Realizing that you have carbohydrate cravings and dealing with it are two different things, and while many people are aware of the great benefits of reducing carbohydrate intake, few are aware of how to go about it. This scenario typically plays out for many individuals, and tends to get worse during the school holidays. Even when you have made a resolve to get back on track with your health goals, it is still possible to feel quite helpless when it comes to carbohydrate cravings.
Part of the reason for this is that carb cravings are hardwired into the brain, so much so that depending on the extent of the cravings, it may start to feel like an addiction. Instead of beating down on yourself, remind yourself that you can give your diet a makeover that helps to address hunger pangs while managing the cravings.
Some of the benefits of finding ways to deal with carbohydrate cravings include:
- Easier weight management especially in people who are working to lose weight.
- Improved brain function and better motivation to eat healthy.
- Reduced stress and anxiety levels.
- Reduced inflammation across the body.
- Overall a positive mindset and healthy living.
NOTE: The ten practical ways outlined below can generally be divided into two: quick fixes and long-term lifestyle solutions. Quick fixes may not work to completely get rid of the cravings, but this will certainly strengthen your resolve to steer clear of the carb devils.
The long-term lifestyle solutions on the other hand, allow you to delve deeper into the carbohydrate impact at the hormonal level while managing the body’s metabolism. The latter has the advantage of allowing you to work towards eliminating the crave.
The two approaches are intertwined, and this is integral to effectively managing carb craves. Remember, that you can always settle for the approach in the long run by making these changes a part of your lifestyle.
1. Get Rid of Processed Carbohydrates:
Processed carbohydrates are one of the biggest impediments in managing carbohydrate cravings. This boils down to their structural makeup because many manufacturers have engineered the food so that it has an extremely tasty appeal. This does not just stop there; regularly eating these carbohydrates has been shown to alter the structure of the brain.
The changes occur at the neuron level, and this explains the constant craving shortly after indulging in your favorite carbohydrates. In fact, this type of craving has been likened to that of a drug, so much so that reducing your intake causes varied withdrawal symptoms. This is very powerful, and it goes to show why many people have a relapse after stopping carbohydrate intake.
Some of the processed foods in question include processed pasta, potato chips, muffins, and French fries among others. Having purged your kitchen pantry of all processed foods, the next step is to find foods that have a low glycemic index. These foods are recommended because they do not cause a sharp spike in the blood glucose levels, hence allowing satiety for prolonged periods of time.
This comes in handy in managing cravings. It is important to mention that this will be difficult at the onset, but over a period of time, you should be able to train your taste buds and brain to indulge in such foods with great ease.
Examples of these foods include old-fashioned oatmeal, whole-wheat foods, brown rice and grains such as millet, amaranth and barley. In line with this, remember to make substitutes in your favorite recipes. For instance, in place of bread, potatoes, white flour and white rice, use whole-grain bread, sweet potatoes/yams, whole wheat flour and brown rice respectively.
2. Pinpoint the Type of Craving you Have:
Just before reaching out for a specific food, you want to determine exactly what you are craving. Is it something decadent and creamy, or chewy perhaps? Maybe it could be something sweet and savoury or a food with a crunchy twist to it.
Once you have nailed this, the next step is to find a low-calorie food that meets the need. There are two main reasons why this is recommended. The first reason is because the low calorie food will not spike the blood glucose levels. Secondly, it is a conscious way of managing the craving.
Below are great substitutes available depending on what your needs are:
- If you crave salty foods and snacks such as potato chips and pizza, how about substituting this with spinach, fish, cheese or sweet potatoes?
- When craving white bread or sugars, it may be that your body is a little dehydrated. Drink up, toss a bowl of fresh salad or enjoy citrus fruits.
- When the craving for processed greasy foods assaults you, turn your attention to meals that are rich in good fats and proteins. Perfect examples include a combination from any of the following foods: lean meat, nuts, slices, boiled egg, avocado and a small piece of cheese.
- For those moments when the craving for sugary candy is present, it helps to eat sulfur-rich foods. Your best bet includes broccoli or Brussel sprouts with a dash of garlic or onion to make it tasty and filling.
3. Make Sure That you Get Adequate Rest Each Night:
Poor sleeping patterns and inadequate rest are two of the most popular driving forces behind carb cravings across the population – and there’s a scientific reason for that. Lack of sleep not only causes fatigue and irritability, it also leads to an intense craving for delicious calorie-rich carbohydrates.
Add to this the reduced willpower that most people exhibit when they are sleep-deprived and it is easy to see why sleep has such a profound impact on one’s cravings. In addition to this, research also indicates that when people are sleepy and hungry, they tend to eat a lot more and are more likely to make poor food choices.
It also comes as no surprise that insulin sensitivity tends to plummet when the body has not had adequate rest. Lastly, in this state, the body is more likely to remain in fat storage for a longer period of time, thus perpetuating the vicious cycle of carbohydrate cravings.
4. Make Sure you Eat a Healthy Breakfast:
Skipping breakfast is a common phenomenon in the fast-paced world we live in. It may seem like a time-saving hack, but this could be the simple reason you cannot afford to put down that bag of potato crisps in the mid-morning.
