Starting a keto diet alone is challenging enough, especially when constantly battling carbohydrate cravings threatens to ruin your keto diet. Whether it’s cravings for nachos, pasta, beer, or even sweets like ice cream, your carb cravings are a common enough occurrence for even the most experienced keto dieters. Let’s dive into what are carb cravings, what causes your intense carb cravings, and how to stop them!
What are Carb Cravings?
It’s not a tricky question: carbohydrate cravings usually manifest as intense cravings for foods in the carbohydrate family.
This might mean pizza, nachos, ice cream, pasta, chips, beer – you name it.
Carb cravings most often occur at the beginning of your keto transition, although there are several reasons you may experience them (more on that next).
Pre-keto, your body will be accustomed to sugar and processed carbohydrates for energy.
Eat a meal high in carbohydrates and sugar and your blood sugar levels will rise. Your pancreas then sends out insulin to process all the glucose in your bloodstream.
As you probably already know, consistently high blood sugar and insulin levels put you on the path to metabolic syndrome, which puts you at increased risk for developing:
- Insulin resistance and insulin sensitivity issues
- Heart disease
- Obesity and weight gain
- Type 2 diabetes
- PCOS (if you’re a lady)
- Certain cancers
When you finally stop the sugar train with a low-carb diet (like keto), your body tends to go on a bit of a rampage instead of thanking you. And that monster is called a carb craving.
What Cause Carb Cravings?
There are a number of reasons we get cravings, from the physical to the mental. Here are seven of the biggest carb craving culprits.
Too many refined carbs
One of the major reasons you may find yourself craving carbohydrates is due to the intake of refined carbohydrates, or simple sugars. The most common examples of these are white bread, pastries, soda, and even pizza.
When we eat too many of these refined carbohydrates, it increases our cravings for these foods. This is a process known as the insulin response. When we consume large amounts of these refined carbohydrates, these foods are digested and absorbed into the body more quickly, causing a spike in blood sugar. This surge, in turn, triggers hunger, causing us to be exposed to these refined carbohydrates again and keep the cycle going.
You Forgot About Fiber
Carbohydrate foods like rice, noodles and oatmeal fill you up, even if they are not nutritionally satisfying. Fiber does the same thing, except it’s better for your health.
See, fiber is a type of carbohydrate that your body can’t digest. Since it takes a while to pass through your system, studies have shown that the more fiber you have in your diet, the less hungry you’ll feel, the fewer carbs you’ll crave, and the fewer calories you’ll eat.
Fiber also helps your digestive system run smoothly, so you won’t face common troubles like constipation on keto.
If you’re lacking in fiber, you’ll find yourself in a world of carbohydrates constantly eating, though nothing will fill you up.
Your macros may need tweaking
It’s almost impossible to get your keto macros right on the first try.
On a keto diet, carb cravings are sometimes your body saying you’re hungry and need more protein or more healthy fats.
Both protein and fat are satiating, so they suppress your hunger and make you less likely to crave carbs.
You’re not drinking enough water
Did you know that sometimes looking for carbohydrates may actually be your body’s way of saying you’re thirsty?
It’s true; the signs of dehydration are so similar to hunger that if you’re listening to your body for the first time, you may not know the difference. These signs include:
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Trouble concentrating or focusing
Your body doesn’t need a lot to become dehydrated – just a 1-2% drop in your normal fluid levels is enough to feel the effects. If you gorge yourself when you should be hydrated, your waistline will show it.
In one study, researchers found a link between adults with poor hydration and those with a higher body mass index.
The scientists concluded that those with higher body weight needed to drink more water, but were actually eating rather than drinking because they couldn’t distinguish between actual hunger and signs of thirst.
You’re still cheating or doing lazy keto
Without tracking your food intake, it’s easy to fall into the trap of eating too many carbs and delaying fat adaptation.
If you still have cheat days to give in to your carb cravings, they will never leave you.
This is why many experts agree that you can’t have cheat days on ketosis. A cheat day has the potential to put all your hard work to shame and send you right back to square one.
You’ll have to experience the dreaded keto flu and fight off carb cravings on your way back to ketosis. Not so much fun.
Sleep and health are closely related, and the way sleep affects appetite has a lot to do with it. Moreover, sleep deprivation is strongly associated with overeating and obesity.
