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What Causes Sugar Cravings | Top 7 Reasons

Last updated on November 10, 2020

Pretty much everyone loves sugar. But we all know some people love sugar too much.

Like unrequited love, quitting a relationship with sugar can be challenging. 

In order to have a balanced, normal and healthy relationship with sugar, you’ll have to understand what causes sugar craving in the first place.

This article will cover the top 7 reasons behind what causes sugar cravings.

Let’s understand these causes and dive in:

1 – The Carbs You Ate Earlier Got Used Up

This is the primary reason you’re craving sugar, by a long shot.

Instead of having a well balanced meal with some protein, fat and carbs, you ate a meal consisting mostly of carbs. For example:

  • Two muffins with some coffee loaded with sweetener
  • Noodles, pot stickers, other ‘meals’ that are 95% carbs
  • Pizza, most types of fast food
  • Other types of processed foods

Now let me be clear: carbs are fine. 

But here’s the thing about carbs: your body burns through carbs like gasoline.

You can have a huge bowl of spaghetti or pizza. You’ll be so full! But these calories quickly get absorbed into your blood and lead to higher blood sugar levels.

But then in 1-2 hours your body has used up all the energy derived from your elevated blood sugar levels and is now hungry again. 

This leads again to more sugar cravings. For example, the Washington Post lists a ton of science that shows eating high carb foods lead to more sugar cravings down the line.

Here’s the most important take-away lesson:

blood sugar level food sugar cravings

When your body runs low on energy, it WILL start to crave sugar. But sugar is only a short-term solution that temporarily helps you feel good.

Sure, the taste of sugar is good. We all love something sweet to eat.

However, if your diet is lacking protein, fiber, or other healthy foods then often you will crave sugar.

How to stop these sugar cravings caused by not-enough energy? Eat foods that ‘burn slower’. The popular word for these types of foods are ‘whole foods’. 

Examples of whole foods are green leafy items like spinach, nuts like peanuts or peanut butter, beans, whole grains and dairy products. 

For more information on whole foods, see this article here.

2 – You’re Not Drinking Enough Water Either

dehydration and sugar cravings

Hunger and thirst can feel similar. 

Plus, people oftentimes think they are drinking and hydrating but in fact are becoming more dehydrated!

For example, coffee will not hydrate you. Neither will any type of caffeinated soda. 

Why won’t caffeinated beverages hydrate you? Your body uses water to ‘process’ caffeine. Any water you drink gets used to process the caffeine!

And you can easily get dehydrated even without consuming caffeinated beverages. 

We’ve all heard of doctors saying to drink 8 glasses of water per day. 

Oftentimes our bodies give a signal for water, but we misinterpret this craving signal to be a craving for sugar. 

3 – You’re Stressed Out, Dehydrated and Hungry All At Once!

picture of stressed out woman with sticky notes on her face to show bad work life balance

And … Why is it that you’re dehydrated and hungry?

Probably because you had a thousand things to do.

You woke up and felt a little bit of anxiety, so you quickly made yourself a cup of coffee and a small sugary snack and went out the door.

Your body was dehydrated from not drinking anything for 8 hours while you slept. On top of that, the caffeine in the coffee made you more dehydrated.

Plus, you may have checked your weight as a start to your day and felt bad.

Now a few hours have passed and that muffin you had for breakfast is no longer there. You are hungry. Most likely you have some thoughts about weight and health floating around in your head.

You get the picture:

You’re running low on energy. Plus, your brain doesn’t have energy to think clearly.

And when you don’t think clearly, you get stressed more easily.

Little things become a big deal. The green light that suddenly turned red suddenly becomes a big deal.

A random person’s comment just bugs you the wrong way.

The little things start getting to you. 

Like a death by a thousand cuts, stress is oftentimes chronic.

Sometimes stress is urgent and intense, like the anxiety right before a test.

But for most people, a vague sense of chronic stress, always there, is the real drag.

This chronic stress is what’s so strongly associated with obesity and less sleep.

With all this stress your body burns energy like crazy.

And remember, your body needs more fuel and energy. But you don’t have any energy to think of another alternative besides sugar!

And the cycle repeats…

4 – You Have Fallen Into Predictable Sugar Routines

habit theory simple diagram with three parts, cue, routine, and reward

You know that coffee and muffin you had this morning?

And the scones at lunch? Oh, and the donut left out on the counter? Don’t forget that “fruit juice” you snagged mid-afternoon too.

Well, I’m betting you are human like everybody else and repeat the same patterns over and over again. Even if these patterns aren’t the best things to repeat over and over again.

But if you are stressed out, hungry, thirsty … then your brain is trying to conserve energy.

One major way your brain conserves energy is to do the same thing without thinking. 

How does your brain know what to do without thinking?

If something makes your brain temporarily feel good, it will remember this good feeling.

Then the next time your brain feels bad, it’ll simply want this good feeling again.

I’m sure you see where this is going. 

While habits are more complex than the above description, the three factors in the image above are at play somehow if you are craving sugar all the time.

Humans are creatures of habit and sometimes we crave sugar simply because it’s that time of day, and every day we grab sugar at that time, so that’s why we crave it now too.

