Q&A: How To Avoid Carb Cravings On A Low Carb Diet
Question: I get carb cravings whenever I go on a low carb diet. I lose weight, but over time, the carb cravings become harder and harder to resist. It’s making following a low carb diet impossible to follow, but I control my blood sugar (I am a type 2 diabetic) better when I am on it. It’s getting very frustrating. Any idea how I can stop this from happening?
Answer: This is actually so common, I would call it the dirty little secret of the low carb world.
Low carb diets help you lose weight, but you can get carb cravings while on them, making such a diet hard to maintain for life. I personally tried to follow a very low carb diet of fewer than 30 grams of carbohydrate per day for years, and I can attest to experiencing profound carb cravings.
So what is a low carber to do?
There I said it. The C word. Yes cheat. But plan the cheat. Now I’ll bet that’s something you’re not used to hearing!
What Is A Cheat?
To eat carbs of course! But it has to be done right.
- Over do it, and you gain weight.
- View it as a free for all, you not only gain weight, but you perpetuate an emotional eating pattern that can be both physically and psychologically damaging.
To get around these problems, memorize this phrase:
“Each week, eat 30 grams of carbs for 5 days, 100 grams for 1 day, and 50 gram for the last day.”
Carb Cravings – If You Can’t Beat Them, Eat Them.
Do that week in and week out, and your carb cravings on your low carb diet will diminish greatly, certainly more than what you’re trying to do now.
On that 100 gram carb day, if you want to blow 90 of the grams on an ice cream cone or two slices of pizza, have at it. Why? Because you’ll still be compliant in following a low carb diet for the other 6 days of the week, and 100 grams of carbs, even if utter junk, is still pretty low.
However, when I practice this, I focus on whole grains, beans, and potatoes, and wind up having something really sweet once every other weekend. I expect you’ll evolve to this pattern over time as your cravings diminsih
Where Do The Carb Cravings Come From?
When you go on a low carb diet, you lose weight. When you lose weight, the hormone leptin, which keeps tabs on your body fat levels, decreases. Leptin is the hormone responsible for the carb cravings you get whenever you go on any diet. Low carb diets are no different.
When leptin goes down, and when you deplete carbs in general, serotonin levels in the brain can go down (notice I said, can – it varies person to person). When serotonin goes down, carb cravings and the desire for sugar and saturated fat go up. Cookies anyone?
What Makes The Carb Cravings Worse?
- If you cut calories excessively
- If you have insulin resistance like diabetics do
- If you try to follow a very low carb diet of fewer than 20 grams all the time (notice I said try).
So Why Should I Cheat On My Low Carb Diet?
Because when you cut your carbs over the first 48 to 72 hours down to 30 grams or fewer, your body depletes its glycogen stores of carbohydrates by as much as 50%. In other words, the place in your body where you stored carbohydrates will get depleted. Makes sense – eat fewer carbs, your stores of them diminish.
Now guess what happens when you eat some carbs after a well planned cheat? They get filled back up. But better
- Thyroid hormones increases
- Serotonin goes back up
- Cravings for carbs diminish
- Metabolism increases
- Leptin, the hormone that controls the speed of your metabolism and degree of carb cravings, goes up (the more leptin that reaches the brain, the faster your metabolism and the fewer your carb cravings).
- You have fewer weight loss stalls because you never “adapt” to your low carb diet. Die hard low carbers know this phenomenon. All of a sudden, their low carb diet stops helping them lose weight, usually far before they reach their ideal.
But Won’t I Gain Weight If I Cheat?
Yes, if you over do it (more on that in a minute). But if you do it right, the carb cravings go away, you feel satisfied because you indulged in an otherwise forbidden treat, you have fewer weight loss stalls, and your motivation to keep losing remains high.
So How Do I Cheat The Right Way?
- You must schedule at least 5 days between cheats, and the cheats should last no more than 1 day at a time. You need 5 days between them to deplete glycogen stores and bring your body back into burning dietary fat for fuel. Ideally, go low carb on the weekdays, and cheat on the weekends
- Cheating is really just following a moderate carb diet for a day before going back to your low carb diet. Of paramount importance above all, figure out how many calories you burn here: http://ultimateweightlossrx.com/free-calorie-calculator/. Eat that many calories on the two higher carb days. Don’t go too much over your caloric limit! If you do, you’ll still gain weight.
- Whatever carbs you don’t use in your one cheat meal should come from good quality carb sources like beans, lentils, legumes, whole grains, and fruits.
- Eat fewer than 30 grams of digestible carbs for all low carb days, no exceptions, and have zero alcohol during this time. Save alcohol for the cheat time.
- You really can’t go over 100 grams on that one day and not pay for it, especially if you have more than 50 pounds to lose. Still practice some moderation! 2 or 3 pizza slices, OK 2 boxes of pizza, really? An ice cream cone, OK. An ice cream carton, really?
What Else Can I Do To Control Carb Cravings?
- First, you should find as many low carb versions of what you’re craving as you can. Don’t stop perfecting these recipes. The better you can make them taste, the less you’ll crave “the real” thing.
- Make sure you are eating enough fat on your low carb diet – at least 40% of your calories should come from fat.
- Watch your intake of artificial sweeteners, diet soda, and sugar less gum. The taste of sugar can provoke more carb cravings. Stevia however, an all natural sweetener made from leaves, is OK to use.
- Don’t cut calories too much. If you cut more than 20% off how many calories you need, you’re risking more carb cravings.
- Anticipate carb cravings to be at their worst at mid morning, mid-afternoon, and late evening. If this describes you, have a low carb sweet tasting meal at this time. (This is why you need those recipes).
- For support on all the above, join our club!
In short, there are two ways to kill carb cravings while on a low carb diet. First, appease them as much as possible while staying within the diet as described right above. Second, count on carb cravings occurring and give up on trying to be perfect. Instead, accept you can lose weight faster by not being perfect, and plan the cheat instead of letting it sneak up on you.
Tagged carb cravings, Control Cravings, Diabetes Emotional Eating