5 top tips for taming sugar cravings

5 top tips for taming sugar cravings - Eat Spin Run Repeat

As a kid, I ate my fair share of sugary foods. Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes and Lucky Charms got me excited at breakfast time. Pick and mix candy at the movie theatre? Don’t even get me started. I was all about the Sour Patch Kids, Skittles, Cherry Blasters, Fuzzy Peaches and Swedish Berries. (As in, I ate enough to give myself those lovely canker sores all over my tongue, which made me never want to eat them again…. until a day or two later.) Then I hit adolescence, moved overseas, ate my feelings, and ballooned to 200lbs. Oops.

no skittles for me thank you

During my weight loss journey, I discovered that I could crowd out cravings for sweet things by loading up on nutrient-dense foods instead. These were often lower calorie things like fruits and veggies which are full of fiber and water, both of which did a wonderful job of keeping me full. (Sometimes a little too full… hello watermelon baby!) Over time, my cravings for sweets dissipated and it became easier to say no to the candy and processed junk that I wouldn’t have thought twice about a couple of years prior. If I tried to eat those things today (and I have experimented on one or two occasions), the result is typically a pounding headache, jitters, and painful revenge from my stomach notifying me of its disapproval. Knowing this will be the case has been incentive enough to avoid super-sweet refined foods.

Earlier this year, I fell victim to the ridiculously delicious, highly addictive Quest Bar trap. Don’t get me wrong, Quest bars are one of the cleanest brands of protein bars that I’ve ever come across, and I’d feel a bit naked without a stash of them in my kitchen cupboard. The Cinnamon Roll and Chocolate Peanut Butter ones are heavenly and I take great pleasure in sinking my teeth into every soft, chewy bite. It’s a good thing they’re expensive or else I’d probably be too far gone by now. Having said all of that, things were getting slightly out of hand a couple of months ago.

Cinnamon Roll Quest Bar

It began with one or two bars a week, rationing my stash to make it last longer. Soon, I was taking one to work with me every day, eating half in the morning and half in the afternoon. I’d then munch on them after dinner and they became a bit like dessert, which I’ve never really felt the need to have on a regular basis. The bars were replacing my previous whole food snacks, which included veggies and hummus, fruit, yogurt, whole grain crackers, and cottage cheese. I was getting plenty of fiber and protein from the bars, but let’s be real here: Quest Bars don’t sprout out of the ground or grow on trees. Despite having clean ingredients, they’re not whole foods.

At the same time that I was on my Quest Bar-a-day ritual, I found myself craving other sweet things. I didn’t regress into the Sour Patch Kids habit of my childhood, but found myself wanting more fruit in my smoothies and often craved something sweet after dinner. When my digestion issues started to flare up, I decided to take a break on the Quest bars and sub fruit (and other whole foods) back into my snacks instead. Magically (or maybe not so magically), the sugar cravings that I hadn’t experienced in years went away.


It seems everyone has something to say about sugar these days, whether it’s about a sugar detox, new ways to re-create dishes that are traditionally sugar bombs, or revealing sneaky sources of sugar in a bunch of foods that were previously thought of as ‘healthy’. I think there’s a lot to be learned from all of these sugar discussions – after all, the American Heart Association reports that the average American consumes the equivalent of 22.2 teaspoons of added sugar per day, or 355 calories worth. (Note that that’s added sugar, which doesn’t include naturally occurring sugars like those found in whole fruit.) Compare that to their recommended 5 tsp for women and 9 tsp for men, and I think you’d agree that there’s a lot of room for improvement!

blood oranges

Recent science suggests that excess sugar may not necessarily cause, but likely contributes to serious health issues including obesity, heart attacks, and even cancer. I’m sure evidence supporting this will only become more common over the next couple of years, but in the meantime, I think we’d be wise to reduce our consumption. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a BIG fan of fruit, (in fact, if it was possible to get every nutrient our bodies need from it, I’d be all for becoming a fruitarian) and fruit certainly contains naturally-occurring sugar. The type I like to steer clear of is the added sugar that comes in refined and processed foods. The kind that isn’t paired with valuable vitamins, minerals, and fiber to help avoid that spike-crash cycle. The kind you find in cookies, candy, and other packaged foods.

