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The question

Why do I crave a sugary treat after dinner - even when I'm completely full? What can I do to curb this?

The answer

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Food cravings are more common that you might think. Studies show that 52 to 97 percent of people report food cravings, women more often than men.

Some people think that food cravings arise in an attempt to feed your body a nutrient it lacks. Others say food cravings are a way to increase levels of "feel good" brain chemicals such as serotonin and endorphins.

Sweet cravings can also be your body's response to a low blood sugar and hunger; it's your body's way of telling you it needs fuel. This clearly isn't the reason in your case since you crave sweets after eating a full meal.

The fact that you want sweets may have to do with what you're accustomed to eating or what's readily available. In other words, eating sweets after dinner become a habit. It's only natural to think about sugary foods after dinner. And once the thought enters your head, it's hard to resist reaching for something sweet.

But it's also possible that your sweet craving is a response to boredom, stress, depression, or anxiety. Only you can answer that.

I do have a few suggestions that may help you curb these cravings. These strategies have worked for many of my private practice clients.

  • Firstly, eat every three to four hours during the day to prevent your blood sugar from dropping too low. Low blood sugar can trigger hunger and cravings. Not eating enough food early in the day (e.g. skipping breakfast, skimping on lunch) can make you crave foods in the evening, even if you've eaten a big dinner. Too little food eaten in the day can cause appetite-related hormones to be released later in the day.
  • If you consume alcohol, cut it out to see if your cravings go away or become less intense. Alcoholic beverages can trigger or intensify a food craving by lowering blood sugar and disrupting levels of brain chemicals.
  • Also understand that cravings pass. Remove yourself from the situation for 30 minutes to see if the crave subsides. If your craving persists, aim for moderation. Try satisfying your food craving with a spoonful or two of ice cream, rather than a whole bowlful. And choose healthier versions of what you crave. Try frozen yogurt instead of ice cream, hot chocolate instead of a chocolate bar, or ginger snaps instead of cookies.

Send dietitian Leslie Beck your questions at dietitian@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

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Read more Q&As from Leslie Beck.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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