The Why Behind Some of Your Sugar Cravings

 salt and straw san diego honey lavender ice cream cone

I often hear others talk about struggling with having a sweet tooth. As in, sugar is addicting and impossible to resist. I find that most people identify with with being at least a little anxious, and sometimes totally out of control around sweets. Today I wanted to unpack that a little bit and pose the question - why does this happen and if this sounds like you, what can you do about it? I've come across a lot of questionable tidbits of advice around the internet that recommend everything from cayenne cleanses to a Whole30 to get sugar intake under control. Those are both pretty extreme and in my opinion, unnecessary. Here are three reasons why you might crave sweets frequently (and none of them involve being addicted to sugar).

Obligatory disclaimer: it's totally fine (and normal!) to crave something sweet on occasion but if you feel like this is all-consuming and something you want to work on, read on! Also, nutrition is personal and individual - these are potential causes, but not necessarily true for everyone so take this post with a grain of salt.

1. You are under-eating.

You might remember this post I wrote back in December where I shared my thoughts on the idea of sugar addiction. Even though each of us might deal with indulgent foods differently, based on my professional experience, I find that most cases of sugar cravings are the product of under-eating. 

As an example, a friend of mine once shared that she felt seriously tempted by afternoon sweets, but once we dug a little deeper she came to her own conclusion that this happens on days when she doesn't pack enough food to get her through the work day. So essentially she just needed fuel, but her biological hunger was being misinterpreted as a sweet tooth. Does this sound like it could be the case for you too? 

I also see this happen in the evening. If you are cutting way back on carbohydrates at dinner, you might be back in the kitchen searching for something sweet an hour or two later. 

 salmon with orzo salad

2. You don't get enough sleep.

Another potential culprit of increased sugar cravings (or increased appetite in general) could be a less-than-ideal sleep routine. Research strongly suggests that insufficient sleep results in decreased levels of leptin and increased levels ghrelin. These are two hormones that play a role in our hunger and satiety signals and this particular combination results in a stimulated appetite, decreased satiety after a meal and decreased energy expenditure (1,2). 

I ask my coaching clients about sleep habits in our first meeting together and I can always see a bit of confusion as to why this would connect with nutrition. In addition to the hormone-related example above, if someone is overtired, chances are they might skip exercise, choose less healthful food options and over-rely on caffeine too. 

3. You're stuck in a cheat day mentality.

Oh the cheat day... this can be a tough habit to break, but I swear things are more fun and relaxed on the other side! One question I often ask someone who is considering an all-or-nothing type approach is:

Have you ever known someone who does a cleanse or super strict diet? If yes, what was their eating pattern like on the day after it ended? 

Chances are, it involved seriously overdoing it on all of the foods that weren't "allowed". This isn't a long term strategy and it can promote binging, guilt, and a vicious cycle of feeling out of control around food. I shared this article from Bon Appetit on Facebook a few weeks back and found it to be really spot on. The author describes how the cheat day mentality "sabotaged attempts at finding balance in... health and nutrition". Getting stuck in a cheat day mentality can be destructive to your relationship with food and might even result in you constantly thinking about foods that are off limits (like sweets). Working with a registered dietitian to develop sustainable eating patterns can help you end this pattern for good. 

 chocolate chip cookie

Action Steps Moving Forward

So now the question is, what action steps can you take to move away from some of these behaviors? First and foremost, choose meals and snacks that are satisfying, balanced and taste good to you. Trying to go low-cal or only picking the "healthy" item can backfire and lead to cravings later if it's not something you even want or like in the first place. I usually encourage clients to eat more, not less, to prevent this sort of thing from happening. This can also prevent large blood sugar spikes. 

If your sleep routine could use some work, make a serious effort to get that figured out. I won't go too deep into this topic because I know most people have heard all of the classic recommendations already. If you make it a priority and still can't seem to get a solid night of sleep, this is something that warrants a doctor's visit because you could potentially have sleep apnea or another underlying condition that requires treatment. 

