Carb cravings are inevitable on Keto. We want what we can’t have.
But carb cravings aren’t just psychological. There are physical reasons we crave carbs, especially the sweet class of carbohydrates called sugar.
Dealing with carb cravings requires a comprehensive mind-body approach. It also requires a bit of patience.
In this article, you’ll learn eight tips—both psychological and physical—for controlling carb cravings on Keto. Before getting there, though, let’s talk about what causes them.
What Causes Carb Cravings?
Carb cravings result from either:
- Physical causes
- Psychological causes
Obviously, the two categories overlap. The body affects the mind and the mind affects the body. But splitting them up makes carb cravings easier to understand.
When you digest carbs, those carbs end up in your bloodstream as blood glucose. This glucose supplies energy to your cells.
Going Keto entails reducing your carbohydrate intake. This reduces your incoming supply of glucose.
To compensate, your body activates glucose backup systems to keep your blood sugar at normal levels. But this compensation doesn’t happen immediately.[*]
And so blood glucose often dips in the early stages of switching to a Keto lifestyle, leading to a low blood sugar state called hypoglycemia. In turn, hypoglycemia triggers hunger.
Sugar withdrawal can also trigger cravings. In fact, researchers have found that eating sugar triggers similar areas of the brain as addictive drugs.[*] When the drug gets taken away, we crave more of it.
Imagine smelling something good. Baked cinnamon, maybe.
It would make your mouth water, wouldn’t it? Even if your stomach was full, you’d crave the treat.
The point is that your environment—what you see, smell, hear, taste, and touch—can stimulate cravings, even if your nutritional needs are 100% satisfied.
Hunger is also habitual. If you eat a bowl of ice cream every night at 9 PM, your body will start anticipating that ritual. You’ll get hungry at around 8:45. The trigger is the time of day.
In the 1890s, the scientist Ivan Pavlov started ringing a bell every time he fed dogs. Eventually, the dogs started salivating at the sound of the bell.[*] The hunger response had been conditioned by the bell.
What’s your bell? The smell of baked bread? The sight of an ice cream sandwich? In the next section, we’ll talk about minimizing hunger triggers to curb your cravings.
Menstrual Cycle Cravings
If you’re craving carbs before your period, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re pregnant. Sweet cravings—driven by hormonal shifts in estrogen and progesterone—are normal and common for many women, especially during the luteal stage (latter stage) of menstruation.[*] Keep this in mind, and follow the below tips to get a handle on your sweet tooth.
13 Ways To Control Carb Cravings
To control carb cravings on Keto, it helps to have a plan. The following tips will help.
#1: Keep carbs low
The main rule of the Keto diet is to keep carbs low. Keeping carbs low helps your body transition from burning sugar to burning fat.[*]
When too many carbs invade your Keto diet, it blocks this transition. Your body gets confused. Are you trying to burn sugar or fat? If it thinks the answer is “sugar”, then that’s exactly what you’ll continue to crave.
On Keto, a good rule is to keep net carbs under 10% of your daily calories. Use the Carb Manager app to log your meals and make this easy.
#2: Control your environment
When you minimize the sights and smells that trigger cravings, you minimize cravings themselves.
Think of your kitchen as a science experiment. The purpose of that experiment is to encourage healthy eating behaviors.
This means keeping carbs out of the house if possible. If that’s not possible due to kids, partners, or friends, do your best to keep them out of sight. (By “them” we mean the carbs, not the kids).
#3: Eat low-carb vegetables
When building your Keto plate, don’t forget the non-starchy vegetables. Low-carb veggies like kale, spinach, broccoli, and asparagus are some of the most nutrient-dense foods around.
One of those nutrients is an indigestible carbohydrate called fiber. Fiber may be a carb, but it won’t kick you out of the fat-burning state called ketosis.
Quite the opposite. Fiber helps fill you up without adding calories.[*] Don’t skimp on it.
#4: Get enough sleep
That’s why getting plenty of sleep is essential for managing cravings. Get your seven to nine hours and you’ll be glad you did.
#5: Hydrate with water and electrolytes
The solution? Add a few shakes of salt to your water and a few more to your food. You may find your “carb” cravings dissipate.
#6: Don’t restrict calories
If you want to lose weight, it makes sense to eat slightly fewer calories than your metabolism requires. Then your body starts dipping into its own supply (body fat) to meet your energy needs.
But the initial phase of Keto isn’t well-suited to calorie restriction. With your body adapting to a new fuel source, cravings will be inevitable. Why amplify them by limiting calories?
#7: Allow time to Keto-adapt
Adapting to using fat for energy—also called fat-adapting or Keto-adapting—happens at different rates in different people. Some may transition overnight, while others may take a few weeks.
If you’re coming from a high-carb diet, your Keto-adaptation probably won’t happen overnight. With the aid of the tips above, you may need to ride out a few cravings.
But once your Keto diet is dialed in, you should experience progressively fewer carb cravings. You’ll walk around feeling stable, satisfied, and complete. And that’s a very good place to be.
#8: Balance Blood Sugar
When blood sugar levels are out of balance, a host of symptoms (including carb cravings) can ensue.
A well-managed Keto diet can help support blood sugar levels[*]. But just because you’re cutting carbs, you needn’t become complacent.
Regularly consuming balanced meals of high-quality protein, healthy fats, and low-carb veggies will help maintain healthy blood sugar and keep cravings at bay.
#9: Consume Healthy Fats
On a Keto diet, you use fat instead of glucose for energy. This fat can come either from dietary sources or from your body.
Dietary fat in particular is crucial for satiety. By suppressing your appetite, it can prevent overeating.[*]
By loading up on healthy fats at every meal, you’ll be less inclined to reach for the carbs.
#10: Focus On Protein
Protein is crucial for recovery and repair. It creates the foundation for healthy muscle growth and maintenance.
Just like healthy fats, high-quality protein is satiating and leaves you feeling fuller for longer.[*]
When protein is balanced with Keto-friendly fats and low-carb veggies, you have a winning combination for reducing carb cravings and managing blood sugar levels.[*]
#11: Reduce Stress
If you’ve felt the urge to gobble sugar when stressed, congratulations: you’re a real human being.
Our brains are hard-wired to receive a temporary high from sugary foods. They literally make us addicted.
Unfortunately, a high-sugar diet is linked to myriad health complications, including the current obesity epidemic.[*]
Managing stress can go a long way towards cleaning up your diet. Cultivate healthy habits like spending time in nature, meditating and nurturing relationships to minimize everyday stresses.
#12: Adjust Your Macros
If you’re struggling on Keto—symptoms, weight loss plateaus, etc.—consider reassessing your macros.
Dietary needs vary from person to person, so the “standard” Keto macros may not be optimal for you. For starters, play around with your daily carb intake. If you need to add back some carbs to reduce cravings, there’s no shame in that.
#13: Let the craving pass
Hunger is a transient phenomenon. It arises and passes away.
A pleasant aroma will trigger a craving, but if you leave the environment, the craving will pass.
Even during a fast, hunger has limits. For instance, one study found that a 12-hour and 36-hour fast had similar effects on ghrelin levels.[*]
Even though hunger was higher during the longer fast, the primary hunger hormone remained steady. This suggests that psychology is driving the cravings.
With a different outlook on hunger, the cravings will be more likely to pass.
Staying in Control of Cravings
Instead of letting your cravings control you, follow these 13 tips to stay in charge of your sweet tooth. It won’t always be easy, but with the right environment, the proper nutrition, and the right mindset—it’ll be easier than you expect.