What is the Meaning Behind Your Sugar Cravings

Elizabeth Millard
by Elizabeth Millard
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What is the Meaning Behind Your Sugar Cravings

For many people, the battle with sugar can be particularly ferocious. It can arise during an afternoon slump at work, first thing in the morning, after every meal, in the middle of a workout — or, worst, in the middle of the night. In a sugar-laden world, it becomes too easy to reach for a quick fix. It’s important to figure out the meaning behind your sugar cravings.

Cravings tend to crop up when there’s a sense of depletion. However, if you can pinpoint what you lack, it’s easier to make healthier choices instead of going for something sugar-coated.

Here are a few possibilities for what may be driving those sweet cravings:


For many people, a sugar craving in the form of chocolate could signal a lack of magnesium, a common deficiency according to researcher Susan Yanovski from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Yanovski says that around 80% of people in the U.S. may be deficient in the mineral, which can be tied to irritability, insomnia and high blood pressure. If you feel stressed, chocolate may seem like the answer, but it could be your body yearning for magnesium instead.

While the cacao in chocolate is a rich source of magnesium, the sugar in chocolate could turn frequent consumption into a potential problem since it causes insulin spikes and other issues. Instead of chocolate, reach for non-sugar magnesium sources like nuts, seeds, beans and dark leafy greens.


“If we are to prescribe a diet to improve someone’s health, it’s important that we understand what microbes help control those beneficial effects,” says Jeffrey Gordon biologist and professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

Sugar cravings can sometimes be the result of an imbalance in your gut health, which means that all those good bacteria in your digestive system aren’t working as happily as they could be. Compounding the problem is that eating sugary junk food makes the problem worse.

In his research, Gordon found consumption of sugary food can cause gut bacteria to become dependent on it, and cause rejection when healthier foods are introduced. That’s right: Your gut can actively sabotage your attempts to eat better. But the good news is that it can be retrained, according to Gordon.

By bringing in foods that promote healthier bacteria — particularly options with high amounts of probiotics like low-sugar yogurt and other fermented foods — the good bacteria can replace the saboteurs.



Although sleep might be part of resting, consider adding more non-snoozing time into your day instead of seeing bedtime as your only opportunity to get some stress relief.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of “Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less,” notes that lack of adequate rest can make your body feel depleted in many ways, including nutritionally. This can kick off a need for a “boost” that might come in the form of sugar. While that may provide a temporary surge, it’s very short-lived and can quickly become a habit.

He suggests integrating short rest periods into every day, especially at times when sugar cravings are strong. For instance, instead of that afternoon pick-me-up of sugary snacks, try going for a 15-minute walk outside. Walking is a conscious form of rest, Pang says, because it offers a break from everyday stressors.

Sometimes, sugar cravings can be particularly strong when you have a combination of these factors. For example, you might feel overwhelmed at work, which leads to less-than-ideal food choices that quickly turn into depletion and fatigue.

That kind of chain reaction sets up a condition for cravings. But fortunately, you can easily create healthier habits by taking a moment when the sugar monster appears to consider what you really want instead.

Ready to take the next step? Unlock MyFitnessPal Premium to access custom goal settings, quick-log recipes, and guided plans from a registered dietitian. Premium users are 65% more likely to reach their weight loss goals!

About the Author

Elizabeth Millard
Elizabeth Millard

Elizabeth is a freelance journalist specializing in health and fitness, as well as an ACE certified personal trainer and Yoga Alliance registered yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in SELF, Runner’s World, Women’s Health and CNN.


53 responses to “What is the Meaning Behind Your Sugar Cravings”

  1. Avatar Healthy says:

    Don’t forget magnesium deficiences and yes, Fitness pal needs to include magnesium as well as Vitamins D, E, and K so that users can keep track.

    • Avatar Phoebe Gale says:

      They stated magnesium deficiency at the very start!

      • I discontinue earning a living at shopritte and currently I am getting $75-97$ p/hour. How? I am only working online! My task did not make me satisfied thus I thought to take the opportunity on something new…after four years it wasn’t easy to end my day job but now I couldn’t be more satisfied.>>> OUOURL.COM/4rh9

      • Avatar Joe Hopkins says:

        I stop trying working at shopritte and afterwards at the moment I am making $75-97$ every hour. How? I am just working over the internet! My task did not make me pleasant and so I made the decision to take an opportunity on something new…after 4 years it wasn’t easy to end my day work however right now I couldn’t be more joyful.>>> S.ID/1dR

      • Avatar Shirley Pakulski says:

        I believe she meant to.list magnesium in the nutrients page of Fitbit…..it’s the.only one not listed.

