As someone who consistently craves sweets—almost every single day and especially late at night—I know that cutting back on sugar is difficult at best and seemingly impossible at worst. Ice cream is my vice, and I rarely muster up the necessary self-control to say no to the small stockpile of mint chip that's currently in the freezer. What's worse is that the more I eat it, the more I crave it. It's kind of like coffee that way. According to Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet and a consultant for Swisse Wellness, I'm not just imagining my ice cream dependency. She says that sugar addiction is real.
"Sugar is seen as a reward in the brain, so the more you eat it, the more you reinforce the reward, and the harder it can become to quit sugar," she says. "Couple that with the sugar crashes you experience after eating added sugars, which cause you to seek out more sugar, and it can start to feel as though sugar is a habit you can't break."
But despite feeling like it's a habit you can't break, it's wholly possible to do so if you only know the right types of foods to replace sugar with.
Give It Time
Not to continually be the bearer of bad news, but there's another reason you might want to cut back on sugar: It actually makes you hungrier.
"High amounts of added sugar in the diet can increase leptin resistance (leptin is the satiety hormone in the stomach which signals to you when you have eaten enough). The more sugar you eat, the more leptin-resistant you become, and the more your desire to eat (including sweets) increases," Palinski-Wade says.
Nipping your sugar habit, or in my case ice cream habit, in the bud can actually help you feel more satiated with healthy food options over time, which is part of the reason avoiding sugar becomes easier the longer you do it.
"Your taste buds become adjusted to your diet," Palinski-Wade says. "If you continue to eat sweets daily, you will begin to crave more and more sweets. Slowly reducing your intake will allow your taste buds to become more sensitized to sweets, meaning that your cravings will decline as well. Make dietary adjustments slowly. Drastic changes may trigger cravings and make it harder to stay on track with your goals."
This is something to keep in mind when you begin to cut back on sugar. The longer you replace sugary foods with healthier options, the easier it will be to avoid it in the first place. For me, that means the urge to eat an entire pint of ice cream will fade (which is something I may or may not have done in the midst of Memorial Day weekend celebrations).
So what foods should you be replacing sugar with? Fruit is the obvious answer. It contains natural sugar paired with healthy nutrients and antioxidants. Reaching for a handful of raspberries or blueberries when the sugar cravings kick in can be a helpful way to transition away from junk food. Take it from Palinski-Wade.
"Added sugars in the diet drive sugar cravings by elevating insulin levels and sending blood sugar on a roller coaster ride of spikes and crashes," she says. "Swapping out added sugars for sweet-tasting natural alternatives can help. For instance, swapping added sugar in a baked-good recipe with puréed fruit (such as prunes or dates) can provide sweetness and moisture from naturally occurring sugar while providing a good source of fiber, which stabilizes blood sugar levels, preventing cravings."
While initially substituting junk food with foods that contain natural sugars (like fruits) can be helpful, not to mention healthier, over time, your taste buds will adjust to your diet, and choosing foods with fiber and protein will become the norm. You just have to make that transition and stick to it consistently until it becomes a habit that replaces your sugar one. That's not to say you're not ever allowed to indulge. Feel free to have that office doughnut or celebrate over a slice of birthday cake every now and then. Just make sure you're not choosing those rich, sugary foods on the daily and in replacement of other, healthier options. Remember: Clean eating is a lifestyle practice, not a strict diet or a quick fix for anything.
Sleep is also tied to sugar cravings, so make sure you're catching enough z's every night.
"A lack of sleep decreases the body's ability to make leptin (the satiety hormone) while increasing the production of ghrelin (an appetite-stimulating hormone)," Palinski-Wade explains. "This combination increases appetite and the desire for quick-energy simple sugars. One study found a lack of sleep could cause you to eat as much as 384 additional calories each day!"
That information is kind of crazy but also totally believable. I don't know about you, but when I'm feeling extra tired, I'm way more likely to give in to the beckoning call of junk food.
If you struggle with falling or staying asleep, she recommends that you try taking Swisse Ultiboost Sleep. It has valerian, hops, and magnesium, which help your body produce sleep-inducing melatonin. (In fact, some people consider magnesium to be a miracle sleep supplement.)
"Research has found adding a calcium-rich food (like a glass of milk) or a calcium supplement (such as the Swisse Ultiboost Calcium + Vitamin D, $23) before bed may also improve quality and quantity of sleep as it also aids in the production of melatonin," she says.
In short, kicking a sugar habit is difficult, but if you have the facts, it's easier to do. Trust that if you stay consistent, give it enough time, replace junk food with natural fruit sugars, and sleep well, your sweet tooth will have less control of your diet. And as for the latter, keep scrolling to see some sleep products Byrdie editors love for encouraging a healthy night's rest.
A.C. Brown, the founder of Goodnight Darling Co., created this herbal tea mixture to encourage sound sleep. It includes things like clove, catnip, passionflower, lavender, pink rose petals, and valerian root to help you fall to sleep effortlessly.
"It's what I created to wean myself off prescription drugs," she says. "It's powerful and the combination puts you to sleep fast without the side effects of medication and over the counter sleep aids."
Slip sleep masks are a Byrdie-editor favorite for blocking out any extra light that could be keeping our brains awake. They're soft, thick, and durable, so we barely know we're wearing a sleep mask before we drift off. That also makes them a must-have for traveling (especially if you're on a red-eye or international flight).
If you're the kind of sleeper who thinks a quiet room is a little too quiet and prefers the drone of the TV, a fan, or an air conditioner, then you could probably benefit from a sound machine. It makes any of six different ambient nature sounds to help you drift off easily.
Aromatherapy can make a big difference in the quality and quantity of sleep. Try incorporating a lavender essential oil into your bedtime routine as a way to calm and relax and your mind. Put a couple of drops into a diffuser before you wind down, and you might find that sleep comes more quickly than normal.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used in the place of advice of your physician or other medical professionals. You should always consult with your doctor or healthcare provider first with any health-related questions. See our full health disclaimer here.