In the case of Quest Bars, these contain stevia and ethyritol. While both are currently considered safer natural sweeteners, my recent tastebud preferences suggest that even these sweet replacements seem to trigger my sweet tooth.

Speaking from my own personal experiences and those of my health coaching clients whom I’ve helped to deal with sugar addiction, here are my top 5 tips for taming sugar cravings and the amount of added sugar in your diet:

Don’t try to eliminate ALL sugar ALL at once.

Baby steps, friends. You might only have one or two sugary vices, or you might be the type that needs regular hits throughout the day to keep your energy up. Wherever you’re at, going cold turkey right off the bat could be tough for your brain and body to accept. See if you can wean yourself off gradually by using less each day. Target obvious things first, like pop and fruit juice, which often contain far more sugar than you’d suspect.

Swap a few sweet treats for fruit and naturally sweet veggies.

Fruit is nature’s candy, and the fiber in its flesh helps to stabilize blood sugar levels so you’re not left feeling like you need a nap about 30 minutes after eating it. But don’t just stop at fruit – veggies are sweet too! Try beets, carrots, sweet potato, and winter squash. One of my favourite snacks, especially during cold-weather months, is butternut squash tossed in cinnamon and baked in the oven. Cinnamon is also a naturally sweet food and these two simple ingredients paired together make for a super nutritious snack. I think you’ll be surprised by how your taste buds change over time.

Cucumber Dill Hummus - Eat Spin Run Repeat

Eat whole-food meals and snacks regularly, using appropriate portions.

When we eat regularly, our blood sugar levels remain more consistent than if we were to skip meals. When blood sugar dips or crashes, we tend to lose mental focus and it can be tempting to reach for super sweet foods. To stop the craving before it starts, try eating more frequently. NOTE: This doesn’t give you a license to eat 5 full meals a day! But, if you tend to eat 3 big meals every day, experiment with 3 slightly smaller meals and two snacks around 250 calories each.

Summertime Quinoa and Greens Salad - Eat Spin Run Repeat

As far as portion control is concerned, those that have seen me eat a meal in my own home will know that I have an exceptionally hearty appetite. In dietary terms, I’m what they’d call ‘a volume eater’. As a teen, part of the reason I gained so much weight was because I was eating huge portions of very calorie-dense food. Did I stop that in order to lose weight? Well yes, to an extent. I still eat heaps, but it’s the right foods.

If I’m ravenous and feel like devouring an entire buffet, I’ll load up my plate with a small serving of whole grains (or starchy veggies, like sweet potato), a portion of lean protein (perhaps a little larger than usual), a small amount of healthy fats (like extra virgin olive oil in my salad dressing, for example) and as many veggies as I want. All of the fiber and water in the vegetables helps to satisfy my enormous appetite, and since the meal is balanced in terms of macronutrients, I don’t feel deprived of anything. If you’re unsure of what constitutes ‘a portion’, check out this portion control post.


Try starting your day with a savoury breakfast.

I have zero science to back this up, so this tip is based purely on my own experience. In the summer, smoothies are a breakfast time staple. But now that it’s chilly outside, I’ve been opting for warmer things like veggie-packed omelettes, tofu scrambles, and occasionally oatmeal. While my smoothies tended to be on the sweet side thanks to their fruity ingredients, it seems a savoury (and sometimes spicy) breakfast sets me up for a day with almost zero desire for sugar. I might just be a novel case, but if you really struggle with sweets, humour yourself and give it a try. Here are a couple of savoury breakfast ideas for you:

Out of sight, out of mind.

