5 Reasons You Can’t Control Your Sugar Cravings

Sugar Cravings

Sugar is one of the most craved substances. It’s in almost every processed food and is present in much higher concentrations than in nature. The reason for this is simple: sugar is cheap, abundant, and easy to manufacture and store.

Sugar is also a major ingredient in packaged foods. It’s in everything from salad dressings to frozen dinners and even savory snacks. From bread to pasta to cookies, crackers, and everything in between, added sugars are everywhere — even in foods you might not expect them to be in (like ketchup or spaghetti sauce). The high-sugar diet has left many people with a sweet tooth that cannot be satisfied.

Why are sugar cravings so problematic and prevalent? One theory is that human taste buds evolved to crave sugar only when energy was scarce, and this craving for sugar remained even after sugar became widely available.

Scientists believe sugar is addictive. It increases dopamine in the brain, which the body mistakes for pleasure. Dopamine is linked to feelings of reward and satisfaction, while foods that don’t trigger a dopamine response are less satisfying.

When you recognize this, it’s easy to understand why people love eating junk food so much — they’re simply satisfying a natural human need for happiness. But the happiness sugar brings is short-lived, and sugar causes other problems such as weight gain. In the modern era, sugar causes more problems than it solves. It’s a source of empty calories since it lacks nutrients.

Here are some other reasons you might experience sugar cravings, as determined by science.

 You’re Going Through Menopause

If you’re mid-life and experience sugar cravings, menopause may be fueling them. Menopause causes sugar cravings because it throws your body’s hormones out of whack. A dip in estrogen and progesterone levels can trigger blood-sugar fluctuations that lead to sugar cravings.

As estrogen levels fall, so does serotonin production. Serotonin is one of the brain’s “pleasure” chemicals, so this may explain why some women turn to sugar to make themselves feel better. Plus, the stress hormone cortisol rises during menopause, and that can trigger sugar cravings and weight gain.

Sugar cravings, along with hot flashes, are among the most common symptoms of menopause — and the most difficult to deal with. During menopause, many women have sleep problems, and lack of quality sleep also worsens sugar cravings.

 You’re Overworked and Stressed Out

Tension, depression, and stress can cause your body to be in a constant state of craving for something sweet. When you are stressed, your body produces more cortisol, a stress hormone. Also, sugar is comfort food. When you’re stressed, overwhelmed, or depressed, your body craves the quick energy boost that sugar provides.

The best way to stop sugar cravings is to address the root cause of what is causing stress or anxiety. If it’s impossible to do this right away, there are steps you can take to curb your cravings for sweets. Look for other ways to manage uncertainty and the ups and downs of life. Take up meditation or yoga, go for a run or walk, or chat with a therapist. Before you know it, you won’t be as inclined to reach for sweets when you feel stressed out. Instead, you’ll learn to relax your body in a healthier manner to keep those stress-induced cravings in check.

You’re Prediabetic

When you’re prediabetic or in the initial stages of type 2 diabetes, glucose doesn’t get into your cells as easily and your insulin levels rise to give that sugar an extra “push.” Less efficient transfer of glucose into cells means your cells aren’t getting as much fuel, so you feel hungry and tired, and crave sugar.

If you have prediabetes, you might also feel thirstier or hungrier. You might also have intermittent blurry vision or have to urinate more often. These symptoms are more likely to show up if you have type 2 diabetes, but you can also experience them with prediabetes. Keep tabs on your fasting blood sugar to make sure it’s not rising into the prediabetic range and talk to your healthcare provider about your risk factors.

 You’re Feeding Your Sugar Cravings

Another reason you may have sugar cravings is that you’re eating in a way that brings them on. The more sugar you eat, the more you get a dopamine surge, and the more your body craves that surge and the satisfaction and reward it brings. The key to taming sugar cravings is to gradually cut back on the amount of sugar you eat and replace it with unprocessed foods that nourish and satisfy.

Choose offerings that are high in protein and fiber to keep your blood sugar balanced and sugar cravings in check. If you cut back on sugar slowly, it won’t be as difficult. Just as you can wire your brain to crave sugar, you can rewire it, too, by making healthier replacements. It won’t happen overnight but, with patience, it will happen.

 How to Manage Sugar Cravings

Treat sugar cravings by replacing sweets with small protein-rich snacks such as nuts, seeds, and low-fat cheese. Snacks that contain some healthy fats and complex carbohydrates help stabilize blood glucose levels and prevent sugar cravings from escalating.

As mentioned, stress plays a role, too. Part of managing sugar cravings is finding ways to manage stress. You might also find that taking a walk or writing in a journal when a craving strikes can help you avoid reaching for a cookie or other sweet food. Writing in a journal will also help you discover what triggers your sugar cravings.

The good news is that once you start scaling back on sugar, your tastes will change, and you won’t crave or enjoy sweet foods as much. Take it slow and give it time. You can conquer sugar cravings.


  • Wiss DA, Avena N, Rada P. Sugar Addiction: From Evolution to Revolution. Front Psychiatry. 2018 Nov 7;9:545. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00545. PMID: 30464748; PMCID: PMC6234835.
  • DiNicolantonio JJ, O’Keefe JH, Wilson WL. Sugar addiction: is it real? A narrative review. Br J Sports Med. 2018 Jul;52(14):910-913. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2017-097971. Epub 2017 Aug 23. PMID: 28835408.
  • “Ask the Brain: Why Do We Crave Sugar When We’re Stressed ….” 08 May. 2015, https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/ask-the-brain-why-do-we-crave-sugar-when-were-stressed/.

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