Using a meal time habits journal for a week or so can be a helpful way to track eating patterns and how certain meals/snacks make you feel. This isn't your typical food recall or My Fitness Pal log. It's more focused on behaviors such as: how hungry you were, where you were, who you were with, and what your mood was in relation with what you ate at a given time. This can be extremely helpful for identifying issues that you might not even be aware of (see below to download the template I use with clients). 

Now I would love to hear from you! Can you relate to any of these issues and if so, what steps have you taken to overcome them? 

References:

1. Taheri S, Lin L, Austin D, Young T and Mignot E. Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index. PLoS Med. 2004;1(3):e62.

2. Dashti HS, Scheer FAJL, Jacques PF, Lamon-Fava S, and Ordovás JM. Short Sleep Duration and Dietary Intake: Epidemiologic Evidence, Mechanisms, and Health Implications. Adv Nutr. 2016; 6(6): 648–659.

Meal Time Habits Journal

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    The Details on Summer Entertaining Made Simple

     infinite monkey theorem back patio

    I simply cannot believe that two weeks has gone by since my Summer Entertaining Made Simple event! Of course I wanted to share photos and some behind-the-scenes details because it was an absolute pleasure to plan and host and I have so many people to thank for that. 

    First and foremost, my rockstar co-host Jaime Lopez. I could not ask for a more amazing partner in crime! Having been wanting to organize an event like this for awhile, I knew it would be a huge undertaking to do on my own. I had been connected with Jaime for awhile over social media and her content just always resonated with me - basically I knew she was someone I would want to hang out with in real life! We went back and forth a bit online but never actually met in person. Until we started scheming this event of course. 

     leanne ray and jaime lopez at summer entertaining made simple

    Behind-The-Scenes

    We wanted to make it a ladies night out experience that involved good food and wine, socializing, and entertaining tips for busy people. With summer social calendars filling up so quickly, sometimes it seems like every weekend holds something and my goal is to make that just a little bit easier on folks.

    In my own experience, the venue is really what makes an event and Infinite Monkey Theorem was the perfect fit for our vision with their edgy vibe and amazing outdoor space. A huge thank you goes to them for helping us make this run smoothly! They were so wonderful to work with. And their wine is pretty delicious too - you might remember me mentioning that their canned rose is one of my go-to drinks of the summer

    From there, we planned the menu and had a few key criteria in mind: fresh, vegetable-forward, no-cook finger foods. The goal was to get creative with seasonal produce to show that vegetables do not have to be bland and boring. Plus, you save a little bit of money in the process by not having to buy meats and cheeses (even though those can be fantastic options too). Check out this colorful spread:

     food spread at summer entertaining made simple event

    On the Menu

    Peaches with Honey & Crushed Mint

    Radicchio Cups with Curried Chickpea Salad

    Crudite and Seedy Crackers with Hope Foods Hummus and Green Goddess Dip

    Jicama "Chips" with Hope Foods Hatch Chile Guacamole 

    Build-Your-Own Bruschetta 

    Melon and Mozzarella Skewers

    Find all of the recipes here!

     melon and mozzarellla skewers

    Sponsors

    Hope Foods was generous enough to provide several varieties of their hummus (plus guacamole) for attendees to try. Two of their new flavors - the Red Jalapeno and Buffalo Bleu - were especially popular! In addition to Hope, four other Colorado brands also contributed swag or coupons for our guests.

    Teakoe Tea Supply Co provided samples of their new canned teas (which are super refreshing in this Denver summer heat), Noosa Yoghurt and Cappello's supplied coupons, and CocoPrana contributed a few of their coconut butters and snacks for our prize giveaways. We also made a big batch of my Maple Tahini Snack Balls, wrapped them up and threw them in the bags for a sweet treat. 

     swag bags

    I met so many amazing women throughout the night! Many attendees were acquaintances of mine or Jaime's but there were also several that neither of us knew previously. I really enjoyed making the rounds and having conversations with each of them, and of course spending time with friends, family, and some of the local dietitians and bloggers that I follow online, but had never met in real life. I am already looking forward to future events - please let us know if you have suggestions for what that might look like! Thanks again to all who came out and supported this effort. 