Perhaps one of the oldest, most common pieces of advice, but it’s common for a reason – it works. If you don’t have sweets in the house, they can’t be there staring you in the face when you open the fridge or pantry. If you’ve got to have a stash for ’emergencies’, keep it in the back of a cupboard, in a non-transparent container, or somewhere that you won’t be looking at it every day. If it’s chocolate, try freezing 1-serving portions. Unless you want to risk breaking a tooth, this strategy should help you to stop at one piece after it’s thawed, rather than ‘accidentally’ devouring the whole bar.

Chocolate Chia Pudding

Does this mean I’m off protein bars for good? Well, no. But I’ll be saving them for in-a-pinch occasions, like post-workout or post-race when time and whole food options are limited. And in those situations, you can bet I’ll be savouring every single melt-in-your-mouth morsel. 😉

Alright, that’s more than enough from me! I’m sure you’ve probably got something to say on this topic, and I’d love to hear it! Tell me…

  • Do you consider your sugar intake a little greater than it should be? 
  • If you’ve got a sweet tooth, what are those foods that you just don’t feel you could replace with anything else?
  • If you’ve been successful at taming cravings for sweets, what strategies have you used?

5 top tips for taming sugar cravings - Eat Spin Run Repeat

39 thoughts on “5 top tips for taming sugar cravings

  1. Hey Angela! I had tho same issue with Quest bars and I think it’s the sweeteners and high sodium in the bars that made me crave sugar. I aye so many of them I can’t even look at them now. I’ve been off sugar for 10 years straight now but I still have a sweet tooth and have to watch it or I get addicted to sweet processed alternatives. Plus, the fibers from inuin and ogliosaccharides in the bars, plus the erithrytol really upset my stomach. These are great tips so thanks for sharing! They are a reminder whole foods really are the best for us!:)

    1. Congrats on your 10 years Heather – that is super impressive! I’m sure you can attest to the whole tastebuds changing thing as well then. Interesting that you commented on the fiber from the inulin and ogliosaccharides, because you’re not the first person who has told me they cause stomach pain. I took several things out of my diet when I decided to nix the Quest bars so I’m not sure if that has made a huge difference – all I know is that whatever I did seems to be making me feel a whole lot better now. (I have a feeling this had something to do with it though!) Thanks so much for your comment!

  2. Great tips Angela! It’s funny how we can start eating foods a few times a week and slowly they creepy into everyday… I love the freezing chocolate tip! I’m fine with only eating a few squares at a time but I can get into eating it every day which I don’t think is necessarily bad… but my stomach doesn’t quite agree with me!

    I’ve been trying to cut back on my fruit so some of these tips will be helpful!

    1. Thanks Danielle! Yes, my Quest bar consumption really snuck up on me (entirely my own fault obviously!) Regarding the freezing chocolate, I also like that trying to eat frozen chocolate makes it last a whole lot longer because it takes more time to melt in your mouth. Let me know if this little trick works for ya!

  3. This was a great post, Angela!! I love the idea of enjoying a savory breakfast to start the day off right. Honestly, I think you’re probably right! If i start the day with sweets, I want them for the rest of the day, but if I eat something savory, I usually want savory stuff the rest of the day! Thanks for compiling these tips – I really needed it. My sweet tooth has been out of control lately!

  4. I loved this post Angela. It came at a time I needed this reminder. What with halloween candy still lurking in my house and the holidays fast approaching! I feel so much better when I limit or remove sweet from my daily diet. Thank you for the reminder!

    1. Oh yes, the Halloween candy! I guess I hadn’t really thought of that because I don’t have kiddies and my area doesn’t get any trick or treaters (or at least not this year!) so there’s no Halloween candy in my house, but I imagine the temptation can be pretty huge if you do. Holidays can definitely be tough. I suppose being able to anticipate how tired and irritable a boatload of sugar would make you feel might be incentive not to overindulge in the first place, but something about the holidays seem to make us forget these things! Glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks so much for commenting!

