9 Tricks to Tame Your Carb Cravings
If bread, pasta or chocolate calls your name, you’re not alone. Carb cravings are one of most common complaints I hear from my patients.. There are many reasons for these cravings. Some studies are suggesting certain foods, often carbs, light up hedonic centers in your brain, causing more cravings. And there are a host of other potential causes. The good news is that there are ways to outsmart these cravings!
Here are some common scenarios that may lead to carb cravings and tips to control them:
1. Having sweets in your environment can give you “sugar brain”. I call foods that set off more cravings “trigger” foods. It’s been shown that in certain people, high sugar, high fat foods activate a center in your brain what will cause you to want more of them. Trying to fight this by “being more disciplined” often doesn’t work. You’ll only end up beating yourself up … which can lead to even more eating. Reference
Tip: Rather than trying to “improve your self-control”, focus more on “reengineering your food environment.” Avoid keeping these tempting foods in your home or office. Ask your family or significant(s) other to keep them out of the house or buy a flavor you don’t like. If they must be in the house, at least hide them. Avoid the candy on your co-workers desk …. don’t even start!
2. Going too long without eating. This will lead to low blood sugar which will increase the urge to eat carbs. I doubt many of you crave broccoli when you haven’t eaten for 8 hours! My guess is that you would be looking for something starchy or sugary.
Tip: Eat meals at regular intervals. Plan a healthy snack for in between meals. Carry this snack with you if you’ll be on the road.
3. Consuming too many processed low fiber carbs. Foods such as white rice, white bread, sweets and other sugary food are low in fiber and have a high glycemic index. Eating high glycemic foods (especially larger portions) can cause a quick spike in blood sugar, followed by a quick drop. This stimulates a spike of insulin, followed by increased hunger and can cause the urge to eat more carbohydrates.
Tip: Stick to whole grains and high fiber foods as much as possible
4. Not eating adequate protein at meals. Eating meals that contain only carbohydrate (i.e. a jumbo bagel, big bowl of pasta or frozen yogurt with granola) will cause a rapid rise of blood sugar, followed by a spike of insulin, then a crash of blood sugar. This can exacerbate cravings. Protein helps to slow digestion a bit and keep you feeling full long.
Tip: Try to include a protein source at meals and snacks. Protein sources include: meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nut and nut butters, and dairy products. Note: not all women with PCOS choose to consume dairy – but if you do, the best choices would be organic and fermented like yogurt – especially plain Greek yogurt).
5. Not eating adequate fat at meals. Many of my clients are still fat phobic (maybe leftover from the Food Pyramid?) and will go out of their way to avoid eating fat. But this isn’t a great idea as following a diet too low in fat can exacerbate cravings. Fat takes a long time to digest, helps to prevent rapid peaks and drops of blood sugar and helps keep you full longer. Of course, the key is not to overindulge in fat as loaded with calories if you
Tip: Add a little olive oil to your salad, peanut butter to your morning toast and avocado to your salad.
6. Taking your caloric intake too low. When your consume too few calories, your hypothalmus produces extra NPY (neuropeptide Y), a chemical messenger that encourages you to eat more carbohydrates. In addition, the hypothalmus secretes another chemical called galanin which increases cravings for foods rich in fat and carbs. Take home message: eating too few calories = cravings for high carb foods.
Tip: Don’t go below 1200 calories (and even higher for most people).
7. Getting inadequate sleep. Sleep affects hormones that regulate satiety, hunger and how efficiently you burn calories. Too little sleep can lower levels of leptin and raise levels of ghrelin, which can increase
hunger for sweet and/or starchy foods.
Tip: Get adequate sleep! Turn off the computer and tv at least an hour before bed. Ideally try to read before going to sleep. This helps to “shut you down”. Stay tuned for more sleep tips in an upcoming post.
8. Consuming inadequate carbs, especially if you are an active person. Low carb diets are mainstream these days. While they may work for some people, others feel exhausted. Exercising on a regular basis and not consuming adequate carbs can cause you to have powerful carb cravings as well as low energy levels. This is because carbs are the major fuel used by exercising muscles. Your body likes to keep your energy stores full of energy (called glycogen). If you exercise on a regular basis and don’t eat enough carbs, your body may go into “carb seeking mode” as it tries to replete its glycogen stores. In addition, you will likely find your energy levels plummet.
Tip: My carb recommendations very widely depending on the person, however aim for at least 4 servings of carb rich foods a day (includes fruit and grains). Very active people may need significantly more than this.
9. Having high stress levels. High levels of stress can cause chemical imbalances in your body.
Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands in your body when you are under stress. Cortisol will increase production of a neurotransmitter called neuropeptide Y, which as I previously discussed, can increase cravings for sweet or starchy foods.
Tip: Find an activity to do that relaxes you or at least takes your mind off stressful thoughts. Try getting a massage, taking a bath, reading a book, taking a walk or going to the gym, taking a yoga class, practicing meditation – or any other pleasurable activity that doesn’t have anything to do with food.
If you experience frequent carb cravings, I’d recommend you play detective! Keep a food journal for at least a week. Record what you eat, the time, how much sleep you got, what you did for exercise along with any emotion you felt before you had the craving. You’ll likely be able to figure out what caused the craving and come up with a solution!
Read my previous posts on Eating Triggers and How to Control Them
I’d love to hear about your carb cravings and help you brainstorm ways to beat them!