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It’s 4:00 pm, aka the “witching hour.” You’re scrambling to find something sweet to eat when making dinner, or you’re finally sitting down after a long day and all you want is a bowl of ice cream. Sound like your life?

I know that exact feeling, and I GET it.

When those sugar cravings hit, they hit fast and hard. What might be even harder, is trying to resist the urge or “fight” the craving.  It may offer you comfort to know that sometimes when we have these cravings, our bodies are simply trying to tell us something. 

For instance, if our body is lacking in certain vitamins and minerals, such as chromium and magnesium, this can increase our cravings.  This is because one role of these nutrients is to help to keep our blood sugar levels normal.  If we aren’t eating enough whole grains or lean protein, then our bodies might be a little off. 

These cravings can also occur when we’re under more stress.  It’s not easy being a mom with so much on your plate.  If your stress hormones go out of wack, that can lead to more intense cravings.  

Top it all off with not getting enough sleep, and it can feel like an uphill battle to pull yourself out of this vicious cycle. 

But…there is hope! 

In order to better manage these sugary desires, here are a few things to try:

1. Prioritize your sleep.

I know, easier said than done.  But, research proves that lack of sleep does increase your chances of sugar cravings. You also may find that you are hungrier on the days when you are tired or lacking sleep, causing you to overeat. So while it may not be realistic to get 8 hours every night, you can get yourself into a routine so you can get better quality sleep:

Go to bed and wake up around the same time each day (or within an hour window of time).  

Establish a healthy bedtime routine.  Limit tv and all electronics within an hour before bed.  Take a relaxing bath, read a book, or listen to calming music.  Electronics tend to keep your mind awake and reduce the quality of your sleep throughout the night – without us even realizing it.

Quality sleep can be just as important as quantity.  If you’re sleeping 6 hours/night on average (like me), but are staying asleep and feel rested in the morning – that may be more realistic for you than getting 8 hours every night.  Keep in mind that regular exercise improves your quality of sleep significantly and gets you into a deeper sleep!

On some days, despite your best efforts, you may be running real low on sleep (or maybe no sleep).  Learn to recognize that and be mindful of the cravings. Start the day with an energizing breakfast, such as whole grain toast and peanut butter.

Or, if you’re short on time, try my energy bites to get your metabolism going and satisfy that sweet craving. Starting the morning with a balanced meal can boost your energy to prevent that dreaded afternoon slump. 

2. Don’t restrict your diet too much.

At the height of these cravings, you may think that you have to use “self-control” or fight off the craving.  But, this might lead you on a search for every other snack in the house to satisfy that craving, causing you to overindulge. And after doing so, you still might not be satisfied because you never gave into your original craving. Instead, try having a piece of dark chocolate or a smaller bowl of the Ben & Jerry’s you have stashed in the freezer.  Pre-portioning out your snacks is key.

3. Eat balanced meals. 

Try to include proteinvegetables, and whole grains at each meal. This will keep you feeling full and more satisfied. If you have a salad at lunch, incorporate a lean protein source, such as lentils, chicken breast or fish. You could also add brown rice, quinoa or flax seeds to a meal to give it a bit of bulk.  If your diet is lacking in protein, healthy fats, or carbs (yes – you do need carbs!) you will not feel as satisfied and are more likely to feel hungry again shortly after, despite how many calories you consumed.

4. Keep the sweets out of sight. 

If the cookie jar or the M&M’s are sitting right on your kitchen counter, that might be the only thing you’re thinking about. Move the sweets out of sight to the cabinet or pantry. You will be less likely to mindlessly reach for the candy as you run out the door, or eat the entire bag on the way to school pick-up. Instead, keep a bowl of fruit in the kitchen- such as apples, oranges or grapes.  Your environment determines your success.

5. Bring healthy snacks to work.

If you know that you always reach for candy/chocolate/sweets around 3:00, have a small arsenal of snacks on hand. This might include fruit, small pieces of dark chocolate, trail mix packs, etc. As a midmorning or midday snack, have grapes with a cheese stick or a handful of mixed nuts.

6. Don’t wait too long to eat.

If you have ever experienced the“hangry” feeling, then you know what I mean when I say that you are ready to devour the kitchen. Maybe you had meetings all afternoon, or you were driving your kids to sports practices after school. Before you knew it, it was 6:00, but the last thing you wanted to do was to cook dinner.

These days are tough.  Instead of ravenously pulling out the goldfish and fruit snacks at dinner time, have a few go-to snacks on hand throughout the day — granola bars, fruits, etc. — to help hold you over. And remember, take a breatherslow down, and enjoy your meals as much as possible.

7. Find a distraction.

Boredom and stress might also lead you to crave those sweets. When this happens, get up and go for a walk (even just up and down your stairs) or call a friend and catch up. Build the lego tower that your kids have been begging you to construct.

Small things that divert your focus away from sugary thoughts can help you to be more mindful of when you might just be in the mood to snack. It’s so easy to just do so even out of mere habit.  Being aware of this is the first step in breaking this cycle.

8. Eat more fruit. 

Craving something sweet doesn’t always have to mean a sugar-laden dessert. Fruits are a great option for an after dinner dessert or an “anytime of the day treat,” because they are packed with fiber to help keep you full. Stock up on some of your favorites to enjoy when the craving hits.   Add a dash of honey, stevia, or whipped cream on top if you want to give it a dessert feel.

I hope these tips and tricks can help you knock out those sugar cravings, so you can stop feeling hangry and reach your weight loss goals!