We live in a world of sugar. Everywhere we turn, something sweet is within our reach. When you go to the office, there are donuts or cookies up for grabs in the break room; when we go out to dinner with friends, someone always orders a dessert to share with the table. Even more than that, a lot of things you buy from the grocery store have hidden sugar in it without you knowing, even down to salad dressing and bread.
But if you're someone who has an insatiable sweet tooth, there might be a bigger reason than the fact that you eat sugar often. You very likely have a protein deficiency. Most women don't eat enough protein in their daily life, and it doesn't sound like the two would be connected, but they most certainly are, and I find that my clients who come to me with strong, persistent sugar cravings find a lot of relief when they increase their daily protein and meet their macro goals.
Why Does a Lack of Protein Lead to Sugar Cravings?
Protein plays an important role in your body. For one, protein helps to regulate your blood sugar levels. So when you aren't eating enough protein, your blood sugar levels are insufficient and that can trigger your body to feel like it needs a fix of something sweet. Additionally, eating enough protein is what makes you feel satiated; in other words, it keeps you feeling fuller for longer.
Protein helps to regulate your blood sugar levels.
Have you ever noticed that if you eat just a bagel for breakfast, you're hungry just an hour or two later? That's because bagels have hardly any protein at all and are carb-heavy, and without a proper serving of protein to make you feel full and satisfied, your stomach and brain will tell you that you need to eat once again later. The combination of imbalanced blood sugar levels and not feeling full enough makes it very easy for you to convince yourself that you need to eat something sweet after every meal.
Protein also plays other significant roles in the body, such as building lean muscle and repairing tissue, and when all the metabolic and physiological functions in the body are working properly, you're much more likely to eat well and reduce your cravings.
How Do You Know How Much Protein You Should Be Eating?
Chances are you're not eating enough protein every day. In fact, I can almost guarantee it. Most of my clients who come to me track their food for a week or two and find they're only eating about 60-80 grams of protein a day. In order to know how much protein to eat, take your weight (in pounds) and multiply it by 0.8. That's the number of grams of protein you need to eat each day. If you're someone who is overweight and you know you need to lose excess pounds, you have a couple options. You can either use the same formula as above, or you can take your goal weight and multiply that by 0.8.
In order to know how much protein to eat, take your weight (in pounds) and multiply it by 0.8.
There are other factors that can be calculated into your macros (the breakdown of protein, carbs, and fat), such as age, height, and activity level. So it can be really helpful to work with a coach so they can help you figure out how much protein you really need each day. But these general formulas are great places to start.
How Do I Eat That Much Protein in One Day?
Let's say that you realize you need to eat 110 (or more!) grams of protein a day. That can sound like a lot, especially if you're eating nowhere close to that right now. I've had so many women ask me in frustration, "How on earth am I supposed eat that much protein in one day?!"
Don't worry, it's possible. For starters, you have to start eating within 30-60 minutes of waking up in the morning. There's no way you can fit in all the necessary protein if you start eating at 11 a.m., which is what many women do due to busy schedules and family life. Aim to eat small meals throughout the day, and make sure every single meal and snack is protein-focused. For example, if you are hungry for a snack, instead of eating peanut butter toast, make a bowl of lowfat Greek yogurt with some berries. That's a protein-rich snack that will help you get up to 20 grams of protein in one sitting. Plus, the upside of eating first thing in the morning and having small meals throughout the day is that it balances your blood sugar and keeps your blood sugar levels stable—and that will certainly help reduce sugar cravings in the long run.
Meal prep a huge batch of protein on the weekend.
I highly recommend to my clients that they meal prep a huge batch of protein on the weekend. Use an Instant Pot or slow cooker to make a few pounds of shredded chicken, chuck roast, pot roast, etc. That way you'll have a few tupperware containers full of protein sitting in your fridge that make it easy to pack a quick lunch, eat an easy weeknight dinner, etc.
Of course it helps to simultaneously reduce how much sugar you're eating on a regular basis. The taste bud (and the brain) get accustomed to how much sugar you're eating, and if you reduce the amount of sugar in your diet while also upping your protein, you'll find that your body will get used to the new amount of sweets you're eating—and then you'll end up craving them less.