Jewels Doskicz, RN, is a freelance writer, patient advocate, health coach, and long-distance cyclist. She and her daughter both live healthfully with type 1 diabetes.
Trying to figure out why we crave certain foods and continue to eat well past the point of meeting our energy requirements is a puzzling process, especially when it comes to carbohydrates.
According to Psychology Today, Harvard evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman says that “humans evolved to crave sugar for energy in times of scarcity and also to support our large brains. However, in modern days, there has been no scarcity of sugar.” All that available sugar, Psychology Today says, has created an obesity epidemic.
Sometimes, craving carbs is a good thing. With hypoglycemia (abnormally low blood sugar), our body protects itself by sending us messages like, “Get me some juice, glucose tabs, Gummy Bears, or raisins!” This inherent drive even awakens us in the middle of the night. These carb cravings are a part of diabetes that we don’t want to squish. When it comes to dangerously low blood sugar, nothing should stand between you and a quick snack of carbohydrates.
More often, we just want carbs because we want carbs. Then what? Food cravings may seem difficult to beat. And they’re even more so if we don’t recognize their root causes. Here are five tips that can help you cut back on craving too many carbs.
Know the difference between hunger and appetite
"Hunger is more physiological, whereas appetite is more psychological," Karen Hanson Chalmers, MS, RD, CDE and Amy Campbell, MS, RD, CDE told Joslin Diabetes Center. In their book 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, they make these suggestions:
- Identify what is driving you to eat—your stomach or your mind.
- If blood sugars are driving your eating habits, seek help with medication adjustments.
Get enough fat
Many remain focused on the fat-free diet that was popular in the ’70s and ’80s. But keeping healthy fats in the diet is important. It creates satiety and helps support stable blood sugars.
Fat-free foods aren’t always the healthiest choice. Often, they have more added sugars than their fat-ridden counterparts, and they aren’t as filling.
The American Diabetes Association lays out the facts on fat for us—take a peek at their recommendations.
Create zen habits
Eating habits and cravings can be altered by simply listening to the body. Awareness can lead to effective changes.
Try your best to match your eating to your environment. Every day is different, and our appetite should reflect that.
What habits should you cultivate? In Diabetic Living, Hope Warsaw, RD, CDE, explains: “Research shows Americans eat too much added sugar (22 teaspoons a day, which translates to about 350 calories!) and not enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy foods.” She suggests focusing on the total carbs eaten, noting the “quality of the sources of carbs,” while minimizing sugary foods.
Stress is real—and so are its physical consequences.
You’ve probably heard the term “stress eating.” Cortisol, a stress hormone, is one of the products of a chaotic life. Researchers have associated cortisol levels with carbohydrate cravings. So reducing stress could help you resist carbs.
Stress isn’t only created by external events; our reaction to them is just as important. You’ll probably never be able to completely eliminate stress from your life, but there are steps you can take to help minimize it.
For example, [Harvard Health] says, “Countless studies show that meditation reduces stress. Meditation may also help people become more mindful of food choices. With practice, a person may be able to pay better attention to the impulse to grab a fat- and sugar-loaded comfort food and inhibit the impulse.”
Sleep is not overrated.
A single night without sleep raises cortisol levels, which, as mentioned above, causes carb cravings. Not getting enough hours of sleep every night is also a stressor that could have undesired effects on your eating habits.
“Recent studies in humans have shown that the levels of hormones that regulate appetite are profoundly influenced by sleep duration. Sleep loss is associated with an increase in appetite that is excessive in relation to the caloric demands of extended wakefulness,” according to research in Medscape.
Keep track of how much sleep you are getting. It doesn’t take a sleep app or a Fitbit. And take notice if you are tired during the day, or if your sleep quality and quantity are associated with certain eating patterns. Talk with your healthcare provider about sleep issues; don’t assume you have to live with them.
We can’t always control our carb cravings, but we can choose how we respond to them. Put these tips to work and you’ll be well on your way to a sensible and satisfying diabetic diet that doesn’t leave you feeling deprived.
Which foods do you crave most? Are there times when your carb cravings are especially hard to resist? Share your experiences and smart eating tips by commenting below.