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What Does It Mean When You Crave Sweets Uncontrollably After Eating Dinner (Hint: Food Scarcity!)

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Last updated on June 11, 2020

eating enlightenment pinterest image with woman having cravings

This feeling is the worst! You just ate a big meal, and now you still want sugar? Even more calories!

It’s pretty normal for you to feel confused about your desire for sugar after a meal. Aren’t you supposed to be full? Aren’t you supposed to be satisfied with a normal serving? But instead all you can think about is the next ice cream cone or piece of chocolate candy!

Most people have no idea why they crave sugar even after a large meal. Unfortunately, by not understanding their biology , people then blame themselves for their lack of:

  • willpower
  • control
  • motivation

Blaming yourself is not helpful at all. In fact, blaming yourself only perpetuates the cycle of binge eating.  Don’t blame yourself by thinking you can ‘try harder‘ and avoid these cravings. Don’t tell yourself that next time:

  • you’ll control yourself
  • make a healthy decision
  • have more willpower

Learning why you have these cravings in the first place is the key to stopping them. Taking preventative action is the right idea.

What Does It Mean When You Crave Sweets picture with sweet donut

The point of this article is help you understand 3 reasons which lead to you craving sweets even after a big Thanksgiving meal.

So if you are asking “what does it mean when you crave sweets?” here are 3 reasons why …

You can call these three reasons “The Causes Of Food Scarcity”:

  1. You are trying to restrict yourself to ‘good’, non-sugary foods 
  2. Are not eating enough
  3. Are not eating regularly

If you isolate these reasons themselves then they do not lead to crazy sugar cravings. However, if all three of these reasons are intertwining together then you will lose control, and end up binge eating the ‘bad’ foods you aren’t supposed to have. 

Why? What happens is that when you 1) restrict 2) don’t eat enough and 3) don’t eat regularly – you experience something called Food Scarcity. This is when your body doesn’t believe it has enough food. Therefore, your body tries to keep you alive by getting you to eat. Your body treats these restricted foods as rare and valuable, and this triggers you to binge eat them.  

Healthline, a prominent medical site, also agrees with this assessment which you can read here.

Food Scarcity is the reason you crave specifically sweets, as opposed to other forms of binge eating where you are indiscriminate about any type of food you eat.

The reasoning is that you are preventing yourself from eating sweets at some point, and then eating them in excess later on:

For example, you binge on sweets on day and make a promise to yourself, “I am done with donuts!” 

But paradoxically, by restricting yourself from donuts, you make donuts valuable to  your subconscious mind. A few days later after a stressful day from work where you haven’t eaten enough regularly, your body thinks it’s starving and wants the most valuable food to stay alive – aka, donuts.

You are dieting or restricting* and then experiencing food scarcity towards sugary foods, and this paradoxically makes you crave these foods even more!

*In case you’re wondering about the difference between ‘dieting’ and ‘restricting’ I am using ‘dieting’ to mean when you are on an official diet like Weight Watchers. I use restricting when you are using informal ways to eat less calories, like calorie counting or avoiding food groups.

Here is a quick video of how these three reasons intertwine and cause you to crave sweets uncontrollably.

This short 1-minute video of a woman named Cat illustrates how sugar cravings come as a result of restriction and not eating enough.

We’ll take a look at Cat’s story and then explore the 3 principles of Food Scarcity in more depth.

Cat was on a 1100-calorie diet 5 days out of the week. She would be disciplined, losing weight and feeling in control. She wouldn’t eat any sugary candies or ice cream.

But then somehow, something always happened over the weekend and Cat would end up binge eating sugary foods.

  • a friend’s birthday party
  • a trip to the zoo
  • a family dinner

Things got so bad (as you can see in the video above) that Cat was at her friend’s house and had a binge. But unlike other times events where she could hide her bloated stomach by laying down and watching TV, her friend was planning a girls’ nights out!

When her friend went to take a shower, Cat lost control. She binged the whole cake. When her friend came out of the shower she found Cat laying there nearly comatose, and of course they called off girls’ night. While Cat’s friend handled this event extremely well, Cat was mortified.

Cat finally realized that this pattern of binge eating was hurting her. Somehow she found my website online and we started working together.

The key thing I helped Cat realize was seeing that the restriction of her 1100 calorie diet and not eating enough were causing her to overeat.

It’s important to note that dieting and food scarcity are intimately related. Do you see the connection?

(hint: if you are wondering what does it mean when you crave sweets – this is why!)

Physical, mental, and emotional food scarcity causes people to binge eat. Click To Tweet

Before working with me, Cat was very confused. She could pick up on the pattern that she always binged over the weekend, but she was mistakenly thinking her lack of willpower caused her binge eating. If I had asked Cat if she was dieting, she would have said “No, I’m not on any sort of diet. I’m not on:

  • not on weight watchers
  • neither on keto
  • not on low carb

I really had to help Cat see that yes, she was dieting, even if she wasn’t on an official diet, and this dieting was causing her food scarcity, which in turn was causing her to lose control.

It looks something like this:

Dieting (either purposefully or unintentionally) >> Food Scarcity >> Binge Eating

After Cat understood this sequence and learned about the three points of food scarcity (restriction, not eating enough, and not eating regularly) she was able to take preventative action to avoid crazy sugar cravings.

But first Cat had finally able to admit and accept that she was dieting and experiencing food scarcity – even though she wasn’t on an official diet.