    All photos in this post were taken by Jaime - check out her event recap here.


    The Easiest Mason Jar Sangria

     easy sangria in a mason jar 

    I'm comin' in hot with a cocktail recipe that is simple and perfect for your 4th of July festivities! It's my lazy girl take on classic sangria and I am going totally basic and serving it up in mason jars. 

    In all seriousness, the jars make this a breeze as a hostess because you can make them ahead of time, screw the lids on and throw them over some ice for a fun presentation and built in glass - no extra cups required. Sangria is already really simple but I swapped out some ingredients to make it even more approachable for you busy folks! The patriotic colors make it even more fun for the holiday, but of course you could serve this all summer long. 

     ingredients for sangria 

    Wine

    I went red because I prefer red sangria over other variations, but you can use white or rosé too. If you switch up the wine, just think about the other flavors and make ingredient adjustments accordingly. In terms of which type of wine to use,  any cabernet, merlot or shiraz should work just fine; it really comes down to your taste preferences (sweet or dry).  My suggestion is to go for an inexpensive bottle since you will be mixing it with other things anyway. This is not the time to splurge on that fancy one you've been eyeing!

    Juice

    A traditional sangria typically has orange juice, but the thought of drinking a glass of orange juice in the hot sun is not super appealing to me so I went for lemonade. I knew the flavor would pair nice with the fruit I chose, and I often have this Simply Lemonade on hand in the summer so it was the practical choice. Many sangrias also include some sort of sugar or sweetener, but since lemonade is plenty sweet, I omitted that component for taste and simplicity. 

    Liquor

    I swapped in whisky for the more traditional brandy because I hate having to buy something I won't use in anything else and brandy is one of these. But use whatever you like. Vodka would probably work too!

    Fruit

    The options for fruit are endless. In the past I have used anything from oranges to mangos to melon in sangria and it always turns out great. To keep the patriotic theme going I went red (strawberries), white (apple) and blue, er... black? (blackberries). The lemon pictured above is for the garnish but some citrus is always a nice addition. I have also seen some people get really clever and cut the apples in a star shape for the 4th of July but I'm not that cutesy or patient. If you have it in you to do that part, I think it would be a hit! 

    Bubbles

    I chose sparkling water because again, I always have it on hand. You could also use lemon-lime soda, basic club soda or even prosecco if you want to get fancy. The bubbles makes all the difference though so be sure not to skip this step. Remember to wait on adding anything carbonated until just before serving since it will go flat if it sits for several hours. 

     pitcher of sangria 

    Important Note: after having made this myself, I made the determination that it would have been much easier to divide the fruit evenly among the jars as opposed to putting it in the pitcher. 


    The Easiest Mason Jar Sangria

    A fresh and fruity summertime drink - perfect for the 4th of July or a backyard party!

    Author: Leanne Ray, MS, RDN
    Yield: 6 servings | Prep time: 15 minutes | Total time: 4 hours 

    ingredients

    • 1 bottle red wine
    • 1 cup lemonade
    • 1/4 cup whisky (or bourbon)
    • 6 oz fresh blackberries
    • 5 large strawberries, chopped
    • 1 granny smith apple, peeled and chopped 
    • 1 can sparkling water
    • 1 lemon, thinly sliced 

    instructions

    1. Pour the wine, lemonade and whisky in a large pitcher and mix well. Set aside. 
    2. Evenly distribute the fruit between six wide-mouth, pint-sized mason jars. 
    3. Pour the wine mixture into the jars filling each to the 1 cup line. Give each a good stir and muddle the fruit just a bit.
    4. Screw the lids on and refrigerate for at least 4 hours (could make up to a day in advance).
    5. When ready to serve add ice, top off with sparkling water and a slice of lemon.

     the easiest mason jar sangria in a mason jar

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