    • Avatar Nancy S Rymer says:

      Read the article before commenting. Magnesium deficiency was listed first in all caps bold print.

    • Avatar Junior Alexander says:

      Guys I think he means it is not in the app! And yes I checked….it is not there!

    • Avatar Joyce says:

      Also potassium, please!

  2. Avatar davedave12 says:

    For me, bad eating creates craving for bad eating – a little candy, a little ice cream makes me want more

  3. Avatar Vanessa A says:


  4. Avatar Polka Becker says:

    this sounds like me OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HELPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPP!

    • Avatar Laura Evans says:

      I can help you if you are looking for a good magnesium solution

      • Avatar TzuZen says:

        Its inexpensive at the pharmacy – magnesium supplements. Many psychiatrists may recommend it. Dr. Emily Deans has written about it on her blog.

  5. Avatar Fizzy Pops says:

    Walking as a break from stress at work is a great solution. I’m trying ever so hard to cut sugars out of my diet but the after-dinner cravings are a huge obstacle. I have leukemia and need as well as want to shed weight, but my post-meal habits are a major drag. Help!

    • Avatar Michele Oshman says:

      Best wishes for good health and I hope you kick cancer’s butt!

    • Avatar Janice Vilorio says:

      I suffered from huge sugar cravings, have a very stressful job as a teacher, and couldn’t get down the weight with healthier lifestyle, as well as many other obstacles in my health. This past year, I made a huge change in adding supplementation to my routine, (chromium, magnesium, prebiotics, probiotics,…) and can tell you that it was one of the best things I could have done for my health. I am 45+ pounds down from last year, have no more food cravings, eating healthier foods, stress is managed better, amazing sustained energy, mood swings gone as well,… so many great things. These specific supplements are very unique because they r a gut health system; not just a band-aid being put on our health issues. They get to the root causes (improve gut health, inflammation, and blood sugar instability). If u think this could be something helpful for you, reach out to me for more information. Would be happy to share with you.

      • Avatar Alyssa Radford says:

        Janice Vilorio, I would like more information on what you supplement with. I am very interested in knowing what helped you overcome the sugar cravings. I can explain more to you about my history with this. Please contact me, either by replying here, or emailing me at aara229@email.uky.edu . Or you can message me on Facebook, my name is Alyssa Radford. I would really appreciate your response. Thank you so much.

  6. Avatar Angie says:

    I crave sweets after a meal. I found that brushing my teeth instead of eating sweets sometimes helps.

  7. Avatar jennyct says:

    I get sugar/carb cravings because it makes me satisfied without feeling full. I have GI issues and get really uncomfortable with a regular meal. I feel better off not eating a regular meal.

    • Avatar Irisrus says:

      I had the same feeling when I was younger and used the same method. Now I am older, and diabetic. If someone would have warned me I don’t know if I would have listed. But I hope you can

      • Avatar jennyct says:

        I have perfect numbers as I keep my calories very low, so I don’t drink soda or use sugar in drinks, but I like small bites of dark chocolate and I crave carbs. I am helping/working with a buddy to lower intake. Interestingly, my family members eat more than I do (hubby throws chocolate chip cookies in basket when I am not looking). He’s of normal weight, but eats terribly! I have a science background, so I am trying to keep on the healthy side by tracking. But I do crave it!
        thanks for your response. I believe it depends on our genetics. My family has kidney, spinal and cancer issues, while my husband’s has diabetes, but otherwise a long life span.

    • Avatar Janice Vilorio says:

      Hi Jennyct. Have you ever tried using a probiotic with digestive enzymes? That has absolutely transformed my health in the past year. I also know many people with GI issues and a probiotic specifically with digestive enzymes as well as an antifungal have helped tremendously. The enzymes help to break down the foods easier that many with GI issues struggle with, and the antifungal breaks down excess of Candida yeast.

  8. Avatar Jane R. Kloner says:

    Excellent advise…..I don’t crave sugary foods a lot but once I have 2 or three in a few days it tends to end up a binge if I am not careful…..addiction for sure.

