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I hear a very common complaint from clients: “I get so tired at 3pm.” or “I have terrible sugar cravings, especially after I eat or in the afternoon and evening time.” Is this you? Read on.

Sugar cravings occur for a number of reasons. Could be hormonal. Most commonly, it means you haven’t properly managed your blood sugar levels, meaning that you either waited too long to eat and experienced a sharp dip in blood sugar (hypoglycemia), or you ate a lot of sugar or drank a lot of coffee, which spiked your blood sugar (hyperglycemia), and now it’s plummeted again, leaving you craving more sugar as your body tries to establish homeostatis (balance).

Let me explain. Your brain and body need glucose to survive. When your body perceives that blood sugar is getting too low, it sends you a signal that it needs fuel. You get hungry. When you eat sugar, in the form of white sugar, white flour (breaks down as sugar), alcohol, sodas, candy, cookies, pastries, etc, your body uses a hormone called insulin to transport the glucose to your cells for usage. When you eat too much sugar, too much insulin ushers too much glucose into cells, leaving not enough in your blood. This means your blood sugar has dropped too low, so you crave sugar again to bring the level back up.

Stay on this roller coaster too long, and not only are you feeling crabby and tired and craving sugar throughout the day, you are also setting yourself up for insulin resistance, meaning your cells don’t want anymore of the glucose your insulin is trying to give. This sets you up for diabetes, or chronic hyperglycemia.

Enough with the physiology. Let’s say you start your morning with coffee and a pastry, or coffee and nothing at all. You probably feel pretty good until you crash, then you’re starving, jittery, anxious, moody, irritable. You eat, probably too much because you’re starving and miscalculated your hunger needs, and probably feel tired as all your energy is diverted into digestion. Or, you eat more sugar and put yourself back on the roller coaster. Or you get a wicked sugar craving later in the afternoon or evening.

Do you wake up in the middle of the night? This may be nocturnal hypoglycemia. If you’ve had alcohol that evening or haven’t properly managed your blood sugar during the day, your blood sugar drops too low at night, and you’ll be rudely wakened as your brain tells your body it needs fuel.

Mismanaging your blood sugar drives your stress hormone, cortisol, up. High cortisol=weight gain, inflammation, anxiety, and can lead to female hormone problems as well. Cortisol levels that fluctuate during the day = periods of fatigue (especially at the dreaded 3pm slump) and trouble falling or staying asleep.

Step One: eat every 3 hours, beginning within an hour of waking, to set yourself up properly for the day. Reconsider so much coffee, which jacks your blood sugar, and if you must, drink it with protein. Muffins aren’t protein, but a couple hard-boiled eggs will suffice. Ideally, your breakfast will have some good fats, good protein, good carbs (smoothie is so perfect here, with flaxseeds, whey protein, supergreens). Make sure you are getting protein with every meal and that you don’t booze on an empty stomach (leads to blood sugar spike and crash, meaning bigger appetite and you’ll eat more ’cause you’re buzzed. Then you’ll wake up around 3am, unhappy). Eating regularly means stable blood sugar. Know that sugar cravings can also indicate you’re not getting enough protein. Snack on almonds or fruit and walnuts if you tend toward hypoglycemia during the day.

Are you eating a lot of refined sugar and want to break the habit? Go on a sugar detox. Quit cold turkey. It will be unpleasant for about 3 days, but it will get easier. Plan a month with no sugar. Take a multi-mineral and extra magnesium to help, and take extra chromium to help with the cravings. A supplement with 5HTP or 500mg glutamine on an empty stomach helps break the cravings, too. Not to beat a dead horse here, but coffee exacerbates sugar cravings, so try some green tea for a while. Make sugar free treats (see below recipe) with stevia or agave nectar. Use this as an opportunity to get more leafy greens and root vegetables to replenish the minerals that sugar depletes. Know also that eating sugar triggers the craving for more sugar (this is why you can’t stop with a couple M&Ms), so just don’t go there for this month. When you try some sugar on day 31, I bet you find it too sweet. We are inundated with corn syrupy overly sweet junk foods in our society and are desensitized to sweet. A couple bites will do. I bet at the end of the month, you have more energy and when you try sugar again, it makes you feel crappy.

Chew thoroughly and eat slowly. Cravings for sweets after you eat indicate you are eating too quickly and that food is not being assimilated properly. Chew so that food can be mixed with digestive enzymes and fully broken down.

According to a Chinese proverb, “Sour, sweet, bitter, pungent, all must be tasted.” Know that sweet is one of the five tastes and shouldn’t be eliminated altogether. Substitute fruit and non-refined sugar sweets to satisfy your palate.

Sugar Free Cookies
1/3 c almond butter
2 Tbs butter or coconut oil
1.5 or 2 large pink lady apples
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
¾ c carob powder or 1/2 cup cocoa powder
¼ tsp sea salt
1 ¼ c brown rice flour or other gluten free flour
about 30 whole almonds (optional)
½ – 1 c carob chips (optional)
¼ c agave nectar or pinch green stevia (optional)

Grease cookie sheets and preheat oven to 350. Chop apples into small chunks and put in blender. Add almond butter, butter (or oil) and eggs. Puree. Can add a bit of water to make more of a puree. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, carob/cocoa powder and salt. Mix well and add carob chips. Add puree to dry mix and stir just until well blended. Add optional sweetener if desired (stevia or agave). Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto cookie sheet. If desired, press almond onto top of each cookie. Bake for 10 min or so – don’t overbake. Yum!

Calories: 70
Protein: 2g
Carb: 8.5
Total Fat: 3.5g
Fiber: 1.6g