Nowadays Cat is “allowing” herself to do things differently than she ever has in her life:

  • eating some candy during the week while thinking to herself “I can have this if I want to”
  • eat more filling foods throughout the week and at each meal
  • eating more food throughout the day

The reason I emphasized “allowing” in the previous sentence was because allowing yourself to eat more food and beat food scarcity is actually really tough! Oftentimes we have a fear of weight gain, and this prevents us from listening to our body and keeps us trapped in food scarcity.

How does this work?

You diet or count your calories in an attempt to eat less and reduce your food intake. Yet then by dieting or some form of calorie restriction, you paradoxically fool your body into thinking that food is scarce, and that your body is starving to death. 

But if you are able to wrap your head around food scarcity, and how dieting/restricting causes food scarcity, then you can stop dieting/restricting. 

For example, as you can see in the video above, Cat’s crazy sugar cravings have gone way down. She’s feeling a lot better and her weight is gradually going down too, at a natural pace which is sustainable.

Are we all on the same page?

If not, please comment below. It’s okay to ask questions because this stuff topic of “what does it mean when you crave sweets” is complex. But the fact is, craving sweets is a complex phenomenon with many moving parts.  

Now that we have covered Cat’s story and illustrated how these principles intertwine together to cause crazy cravings, let’s understand dieting and the first principle of Food Scarcity work together.   

For more information about ‘what does it mean when you crave sweets’ check Food Scarcity principles 2 & 3 in this other blog post about “Why am I eating so much all of a sudden, I just ate an hour ago!

You are restricting yourself to ‘good’ foods (and then binge eating the ‘bad’ foods you aren’t supposed to have!)

binge eating pendulum swinging from dieting to overeating

Below is another way to look at how people can actually have a diet mentality without knowing it,  while not on an official diet.

diet mindset versus non diet mentality

Can you see how normal the thoughts on the left are? These thoughts about calories, restriction, and punishment are so commonplace these days that we can absorb these ways of thinking and be dieting without even knowing it!

(Nowadays there is increasing awareness of alternative ways of thinking about food so you don’t fall for the trap of food scarcity, for example in the Health At Every Size mindset you also take into account foods that make you happy, which can include sugary foods.)

Of course, the problem with dieting – purposefully or not – is that you swing back and forth between dieting and binge eating like a pendulum! Or like an infinite loop …

(95% of people who diet end up gaining back all the weight, or even gaining more weight than what they started with!)

binge eating cycle going from restriction to cravings to shame and repeating

Let’s go back to Cat’s video. Again, Cat didn’t know she was dieting.  She thought she was being healthy. She was not on any sort of official diet. Cat thought that she was the problem!  She thought it was her lack of:

  • willpower
  • control
  • motivation

Why dieting and food scarcity automatically lead to uncontrollable food cravings

Exercise: Take a look at the following image and see if you can put yourself in the shoes of both perspectives.

Conditional Versus Unconditional permission with cookies showing that eating with trust is good

How do you think the left perspective views the cookie? How do you think, conversely, the right perspective views the cookie?

The cookie on the left perspective represents unconscious dieting where you really are dieting, even if you don’t realize it and aren’t on an official diet. If you can use your imagination, then can you see how from this perspective, the cookie is both:

  • rare
    AND
  • valuable

Your body (please note the word ‘body’, as food scarcity triggers an automatic process in your body)…

Your body perceives the cookie as rare and valuable because there is a limit of 1 cookie, and you can only have the cookie after dinner. In essence, your body perceives the food as rare and valuable because you have food rules around eating cookies. Said differently, you have a dieting mentality towards the cookie and this is causing food scarcity.

Paradoxically – because you see the cookie as rare and valuable – you still go ahead and binge eat the cookie.

Your body has evolved automatic mechanisms to eat food that is rare and valuable, especially when you are hungry.

Hold that cookie thought, let’s quickly talk about evolutionary biology. Evolutionary biology is useful to understand because then you can see how it’s not your fault.

Imagine thousands of years ago when famine and food shortages were the number one cause of death. In fact, for millions upon millions of years, our ancestors primarily died of starvation.

Powerful mechanisms evolved to keep us alive. One of these mechanisms is … drumroll … BINGE EATING. That’s right. Binge eating is a mechanism that’s been selected by evolution to help keep a species alive.

Imagine one of our hominid ancestors was starving and comes across a dead deer. They don’t have any refrigerators or ways to keep the meat, or access to any other food, and  are starving. So they eat the entire animal without caring about what you ate! This allows you to survive by consuming a ton of calories in a short amount of time.

(Crocodiles and other reptiles and many mammals commonly binge eat if you think about it in this way too!)

The key is to stop yourself from getting starving or hungry. If you get into a starvation survival mode, then your body will take over to help – in an evolutionary sense — keep you alive.

Take Action Now That You Know Why You Crave Sweets

This is why you crave the sugary stuff. This is the answer to this question ‘what does it mean when you crave sweets’.

You have srestrictions, typically and specifically around sugary food. You are dieting or restricting either way, doesn’t matter.

When you combine your self-imposed restrictions around sugary food, along with being starving, then you get the perfect combination – one that results in you losing control around sugar.

And these strategies we’ve outlined work! Take a look at the success stories featured on my website. Many of the videos on the ‘success stories’ page are instructional, and you’ll see Cat in there too!

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