Here's Why You're Craving Sugar All the Time—Plus Tips on How to Stop

We asked experts how to finally stop giving in to your sweet tooth.

If you're anything like me, food is always on the mind. And although there's something to appreciate in every culinary category, there's just something about sugary things that make me lose all self-control. Dessert after meals is an obligation, candy is an essential food group, and snacking is a serious activity.

I've never questioned my voracious sweet tooth until my doctor told me that my excess sugar consumption could lead to a slew of heath issues, including cavities, diabetes, and heart disease. Knowing all of this, I was determined to start eating less sugar. The problem? I found it way more difficult to control my sugar desires than I thought. So we had Michael Crupain, MD, MPH, a board-certified preventive medicine physician and author of the best-selling book What to Eat When, and Mehmet Oz, MD, FACS, a TV personality and former physician at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, weigh in with some reasons why we get sugar cravings after meals—and how to quell them.

01 of 05

Force of habit

As it turns out, sugar cravings are often the result of conditioning over time. In other words, it's a habit. "You've got a stimulus, a behavior, and a reward," says Dr. Crupain. "In the case of a sugar craving, the stimulus could be finishing dinner, the behavior is eating the sweets, and the reward is how you feel—in this case, good." The feel-good hormone that's released after indulging in our favorite dessert is called dopamine and the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels is called insulin, Dr. Crupain explains. "When we eat sugar, insulin goes up in the primitive parts of our brain that is our reward pathway. This causes an increase in dopamine release, which makes us feel good and turns our behavior of eating sugar into a habit. As a result, we learn that every time we eat a meal (or something else), if we engage in the behavior of eating sugar, we will feel good."

Solution: Try to find a healthy replacement habit

To kick the habit of over-indulging in sweets after eating, Dr. Crupain suggests finding a healthy, replacement habit post-dinner to "reprogram your brain." This can include talking to a friend on the phone, binging your favorite show, or taking a relaxing bath. Also, high-quality sweets—sans artificial stuff—can be just as satisfying as lower-quality sweets. For example, 70 percent cocoa dark chocolate can satisfy cravings without triggering your sweet tooth, says Dr. Oz.

RELATED: 5 Ways to Beat the Midday Slump Without Sugar (or Coffee)

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Hunger hormones

Another reason you might be hankering for dessert could have to do with ghrelin, which is a hunger hormone, says Dr. Oz. Not eating enough or not maintaining a balanced diet are a couple of reasons why your body might not be releasing enough ghrelin. "A study done in rats found that rats lacking the ghrelin receptor gene ate less of a sweet treat after a full meal that did rodents with the ghrelin receptor gene still intact," says Dr. Oz.

Solution: Try to maintain a healthier, balanced diet

Eating healthy carbs can help. To keep your blood sugar balanced, Dr. Oz recommends eating a healthy amount of protein and high-fiber foods—this will give you the fuel you need without the blood sugar spikes. "Healthy carbs mostly consist of vegetables like asparagus, green beans, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, and peppers," says Dr. Oz.

Another pro tip: Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to eating. Eating too fast leaves you feeling less satisfied after your meal, which can result in cravings for more food and sweets.

RELATED: 3 Simple Ways to Sweeten Foods Without Sugar (or Anything Artificial)

03 of 05

Low serotonin levels

If you've ever wondered why you might feel like you need to indulge in ice cream after a tough day, that might have something to do with your serotonin levels. Serotonin helps to regulate mood, so it makes total sense that our bodies crave it when we're anxious, stressed, or depressed. "Lower levels of serotonin in the brain have been known to cause sugar cravings," says Dr. Oz. "Sugar-rich diets improve mood and alleviates anxiety."

Solution: Find healthy ways to manage your anxiety and stress levels

We know it's way easier said than done, but managing your anxiety and stress can definitely help curb those sugar cravings. According to Dr. Oz, "Your cortisol levels go up when stressed and can cause you to be hungrier, driving your sugar cravings." To manage your stress levels, Dr. Oz suggests practicing yoga, meditating, listening to music, or trying to learn other relaxation techniques.

04 of 05

Lack of sleep

When's the last time you really got a good night's sleep? If it was a while ago, that could definitely be contributing to your sugar cravings. "A lack of sleep is linked to overeating, especially the overconsumption of junk food," says Dr. Crupain. "Try to get about eight hours of sleep a night so you'll be less likely to overeat sugary treats."

Solution: Establish a bedtime routine

Some pointers for getting a better night's sleep: Don't exercise two to three hours before bedtime, avoid taking daytime naps that are longer than 20 minutes, try to wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day, and don't use your phone an hour before heading to bed. If you're still having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, you could have insomnia—talk to your doctor as he might be able to prescribe additional medication.

05 of 05

Lack of nutrients

If you find yourself feeling dizzy without sugar, or having chronically strong cravings, it's time to call a professional as it could indicate a deeper problem. For instance, they may stem from a blood sugar imbalance, like hypoglycemia.

But don't jump to conclusions just yet: When your body lacks certain minerals that are involved in regulating insulin levels, that could also affect your hankering for sweets. For instance, when our body doesn't get enough magnesium, it will have trouble bringing energy into the cells and crave sugar to help raise energy levels.

Solution: Consult a doctor

Whether it's nutritional deficiency or a deeper health issue, it's best to consult a professional. They can help determine what you're lacking, how much you need, and ensure the lack of nutrients doesn't lead to further problems.

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