One of my friends is a very successful businesswoman, mother, grandmother and devoted daughter to an aging father. She has a full social life, including a tribe of female friends. On top of that, she even has side-gig planning trips to Europe for herself and her posse. This woman is physically active, optimistic and always has a smile on her face. However, she has been struggling to lose the same 20-plus pounds for as long as she can remember and she blames it all on one thing – her sugar cravings.

Causes of Food Cravings

Our food cravings can be caused by one or more of the following factors:

  • Exhaustion
  • Dehydration
  • Stress
  • Boredom
  • Nutrient Deficiency
  • Chemical additives in foods

When we are tired, our body craves anything that is going to give us quick energy. Sugar, in the form of something sweet or simple carbs, provides that. The downside is that it will wear off quickly and we will be craving more… Click To Tweet

Many of us get into a caffeine-sugar pattern in which we use caffeine for energy in the morning, and then when it wears off, we crave simple carbs in the mid-morning, coffee in the afternoon, then carbs again in the evening. What we need is more sleep. Lack of sleep further contributes to cravings by disrupting our hunger cues.


When we are dehydrated, our body often mistakes a need for water as a need for food. Drinking water throughout the day will not only prevent eating when you need to be hydrating, but it will also flush toxins and keep your gut functioning better, which is a critical factor in avoiding cravings.

Nutrient deficiencies can cause cravings. A magnesium deficiency can cause chocolate cravings. Soda and salt cravings can be a calcium deficiency, Sugar a chromium deficiency and coffee cravings from a phosphorus deficiency.

Chemical additives in foods can cause cravings. Studies show people who drink diet soda crave sugar. And it’s long been suspected that processed and fast food causes cravings for more of the same. It’s likely that the chemicals disrupt our hormones and our bodies cues of being satiated.

Self-Care and Sugar Cravings

Stress and boredom may be our most significant cause of cravings. We eat to feel better, and there’s a reason why. Sugar elevates our serotonin levels which improve our mood. There are some non-food steps we can take to improve our mood: exercise, stress management, and adequate sleep. I often suggest that clients keep a food and mood journal, documented what they ate and how they were feeling at the time – to identify why and when they may be using food to self-medicate. Another good journaling exercise is to look at the critical areas of your life: intimate partnership, family, social connections, spirituality, physical health, contribution, and finances and determine if your life is lacking in any of those areas and if you are self-medicating with food.

Serotonin and Sugar Cravings

If you rule out or reduce your stress, and you still have sugar cravings – you may need to improve our body’s production of serotonin.

  • Take a B-complex supplement. Our bodies burn through our B vitamins when we are stressed. Vitamin B-6 is needed to produce serotonin.
  • Make sure you are eating complex carbs from whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruit. Complex carbs release more slowly in your body to more steadily produce serotonin.
  • Get some of your protein from plant-based sources like seeds, nuts, and beans for better absorption of nutrients needed to produce serotonin.
  • Eat fermented foods which improve gut bacteria and nutrient absorption.


Blood Sugar and Cravings

Keeping your blood sugar steady throughout the day by eating regular and balanced meals can also reduce cravings. Drinking two teaspoons of unfiltered apple cider vinegar diluted in water before a meal has been shown in studies to lower blood sugar. Cinnamon helps regulate the body’s blood sugar, too. When my clients tell me they drink fancy coffee drinks sweetened with syrup I suggest they get the plain version with no natural or artificial sweetener and sprinkle cinnamon on it. Even if you use the drive-through, you can keep a small jar of cinnamon in your car. Stevia is a herb that can also be used to sweeten beverages naturally, just don’t try to bake with it.

In Summary…

Getting to the cause of food cravings and eliminating the habits that keep us from reaching our nutrition and health goals is a process that requires looking at the physical and emotional causes of cravings. Once we have the craving and know why we have it, we can address it by breaking our old habits and creating new healthier behaviors. My friend was able to identify the situations that led to indulging her sugar cravings and change her physical environment – which also led her to accept an exciting new job that reduced her stress and left time for her new passion of kick-boxing. If you are ready to take the next step in ending your cravings, I would love to help.

Nancy Popkin is a Nutrition Coach who works with clients worldwide in person, by phone and using live video chat. She helps busy clients change their eating habits to increase their energy, reduce symptoms and lose weight. You can find her online at Sign up for her free self-guided online workshop 3-Steps to Changing Unwanted Eating Habits: