I often hear from new clients that they feel stuck craving something sweet after a meal. As someone who grew up always having dessert, it was quite a learning process for me to shift that habit. Many beat themselves up for falling into the sweet craving trap after meals and feel that's the hardest time to master cravings.
My book Eat to Feel Full and Nourish Yourself for Good focuses on learning how to master our appetite and our cravings. We tend to get stuck thinking we have to diet and strengthen our willpower to eat better, but if we understand more about how food affects us, we can navigate our choices differently and naturally master our cravings.
Sugar cravings can come from a physical imbalance.
There are basic physical reasons why we crave something sweet after a meal:
1. The meal was too salty.
Something sweet afterwards is the body’s way of trying to create balance. Eating salty food makes us feel like we “have to have” something sweet or we won’t feel at peace.
2. You ate too many simple carbs.
Simple carbs trigger the desire to keep going because the fast rise in blood-sugar causes the insulin to rise too, and now you want more.
If you aren't feeling full and nourished after the meal, you might be missing the “magic” ingredients of fat and fiber necessary to reach the point of satiation. Something sweet feels like the missing element.
3. Being unmindful, eating too fast or not chewing.
The digestive system needs us to chew well, because the enzymes in the saliva start the digestive process, and chewing is how we mix the food with the saliva.
4. You’re dehydrated.
You may need water after the meal. Avoid drinking water with the meal since that can cause you to not digest the meal as well. When you don’t digest well, you end up wanting something sweet.
The first step is mindfulness
Once we rule out physical imbalances, we should check on our automatic habits. Is finishing a meal an automatic trigger for wanting something sweet?
We set up habits based on triggers, and it doesn't take much for a habit to become a mindless, automatic behavior. To choose another action is a practice of not only mindfulness, but also patience and commitment.
Many think of habits as something to get rid of and rely on willpower, but we actually have to retrain ourselves and choose a new one.
What happens before the cravings hit is the clue to what turns on your unconscious reactionary behavior. Unconscious reactionary behavior causes us to feel stuck in patterns where we realize afterwards that we “did it again."
Becoming mindful of our triggers is a fantastic opportunity to get to know ourselves better, so it's important to be curious rather than critical.
The first step in becoming familiar with our triggers is to simply notice them by asking (with curiosity, not judgment):
- What did I do right before?
- How did I feel right before?
- What happened in my environment that affected me right before?
Triggers come in many shapes and forms. It can be anything from a smell, sound, or just a daily routine that causes you to act in a certain way.
Example: You walk by the coffee shop and smell the coffee. You normally get something sweet with your coffee, so even if you don’t want coffee right then and there, the smell of the coffee might trigger the sugar craving.
Using mindfulness to make a healthy change for good.
We tend to think of habits as good and bad, and we judge ourselves for them. What makes a lasting difference for my clients is becoming familiar with their habit by “logging them”, or taking note, in a cause-and-effect kind of way.
The goal is to learn how you feel before, during, and after eating something sweet.
It's not easy to disconnect from the chatter of the mind (the judgment) but start by putting your “mind in your belly.” Focus your attention to a point in your belly and just notice how it feels there. There's no right or wrong, it's just about getting to know how you feel. This is a great practice when sugar cravings kick in, because it'll help you get closer to knowing the craving.
It's important to look at this process as a positive and motivating one. To make lasting healthy changes, we need to train our mind.
When we shift these habits, we can live nourished and look forward to the person we are becoming as we make new choices along the way.
Have patience — it's not about a quick fix, it's a process of training your mind and learning to navigate the challenges with new choices.
For more on sugar cravings, start here:
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