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3 Popular (Biological) Reasons to Crave Sugar

The following is an edited excerpt from Lisa Grace Byrne’s newly released book, Replenish: Experience Radiant Calm and True Vitality in Your Everyday Life: 3 Popular (Biological) Reasons to Crave Sugar

So here’s the thing—we all know that sugar isn’t good for our bodies. We know sugar makes us feel stressed, anxious, spacey, and gain weight.  We can have all the willpower in the world, and it won’t be enough to kick the sugar habit long-term.  That’s because there are biological reasons behind why our bodies crave sugar.

We all have our own unique craving fingerprint around why, when, and what foods we crave. Understanding what personally triggers you to crave highly processed, sugary food is an important first step toward dismantling the habit of having these foods as mainstays in your diet. When you can recognize your personal patterns, you can begin to pause before reaching for something sugary and consider different ways to fill the underlying need that’s present. While we know there are also many emotional reasons we reach for sugar, let’s begin exploring some biological reasons. Here are three common physiological reasons women tend to reach for sweet stuff.

1. It makes us feel good.

We crave sugar when we want our moods lifted. In our brains, chemicals called neurotransmitters correlate to our emotions and moods. Carbohydrate-rich foods increase the concentrations of certain neurotransmitters like serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine. Refined sugar is a fast-acting carbohydrate and initially increases the production of these chemicals in our brains. Serotonin brings on feelings of calm, happiness, well-being, and satisfaction. Low levels of serotonin are linked with depression and increased appetite. Endorphins are very powerful opiates that produce intensely pleasurable feelings. Chocolate is a food that directly increases the level of endorphins we produce.

The problem is that the sugar highs are rapidly followed by sugar lows … the surge in good feeling chemicals is followed by a drop-off, and our moods plummet. If you find you reach for sugar to lift your mood, consider bringing in more foods with complex carbohydrates like whole grains, beans, or vegetables.

2. We need more energy.

We crave sugar when we’re tired. Refined sugar is fast and furious energy, but it leads quickly to the spike/crash cycle.

When we binge on sugar, biochemically, we burn all that sugar quickly, leaving our bodies depleted to continue through the day. Our energy needs demand more fuel, so we reach for the next high-sugar meal—keeping us in this cycle of high sugar, a spike of energy, fast crash … until the spike of energy just doesn’t happen anymore, and we bottom out because our bodies simply can’t sustain us on empty nutrients all day long. If you need more energy, increase the protein and healthy fat in your meals–especially in your breakfast– and see if you feel a difference.

3. Our body is hungry for nutrients.

We crave sugar because our bodies assume all food comes with nutrients, but refined sugar is devoid of any nutrients. Our bodies need nutrients to complete the digestion process. In order for sugar to be processed, it must actually grab vitamins and minerals from your body’s stores to complete its digestion. So sugar robs us of nutrients every time we eat it. This leaves us with an unsatisfied feeling and a need to replace the drained nutrient reserve. We become hungry and crave more food.

If we eat overly processed, sugar-rich foods throughout the day, this hunger/nutrient-starved cycle continues, and we never feel satisfied. If you’re starving your body with a diet devoid of nutrients, make the shift into a whole-foods diet, by bringing in calming and building foods.

So to sum things up, start with biology for a bit as you explore your sugar-craving fingerprint. When you recognize an underlying reason you’re reaching for sugar, that’s when you can begin to replace a calming food for your typical standby sweet.

When do you find yourself craving sugar?

Lisa Grace Byrne is a mother to three and founder of, an exceptional online community where she equips busy moms to live vibrant lives.  She is also a speaker, coach, and teacher with a degree from Cal Poly State University in Biochemistry with an emphasis on Nutrition and Metabolism. She holds a Masters in Public Health from Boston University and is a Certified Holistic Health Counselor through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Columbia University.