Pour Some Sugar on Me: 7 Tips on Handling Sugar Cravings in Early Recovery
Updated: Jul 7, 2019
So you quit #drinking and your sugar cravings are through the roof? Been there, sister. As if you don’t already have enough on your plate, tackling the world and life as a newly sober person but you now are dealing with urges to consume every single cookie/slice of cake/candy/chocolate bar/etc. within a 50 mile radius. What’s up with that?
Let me break it down for you and then provide some super simple tips on how you can curb your sugar cravings without letting them get the best of you.
Within my health coaching practice, supporting my clients in balancing their blood sugar levels is often a part of the work that we do together. Blood sugar is the concentration of glucose in the body. Glucose is a simple sugar as well as the body’s preferred energy source. It’s really important to maintain balanced blood sugar levels; when our blood sugar levels are too low or high, the body triggers a significant stress response in an effort to restore balance. In balancing our blood sugar levels, we are also reducing the number of stress responses our body is experiencing, which is also a good thing.
It’s often surprising to my clients how much different and better they feel once they get a handle on their blood sugar levels and get off the dreaded “blood sugar roller coaster” aka massive spikes and dips in energy, cravings and mood. Whether alcohol is part of the equation or not, ultimately, having consistent, balanced blood sugar levels will decrease the sugar cravings significantly as well as improve your mood and energy levels. And who doesn’t want that?
Alcohol, caffeine, #sugar (and other #drugs) have the following in common: they all temporarily increase the levels of dopamine and serotonin (the feel good neurotransmitters or brain chemicals) so when we consume them, we momentarily experience pleasant relaxation and even happiness. When we abruptly remove alcohol from our lives, if our bodies are accustomed to consuming and processing large amounts of it regularly, in its absence the body sends out signals in an effort to try and satisfy the job that booze used to do.
Because alcohol and sugar create the same temporary euphoric aftermath, our bodies then begin to crave sugar to solve for the absence of alcohol. This is known as addiction transfer and happens when we kick one addictive habit and replace it with another. This doesn’t happen to everyone all the time but can be a common occurrence. This article is specifically focused on how to manage increased sugar cravings as a result of quitting drinking.
Below are 7 simple tips you can implement immediately to balance your blood sugar levels and decrease your sugar cravings:
1) Eat every 3-4 hours
This is essential. When our bodies go longer than this without food, our blood sugar levels start to dip. In response, our body starts to crave sugar for energy. After consumption of sugar, our blood sugar levels spike causing our bodies to produce insulin in an effort to restore balance. Because most of us eat a bit more sugar than we need, our bodies have become overly-efficient at insulin production so we typically get a bit more insulin than we need, causing a crash in our blood sugar levels, leading to a lull in energy and then intense sugar cravings (our body's way of communicating it needs energy in the form of glucose) to restore the balance. It’s a vicious cycle but eating at regular intervals can minimize or prevent this.
2) Eat enough balanced snacks and meals
This means being intentional to include carbs, protein and fat in each meal and snack. When we opt for snacks and meals that are carb-heavy and low on fat and protein (ie potato chips, candy, chocolate, bread, crackers, pasta, etc.), effectively, our bodies process these types of foods as sugar so they negatively impact our blood sugar level, causing us to hop back on the roller coaster, which we want to avoid. They are also processed in our bodies a lot quicker, giving us quick bursts of energy, leading us to feel hungrier sooner, resulting in consuming more (often empty and nutrient-void) calories. When we balance snacks and meals out, the fat and protein slow down how the carbs are processed and are used for energy more slowly, leading to more balanced blood sugar levels and more sustained energy.
3) Drink more water
As a guideline, I typically advise my clients to drink half their body weight in ounces. For example, if you weigh 150 lbs, aim to drink 75 ounces of fresh #water daily (more if you live in a hot climate or workout a lot). Most of us are chronically dehydrated so adding more water to our lives will provide a host of benefits including more energy, decreased cravings, better digestion, clearer skin, reduced inflammation … I could go on. The bottom line: drink more water. It will help. Yes, you’ll have to pee more frequently. Yes, you’ll acclimate to that and it’ll be fine.
4) Find healthier alternatives if you want something sweet
Instead of reaching for a candy bar or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, look for healthier options that will serve the same purpose and curb your #cravings. Fruit is a great example. Grapes, bananas, figs, cherries, pomegranates, mangoes are some of the fruits with the highest amounts of sugar so go bonkers on them if you must. Our bodies crave what we give it so if you opt for the candy bar or the ice cream, your body is going to ask for more. If you like to bake, you can also find low sugar, healthier alternatives to your fave baked goods. Check out some of my fave recipes here.
5) Get lots of sleep
There is tons of research that demonstrates that poor #sleep (not enough and of poor quality) increases cravings and can lead to weight gain via altered appetite-regulating hormones and increased caloric intake. Every body needs a slightly different amount of sleep but the experts agree 7-9 hours a night is a #healthy average for most.
6) Move your body
Movement, particularly vigorous #exercise, is a great way to release stress and get a hit of endorphins! Movement also helps to regulate your mood and decrease cravings plus if you take that movement outside, you’ll get the added benefit of vitamin D! If movement doesn’t immediately excite you, instead of forcing yourself to run, do cross-fit or go to another class you’re not into, think back to when you were a kid and what kind of movement you enjoyed then. If you like it, you’re far more likely to do it. And keep it simple! It doesn’t have to look like a fancy gym membership or a new race bike; go for a walk or hike, run around with your kids in the backyard, go for a swim, walk to work.
7) Be patient with yourself
Quitting drinking is a HUGE accomplishment that you should feel very proud of! While eating large amounts of refined sugar isn’t a great long-term sobriety plan, if it’s the thing that’s keeping you sober for the moment, don’t worry about it. Just keep in mind that sugar is a band-aid, not a sober strategy.
This is a long list so pick a couple of tips and start with those. Once you have them down, add a couple more. As with any kind of change, overhauling everything all at once can cause overwhelm and paralysis so keep it simple and minimal. Again, you just made the gigantic change of removing alcohol from your life so don’t overwhelm yourself by adding too many other changes to your plate immediately. And don't forget, you can kick those sugar cravings to the curb and feel better while doing it!
** Disclaimer: This information is being offered by a certified holistic health coach, is meant to support general wellness and is not intended to read as medical advice. It is always a good idea to check in with your medical doctor or naturopath prior to making any major dietary changes.