Why Am I Craving Carbs? Top 3 Reasons

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why am I craving carbs?

Craving carbs can be super pesky and annoying. 

You’re just going about your day when all of a sudden you have a craving for carbs that you can’t get out of your head!

Of course we all understand how too many carbs leads to weight gain and obesity.

What is it about these delicious foods that make us crave them? And how can we find balance with carbs?

This article will examine carb cravings from two different perspectives:

  • First half of article will list common reasons why you crave carbs
  • Second half of article will list

1 – Too Many Carbs, Not Enough Protein

guy binge eating pizza on the couch

The primary reason you crave carbs is because your previous meal was mostly carbs.

I know this sounds strange, why crave carbs if I just ate carbs?

But here’s the deal:

When you eat mostly carbs, you often miss out on protein or healthy fats!

For example, here are some typical meals with a lot of carbs that lack protein and / or healthy fats:

  • Cereal and milk
  • Juices
  • Pizza
  • Pasta

At first carbs fill you up and give you energy.

But then a few hours pass and soon you are feeling a sense of tiredness and fatigue because you don’t have any glucose left in your body.

The result?

Your body starts to crave carbs to refuel.

Carbs “burn” fast, in comparison to protein and fat. Here is a diagram with more info.

protein fat and carbs on blood sugar

In the above diagram you can see:

  • Carbs – quick and high burst of glucose, fades away fast
  • Protein – medium boost of glucose, fades away normal speed
  • Fat – low boost of glucose, fades away slow

Carbs give you quick energy! Fats and proteins on the other hand don’t give you as quick of energy, but they last longer.

So if you are eating too many carbs, and not enough protein or fat, then you will get hungry very quickly.

Now in America and other Western countries like the UK, Canada or Australia, we have an abundance of carbs.

So most likely, if you are eating a carb heavy diet then you are actually eating too many carbs without enough protein or fat.

This is why you are craving carbs.

2 – Too Little Carbs, Not Enough Food in General

sweets in the middle of the night craving

The same phenomena is true in reverse.

Carbohydrates are a valuable source of fuel for your body.

If you don’t have enough fuel, your body craves carbs because your body needs fuel.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to become deficient in carbs and sugar due to various health trends like:

  • Gluten free
  • Keto
  • Low carb

What happens when you don’t get enough carbs?

Cars and sugar, fundamentally, are energy!

When you eat sugar or carbs, your stomach breaks down these ingredients into sugar. The sugar then enters the bloodstream.

While most people are concerned about levels of ‘high blood sugar’ an even worse problem is having no blood sugar! 

Because then you are dead!

When you run low on blood sugar, your body naturally craves carbs to boost the blood sugar back up to normal.

Unfortunately people think they are being ‘healthy’ by eating only ‘low carb’ foods, but then they often still end up having crazy carb cravings!

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recognizes restrictive diets, which cut out or overly diminish certain food groups like carbs or fat, may actually cause more of those cravings!

For example:

  • the ‘gluten free’ trend essentially says that the gluten in carbs is bad. However, only 1% of people are actually allergic to gluten. This means that many people are going gluten free and may not be eating enough carbs!
  • with keto, carbs are also seen as ‘the bad’ guy. One private client I worked with was only allowed 100 calories from carbs per day! That’s a very restrictive diet and no wonder she had carb cravings!

Find Your Carb Balance

carb balance

To summarize so far, carb cravings are generally due to nutritional deficiencies in your body:

  • Not enough protein or fat (eating too many carbs)
  • Not eating enough carbs

You must find a balance between too many carbs and too little.

How to find balance? We’ll discuss this point in the second half of the article but for now …

You must realize not all carbs are created equal.

For example, in the picture above …

You can think of both apple and donuts as carbohydrates because both turn into sugar in your blood very quickly.

However, apples and donuts are NOT equal.

Yes, they both turn into sugar. But apples, in comparison to donuts:

  • Give you more lasting hunger
  • Give you enough carbs without overloading you
  • Lead to feeling energized instead of lethargic

This is a really important point.

You need some carbs, especially if you are wondering to yourself “why am I craving carbs?”!

But, you need balance. Here’s another picture to further reinforce this point.

In this image you can see that carbs are both broken down into your glucose, but the banana has way less carbs!

blood glucose levels

Tips to Find Carb Balance

Be sure you don’t fall into the diet mentality that all carbohydrates are bad.

Instead you must find balance with carbs. But how do you find balance with carbs?

The key is to try to eat ‘complex’ instead of ‘simple’ carbohydrates.

complex versus simple carbs

Simple carbohydrates include:

  • Cakes
  • Pies
  • Cookies
  • Donuts
  • Sweetened cereal

Complex carbohydrates include:

  • Brown rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grain breads
  • Sweet potatoes

Most people are getting too much of the simple carbohydrates instead of the complex one. This is one reason why they get cravings for carbs so often!

So try to make sure you’re including more foods high in complex carbohydrates in your diet.

Don’t just think low carb is the solution!

