So many people crave sugar when they quit drinking alcohol. Why is this? And, what can we do so one addiction does not turn into another?
When you decide to stop drinking you may get sugar cravings, possibly for the first time.
This is because alcohol has a high sugar content, whether that be wine, beer or spirits; especially with a mixer. You were consuming so much ‘hidden’ sugar through alcohol that it stands to reason that when you quit drinking, and your body is no longer getting sugar through alcohol, you may start to get sugar cravings.
Did you know that sugar cravings and alcohol cravings follow the same neural pathway in your brain? This is why you will often find that people who drink alcohol don’t normally have a sweet tooth and people who get sugar cravings tend not to be heavy drinkers.
When I first gave up alcohol, I used to treat myself with a slice of cake or chocolate biscuit. It was a good way, for me, to handle my alcohol cravings in the early weeks and months. However, I did not want to become reliant on sugary treats forever and I certainly didn’t want to develop a sugar addiction.
Why Do You Crave Sugar in Sobriety
When you drink alcohol, the sugar goes into your blood stream and gives you high blood sugar levels. Your body reacts to this by processing the sugar out of your blood stream. If your body didn’t do this and left the sugar to circulate, you could develop diabetes.
The action of removing the sugar out of your blood stream leaves you with low blood sugar. This will often make you feel down, with little energy and you will crave more sugary foods or sugary drinks as a result, including alcohol.
When you give up alcohol your body is still on this up/down rollercoaster of high/low blood sugar levels. It can take some time for your body to regulate it. But there are things you can do to help regulate your blood sugar, reduce your sugar cravings and lift your mood.
If you are getting sugar cravings; and I lump alcohol cravings in with this, then you need to eat! One of the best ways to get off the high/low blood sugar roller-coaster is to eat protein.
You can find protein in such foods as:-
- Tuna fish
Any protein will help. So, when a craving hits, you need to eat some protein. Then in 3 hours’ time eat some more protein. Keep eating small amounts of protein at 3-hour intervals for the remainder of the day.
Eating protein works because it holds your blood sugar at a stable level for about 3 – 4 hours.
If you are newly sober, eating protein at 3 hourly intervals will help you to manage your sugar cravings and eventually get off the high/low blood sugar rollercoaster.
You don’t have to do this forever or be too strict.
If you eat something sugary you will only spike your blood sugar levels and start the whole high/low blood sugar process all over again.
The quickest way to physically stop your sugar cravings is to balance your blood sugar levels and you do this by eating protein.
Regularly drinking alcohol strips the body of certain nutrients especially magnesium. Magnesium is a mineral which your body needs to stay healthy. Magnesium is responsible for, among other things, regulating muscle and nerve function, blood pressure and blood sugar levels
Having low levels of magnesium in your blood can impair your insulins ability to keep your blood sugar levels under control.
If you have recently stopped drinking alcohol or you consume excess sugar you may well be deficient in magnesium.
A side effect of low levels of magnesium in your body is craving sugar. Your body doesn’t really want sugar it just wants magnesium but your body reacts by craving sugar.
Eating foods rich in magnesium or taking magnesium supplements in the form of multi minerals from the supermarket or chemist can help regulate your blood sugar and stop you craving sweet things.
The following foods are good sources of magnesium:-
- Pumpkin seeds
- Dark Chocolate
- Black beans
I have talked about how eating protein keeps your blood sugar at stable level and how eating foods rich in magnesium or taking magnesium supplements can reduce your sugar cravings.
Now, I want to mention the effect drinking alcohol has on your brain chemistry. Specifically, two neurotransmitters, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and Serotonin and how they can cause you to eat sugar.
Stopping drinking may leave you with low levels of GABA and Serotonin. This is because even though alcohol may temporarily mimic the feeling we get from GABA and Serotonin it ultimately depletes our stores over time.
Low levels of GABA will make you feel anxious.
Low levels of Serotonin will make you feel depressed.
When you don’t feel so great mentally it is easy to turn to comfort food. When you eat emotionally you will seek out food high in fat or sugar. Comfort eating for me is eating cake, chocolate and biscuits.
Happy news though, there is a way to increase your levels of GABA and Serotonin naturally.
To increase your levels of GABA and Serotonin you need to support the good bacteria in your gut. Yes, your gut. This is because there is a connection between your gut and your brain.
There are millions of microbes that live in your gut and some of these gut microbes actually help produce your Serotonin and GABA neurotransmitters.
So, to lift your mood and help steer you away from comfort eating and sugar cravings, try taking a good probiotic.
Incorporating a good probiotic into your diet in the early few weeks, will get your GABA and Serotonin levels up. And when your GABA and Serotonin levels are up, your mood will be lifted and you may not want to eat sugary foods so much.
Try introducing a probiotic yoghurt or yoghurt drink into your diet or taking probiotic supplements as this will promote good gut bacteria.
Fermented foods such as Sauerkraut, Miso or Kimchi as well as drinking Kombucha, which is a fermented tea, will help also.
Eating protein regularly, increasing your magnesium levels and eating probiotics are all tangible things you can do to overcome your sugar cravings and lift your mood naturally when you first stop drinking.
Remember, sugar cravings and alcohol cravings follow the same neural pathways in your brain. A sugar craving is just a symptom of an alcohol craving.
If you can help tackle your sugar cravings and boost your mood naturally you are helping to reduce your alcohol cravings too.
Photo by Deva Williamson on Unsplash