Are you completely fed up with the intense sugar cravings you experience with PCOS? Then, this post is for you!
You may feel like your body is working against you or if you just had more willpower or self control around sweets you’d be able to finally avoid sweets for good.
That definitely isn’t the case and you can 100% learn how to reduce these cravings and manage them without having to lose out on the pleasure of enjoying sweets when the occasion calls for it!
In this post, I’m sharing why you may experience sugar cravings with PCOS and my top 6 tips for reducing them without having to cut them out completely!
The Link Between PCOS and Sugar Cravings
It’s no secret that the intense, urgent and almost uncontrollable urge to eat sweets and carbs with PCOS can be incredibly frustrating. However, there is a root cause behind the cravings and it’s important to address it so you can reduce these cravings and become more mindful around sugar. The most common reasons I see, as a Registered Dietitian, for PCOS sugar cravings are insulin resistance, restrictive dieting and coping with stress and emotions by turning towards sweets.
The Role of Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistance affects about 80% of people with PCOS and can be the main culprit of your sugar cravings. This means that your body is unable to respond to insulin as well as it should. Insulin is released by the pancreas and it’s job is to take the glucose (after your meal) and store it in your cells as glycogen for energy later on.
However, when you are resistant, it takes insulin longer to do it’s job. This means insulin is in your blood stream for longer and your body secretes more insulin during this time. For a more in depth explanation check out this blog post about insulin resistant PCOS.
How does this impact cravings?
First, insulin is a growth hormone and an appetite stimulant. You’ll notice this when you feel hungry again very soon after your meal. However, the sugar cravings come into play when insulin finally opens the cell doors and all the glucose is taken inside.
Now you are left with no glucose, otherwise known as your energy! You’ll notice this when you have a extreme energy crash out of nowhere. However, your body also quickly realizes there’s no energy and signals it needs more by sending intense sugar cravings. Why? Because sugar is the quickest source of energy.
The Problem With Restrictive Diets
Another reason why you might have cravings for sugar or carbs is because you are following a restrictive diet, like low carb, intermittent fasting, calorie/macro tracking or trying to avoid sugar completely.
This is pretty common because most doctors will recommend these types of diets to their patients. However, research shows that restrictive diets lead to food preoccupation/obsessive food thoughts and uncontrollable eating patterns, like binge eating.
By cutting out entire food groups you’re more likely to get trapped in the restrict-binge cycle. This looks like following a strict diet, seeing little or no improvements, feeling defeated and saying screw it and binge eating on all the foods that were “off-limits” while on the diet.
It’s an incredibly vicious cycle that can worsen insulin resistance because you’re going from eating no carbs to lots of carbs. This causes blood sugar spikes that can worsen insulin resistance, cause hypoglycemic episodes and symptoms associated, like sugar cravings.
Stress and Emotional Eating Spirals
It’s pretty common to struggle with eating emotionally. One, because we’ve been conditioned to turn towards food to cope with emotions our entire lives. Two, because there are a lot of emotional factors that come along with having PCOS.
However, stress and other emotions can play a role in sugar cravings in three ways. First, when we are unable to manage stress, it can cause an imbalance in our adrenal hormones – like cortisol. The role of cortisol in the body is to create a “fight or flight” response. When our body senses stress, whether big or small, it releases cortisol. When cortisol is released, it signals our cells to dump glucose back into the blood stream for energy. This is because it believes we need all that energy to either fight or run from the stress. You know by now how that would impact cravings for sugar.
The second way is that carbs and sugar signal our body to release serotonin. When our body’s feel distressed in any type of way, it is a biological response to want a serotonin boost. The quickest way to get this boost is through sugar and carbs.
The last way, is that when we are feeling stress or emotional, we are unable to be mindful of our food choices. This can lead to overeating or binge eating. It can also cause us to reach for foods as a reward or punishment for having a stressful day. Usually those foods include sweets or other “off-limits” foods.
7 Tips to Reduce PCOS Sugar Cravings
Tip 1: Ditch restrictive diets
Restrictive diets can lead to hypoglycemia symptoms, intense sugar cravings and binge eating episodes that can create a vicious restrict-binge cycle. Diets aren’t necessary for managing PCOS or reducing sugar cravings because a lot of the cravings stem as a biological response to deprivation. It is possible to eat all foods and improve symptoms with PCOS by focusing on addition and balance. I help my clients do this in my nutrition coaching program.
Tip 2: Eat Consistently (every 3-4 hours)
In general, our bodies true physiological hunger occurs every 3 to 4 hours. However, with PCOS the importance of eating consistently throughout the day is crucial. Remember how I talked about hypoglycemia? The symptoms can look like extreme fatigue or energy crashes, intense sugar cravings, dizziness and shakiness. If you notice these symptoms, it’s likely you need a snack!
Tip 3: Choose whole grain carbs
Whole grain carbs are packed full of fiber that can provide satiety at meals, which prevents feeling hungry soon after eating. They also help to balance blood sugars to reduce the impact of insulin resistance and the sugar cravings that come with it.
You can see if a food product is whole grain by checking the ingredients list on the back. If the first ingredient says “whole grain” or “whole wheat”, then the food is considered a whole grain.
Tip 4: Pair carbs with protein, fat and fiber
By pairing your carbohydrates with protein, fat and fiber, you slow down the digestion and absorption of food into glucose. This gives insulin more time to do it’s job and prevents the signal to your pancreas to produce more insulin.
Some of my favorite snack examples include: popcorn with cheese, a banana with peanut butter, yogurt with fruit and nuts and chocolate with almonds.
Tip 5: Get in some movement
Moving your body regularly allows your insulin receptors to open automatically without the need for insulin production. It also increases muscle mass, which clears 80% of glucose from your bloodstream. This means that your pancreas won’t have to produce excess insulin and you won’t experience the energy crashes and sugar cravings that come with the insulin resistance cycle.
Some easy ways to add more movement in your life include: turning up the music while you clean and dancing, taking the stairs at work, doing some gentle stretching or yoga when you wake up or before bed and taking a walk with your friend or partner or dog.
Tip 6: Reduce stress
Unmanaged stress can increase cortisol production, which can dump sugar back into your bloodstream and cause sugar cravings. It also creates emotional eating spirals that usually create more stress, guilt and shame.
My favorite ways to reduce and manage stress include: setting boundaries with work/life balance, reading a book, taking a bubble bath, meditating, practicing yoga and journaling it out!
Tip 7: Take an insulin sensitizer
There are also medications and supplements that you can take that help your insulin receptors become more sensitive to insulin. One of my favorite recommendations is Inositol. This pseudovitamin can be found in foods like fruit, buckwheat and beans, however it can also be supplemented.
Disclaimer: please speak with your doctor before adding any new supplements.
Here’s the tea!
Dieting or avoiding carbs and sugar altogether may feel like the best bet for gaining more self control around cravings. However, sugar cravings are a biological response to imbalance or deprivation in the body. You can still reduce sugar or carb cravings with PCOS by focusing on health-promoting behaviors. These include eating balanced meals, adding in more joyful movement and creating a tool box for coping with stress and other emotions instead of turning towards sweets.
Need more guidance?
Check out my nutrition coaching program where I can teach you my step by step proven framework that has helped tons of people with PCOS reduce sugar cravings, create a positive relationship with food and body and incorporate healthful habits to support their PCOS!