The Facts About Carbs – and What To Do When You Crave Them

Pamela Malo, MHS, RD, Arivale Coach
Pamela Malo
MHS, RD, Arivale Coach

Does the lure of bread, cookies, candy, or pasta ever take hold and leave you feeling powerless? Cravings for these foods are very common. They can occur late at night, during times of stress, or – for women – at certain times of the menstrual cycle.

Read on to learn the facts about carbohydrates, how to keep cravings at bay, and what to do when cravings do arise.

Carbs are important.

While some diets – such as the trendy ketogenic diet – recommend cutting back or removing carbohydrates completely, we believe carbs are an important nutrient that shouldn’t be neglected.

Many people don’t realize that the term carbohydrate encompasses a whole family of foods that runs the gamut from candy canes to whole grains. To simply “cut out carbs” is akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater – and we would never recommend that!

Meet the two kinds of carbs.

There are two primary kinds of carbohydrates: refined and unrefined.

Refined carbohydrates include things like cookies, candy, crackers, white bread, white rice, and white pasta. They’ve been refined, or altered, from their original form.

Unrefined carbohydrates have not been altered and are generally eaten in their whole or natural form. Examples include fruits and vegetables, brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat, legumes, and beans.

Unrefined carbohydrates are healthier.

Unrefined carbohydrates are a major source of fiber, support healthy digestion, promote feelings of fullness (which can help with weight loss), and have proven effective in helping lower cholesterol. See why we’re a fan?

Refined carbohydrates are the carbs most people crave, but they provide little nutritional value for your body despite the calories. Does this mean you need to eschew them completely? Absolutely not! The key is eating mindfully.

Food cravings are normal.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with having cravings – or eating the foods you crave. If you find your cravings lead to behaviors that aren’t supportive of your health, don’t judge yourself. Get curious instead.

recent study showed simply recognizing a craving as just a thought was enough to decrease the likelihood of eating in response to the craving.

You can learn a lot from your cravings.

Knowing the underlying reasons why and when your cravings occur is the first step to managing them1,2.

Ask yourself:

  • When am I most likely to have a craving? Is there a pattern to when they occur?
  • What kinds of foods do I crave? Is it always the same or does it change?
  • Have I gone too long without a meal or nutritious snack?
  • How am I feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally? Is stress a factor?
  • How do I feel after eating what I crave? Satisfied? Guilty? Numbed out?
  • Have I had any down time today or saved any time for fun?
  • Am I getting enough sleep?

Learn how to keep cravings at bay.

Once you know your craving triggers and patterns, you’re better equipped to strategize ways around them. For example, if cravings arise when you’ve gone a long time without eating, pack an apple or nuts for an afternoon snack so you don’t get home feeling famished. If you’re more visual and they occur when you see something tasty, can you find a way to get to where you’re going without passing the desk with the candy jar or fast-food chain you’re tempted by? If the root cause is stress or emotions, how can you better manage these?

Master some in-the-moment moves.

When you’re facing a craving head on, try one of the “five Ds.”

  • Delay: Wait five to 10 minutes and see if your craving is still there. If it’s a craving and not true hunger, it will likely pass in that time.
  • Distract: Divert your attention toward something else. Do a puzzle, brush your teeth, call a friend, or stretch.
  • Distance: Put space between you and foods you crave. Placing healthier foods and snacks in convenient and easy-to-see places makes them more likely to be your go-to option.
  • Determine: How do you usually feel after eating this food? If you’re looking for comfort or connection, is there another way you could meet this need?
  • Decide: If you choose to eat something you crave, enjoy it fully! Be mindful of how much you eat, give it your full attention, and savor each and every bite.

A final note on carbs:

Our bodies are wired to eat and enjoy carbohydrates – and it’s important we do! They’re essential to keeping our heart healthy and our bowels moving and making sure we’re full and satiated. As with most things, being mindful of the type and overall quantity of carbohydrates is what matters most.