  5. Great post! I’ve been cutting back on sweets recently because I had noticed that I was constantly craving sugar and sweets . I will admit that I am a stevia addict and I think that was causing a lot of my cravings. I’m no longer using stevia or any added sweetners. I’m just sticking to a little fruit everyday. It’s been about 2 weeks and my cravings are pretty much completely gone and I’ve noticed that I have a lot more energy…no more mid day slump!

    1. I’ll admit to being a bit of a stevia addict too sometimes Jenn, so you’re not alone! Like any other sugar though, I’ve found that gradually using a tiny bit less helps. It doesn’t seem to upset my stomach like artificial sweeteners do, but like you say, can certainly trigger cravings for more. That’s so great to hear that you’re noticing a difference after having reduced the added sweeteners. Just goes to show that I’m not totally crazy! 🙂 Hope you’re having an awesome day!

  6. yes, good tips! I find that when I eat whole, real food, and stay away from the processed stuff, I don’t crave sugar. I have also not been eating grains since the beginning of 2013 and that has made a huge difference too.

    1. Amen to real food! I know a couple of people (especially some of my paleo friends) who say removing grains from their diets has made them feel heaps better. I’m weary to do it because I usually feel more energetic in my long runs when I’ve had them a day or so before. (Years ago I dropped too much weight while training for distance events and I don’t need that to happen again!!) So now I make a point of choosing a variety of GF whole grains because gluten doesn’t do me any favours. That’s great that grain-free works for you!

  7. Yes, yes, yes my sugar consumption is too high! This was a great kick in the pants for me. I have my delicious Quest bars as well, but they will be taking a bit of a back seat for a couple weeks because I have cut out all processed foods to kick start my off-season!

    I love the idea of a savoury breakfast. I find that a smoothie, depending on what I put in it, triggers even more sugary cravings.

    What a super star post, Ange!

    1. Perhaps this will be one of your best off seasons yet! 🙂 And YOU my dear are one of my inspirations to take a running off season of my own. I anticipate some swimming in the next couple of weeks.. once I get a one-piece bathing suit because I haven’t owned anything but bikinis in a long time!

  8. Um yeah. HUGE sweet tooth over here. I love me some candy, chocolate and Quest bars! BUT I am promising you that I will not eat them (as often) while I am training for this marathon! I actually found when I went 100% vegan my craving disappeared, mainly because I couldn’t really eat the things I love. Most candy has gelatine in it and I only like milk chocolate…so yeah. I ate super clean and fruit was basically my sole source of sugar. I am back on the wagon (with the exception of long run/treat days) and I can’t wait to see how it makes me feel!

  9. This post is perfectly timed for me. I’ve been having the worst sugar cravings lately, and I think it’s because I’ve been doing this detox and had to cut out all tropical fruits. I find when I incorporate a fair of sweet fruits in my diet like bananas and mangos, and have a good amount of healthy fats, I’m generally able to keep my cravings at bay, minus a certain time of the month when I’m pretty much a ravenous animal. Any tips on how to control sugar cravings then? I also find it’s helpful to stagger my fruit intake throughout the day.

    In terms of the one sugary thing I couldn’t live without/can’t substitute it would have to be chocolate. Luckily I’ve switched myself over to dark chocolate which has helped since it has health benefits, and I can eat a couple of square and feel satisfied rather than an entire bar which generally happens when I eat milk chocolate.

    I’ll definitely be trying your tips to help me along through my detox. Thanks for the great post!

      1. YAY! I’m happy to hear I’m not on my own… maybe we should start a Quest Bar Eaters Anonymous 12-step program!? 😉 Just think of how rich we’ll be by the end of next year if we were to save the money spent on the bars… It’s ridiculous how much more expensive they are here in Canada!

    1. Hi Nicole! Sorry, this comment got a little buried in amongst the others. Regarding those lovely time of the month cravings, try eating plenty of complex carbs (well, not in crazy amounts, but just make sure you’re getting some whole grains, sweet potato, etc.) Apparently this helps keep sugar cravings at bay. Also, try to avoid super salty foods (they’ll cause more bloating than usual), and this is a great time to eat lean protein and those fab sources of healthy fats you mentioned. They help to stabilize blood sugar levels, so you’ll be less likely to crave sweets. Let me know how you get on with these tips during your detox, and good luck!

