Seven Ways to NUKE Your Sugar Cravings

In my Doctors Night Out series—check it out here!—I talk with medical and lifestyle experts from around the country. Every week, we dish on everything from health to successful weight loss to beauty tips.

And can you guess which piece of advice keeps coming up over and over again, no matter whether we’re talking about health, weight loss, or beauty? Here it is: 

Cut out the sugar.

That’s right. My guests and I have lots of different viewpoints—but the one thing we all agree on is that the biggest step you can take to fight disease, boost your energy, and look young and beautiful is to say “no” to sugar.

Now, I know this is easier said than done. That’s because sugar is addictive, and it’s tough to break an addiction. But tough isn’t impossible—and I know this for a fact, because I’ve helped thousands of people kick sugar to the curb.

In a minute, I’ll tell you how to break the sugar habit yourself. But first, I want to talk about the dangerous effects of sugar, and why it’s hard to give it up.

What's So Bad About Sugar

What’s so bad about sugar?

Kissing sugar goodbye is one of the most important things you can do for yourself, because sugar doesn’t just cause cavities or make you gain weight—it makes you sick and old all over. Here’s are some of the bad things it does to you:

  • It increases your risk of heart disease. This is true even if you aren’t overweight, and even if the rest of your diet is healthy.

  • It ramps up inflammation—the internal forest fire that underlies all of what we call the “diseases of aging.”

  • It makes you hungry. A diet that’s high in sugar elevates your levels of leptin, a hormone that’s your hunger trigger. Normally, leptin tells you when you’re full—but if your leptin levels keep spiking, your brain begins to ignore that message. When this happens, it doesn’t matter how much you eat… you’ll still crave more.

  • It causes insulin resistance. The more sugar you eat, the more insulin your body produces—and eventually your cells become resistant to that insulin. This insulin resistance is the first step on the road to Type 2 diabetes.

  • It feeds cancer. Cancer expert Dr. Lewis Cantley says, “As we learn more and more about cancer metabolism, we understand that individual cancers are addicted to particular things. In a lot of cancers, that's insulin—and sugar." Cut off that sugar supply, and you make it harder for cancer to get a foothold.

  • It alters the function of your immune system. A dose of sugar can send your neutrophils—a key part of your immune system—into a tailspin for hours.

  • It makes you look old. When you eat sugar, it reacts with amino acids to form compounds called advanced glycation end products, or AGEs. These age your skin, leading to wrinkles and age spots.

That’s just a partial list, but I hope it’s enough to motivate you to swear off sugar. (If you need a bigger push, check out this list of 141 bad things sugar does to your body.)

Why is it so hard to give up sugar?

We love sugar because we’re programmed to love it. That’s because for millions of years, sugary foods were scarce and they were good for us. 

Our ancestors had to search hard to find foods like honey and berries. In small doses, these foods promoted survival, because the sugar in them came packaged with healthy nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber. (And active hunter-gatherers burned off any sugar fast.)

As a result, Mother Nature wired us genetically to love sweet foods. In fact, each time you eat a sweet food, it gives your brain a little hit of dopamine and opioids (your brain’s natural opiate drugs), making you feel warm and fuzzy. 

Unfortunately, sugar isn’t scarce these days—it’s everywhere (and nearly always in foods that are very bad for you). Any time you want that dopamine and opioid hit, you can reach immediately for a candy bar or a soda. 

And guess what: Over time, as your brain gets used to that constant chemical stimulation, it takes more and more sugar for you to feel satisfied. That’s addiction.

How addictive is sugar?

One study found that given the choice between cocaine and Oreos, rats choose the cookies as often as the drug. In another study, researchers who asked teens to give up sugar-sweetened sodas for three days reported that participants experienced cravings, headaches, reduced well-being, and impaired concentration—all similar to symptoms of drug withdrawal.

So I won’t lie to you—sugar can really get a grip on you. The good news is that if you stay strong, those sugar cravings will eventually go away. (Really.) When that happens, you’ll be able to walk past a doughnut or a cupcake without batting an eyelash.

Trust me: This is a battle you can win. And you need to win it, to be the healthiest YOU that you can be. So let’s talk about your battle plan.

How to conquer sugar cravings

You can try easing sugar out of your life gradually, but in my experience—and as I said, I’ve helped thousands of people break their sugar addiction—it’s best to go cold turkey. Yes, you’ll have some intense sugar cravings for the first two to three weeks. But once you conquer those cravings, the hard part is over.

Over the years, I’ve discovered lots of tricks for taking control over sugar cravings. Here are my best strategies:

  • The average craving lasts only three minutes, so distract yourself by doing a chore, calling a friend, playing a game on your phone, or taking a walk.
  • Protein and fat help quell cravings, so drink a cup of bone broth or eat a few rinsed olives, a tiny bit of avocado, or some unsweetened coconut chips.
  • If giving up sugary sodas is a sticking point for you, indulge in spa waters. These give you a tiny dose of sugar from fruit and also keep you hydrated, which makes you less hungry. (BTW, don’t hate me for this, but don’t be tempted to replace sugary sodas with artificially sweetened versions, because they’re just as bad for you.)
  • Essential oils are a powerful tool for fighting cravings, so add a few drops to a glass of water (or spa water). Some of the best craving-fighters are spearmint, peppermint, lemon, and grapefruit.
  • When you experience a particularly powerful craving, immediately stop what you’re doing and think of a way to commit a random act of kindness— whether it’s petting your dog, sending a surprise gift to a friend, or giving your partner a back rub. The time it takes to plan your act of kindness, along with the positive emotions you’ll feel, will help banish your craving.
  • If your sugar cravings stem from stress, make stress-lowering activities part of your routine. For instance, do some yoga poses, give yourself a massage, write in your journal, or take an Epsom salt bath.
  • Try a technique called urge surfing. A psychologist named G. Alan Marlatt came up with this years ago, and it’s very powerful.

Here’s how it works: When a craving strikes, instead of fighting it, acknowledge it, without judging it. First, identify where you’re feeling the craving. Is it in your belly, your mouth, or elsewhere? Pay attention to that area, and notice the sensations you’re experiencing, such as warmth or tingling.

Now, pay attention to your breathing for a minute or two, and then shift your attention back to the area where you experienced the craving. Alternate focusing on your breathing and on the area in which you feel the craving. As the craving increases and decreases, picture it as a wave you’re riding. Realize that eventually you’ll reach the shore, and that craving will be gone.

Above all, keep your eyes on the prize. As I like to say, getting sugar out of your life is like breaking free from a toxic relationship. Yes, there’s some temporary pain involved—but the payoff is huge, and it lasts a lifetime. So do the biggest favor you’ll ever do for yourself, and go SUGAR-FREE!

With peace and love,

Dr. Kellyann