  9. Avatar kelseafromnc says:

    I found eating a high amount of carbs helped immensley with the cravings, but only when I was consistent. Maybe because carbs turn into glucose and that’s what I was lacking?

    • Avatar LK says:

      This was true for me. Low carbing for many years led me to believe that I was a severe, uncontrollable sweet tooth. Now that I’ve added whole grains into my diet I can take or leave any dessert. It’s amazing.

  10. Avatar Williane Carr says:

    I can’t seem to get enough of sweets. Especially at night. I’ve get off this roller coater..

    • Avatar momof3 says:

      I did a sugar salt detox. The menu I used was so bland the first week, but not the second week. Not long after, I read that you get the most flavor from the first couple of bites. After that you need more and more to get the same flavor (from sugar/salt). It really makes sense since you do have those specific taste buds and it goes with my little experiment. 🙂 Day 3 was the hardest for me, but I hear 2 is for a lot of people. After that, anything I buy I make sure it does not have added sugar listed in the ingredients. It really helps.

  11. Avatar Tina Honkus says:

    If you are suffering fro magnesium deficiencies will this show up in your blood work? I recently had blood work done that includes checking for deficiencies and everything was fine but I was thinking maybe the magnesium is not part of the basic blood work testing.

    • Avatar Colleen Phillips says:

      That is correct – magnesium level testing is not part of the Basic or Comprehensive Metabolic Panel. But serum calcium, potassium, and sodium are, and usually a magnesium deficiency will cause other electrolytes to be out of balance as well. Symptoms of deficiency include muscle spasms and cramps, fatigue, high blood pressure, nausea and vomiting, as well as anxiety and depression. Dietary sources: nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, and green leafy vegetables.

  12. Avatar Kassandra says:

    People also crave an addiction, like smoking, when stressed or tired. Good article, however it doesn’t touch on the effects of sugar on dopamine levels in the brain (similar to effects from addictive substances). The magnesium aspect is interesting. When I want chocolate, don’t think dark leafy greens will satisfy that desire unless they’re dipped in chocolate lol!

  13. Avatar Ann Marie Keenan says:

    What’s ketones ?

  14. Avatar Linda Pitts says:

    For me I have noticed eating foods with high fuctose corn syrup makes me crave more. I realized it once when I bought some fudgsicles that were low in caleries but once I ate one I couldn’t stop and ended up eating the whole box in one evening. I looked at the ingredients on the box and high fuctose corn syrup was a primary ingredient. Since then I check the labels and try to avoid food with high fuctose corn syrup. I find it even in bread.

  15. Avatar Pat says:

    Also misses the largest reason for craving sugar: the body’s need for water is often confused with a craving for sweets! Have a large glass of water, wait 10 minutes, most of the time the craving is gone. If not, enjoy a piece of fruit or other non-packaged / natural sugar snack.

    • Avatar rosscoo says:

      I didn’t know that, Pat … thanks so much for sharing. I don’t drink enough water sometimes and I bet it contributes to my sugar cravings. I’ll start paying more attention now.

  16. Avatar Rie D. Kornum says:

    Magnesium to fight sugar- and chocolate cravings – Got it 🙂

    Then what about butter- and cream cravings?
    No seriously! Sometimes i just can’t stop myself. I cut off a slice of butter and eat it, or drink a mouthful of cream. Yum!

    But why?

  17. Avatar allanholtz says:

    I find that Pizza Ranch blueberry (dessert) pizza is the perfect food bomb. Even though my wife and I had just finished eating a huge meal at Golden corral (I do not usually eat any dessert there and it is usually the only meal I have that day when I eat there). I had eaten a couple pieces of prime rib (I trimmed all visible fat off), 5 butterfly shrimp that I first de-breaded, a little pulled pork, a boneless skinless chicken breast, a deck of cards sized piece of salmon, some scrambled egg, a heaped plate of an assortment of vegetables (corn, green beans, sweet potato, skin on potato, broccoli, cauliflower, turnip greens, cooked cabbage, baked beans, carrots, zucchini), lots of ketchup, a couple pieces of cantaloupe, honeydew, 6 strawberries and 2 hot green teas with the juice of 12 lemon slices. Then just after eating (I felt comfortably full) I bought a large blueberry pizza at the Pizza Ranch near the Golden Corral to bring home just prior to picking up my son from work in the evening. He would be eating leftovers at home. Soon after getting home I decided to have a slice of pizza to see how it tasted. It was cut into 16 slices. I soon ate a total of 4 slices and the way I felt I could have eaten it all! Even though there were lots of calories in those slices they did not make me feel ANY fuller! Such is the danger of a very sugary piece of bread.

