Why Do I Have Sugar Cravings and How Can I Stop Them?

Marie-Luise Huber
8 min.
Why Do I Have Sugar Cravings and How Can I Stop Them?
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You know that moment when you suddenly get a craving for a certain food? Maybe it's something sweet, like chocolate. Cravings, we all know them. And for most of us, it's probably sugar cravings. Let's dive deeper into why cravings occur, what's going on in your body when you feel them, and how you can stop sugar cravings once and for all.

What are cravings?

Cravings are an intense desire to eat a certain type of food. It often feels very urgent and you can't wait to get your hands on that one snack. These cravings occur at any time, but you usually feel them in the late afternoon and evening. It is debatable whether food cravings arise from not eating enough, or whether they develop over time through the behavioral conditioning model. Both are possible. The conditioning model of cravings suggests that cravings develop when one regularly eats certain foods in combination with certain activities. For example, eating something while watching TV or feeling a certain way (e.g., lonely). Imagine coming home from a long day at work, eating dinner, and sitting down in front of the TV. A craving for something sweet hits, and before you know it, you're heading to the fridge. Have you ever experienced this scenario?

Weight control and cravings

Cravings are a powerful thing. What someone craves and how often and how much they satisfy those cravings can even affect weight. In fact, food cravings can influence up to 11% of a person's changes in eating behavior and weight gain.

What foods do we crave the most?

It's normal for us humans to crave high-energy foods like chocolate, pastries, or sugary drinks. You may not be surprised to learn that most people crave chocolate and foods containing chocolate. This is followed by other high calorie sweets and savory treats. Many of us also tend to crave low-calorie fruits. Interestingly, cravings for high-calorie foods increase throughout the day, while cravings for fruit decrease.

The difference between hunger and cravings

Hunger and cravings can feel amazingly similar, and while there is definitely some overlap, they are different. Here are four points to help tell the difference between hunger and cravings:

  1. Feelings of hunger occur when the stomach is empty or at least not full.
  2. Hunger and cravings often occur at the same time, but you don't have to be hungry to experience cravings.
  3. Normally, cravings can only be satisfied by eating a particular food, while hunger is usually satisfied by eating any type of food. 
  4. Cravings are also distinguished from hunger by the desire for a particular food and the intensity of the craving.

Cravings can have various causes

Our body is complex and multi-layered, and this also applies to cravings. Food and sugar cravings are triggered by many factors, including physical, emotional and psychological. So how can you determine which factor is driving your cravings? Good question.


Physical cravings are associated with various processes that prepare the body for eating and stimulate it to eat. These processes include increased production of saliva in the mouth (sounds gross, but it's normal) and activation of the reward organ in the brain. There are some connections between nutrient deficiencies and cravings, but they account for only a small portion of cravings. 


Emotional cravings can be triggered by feelings of nostalgia, the need for comfort, and other various emotions such as sadness. This can explain why when you visit your grandmother, you get a craving for her delicious apple pie. Or when you miss your childhood town, you get a sweet craving for a milkshake from the corner store. (Or you could say, "You get a craving for your favorite pastry from the local bakery").


There are several psychological reasons for the occurrence of cravings. One widely held notion is based on what is known as Pavlovian conditioning. This involves repeatedly associating an activity or place with the consumption of food. Similar to an emotional craving, just doing that activity or going to that place can trigger a craving. For example, every time you go to the beach, you eat ice cream. Then one day when you visit the beach (without ice cream), you get a strong craving for it. 

Reflect briefly and think about the frequent cravings you have. Can you tell if they are physical, emotional, or psychological?

The connection between blood sugar and cravings

For us humans, taste is an important factor that determines our eating behavior. Most of us have a natural inclination towards sweet foods, as they are often more flavorful. Since our body strives for this optimal taste factor, this often leads to the consumption of foods with high sugar content. Eating a lot of sugar leads to a rise in blood sugar levels, which stimulates the release of insulin to transport blood sugar into the cells. Consequently, too much sugar in the body can lead to a rapid increase in insulin concentration, which results in a rapid uptake of glucose from the blood into the cells. This in turn can lead to a rapid drop in blood glucose levels, which in turn can trigger sugar cravings, and it starts all over again (like being on a roller coaster).

