Are you having a hard time focusing on your work because all you can think about are warm chocolate chip cookies, bowls of buttered noodles or sourdough bread? And then, the shame and frustration bubbles over because you don’t feel in control? This article is for you!
There are often many misconceptions around sugar cravings, especially when it comes to PCOS sugar cravings.
Many women feel shame and judgment around their cravings, often feeling like if they just had enough willpower, they could eat better.
As a registered dietitian specializing in women’s health, I want you to know your cravings aren’t your fault. There’s a reason why your body is craving sugar!
In this blog, I will walk you through why women with PCOS get sugar cravings and how you can stop PCOS cravings in their tracks.
The Root Cause of PCOS Cravings: Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistant PCOS is one of the 4 types of PCOS. Insulin resistance is the main culprit for your incessant PCOS sugar cravings. You can learn more about the types of PCOS HERE.
So, what is Insulin?
Insulin is a hormone naturally produced in your body to help regulate your blood sugar levels. This teamwork between insulin and your blood sugar controls how much energy you have.
After you eat, insulin is released from the pancreas. Insulin knocks on the door of each of your cells to tell them, “hey, there’s extra sugar in the blood, please take some in.” If everything is working as it should, cells open their doors and take in extra sugar from the blood.
Cells depend on insulin to know when to take sugar out of the blood.
But…what if things aren’t going as they should be? Enter: insulin resistance.
What is Insulin Resistance?
Insulin resistance happens when the sound of insulin’s knock gets dimmed and cells cannot hear it clearly anymore. If our cells cannot hear the knock then they cannot open the door to take sugar in.
This leaves too much sugar in the blood, and not enough can get in your cells. This can make your cells feel like they are starving, so they send signals for you to eat more, and specifically more sugar.
That’s because sugar is the main source of energy, and it can be quick energy too. If your cells feel like they’re starving, they will send signals to get the nutrient that will give them the quickest energy.
And thus, enter your PCOS sugar cravings!
It’s not your fault that you keep wanting sugar, it’s the insulin resistance!
How To Stop PCOS Cravings
How you eat on a regular basis can impact your cravings in a big way…for better or worse.
Luckily, there are simple changes you can start implementing today to reduce your PCOS sugar cravings.
#1 – Avoid extreme diets
Sticking to a restrictive diet, day in and day out, can be mentally draining…it requires a lot of willpower.
Relying on willpower to manage your cravings doesn’t work, because it’s not sustainable. And it’s not necessary either!
Ditch the diets and learn how to eat regular, well-balanced meals to stop your PCOS cravings. I work on how to do just that with all of my PCOS clients. Consider connecting with a dietitian who can create a plan that is tailored to your specific nutritional and lifestyle.
# 2 – Eat well-balanced, regular meals throughout the day.
This is one of the key ways to help balance your blood sugar and reduce insulin resistance.
When you go long hours without eating, like you might during intermittent fasting, you rely on stress hormones to balance your blood sugar. This can cause insulin resistance and make your sugar cravings worse (1).
Not eating regular meals can also:
- Cause wide fluctuations in blood sugar levels throughout the day
- Make it harder to avoid overeating late at night, which is not the best time to eat most of your food. Research shows we are more insulin resistant at night (2).
A well balanced meal includes carbohydrates, fiber, healthy fats, and protein. This type of meal will not only help to regulate your blood sugars but will keep you full for longer. For example, a balanced breakfast could look like: a 2-egg omelet with ½ cup mushrooms and spinach, 1 piece of whole wheat toast, ½ cup of Greek yogurt for extra protein with some ½ an apple and drizzle of honey.
# 3 – Proper hydration can help reduce cravings
I recommend that you stay hydrated by focusing on drinking tea, milk and water. Avoid drinks high in sugars, such as soda, most juices, energy drinks, gatorade, etc. to prevent insulin spikes.
# 4 – Avoid an “all or nothing” mentality around sugary foods
Yes, PCOS sugar cravings are caused by insulin resistance, which can make it hard to trust your body’s signals around food.
However, if you are constantly telling yourself you can’t have dessert or foods that have sugar in them, you will find it hard not to binge on these foods when you do have access to them (5).
The key is about balance. Try incorporating a small portion of dessert with a well balanced and nutritious snack or meal.
This will reduce its impact on your blood sugar, and you get to enjoy dessert too!
It’s a win-win.
Specific Foods That Can Help With PCOS Cravings
So far, we’ve talked about some habits to help with PCOS cravings, but what about specific foods? How can they help? Keep reading to learn more.
1 – Whole grains
Quinoa, rice, oats, whole wheat breads or pasta take longer to break down in the body, allowing for a slower release of sugars into the body.
Whole grains also contain fiber, allowing you to stay more full for longer, lowering cravings.
While whole grains can help balance your meals to reduce PCOS cravings, it’s also important to keep whole grain portions small.
That’s because whole grains are broken down into glucose, which needs insulin to get into cells. Large portions of grains, whether whole or not, can increase need for insulin and thus, worsen insulin resistance.
2 – Non-starchy Vegetables
Non-starchy vegetables are lower in carbohydrates, which means less insulin is needed to process these vegetables. Thus, improving insulin resistance and lowering PCOS sugar cravings.
Non-starchy vegetables include asparagus, broccoli, green beans, beets, squashes, turnips, carrots, cucumber, okra, mushrooms, peppers, lettuce, and more. (starchy veggies include beans, peas, corn and potatoes).
3 – Fruit
This may surprise you, but fruit can be a great way to help stop PCOS cravings. Fruit has a lower glycemic index than many other sources of carbs, including whole grain carbs. Packed with fiber, antioxidants, and nutrients, fruit is a great choice to help with PCOS cravings.
Some fruits have a lower impact on blood sugar than others. These fruits include melons, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, apples, oranges, pears, peaches, etc.
3 – Protein
Protein can help reduce insulin resistance in several ways:
- Building muscle, which fires up your metabolism and helps your body process carbs better.
- Makes you feel full, which reduces cravings and the urge to keep eating.
- Lowers the chances of a post-meal blood sugar spike by slowing down how fast your food is digested and absorbed
I recommend at least 80 grams of protein each day for women with PCOS, mainly from animal proteins such as dairy, eggs, seafood, lamb, goat, beef, or chicken and small amounts of plant-based foods like nuts, seeds, nut butters, lentils, and beans.
PCOS cravings can be difficult to navigate, but understanding the cause can help you better manage them without judgment or feelings of shame. The root cause of PCOS cravings is insulin resistance. Insulin resistance happens when your cells can’t hear signals to take up sugar from the blood clearly anymore. Some tips to help you overcome PCOS cravings include ditching fad diets, avoiding restriction, eating balanced meals, and adding in more whole grains, non-starchy vegetables, fruit, and protein to your diet.
I’ll bet that you’re ready for relief from your PCOS symptoms. I can help you to bid farewell to your acne and fatigue and give you tools to better manage your powerful cravings for sweets. Click here to learn more about the PCOS nutrition program that can offer you lasting relief. And if you’re ready to chat, book your free consultation right here.