Rather than depriving yourself of sweets, work toward moderation and aim to set healthy boundaries. (For Corewell Health Beat)

Do you ever struggle with sugar cravings?

Cravings can arise from many factors, such as an unhealthy diet, skipping meals, lack of sleep or even stress.

Often, these cravings are the result of emotions. And, in the end, foods cannot help satisfy that, Kristi Veltkamp, RD, a registered dietitian with Corewell Health, said.

One of the triggers for a sugar craving or overindulgence is when we set unrealistic restrictions on ourselves.

Veltkamp said people will often try to satisfy their cravings with healthier treats, but often they’re left feeling unsatisfied and wanting more.

If they want a piece of apple pie, for instance, they may opt for an apple instead. When the apple doesn’t satisfy their craving, they may go on to try yogurt or another item. And when the craving persists, they may end up eating that piece of pie by day’s end.

Cumulatively, they’ve eaten more calories than if they had just eaten the pie in the first place.

“The answer to satisfying a craving is not necessarily healthy foods,” Veltkamp said. “When we restrict ourselves and we can’t have any sugar, it actually makes us want it more.”

So rather than depriving yourself of sweets, part of the answer is moderation—set healthy boundaries for treats.

“You want to do it mindfully, if you’d like a little sweet treat,” Veltkamp said. “If you’re able to have a bite and quit there and you’re not feeling deprived, I think that’s a good thing.”

Everyone will have their own personal list of food temptations, Veltkamp said.

While a little sugar can set some people off and lead to a binge, other people can have a little sugar and feel satisfied.

Lastly, daily lifestyle choices can set you up for sweet cravings.

Those who struggle with sugar cravings may find success in making lifestyle shifts, she said.

Getting a proper amount of sleep, maintaining a regular eating schedule and eating healthier foods consistently, for example, can help combat cravings for sweets or processed foods.

Foods with salt, fats and sugars are usually highly processed foods, Veltkamp said, and these are components that trigger our brain’s reward system to want more.

Healthy snacks that include protein and good carbs can satisfy your hunger and keep your blood sugar and cravings balanced. Identifying healthy choices that satiate your hunger—or sometimes your sweet tooth—can help set you up for success.

A few of Veltkamp’s favorite go-to healthy snacks:

  • Apple or banana and peanut butter
  • Energy bites or homemade granola bars
  • Trail mix
  • Dark chocolate covered almonds
  • Chia pudding
  • Smoothies
  • Fruit and plain yogurt with honey
  • Avocado mousse
  • Herbal tea
  • Homemade sparkling waters
  • Yogurt parfait
  • Stuffed figs or dates

Establishing healthy guidelines and strategies that aren’t too restrictive will help get you closer to accomplishing your goals, Veltkamp said.

Planning your meals ahead of time, for example, can improve your odds of success.

“Setting healthy boundaries around sugar and eating healthy is a journey for everyone,” Veltkamp said.