3 – Emotional Comfort

emotional eating to calm down

But what if you are eating whole carbs and not eating too many empty carbs but you still have carb cravings?

What if you are “balanced” and still get crazy carb cravings?

Another common cause of carb cravings is to de-stress, and for emotional reasons.

I primarily help clients who struggle with eating various foods mostly in response to their

For example, research from Harvard shows that many animals under high emotional distress eat more foods that are high in sugar and fat.

Why do humans and even animals turn to carbs when under emotional stress?

Carbs and other foods can give temporary emotional benefits such as:

  • Distraction from stress
  • Numbness from difficult emotions
  • Excitement when bored
picture of a habit loop of cue, routine and reward as context on how to resist the urge to eat

Plus, if you have used carbs for emotional reasons in the past, your craving for carbs may have become conditioned within your body. 

Your body now craves sugar, just like it craves oxygen.

Now whenever you are stressed, you crave carbs not for the energy reasons, but for the temporary emotional benefits carbs.

The key word is ‘temporary’, of course.

Now that we have covered the top 3 reasons you crave carbs, let’s switch gears and focus on how to stop craving carbs!

1 – Don’t Cut Carbs Too Quick

binge eating woman

If you cut carbohydrates from your daily diet too quickly then you’ll end up self-sabotaging and eating tons of carbs.

The key is to gradually decrease how much carbohydrates you consume.

(And as you decrease the amount of carbs you’ll also need to increase the amounts of protein you consume – but we’ll talk about getting more protein later!)

Studies have shown that people who rapidly cut carbs from their diet often see a rebound in weight. It’s easy not to stay on track if you’re going too fast! Think back to when you last tried to cut carbs out of your diet.

Did you get extreme carb cravings or feel like emotional eating the next day?

If so, this is a huge indicator that your attempts to lose weight with a low carb diet are backfiring!

2 – Eat Protein and Healthy Fats

30g of high protein rich food examples like 5 eggs, strips of bacon, protein powder scoop

The mistake most people make is they don’t replace their carb intake with enough protein.

The protein itself can be converted into blood sugar, but you also need an equal amount of calories from the protein to replace the carbohydrates you are no longer eating!

You have to get enough protein!

Protein helps to stabilize blood sugar and by eating protein with each meal, you’ll feel fuller faster and avoid cravings!

Why? Because with adequate protein your stomach will be less likely to make those hunger signals that trigger carb cravings!

Plus, when digested in higher doses, proteins can help reduce levels of ghrelin.

Ghrelin is a hormone produced by cells lining the stomach and is responsible for stimulating appetite.

If you get more protein then this will help ghrelin stay in check!

One study found participants who had about 40 grams of protein before they sat down for lunch consumed 12% fewer calories than people who had 40 grams of carbohydrates.  

Protein Tips:

  • Eat something protein-rich and healthy before you eat carbs. Protein will help to stabilize your blood sugar levels without the crash of a carbohydrate high followed by a low (like when eating chocolate).
  • Add protein powder or lean meat to your morning smoothie.
  • Stir in beans, lentils and other plant-based proteins into pastas and rice dishes.
  • Take high-quality whey protein powder as snacks throughout the day for quick bursts of energy with amino acids.

Fat Tips:

  • Eat avocados. Embrace the avocado toast fad!  🙂
  • Add new flavors to your salads with olives, avocados and nuts like almonds or walnuts.
  • Switch from butter to olive oil for cooking. Butter is high in saturated fat while olive oil has healthy fats which are much better for you!
  • Use coconut milk instead of dairy-based creamers such as heavy whipping cream or sour cream

3 – Eat Fiber

fiber protein and fat

Remember how earlier I said there were two types of carbs?

We have the sugary ‘bad’ carbs like soda on one hand. Yet we also have ‘good’ carbs like apples (which I listed above).

Good carbs have a lot of fiber and other vitamins and minerals. The sugary carbs like soda don’t have any fiber or nutritional value.

I know carbohydrates get a bad rap in our society for being all bad and contributing to weight gain.

But you really need to separate the ‘good’ carbs away from the ‘bad’ carbs!

Please do not make the ‘keto’ mistake of cutting out ALL carbohydrates from your diet including the good ones!

Remember, your blood sugar will plummet if you remove all carbohydrates from your diet.

And low blood sugar levels inevitably lead to more irresistible carb cravings!

So gradually reduce the simple sugar carbs, but keep the good carbs. Very important lesson here in your quest to learn how to stop craving for carbs!

Good carbs have fiber, and your body absolutely needs fiber.

Fiber makes your body feel full so you don’t want to binge eat and it can help lower cholesterol.

Plus, fiber slows down digestion, which means you have longer periods without hunger and experience less craving.

Get Fiber Tips:

  • Breakfast, lunch and dinner – at a minimum!!
  • 1-3 snacks for the times between meals and for after dinner if needed
  • Protein every meal and snack!

For dinner, try to eat a meal with a whole grain like pasta or rice (whole grain is better because they are complex and are digested more slowly than simple processed carbs such as white rice or pasta).