Is craving sweets a sign of diabetes?

No, craving sweets is not a sign of diabetes.

Like we mentioned above, craving sweets is actually pretty normal. Just because you crave sweets doesn’t mean you have diabetes or any major problem.

Even though you might think diabetes, more often than not the real issue is your blood sugar levels.

See, when you predictably don’t eat enough or drink enough food, then your body craves sugar and sweets with the worst sweet tooth ever.

Even though you had one sweet treat, your body wants more. Plus, your body fears that it might be left high and dry again so your body freaks out a little bit and craves sugar even more.

5 – And … You’re Not Sleeping Enough

Look, we know you’re most likely not sleeping enough.

Okay, I admit some of you may be sleeping enough and the first 4 factors above are why you are craving sugar. 

But I’m betting most of you ain’t sleeping enough, or eating enough, either! 

Why? Because sugar cravings have been so clearly linked to lack of sleep in past research. One of the most standard pieces of medical advice for people with all types of health concerns is to sleep more.

When you are lacking sleep, your body releases more ghrelin, which is known as a hunger hormone.

Simultaneously while releasing more ghrelin, your body also produces less leptin, which is the hormone that gives you that nice “feeling full” sensation in your stomach. 

Now these 5 reasons listed above are the primary causes of sugar cravings. 

How Do You Stop Sugar Cravings?

On one hand, you already know what you need to do.

You need to get a bit more sleep and draw some more firm boundaries. You gotta de-stress a bit. 

And with that extra brain power, you can identify what causes sugar cravings by looking at your triggers for sugar cravings!

For example, your current way of eating may just be leading to blood sugar spikes followed by depletion and more sugar cravings.

With this extra awareness, you can begin to introduce more whole foods, drink more water and have some time to relax.  🙂

It may not be easy for you, but it’s doable!

And … the journey can be enjoyable too.

With that being said, there are two other reasons you could be craving sugar. 

Keep in mind, though, that these next two reasons are most likely paired with one or more of the above reasons and that the general strategy to reduce sugar cravings still applies!

6 – Ok, You Might Lack Magnesium

If you aren’t eating whole foods, then you might lack magnesium.

And there is some research indicating that a lack of magnesium is related to craving dark chocolate.

And it’s definitely true that if you lack magnesium, then your body might not have the vitamin needed for over 300 biochemical combinations in your body. 

So lacking magnesium is of course not good for your health. Magnesium helps support a healthy body and the lack of magnesium has been linked to diabetes and heart diseases.

Want more magnesium in your diet but aren’t sure where to get more?

Good news – those foods I listed earlier are also great sources of magnesium: 

“Whole foods like green leafy items such as spinach, nuts like peanuts or peanut butter, beans, whole grains and dairy products.” 

What other vitamin deficiency causes sugar cravings?

Look, I’m an eating and health blogger.

I see that there’s tons of information about vitamin deficiency causing various cravings. And heck, I just wrote a section about how some people may not get enough magnesium in their diet.

There’s some truth to the statement that vitamin deficiencies are related to cravings, but  do you really think that taking a Vitamin C pill or a Vitamin B pill or whatever Vitamin pill is really going to help you with those cravings?

Do you really think that even the best multivitamin in the world will make your cravings for sweet calories go away without any sort of mental effort or character transformation?

The bottom line is that the first 5 factors are the primary ones at play here. 

You gotta de-stress a bit, and make sure your diet has a bit more protein and fat and is more high in fiber than what you’re currently eating.

Don’t blame gut bacteria either. I’ve seen a lot of articles that talk about bacteria and how these suck up all the nutrients in your body.

But guess what? How do you start to heal any sort of crazy bacteria sucking up nutrients in your body?

You eat a more well-balanced diet.

7 – There’s Deeper Trauma or Childhood Work You Need To Work Through

I can’t tell you how many clients I see who know they are eating sugar for deeper reasons. 

It can feel like there is a hole, an empty space, and your instincts are to cover up that hole or space with food.

Let’s be clear: sometimes stress is why you eat. You’re stressed out and processed foods temporarily make you feel better. That’s easy to understand.

But for many people, there are deeper subconscious forces at play that need to be brought to light. 

For example, many times people are dealing with conflicting voices in their head:

Voice #1 “Be healthy, eat more fiber, don’t have that, be good”

Voice #2 “I WANT THAT! I DON’T CARE WHAT HEALTHY IS I JUST WANT THAT TASTE’

I call this the ‘rebel’ voice and I see it pretty commonly in my work as an eating counselor.

Now for some people, they can learn all the information about the perfect diet, the best protein, the best fat and even how to cook a meal filled with nutrients that gets the taste part right.

But still, they keep feeling stuck in the same food patterns.

If this is the case, the cause of these eating patterns may be childhood related, including trauma or neglect. And without identifying these patterns, people may continue to remain stuck and not free from their negative food patterns.

Be sure to seek out the help of an eating counselor or therapist if you can sense that there are deeper forces at play here.

If you are curious if you have Binge Eating Disorder, please take this short 8 question quiz.

The quiz questions are based on medical criteria used in treatment settings to diagnose Binge Eating Disorder.


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