The truth is that breakfast helps jump start your metabolism after close to ten hours of a fast. By skipping this part of the meal, you are setting yourself up to the snare of intense craves for poor quality carbs. If you eat a healthy nutrient-dense breakfast, you are better placed to manage the cravings that strike during the day. As a general guide, make sure you opt for low-carb breakfast foods.
Add eggs to your breakfast as these are low in carb and packed with good quality protein that enhances satiety. In addition to this, eggs can be prepared in a myriad of ways, from poaching to frying and boiling. The latter is especially loved for those who take meals on the go.
5. Replace the Sugar in your Foods with Natural Low-Calorie Sweeteners:
Sugar, as you may well be aware, is not a healthy food choice because it wrecks havoc on the body’s management of blood glucose levels. To put this in perspective, consider that one tablespoon of sugar contains 12 grams of sugar that is available in sucrose form.
Sucrose is 50% glucose and 50% fructose, and this contributes to the carbohydrate cravings in a significant way. For many people, honey is the go-to option in place of sugar, but you may be surprised to learn that one tablespoon of honey has as much as 17 grams of carbohydrates.
The percentage of glucose and fructose are approximately the same as those of sugar. For this simple reason, one of the best ways to reduce sugar cravings is to eliminate sweeteners in totality. It is a gradual shift in learning how to enjoy the natural flavor of different foods.
If, however, you are a sweet tooth looking for a natural fix, there are a number of options available for you.
- Stevia is manufactured from the stevia plant and has been shown to reduce blood glucose in circulation while at the same time heightening insulin sensitivity.
- Xylitol is a sugar alcohol with great benefits because it helps reduce insulin sensitivity. It has also been shown to fight off the bacteria that are responsible for tooth decay and damage.
- Erythritol is yet another type of sugar alcohol with great health benefits. It not only prevents cavity formation, it also tastes like sugar and is a great option for those with a sweet tooth.
6. Make Plans When Eating Out:
Dining out can prove to be a challenge when you are working to manage your carb cravings – and for good reason. Most restaurant menus are designed to cater to client preferences which mean that on many occasions, healthy eating may not be a priority.
Considering that most meals will often be accompanied by a starch, then it may difficult to manage your cravings. Typical starch offered includes bread, rolls, pasta, rice or potatoes. These starches, depending on the portion served, could easily add up to more than 40 grams of carbohydrates. For this reason, it helps to make advance plans when eating out.
Request to have low-carb veggies in place of the starches. If you already have a side of the veggies, it does not hurt to ask for a second serving in place of the high-carbohydrate foods.
7. Use Almond or Coconut Milk in Place of ‘Regular’ Cow Milk:
Milk is popular among different populations, thanks to its nutrient-rich combination. What most people may not be aware of is that milk is also fairly rich in carbohydrates because it contains lactose. Lactose is a type of sugar that easily contributes to your carbohydrate intake.
A glass of milk could well pack over 10 grams of carbohydrates, so you may need to go easy on the milk, lattes and milk shakes. Good thing though, there are excellent milk substitutes available such as almond milk and coconut milk.
NOTE: that these types of milk are fortified with calcium and Vitamin D to enhance their nutritional value.
8. Keep a Food Journal and Remember to Count Your Carbs:
The purpose of keeping a food journal is to ensure that you keep yourself accountable. It is extremely important to own up to what you eat if you are to curb your carb cravings.
An honest food journal will paint a clear picture of just how much carbohydrates you are taking. It provides raw data to help you get over your cravings and lead you to a healthy lifestyle in the long run.
Once you have done this, remember to count your carbs. Doing this using a nutrition tracker that helps keep track of your intake. There are also great nutrition tracking apps at your convenience.
9. Create a Reward System That Does not Include Processed Foods:
Many people are guilty of this one – have a long week at work? Why not reward yourself with a bag of French fries as you binge-watch your favorite series? Made a great presentation?
Then that pizza is yours for the asking. To eliminate this, make a conscious decision to use non-food rewards. How about congratulating yourself with a hike up the mountains?
Or perhaps a relaxing spa session? Even something as simple as a bouquet of flowers will do great for your health without all the carbohydrate cravings.
10. Make Sure you Read Food Labels:
How often do you stop to read the labels on your favorite foods? This is an important, yet overlooked tip in curbing carbohydrate cravings. Understanding the labels will help you determine the amount of carbs you are ingesting.
In addition to this, consider the number of servings in the package – this is typically more than one. If for instance, a snack contains 8 grams of carbs for each serving, and you take 5 servings, you will have consumed 40 grams of carbohydrates. This of course, does not register as much until you start cranking the numbers.
Additional tips that you can use to manage your carb cravings include reducing your intake of fruit juice, eating smaller meals more frequently to keep the hunger at bay as well as improving the health of the gut.
The latter is achievable by increasing probiotic foods which help to maintain the populations of ‘good’ bacteria in the gut. Most importantly, consult your nutritionist if you have any doubts about your diet, or suffer from a chronic condition.