A drop in blood sugar levels can also occur when we have not eaten enough. Since blood sugar is a source of energy for the body, this can lead to cravings. And these cravings are often directed towards foods containing carbohydrates and sugar.

How to avoid a glucose low?

One way to prevent blood sugar drops is to monitor blood sugar using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). A CGM monitors blood glucose levels and measures the body's individual responses to food, exercise, stress and sleep. In addition, blood sugar lows can be avoided by eating regular high-protein, low-carbohydrate meals.

Why do women experience cravings more often during a certain phase of their cycle?

Many women experience cravings for sweets and certain foods depending on where they are in their monthly cycle. A woman's ovarian hormones are particularly powerful, and they can influence feelings of hunger, cravings for sweets and binge eating. This also depends on which phase of the cycle a woman is in (follicular phase or luteal phase). Let's take a closer look at why women experience cravings more often during certain phases of their cycle.

The follicular phase (days 1- 14)

During the follicular phase, when estrogen levels are high, many women experience less hunger and cravings and lose weight (which is the opposite of the luteal phase). Estrogen is thought to regulate appetite, while progesterone counteracts the effects of estrogen. This may explain why sugar cravings are less intense during this phase.

Luteal phase (days 14-28)

During the luteal phase (postovulatory period), estrogen levels are low and progesterone levels are high. This can cause women to experience the following symptoms:

  • More to eat than usual
  • Increased cravings (especially for sweets)
  • Increase in body weight
  • Increased energy requirements (which may lead to increased physiological demand for carbohydrates).
  • Decreased insulin sensitivity

During this luteal phase, lower estrogen levels lead to what most of us know as PMS (premenstrual syndrome). It has been shown that cravings can be a reaction to the negative mood swings caused by PMS. Decreased serotonin levels during the premenstrual phase increase negative mood and cravings for serotonin-releasing foods such as chocolate. It's possible that these hormonal changes are partly responsible for increased food intake and cravings. So it's quite possible that your hormones are affecting your sugar cravings. But there are ways to avoid these sugar cravings. You can find the right foods for each phase of your cycle and stop sugar cravings once and for all.

How food restrictions can lead to cravings

Food restriction and abandonment are common among women who unfortunately consider themselves fat regardless of their weight. For this reason, they often go on diets to reduce or control their weight. All those who restrict their food intake on a long-term basis may experience intense and frequent food cravings. This can then lead to binge eating, overeating and an unhealthy preoccupation with food.

Because of this focus on food and eating and increased cravings, people who diet for long periods are more likely to respond to external food stimuli than people who do not follow a strict diet. They are also less responsive to the body's own signals of hunger and satiety. People who restrict their eating and experience chronic hunger may have increased motilin levels, low insulin levels, and pancreatic polypeptide responses. This then leads to increased cravings for food and sugar. So the more you restrict food, the more intense the cravings become.

How can I avoid cravings?

Having cravings is normal, but not necessary. Find out which foods keep you energized and full long after the meal is over, and which foods make you feel hungry shortly after. Your body is constantly trying to tell you what's good and what's bad for you. So why shouldn't you listen to it?


Marie-Luise Huber
Luise has spent the last 15 years studying nutrition and guiding people toward healthy lifestyles. Before becoming Head of Nutrition at Hello Inside, she helped parents plan the right lunches for their children. Luise also optimized food ingredients in Central and Eastern European countries. She has helped more than 1000 people of all ages on their weight loss journey. Her favorite tip for balancing blood sugar is exercise, as Luise loves to run, ski or bike. And she loves to bake (not always blood sugar friendly).
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