If you don’t want to have pasta or rice for your meal then go for something like an acorn squash that has more natural sugars and less starch.

This will give you some of the sugar intake without having all those extra carbs which can lead back into cravings! 

4 – Drink Plenty of Water

clear glass of water with water droplets splattered on the ground

Staying hydrated is an important part of your journey learning how to stop craving for carbs.

Drinking enough water helps you to reduce cravings because  it helps to keep your hunger at bay.

By drinking enough water, you can feel fuller faster when it’s time for a meal and avoid that feeling of deprivation.

A good rule of thumb is drink, every day, the number of ounces of water that is half the number of your weight in pounds (so if you weigh 150 lbs, then 75-100 ounces).

Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day so that by dinner time there will still be fluid left in your stomach. This will help decrease those cravings!

You can also have a glass of water during meal times to wash down your food!

Limit Alcohol and Caffeine Intake

Both alcohol and caffeine will dehydrate you and cause more cravings. To process alcohol out of your body, your kidney takes about 1 cup of water for every ounce of alcohol consumed.

When processing caffeine your kidney also requires water.

But caffeine also inhibits how the body is able to use stored fat as fuel, which makes you crave carbs even more.

5 – Have The Occasional Treat

enjoy emotional eating picture of woman eating piece of cake and smiling with frosting on her nose

Stop obsessing about weight loss. Realize weight loss happens gradually as you learn how to stop craving for carbs.

If you have this gradual mindset then you can slowly cut out the sugar carbs and replace them with healthy protein and good carbs.

(Hint: also make sure you get enough protein by eating protein every meal!)

Make sure you keep the good carbs which have fiber. Continue to eat those whole wheat breads and brown rice so you stay full and satisfied for hours after eating!

Now do you see how having a treat like ice cream fits in here?

Forgive yourself for craving a treat every so often – have some candy or whatever else satisfies your sweet tooth.  Just don’t overdo it!

The majority of your intake should be ‘good’ carbs and proteins (along with some fats too!)

And of course drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and further reduce cravings.

6 – Get Way More Rest and Relaxation

dark quiet silent room for sleeping

If you’re anything like the average American then you are way too stressed and not getting enough sleep.

Sleep deprivation is a chronic stressor and it increases your appetite.

Stress of course makes you anxious and your thoughts race. If you are too stressed out during the day you won’t be able to sleep at night!

Even worse, stress and anxiety actually make you crave carbs more!

This happens because your body releases the cortisol hormone, which is because it thinks it’s in danger.

You need to find more time for relaxation so that your hormones can regulate themselves normally again. Sleep well!

If you can’t get enough sleep, then try meditation or yoga instead of sedatives. Sedatives mess up how all the other systems in your body work.

Stress relief tips:

  • Don’t go on intense exercise programs as they will just increase cravings; restful activities like reading may be better.
  • Slow things down and take care of yourself even if only by spending some quality time alone every day
  • Do things that you enjoy.
  • Take up a new hobby or try a different activity which takes your mind off of how stressed out you are and how hungry it’s making you feel.
  • Everyday, do some breathing exercise like deep inhales for 30 seconds

Sleep Tips

  • Make sure your bedroom is the right temperature (between 60 and 75 degrees F).
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule, go to bed at the same time each night.
  • Have a daytime routine that includes plenty of restful activities.
  • Limit how much caffeine you drink in the afternoon or evening hours.

7 – Mindfully Eat

mindful eating plate principles

Mindful eating can also help you to reduce carb cravings.

When you chew your food more slowly, you give your stomach a chance to register fullness.

This will make you eat slower and consume less calories in a meal. Plus you’ll also feel more full!

It also boosts the sensitivity of your taste buds, meaning that food with more flavor can then be enjoyed.

Mindfulness also helps you prevent yourself from getting triggered and emotionally eating.

Mindful eating steps

  • Slow down how quickly you eat.
  • Chew with your mouth closed and notice the flavors of what’s on your tongue.
  • Put your fork or spoon down between bites to signal that you’re done eating for now.
  • Take a deep breath, count ten seconds, then pick up your utensils again.
  • Repeat until you’ve finished the entire meal.
  • Ask yourself how hungry do I still feel? Is it time to stop yet? How am I feeling after this meal?”
  • If you are not satisfied after one portion, ask if more is really necessary before going back for seconds!

I hope this blog post has helped you understand the basics of glucose, and how important it is to your body.

You crave carbohydrates because your body is running on empty and needs more fuel for energy. But, once you eat that carb-laden food, the craving doesn’t go away for long!

This is why carbohydrates are so addictive!

Luckily there are ways to stop cravings from happening in the first place, by following a healthy diet rich with protein/fat and fiber.

About the Author

Jared Levenson is a former binge eating wrestler turned Zen Buddhist Monk, Internal Family Systems counselor and nutrition wellness coach. He's helped hundreds of people through universal meal principles and internal family systems to make peace with food, stop binge eating, and find true health and wholeness.


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