    • Avatar Tankster says:

      I soooo know what you mean! One bite of white bread or sweet pastry is a no no for me. It goes down like air and does not satisfy. I finally quit even eating out as I didn’t enjoy it anymore anyway. It left me feeling sabotaged with too much fat, carbs and salt. So I got a calorie and macro counting app and I stick to the values each day it says. I weigh and measure my food and I no longer give into deserts. Take healthy snacks in a cooler in the car so if hubby pulls into a restaurant, I have my healthy preplanned snack to save me. Sometimes I sit and watch him eat and sometimes I stay in the car. I don’t go in tempting places. If I do order from a restaurant I eat only 3 oz meat and a bite of veggie and take it home and snack on it over three days. Even then it isnt as healthy as what I fix at home. Restaurants put three days of salt in one meal. So even snacking on restaurant stuff can be bad. Sugary things, white potatoes, and bread, trigger a compulsion in some people, even fruit. Scientists think it is a brain and insulin response. Some people are wired that way. It isn’t just lack of will power. So I’ve learned the hard way, the one bite isn’t worth it. You may have been sabotaged while still in Golden Corral. Catsup has high fructose. Your brain like an addict will start telling you that you need to go to that pizza place. Sounds nuts but I feel like I feel like that sometimes. I stay away from restaurants because I dont know what flavor enhancers, how much salt, high fructose is in something. Next thing I know I’m falling off the wagon. If I stick to my plan of home cooked healthy stuff I’m fine. I use a macro and calorie counting app. It keeps me in check. I substitute Pinterest hobbies for food interests. Saved me lots of money, too. After eating clean I can’t stand commercially made food, tastes fake which is a good thing. Yup, sugary bread is dangerous! Very dangerous!!! At least you noticed it didn’t satisfy. So remind yourself that every time you see some.

  18. Avatar Hank Aul says:

    eat me

  19. Avatar ivanmcc says:

    Great timing, I was just heading to the vending machine!

  20. Sugar craving looks like a normal issue but it might be dangerous to your health in near future. Your shared blog is really good that helps people reduce their sugar craving to live a healthy life. By following your blog tips one can easily go for healthier food choice instead of sugar coated foods.

  21. Avatar charles freeman says:

    Once a hardened alcoholic, I never expected that anything could lead me around by the nose like alcohol did, but sugar pulls really hard. It’s as if I buy and consume it in an out-of-body experience. My best intentions last no longer than the bakery at our local supermarket. I’ve managed to wean myself off of plain candy, but high carb and sugar breads and pastries own my ass, especially when I wake up during the night. I know what mid-night sugar crashes are all about, but I can’t seem to avoid them. HELP!

    • Avatar Maureen McGovern says:

      Help is here! I’m a nutritionist, and alcohol/sugar addiction is my favorite topic! Part of the reason I love it is because 1. It’s extremely common, and 2. Extremely easy to fix. It’s caused by an amino acid deficiency (l-serine), which is caused by pesticides and chemicals. There’s alot more info about this, and I share this on my FB page ‘New Paradigm Nutrition’. Interestingly, it tastes almost like sugar! L-serine isn’t available in stores, but is online. There are 4 other amino acids that get depleted from chems, and these should be taken too (but in lesser amounts). They are histadine, lysine, threonine, and tyrosine.

  22. Avatar Maureen McGovern says:

    Alcohol/sugar addiction is my favorite topic. Part of the reason I love it is because 1. It’s extremely common, and 2. Extremely easy to fix. It’s caused by an amino acid deficiency (l-serine), which is caused by pesticides and chemicals. There’s alot more info about this, and I share this on my FB page ‘New Paradigm Nutrition’. Interestingly, it tastes almost like sugar! L-serine isn’t available in stores, but is online. There are 4 other amino acids that get depleted from chems, and these should be taken too (but in lesser amounts). They are histadine, lysine, threonine, and tyrosine.

    Taking magnesium and a quality B complex are important co-factors.

  23. Avatar Lori says:

    I’m assuming this is a mistake. Ketones are a chemical produced by your body.

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