When you don’t get enough sleep, your body produces less of the hunger-suppressing hormone leptin and more of the hunger-increasing hormone, gastrin.
Therefore, if you are hungry on keto but are not getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night, your hunger may have a lot to do with sleep hygiene rather than dietary choices.
As if stress itself wasn’t enough, it’s also a prime time for desire to kick in (thanks a lot, biology!) .
When we are under stress, our bodies release the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is a craving nightmare because it makes us want to eat. And it’s not just any food our body craves – one of the biggest things it wants is sugar. Unfortunately, sugar acts as a real comfort food in times of stress. Sugar has a feedback effect on our bodies, suppressing stress-related emotions and making us feel better in the short term.
But, as we know, in the long run, sugar is one of the worst things you can put into your body. It is responsible for weight gain, inflammation, increased risk of heart disease and more. Therefore, having alternative tools for dealing with stress is an important factor in fighting carbohydrate cravings.
How to Curb Cravings?
Since we’ve already known the causes, it will be easy to take measures to stop carb cravings on keto diet. Following are some effective tips for you to deal with it.
Keep carbs low
The main rule of the keto diet is to keep your carbohydrates low. Keeping carbs low helps your body transition from burning sugar to burning fat.
When too many carbs invade your keto diet, it can hinder that transition. Your body gets confused. Do you want to burn sugar or fat? If it thinks the answer is “sugar,” then that’s exactly what you will continue to crave.
A good rule in keto is to keep net carbs below 10% of your daily calories. Use a carbohydrate management program to keep track of your meals to make it easy.
Eat high-fiber carbs
To break this vicious cycle of refined carbohydrates, it is best for you to add high-fiber carbohydrates to your diet. High-fiber carbohydrates are absorbed and digested more slowly, which keeps your blood sugar from spiking quickly and minimizes the hunger triggered by the insulin response.
Some examples of high-fiber foods include:
- Whole-wheat pasta.
Another benefit is that high-fiber carbohydrates are digested and absorbed more slowly, which means your body will have fuel for longer. This helps you feel more satisfied for a longer period of time, especially between meals.
Adjust your macros
If you’re having trouble with keto- symptoms, weight loss stalls, etc. – consider re-evaluating your macros.
Dietary needs vary from person to person, so the “standard” keto macros may not be right for you. For starters, play around with your daily carbohydrate intake. If you need to add some carbs to reduce hunger, there’s no shame in that.
Staying hydrated and drinking plenty of water is another great way to improve digestion and help your body absorb nutrients better, which in turn makes you less likely to have cravings. Because when your body is getting the nutrients it needs, it will run more efficiently and feel less hungry.
What I’m talking about here is staying hydrated. Optimal hydration is usually about a gallon of plain filtered water a day or eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day.
Be sure to not cheat or get lazy
The craving doesn’t go away because you give in to its temptation. You only make the cravings stronger, more controlling of you, and the less likely they are to be satisfied as you keep feeding them to them.
If you still give in to carb cravings now or have cheat days, they will never go away, especially on a diet like keto. Just one cheat food has the ability to destroy weeks of hard work and can even make you experience the keto flu again, especially in early ketosis, by disrupting your body’s level of adaptation to burning fat as fuel.
Get enough rest
The number one cause of non-food related cravings is lack of sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body’s hunger hormones become confused and unbalanced – making you crave sweets. In fact, studies show that just one night of sleep deprivation increases levels of the hormone responsible for appetite and hunger. Make sure to have at least seven 7 hours of sleep to release more hunger-suppressing hormone – leptin.
Manage your stress
Stress can be a huge trigger for cravings or other binge eating behaviors. Especially during this hectic COVID period, we have less social contact, an increased workload due to the often synchronized work and family atmosphere, etc. When you recognize how this affects you, take a break. Take walks, meditate, exercise. Breathe and also try to get as much sleep as possible. Reduce your stress levels as much as possible. Not only to prevent cravings – but stress is not a good thing for your entire body and lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle is not just about what you eat – it’s always good to remember that and take care of yourself as a whole.
Although cravings can feel like do or die during this time, you have many tools to resist those unwanted urges and stay the course. The good news is that after you’ve become keto-adapted, your cravings will diminish significantly and the days of struggling with carbs will be a thing of the past.