  10. I also recently stopped eating Quest bars. I don’t know why, but I’ve been craving sugar so much so I wanted to switch to more real, whole foods. I was at the point where I was eating them almost daily after I ran/ worked out, but now I’ve switched to a banana and peanut butter with some protein powder for that extra protein I need. I’m hoping it will help me feel less sugar cravings, and cut down on some digestive issues. Plus, I was spending way too much money on them! We can be in this “stop eating so many Quest bars journey” together!!

  11. Quest bars make me crave sugar. Protein bars (even the cleanest kinds), dried fruit, all of the sugary things that are “healthy” trigger me to crave more sugar. I do best with little of these things in my daily nutrition. When I eat whole foods with a lot of protein, a lot of fat, and minimal sugar, I do best. Love this post!

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Electra! It sounds like you and I are similar when it comes to sweet foods. I also tend to stay away from bars that are dense with dried fruits and nuts because although I know they’re clean, as a volume eater, they don’t even come close to satisfying my appetite.

  12. YES! I used to be a sugar and/or sweetener queen and all of these things helped me SO much. I still enjoy my sweets, but can limit them to the occasional splurge on the weekend instead of needing sweet every single time I eat like it used to be.

  13. Great tips, Angela! While I don’t think it’s crazy out of control, I definitely do have a sweet tooth, and feel the “need” to eat something sweet every single night after dinner, even if it’s just fruit. In fact, I made your skinny mini pumpkin cheesecakes tonight :). I do think it would be in my best interest to try to cut back – slowly, as you mention – just so I don’t become to reliant upon it. Thanks again!

    1. Hi Megan! I think that you’re definitely on the right track by choosing fruit over other sweet options. Those little clementines have been my go-to pick after meals these days if I’m craving something sweet. Enjoy the mini pumpkin cheesecakes!

  14. Pingback: Friday Five
  15. I’m currently “quitting” sugar.

    I have still used maple syrup (<2 T) in a salad dressing an tomorrow will use some orange juice in another dressing, and I have replaced my evening telly sweets with alternately nothing, or with watermelon. I'm not sure how much fruit one should eat but I'm limiting it and focussing on savoury food and veg.

    It isn't a 100% reduction, but I am definitely working on it and fingers crossed it sticks.

    I haven't had sugary drinks or the like in years, but recently have become addicted to biscuits (cookies) like oreos (which are extremely addictive).

    Thanks for this post. it reminded me to take it day by day and be grateful for each day where I choose not to eat sugary foods. 🙂

    1. Amazing job, Ashley! It’s so great to hear that you’ve decided to make this change in your health and have found healthier substitutes for the high-sugar foods you used to eat. I know there’s controversy about how much fruit is too much, but the way I see it, I think loads of fruit is way better than sugary sweets, cakes desserts etc because you’re getting all the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre that definitely don’t come with the less-healthy options. I’ve found that ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is one of the best tactics for keeping sugar cravings away, and focusing on all the non-sugary foods (of which there are SO many) that you can be eating instead really helps. Keep up the amazing work!

  16. I’ve been exercising my regular 3-4 times a week, doing hard workouts.
    I started believing one can “out-exercise” a less than ideal eating habits.
    Oh, I ate only “healthy stuff,” but spoiled myself with dark chocolate in the evenings, post workout.
    Yes, the flavonoids and increased availability of nitric oxide is good for the body, but not in large amounts combined with sweetener!
    The first week was tough, now into week two. It’s getting better.
    Eating cleaner.
    Would suggest: eat more vegetables (go for colours), than fruit per day. (The latter has >> natural sugars, and too many can still >> cause a spike in blood sugar.
    Thanks for the post, Angela!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.