Craving carbohydrates is associated with stress and depression, poor diet, fatigue, nicotine withdrawal, and premenstrual syndrome in women. This is particularly true when the cravings are for high-calorie snack foods of low nutritious value such as sweets, crisps or pastries. On a physical level, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study linked carbohydrate cravings to the hormone serotonin, which is responsible for regulating mood. The study also showed carbohydrate consumption is associated with insulin secretion. Therefore, much of the advice aimed at curbing the urge to binge on carbohydrates is concerned with ways to regulate blood-sugar and serotonin levels through diet and lifestyle changes.
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Eat three balanced meals a day with two or three small snacks in between. This will control hunger pangs and regulate blood sugar levels while ensuring your body gets the nutrients it needs to function properly. Alternatively, divide your daily calorie intake into six small meals evenly spaced throughout the day.
Incorporate foods rich in complex carbohydrates into your diet. Complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice and whole grains, are filling, low-fat and nutritious ways to satisfy your hunger for carbohydrates.
Avoid strict diets that drastically limit your calorie intake. If you are depriving yourself of the fuel your body needs to function properly, you are more likely to suffer food cravings and give into them.
Carry healthy snack foods around with you, such as nuts or fresh fruits. Reach for these rather than high-carb options whenever you feel hungry and need an energy boost between meals.
Resist the urge to eat foods high in sugar. Eating sugary foods causes your blood-sugar levels to spike and drop dramatically, causing a vicious circle of carbohydrate cravings.
Do not keep unhealthy high-calorie, high-fat foods at home to reduce your temptation. Do your grocery shopping on a full stomach so you are less likely to stock up on junk foods to satisfy your cravings.
Find a healthy way to manage stress. Practice a stress-management technique such as yoga or meditation, lean on a support network of family and friends, or seek help from a professional mental health provider.
Distract yourself whenever you experience a carbohydrate craving by engaging in an activity you enjoy such as watching a movie, going for a walk or calling a friend.
Get between seven and nine hours of quality sleep each night. You are more likely to crave unhealthy carbohydrates for an instant energy boost when you are tired.
Take a chromium supplement. A study at Louisiana State University showed Chromium picolinate's ability to help regulate blood sugar and modulate food intake in people with carbohydrate cravings.
Tips and warnings
- Don't feel defeated or guilty if you give in to your carbohydrate cravings occasionally. Just start fresh the following day.
- If changes to your diet and lifestyle do not bring relief from your carbohydrate cravings, discuss other treatment options with your doctor. Your doctor may suggest a course of medication if your cravings are linked to a medical condition such as depression or premenstrual syndrome.
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- Mayo Clinic; Weight-Loss Help: Gain Control of Emotional Eating; December 2009
- U.S. National Library of Medicine; Journal of Obesity Research; Brain Serotonin, Carbohydrate-Craving, Obesity and Depression; RJ Wurtman et. al.; November 1995
- U.S. National Library of Medicine; Diabetes, Technology and Therapeutics; Effects of Chromium Picolinate on Food Intake and Satety; SD Anton et al.; October 2008
- American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Premenstrual Syndrome
- PMS Heathcare: Carbohydrate Craving (PMS-C)
- The National Women's Heath Information Center; Premenstrual Syndrome; What Is the Treatment for PMS?