If you daydream about dessert or yearn for something sweet after every meal, you’re not alone. Lots of people struggle with a sweet tooth, and some early evidence suggests that certain types of cancer may increase sugar cravings. However, sugar intake alone doesn’t cause cancer, and cutting it out of your diet doesn’t cure lymphoma.
Nonetheless, members of MyLymphomaTeam have shared their attempts to reduce their sugar intake. “I try very hard to avoid sugar. I also have type 2 diabetes. I found that cinnamon tea helps,” said one member. While eating too much sugar isn’t good for anyone, sometimes with cancer, it’s more important to focus on the foods you can have rather than those you think you can’t.
Let’s explore how to keep sugar cravings under control and focus on the bigger picture of your health and quality of life while living with lymphoma.
It’s essential to get enough nutrition when you have cancer, especially during treatment. Therefore, following restrictive dietary practices, like trying to eliminate sugar, may do more harm than good. Most people benefit from substituting added sugar with more nutritious choices. Positive changes include replacing sugary sodas and refined carbohydrates with more nutrient-dense options, such as natural sugar from fresh fruit. But if changing your diet becomes too stressful or promotes rapid weight loss, you’re best off sticking to foods you can tolerate until side effects like nausea and dry mouth subside.
Getting enough nutrients and calories can help reduce your risk of infection, increase your tolerance to chemotherapy, and help you maintain the strength and energy to get through the day. Unless your health care provider is specifically concerned about your sugar intake, it may not be the most important thing to focus on right now.
Lymphoma can lead to sleep disruptions stemming from issues like night sweats, anxiety, pain, and medication side effects. One MyLymphomaTeam member shared, “I take melatonin gummies and dark tart cherry juice before bedtime. Since I’m on a high dose of prednisone, I barely get five hours of sleep. I also drink chamomile and linden tea to help me relax.”
Some members even report continued sleep problems years after lymphoma treatment. “I have had lymphoma for three years now, and I’m in remission, but I cannot sleep. I get very tired,” one member said.
Research has consistently confirmed that poor sleep can set your brain up for hunger and sugar cravings. These effects are related to hormone shifts that happen when you’re sleep-deprived. For example, the stress hormone cortisol and the “hunger hormone” ghrelin become elevated with a lack of sleep. In addition, leptin, the hormone that signals your brain that you’re full, is suppressed when you don’t get enough sleep. This combination of factors makes it that much harder to keep sugar cravings from taking over.
You’ll need to bring up sleep changes with your health care provider because they can affect more than just your energy levels. If you don’t get enough sleep, you may be at higher risk for metabolic problems and unhealthy weight gain. It can be harder to make healthy lifestyle choices about food and exercise when you’re not well-rested. Although sleep troubles are a common problem, your oncology provider may be able to help by adjusting the timing or dose of your medications, suggesting sleep aids, or providing tips for better sleep.
It’s easy to overeat sugary treats when you’re not paying attention. But being more mindful by taking a quiet moment to savor your sweets can help satisfy cravings with a much smaller portion. After all, eating a bite or two of chocolate doesn’t have the same impact on your body as eating three king-size candy bars. However, some research suggests that consuming a small amount of the food you’re craving can be enough to stop your brain from begging for more.
When eating for pleasure, try having one bite and waiting 15 minutes. You may be surprised to find that the craving goes away with time. This little taste can allow you to redirect your focus toward a nourishing experience, a productive task, or an enjoyable activity. You can also opt for healthier versions of the foods you crave. Nutritious options to satisfy a hankering for sweets may include dark chocolate-covered almonds, frozen cherries, or a couple of naturally sweet dates. Just make sure to take your time and pay attention when you’re eating the foods you crave, so your brain has a chance to register that the craving has been fulfilled.
Sugar can be addictive, especially if you’re struggling with negative emotions like depression or anxiety. People often crave sugar because they’re looking for a temporary boost, and sugar can be an effective way to get it. If you’ve developed a habit of turning to sugar when life gets tough, this coping mechanism can be difficult to change. Some people even experience withdrawal symptoms when trying to ditch a sugar habit. Meeting with a qualified mental health professional can help you work through a sugar addiction and get the support and resources to develop healthier strategies for managing stress.
Research has found that some women with ovarian cancer experience fewer sugar cravings after following a ketogenic diet for 12 weeks. Ketogenic or “keto” diets are high in fat, moderate in protein, and very low in carbohydrates. Although this low-carb eating style may be beneficial for some, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to approach it. In addition, people taking medication (especially for diabetes) may not be able to switch to a ketogenic diet safely without medical supervision. Meeting with a registered dietitian nutritionist who can assess your health and situation can help you make positive changes to address your sugar cravings.
Ongoing research is exploring the links between lymphoma and sugar cravings. Sugar consumption alone doesn’t cause lymphoma, and not eating it won’t serve as a cure. However, understanding how diet and lifestyle choices can influence our overall health remains crucial. Managing sugar intake, along with adopting a well-rounded approach to nutrition and wellness, can contribute to a healthier lifestyle. It’s always a good idea to check with health care professionals for personalized guidance and recommendations to support your overall well-being.
MyLymphomaTeam is the social network for people with lymphoma and their loved ones. On MyLymphomaTeam, more than 15,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with lymphoma.
Do you try to eat less sugar as part of a healthy diet? Did you experience food cravings for sugary foods during or after lymphoma treatment? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.