Living with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the most common type of lupus, can take a toll on your body. MyLupusTeam members have discussed symptoms such as food cravings and dietary changes that developed following their diagnosis of this chronic autoimmune disease. One member wrote, “I crave sugar, sugar, and more sugar! My body is begging for energy!”
What might be causing your lupus sugar cravings — the disease itself, the medications, or something else? And what can you do when you are experiencing a craving? In this article, we’ll explore these and other common questions.
A loss of appetite is a common symptom of SLE, often experienced by MyLupusTeam members during a flare-up. “When I have a flare, I don’t want anything. I usually am so exhausted and in pain I can barely eat,” one member wrote.
Not eating much throughout the day can leave you energy depleted and in need of a quick pick-me-up. Simple carbohydrates, the kind found in desserts or listed in high amounts of “added sugars” on food labels, are easy to digest and can give you a quick — but temporary — energy boost. This energy is quickly used up and spikes your insulin levels, lowering your blood sugar even more and leaving you hungry again within a few hours.
The desire for a quick burst of energy may be why so many MyLupusTeam members have noticed that their cravings line up with their lupus flares: “I’m having a bad flare-up with joint pain, and these last couple days all I want are sweets!” Research has yet to explore why people with lupus experience specific food cravings, including an interest in consuming sugar.
One MyLupusTeam member said, “I used to crave sugary cakes, cookies, anything super sweet. I found out my cravings were due to one of my medications. I was distraught, actually, and asked my meds to be switched for that reason!”
Many medications can cause an increase in appetite. Certain mood-stabilizing drugs and antipsychotic medications, for example, are commonly known to increase eating and body weight. Most notably for people living with lupus, corticosteroids can affect your metabolism and increase your appetite, leading to weight gain and changes in fat deposits in your body.
Some MyLupusTeam members have shared that their corticosteroid treatment caused intense cravings. “When they put me on high doses of prednisone for a flare, I got really hungry and had cravings for certain foods,” one wrote.
Another member agreed: “When I’m on steroids, then I will eat until I pop.”
If you’ve experienced these side effects while on steroids, you’re not alone. It’s especially important during these times to eat filling, nutritious foods when you’re hungry and maintain an active lifestyle, as much as your condition allows. Speak with your doctor if your appetite, cravings, or weight changes are harming your quality of life. You and your medical team can work together to find a lupus treatment plan that works best for you.
Researchers have suggested many reasons for sugar cravings. From a psychological standpoint, some believe that sugar cravings may help quell depressive or anxious feelings by producing serotonin, a chemical that regulates mood. Many people with lupus and other chronic diseases are also living with depression. If you feel that your appetite changes are linked to mental health concerns, speak to your primary care provider or rheumatologist to get linked with counseling, psychiatric services, or medical therapies that can help improve your mental well-being.
The first step to managing a craving is to look for its root cause. That may take a trip to your rheumatologist, a registered dietitian, or a mental health counselor to begin to unpack the reason you’re experiencing an unbearable sweet tooth or other craving.
Try to satisfy a sweet tooth with healthy options. “Fresh fruit: pineapple, strawberries, bananas, grapes, and watermelon,” one member said. Additionally, opting for fiber, whole grains, and other forms of complex carbohydrates can provide you with longer-lasting energy than you’d get from simple sugars in processed foods.
Overall, it’s important to eat everything in moderation, especially added or simple sugars. One study on people with lupus found an association between eating excess sugar and an increased risk of inflammation and lupus complications such as heart disease.
However, being overly restrictive when you have a craving can backfire and set off a binge later. You can easily incorporate a serving of your favorite dessert into an overall nutritious diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, which provides plenty of protein and healthy fats.
Overall, there are many reasons you may experience sugar cravings while living with lupus. Speak with your health care provider for personalized medical advice to help manage this and other lupus symptoms.
MyLupusTeam is the social network for people with lupus and their loved ones. On MyLupusTeam, more than 223,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with lupus.
Do you experience cravings for sugar or other foods while living with lupus? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.