December 17


Top 3 Reason You Crave Sugar and How to Stop

By Sunny Brigham, MS, CNS, LDN

December 17, 2018

minutes read time


Look…we all crave sugar at some point.  Craving sugar doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something wrong with you.  It just means your body wants sugar.

But it’s frustrating to no end when you feel like you can’t let go of the cravings.  When you feel like you give in every damn time.  And you start to question your willpower.  What’s wrong with you?  Why can’t you say no?  Will it always be like this?

I get it…I’m not immune to this either.

In this blog, we’re talking origin of cravings and how to get over them.

Origin #1 – Stress

I’ve talked about stress a lot in the past.  Stress can cause weight gain and create a breeding ground for disease in the body resulting in things like insulin resistance.

But what most people don’t link is their stress to their food cravings.  When you’re stressed, you release a series of hormones in the body.  These hormones ramp up your heart rate (adrenaline).  And give you laser focus (noradrenaline).  The last hormone floods your body with energy (cortisol).

Each time you eat, you’re storing energy for later.  That energy is used during exercise, periods of fasting, or when you’re outrunning a lion.  If your stores are full, you store the extra as fat on the body…usually around the belly.

When the stress response is kicked off, the hormones start flowing.  Cortisol sends a runner to the gate and tells the body to release the stores.  Under stress, you’ve got a ton of energy flowing through your body for you to burn off when you’re outrunning that lion.  But if you’re sitting at your desk not running anywhere…this will be a problem.

When the stressor is over, your body needs to fill up those stores again in preparation for the next stressor.  I know what you’re thinking…can’t you just put the unused energy back?  Nope!  You can restore old energy.  That energy gets cycled through the liver and stored as fat.

But because your body needs to fill those stores, you crave sugar!  Your body wants foods you can break down quickly to fill up the stores before the next lion comes after you.  It may not be cupcakes you’re craving but it will be something refined…like bread, pasta, or chips.

How do you stop this craving?  Reduce your stress.  When you feel you’re under stress, take a step back and intervene.  If you can relax enough to stop the stress response, you won’t release the stores and then crave sugar.  Here are 9 quick things you can do to stop the stress response.

Origin #2 – Low dopamine

In our intestinal tract, we produce our happy hormones like serotonin, dopamine, etc.  The body uses neurotransmitters to move these hormones up to the brain to give us feelings of happiness, calm, anxiousness, etc.

Dopamine, specifically, is our reward hormone.  We have dopamine receptors in the brain that are activated in times of pleasure.  This pleasure is different for everyone.  It’s activated for people that love the adrenaline rush.  It’s activated when we watch a show we love.  Or when we’re just happy.  We are hardwired to be “addicted” to this feeling of happiness.  I mean…who wouldn’t want to be happy?

But sugar also activates the dopamine receptors in the brain.

If we are stressed, bored, upset, sad, angry, etc, we will crave that happiness.  The body craves anything that will make it feel good.  For many people, it’s sugar.

If you’re a low dopamine producer, this is for you!

In the past, I’ve talked about how poor gut health can cause your body to not produce these hormones.  Stress (see Origin #1) can also cause low dopamine and serotonin production in the body…just another reason to reduce stress in your life.

Another reason we may not produce these well is genetics.  There are a variety of genes that can cause you to be a low dopamine or serotonin producer.  It happens…and there are ways around it!

Gut health, stress, and genetics are the big 3.  Start with cleaning up your diet…that will hel a lot.  And used the tactics I gave you to help reduce stress.  But, I can’t change your genes…neither can you.  For these individuals, if they can’t kick sugar on their own, I’ll like to give them some tyrosine to get their bodies creating dopamine.

Origin #3 – Processed Diet

This is more of a vicious cycle sort of thing.

When you set out to lose weight, sugar is usually one of the first things to go.  But then you crave it like crazy and fall off the wagon.  You get pissed because you can’t figure out why you can’t kick it to the curb.

Low dopamine would be one of the reasons.  If you’re eating a heavily processed diet, regardless of the calorie count, you’re creating digestive distress (see origin #2).  When your gut isn’t healthy, you can’t produce the happy hormones your brain needs.

Processed diet = low dopamine = sugar cravings. 

Another reason for this is when you eat it you crave it.  The more sugar you have, the more you’re going to want it.  Again, this is along the lines of a processed diet.  The more sugar acts on the dopamine receptors, the more your body wants to have that feeling again.

If you cut sugar from obvious places like cookies, cupcakes, candies, etc but not from everywhere…you’re still eating it.  Sugar is hidden all over the place.  If you’re still eating a processed diet without the sweet treats, you’re still eating sugar.

Look for hidden sugar in these places:

Salad dressings

Nut butters

Dried fruits


Breads…even whole wheat bread

Flavored oatmeal

Pasta sauce



Nut milks

Pre-made soups


Get into the habit of reading labels.  If you cut the sugar completely, you won’t crave it anymore.


We talked 3 things that could be causing your sugar cravings.  Some of these are out of your control but some of them are completely in your control.

So, I’ll ask you this…tell me in the comments one thing (just 1) you will do over the next week to help reduce your sugar cravings.

Looking forward to seeing your comments!

Geiker, N., Astrup, A., Hjorth, M. F., Sjödin, A., Pijls, L., & Markus, C. R. (2018). Does stress influence sleep patterns, food intake, weight gain, abdominal obesity and weight loss interventions and vice versa?. Obesity reviews : an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity19(1), 81–97.
Tomiyama A. J. (2019). Stress and Obesity. Annual review of psychology70, 703–718.

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