Everyone knows what a food craving feels like. If you’ve forgotten, well then…SALT & VINEGAR POTATO CHIPS.
There’s your reminder. You started to salivate, didn’t you? Sorry. That’s a symptom of craving, and if you keep thinking about and (salivating over) those salty, delicious, betcha-can’t-eat-just-one chips, the more likely you’ll be to rush out and buy a bag.
Cravings are powerful urges, especially cravings for carbs, because sugary carbs increase levels of a feel-good hormone called serotonin in your brain making you yearn for more of that happiness. Once they start, carb cravings are difficult to stop.
Foods that cause intense cravings are called “trigger foods.” You see them or smell them and, boom, your hands, and mouth are off to the races. But if those trigger foods are out of sight, they’re out of mind. So, hide that bag of Salt & Vinegar potato chips in a hard-to-reach cabinet. Or, better yet, don’t bring them into the house. And here’s an idea: Replace that bowl of chips or pretzels or Peanut M&Ms on the kitchen counter with a bowl of fresh fruit.
Carbohydrates are one of the three important macronutrients you need for good health. Your body needs carbs for energy, but “if you eat carbohydrates by themselves they can spike your blood sugar, causing it to drop later and set you up for an energy crash,” explains Eathis.com medical board review member and registered dietitian Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, author of The Sports Nutrition Playbook.
“When your blood sugar drops, people often crave sugar, and it sets them on a blood sugar roller coaster for the rest of the day. Protein, on the other hand, helps you get full faster and stay full longer after a meal because, in comparison to carbohydrate and fat, it takes the longest to break down.”
So, to avoid rebound carb cravings after eating carbohydrates, be sure to pair those carbs with some lean protein like hard-boiled eggs, string cheese, Greek yogurt, or even beef jerky, suggests Goodson.
Carbs have developed a bad reputation for causing weight gain in recent years, so much so that some people try to avoid all carbs all the time. Most dietitians advise against demonizing any one food, recommending a healthier approach: Give yourself permission to eat all kinds of foods. Science and anecdotal evidence suggest that “short-term, selective food deprivation may increase food cravings,” according to the 2020 paper The Psychology of Food Cravings: the Role of Food Deprivation. In short, when you deny yourself something you’re craving, the craving gets stronger. Try practicing mindfulness: Give in to that craving; have a small bite. Often just a taste is enough to satisfy a craving if you approach eating mindfully. It’s when you shovel food into your mouth mindlessly that cravings turn into binge eating events.
While abruptly cutting all carbs from your diet is likely to increase cravings for carbs, gradually reducing your carb intake and sticking with a diet low in simple carbohydrates can effectively reduce food cravings, according to scientific research.
One study published in the journal Obesity compared changes in food cravings, preferences, and appetite among overweight adults who followed either a low-fat diet or a low-carb diet for two years. The researchers found that compared to the low-fat dieters, those who reduced their carb intake had significantly greater decreases in cravings and preferences for high-carbohydrate and high-sugar foods like sweets and starches. Also, the low-carb dieters reported feeling less hunger than the low-fat dieters.
Eating foods rich in fiber crushes cravings through two mechanisms. First, “foods high in soluble fiber especially beans, peas, lentils, nuts, and seeds can help keep you feeling fuller for longer,” says medical review board member Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, an award-winning registered dietitian and author of the best-selling Diabetes Create Your Plate Meal Prep Cookbook. “Fiber also helps minimize spikes in blood sugar, keeping it more stable and may help cut down on cravings.” Keep track of your fiber intake over a few days to see if you’re deficient. Most people get less than half the amount of daily recommended fiber, between 25 and 38 grams per day, says Amidor.
It’s hard to eat a bag of cheese curls while you’re huffing and puffing during exercise. That’s obvious. But research has shown that exercise may also take the edge off intense cravings for carbohydrates, suggesting that a workout could be an effective way to combat urges for sugary snack foods.