8 Tips to Beat Sugar Cravings and Stay on Track During the Holidays

Do you struggle with sugar cravings? You definitely aren’t alone.

The average American ingests 22 teaspoons of sugar every day—more than 3 times the recommended amount. Meanwhile, health experts have called sugar “the new tobacco” and “more addictive than cocaine,” and I don’t think these comparisons are exaggerations. Research has shown that sugar can contribute to a long list of health problems: weight control issues, high blood pressure and cholesterol, tooth cavities, and heart disease, to name just a few. Yet many Americans remain hooked.

Unfortunately, winter holidays often go hand in hand with overboard sweets consumption. Halloween rolls around and suddenly it’s socially approved to give our children bags full of high-sugar candy. Thanksgiving ushers in entire buffets full of puddings, pies, and white-bread stuffing. Christmas is chock-full of pastries, cookies, and cakes. It’s no wonder that everyone swears to eat healthier when they write out their New Year’s resolutions.

Here’s a newsflash: You don’t have to use the holidays as an excuse to send your sugar intake skyrocketing. You can enjoy all the abundance of foods at this time of year, and make your own delicious holiday dishes and desserts while sticking to a healthy diet.

8 Tips on How to Control Sugar Cravings

Sugar cravings can strike at times, but sweets can feel especially tempting during the holidays. Here are just a few tips that will help you steer clear of the sugar bombs that lurk everywhere this season.

 1. Replace, Don’t Erase

This is my key philosophy when it comes to eating healthier. If you’ve read my books The Omni Diet and The Brain Warrior’s Way Cookbook, you know that there are tons of delicious recipes (even desserts) that don’t require spoonfuls of sugar. Bring them along to your holiday festivities and wait for the compliments to roll in. In addition, the “replace, don’t erase” mantra is a matter of mindset: By recognizing that you’re not missing out on anything, but rather enjoying delicious foods in their natural state, you’ll find it much easier to ditch the toxic stuff.

 2. Exercise Outdoors

Many people feel down during these colder, darker times of the year—and during the holidays. Then they reach for “comfort foods” that are full of fat and sugar in an attempt to feel better. Unfortunately, these kinds of foods have been linked to increasing depressive symptoms, not reducing them. A more useful plan of attack against the emotional and psychological lull that can accompany this time of year is to incorporate regular exercise, which boosts mood. And, when possible, get moving outdoors in the sunshine. This stimulates vitamin D production, which will also help with stabilizing mood. Bonus points for doing all the above with family—you’ll be spreading genuine holiday cheer through healthier habits, the gift that keeps on giving.

 3. Load Up On Low-glycemic Carbs

Sugar isn’t only found in the white crystals spooned into coffee, or the added sugars that pervade processed foods. Simple carbs like white bread, rice, and potatoes, as well as sugary fruit like watermelon, have high glycemic index rankings. This means they digest quickly and lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes. Low-glycemic carbs, however, digest more slowly, delay feelings of hunger, and help control appetite. Instead of simple carbs, choose complex types—most fruits, beans, nuts, and non-starchy veggies are great options. You’ll have less sugar and carb cravings and avoid the brain fog and energy dips that often accompany eating high-glycemic foods.

 4. Choose Foods That Reduce Sugar Cravings

I’ve found that certain foods can actually help counteract cravings for sugar. Here are some of my favorites that are perfect for this time of year:

  • Herbal tea is packed with flavor, and it’s a warming addition to your routine in the colder months. Licorice tea, for example, has a natural sweetness, while fruit, mint, or ginger teas offer great taste and various health-promoting benefits.
  • Healthy fats. When we’re not feeling satiated, we’re more likely to reach for harmful foods like sweets. Make sure you’re ingesting healthy fats to keep you full and satisfied. I love avocado (in our house, we call it God’s butter) and coconut oil.
  • Sweet potatoes. The good news is that sweet potatoes often accompany holiday meals. The bad news is, that they’re usually drowned in butter, sugar, or salt. Stick with plain, roasted, skin-on sweet potatoes, which offer nutrients, fiber, and natural sweetness. If you want to dress them with anything, try coconut oil and cinnamon.

 5. Be Careful with Sugar Alternatives

Some people assume sugar alternatives are a great replacement for the white stuff. Not so fast—some are just as toxic. If you’re in charge of making baked goods for this year’s holiday feast and are looking to nix the sugar, you’ll want to choose your replacements carefully. When needed, I reach for stevia, monk fruit, or coconut palm sugar. Sometimes, pureed fresh fruit can be used as a substitute for sugar—get creative and experiment. But, no matter which sugar alternative you use, don’t overdo them. Some, like coconut palm sugar, have just as many calories as the real thing.

 6. Add Supplements to Your Routine

A few nutrients have been backed by scientific evidence that they can help curb cravings. Chromium picolinate, for example, has been associated with reduced cravings for sweets, starches, and other carbs. Another study linked n-acetyl l-cysteine with reduced compulsive consumption of high-sugar, high-fat foods. And alpha-lipoic acid may promote healthy blood sugar levels, which helps control cravings.

 7. Keep Tabs on Your Consumption

If you know you’ll be faced with a lot of sweets during the holidays, and especially if you plan on eating any, remember the three-bite rule. Three small bites are all you need to enjoy the taste of something (without getting hooked). But even outside of holiday parties, make sure to limit your sugar consumption. Scan labels to weed out any foods with high added sugar content. The American Heart Association recommends that men consume no more than 9 teaspoons (that’s 36 grams or 150 calories worth) of added sugar per day. For women, the recommended intake is no more than 6 teaspoons (which is 25 grams, or 100 calories). I always recommend keeping a food journal to see, in black and white, everything you’re consuming. This is especially helpful during the holidays since so many of us are thrown out of our normal routines and it’s easy to lose track.

8. Wait It Out

I’m not going to lie to you: When you ditch the excess sugar, you may experience cravings. These cravings are what keep so many people hooked, after all. But I urge you to be patient with yourself and let them pass—they won’t kill you. After a few days, refined sugars will lose their hold over you, and you’ll be able to taste natural, whole foods, without needing to load them up with sugar, salt, and fat. Let your taste buds recalibrate and enjoy the true flavors of food again!

Holidays Are Sweeter Without Sugar

Sugar has been compared to toxic drugs like cocaine and nicotine because it’s highly addictive. We eat more, we crave more—it’s as simple as that. Many of us think that it’s okay to “cheat” during the holidays by binging on any food that’s passed our way, but we pay a heavy price over the long term. This includes addiction, inflammation in the body, and a host of health consequences when a sugary diet becomes the norm.

Luckily, it’s easy to replace the sugar bombs of the season with true feel-good foods and activities. With a little education and planning, we’ll find ourselves ringing in the New Year looking ahead to all we can accomplish—not agonizing about all the damage we have to undo.

Tana Amen, BSN, RN