your body telling you that it needs something. It could be hungry, over-restricted, feeling intense emotion, not fed/watered or had enough sleep. Perhaps it needs a little self-love. Tune into your bodies signals, reflect and try to learn from them so you are able to give your body what it truly desires.

For more on managing food problems like this such as binge eating, emotional eating, stress eating, yo-yo dieting, check out my free online nutrition course. This will guide you through some of the first steps to support you through your food problems.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, EC1V
Written by Katherine Kimber, BSc MSc RD
London, EC1V

Katherine Kimber is a registered dietitian, with a masters in clinical research. She has over five years experience in the industry and is a published scientific author. Her specialist interest is in helping those who battle with their weight, to re-discover the pleasures of eating through intuitive eating. Her website is

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