You’ve been following a low-carb diet for several weeks. Perhaps you’ve been "experimenting" (what some might call "cheating") by eating half a bagel or some ice cream. Maybe you’ve been eating a lot of foods with sugar alcohols and hoping that "Net Carbs" number on the wrapper can really be trusted. And suddenly, there you are, standing in front of the refrigerator for the fifth time that afternoon – not really hungry, but wanting to eat something. Carb cravings are most likely exerting their influence.
What are Carb Cravings?To be clear, I’m not talking about cravings FOR carbs (these are most common in the first few days on a low carb diet) as cravings CAUSED BY too many carbs. This is an extremely common phenomenon among carb-sensitive people. If you’ve been on a low-carb diet for awhile you might be able to get away with a meal or two with more carbs, but if you continue, it will evenutally catch up with you.
Essentially, carb cravings are 1) a strong urge to eat which is not associated with what we ordinarily think of as "hunger", and 2) usually triggered by either an excess of carbohydrates or the wrong type of carbohydrates. The craving itself may or may not be for carb-rich foods, but it can easily lead to a cycle of carbohydrate eating that is difficult to break. When people talk about "sugar addiction" or "carbohydrate addiction" they are probably talking about the same or a similar phenomenon.
My ExperienceYears ago, I read a book called Welcome Silence by Carol North. North had grown up hearing voices and other noises in her head. She tells how she tried to make sense of these voices, creating what we would call paranoid delusions about them - and indeed, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. However, at some point in her adult life, she received an experimental treatment which totally removed the voices in her head (the probability is that toxins in her body were causing the symptoms, and a form of dialysis removed them). The title of the book refers to the morning when she woke up...to blessed silence in her head.
For me, getting rid of carb cravings was a little like this. For many years I had tried to figure out why I kept eating when I wasn’t really hungry. I sat in support groups pondering the emotional reasons I must have for keeping myself fat. I moved on to leading groups where we endlessly discussed our reasons for eating. Just like Carol North, I tried to come up with the reasons for those "voices" that didn’t seem to make sense.
Then I went on a version of the Zone Diet. And it was my own "Welcome Silence" experience. Suddenly, those urges were gone, and I suddenly had total control over my eating. I went about my day without thinking of food, until I was hungry, when I ate! Wow! Just like normal people! It was a revelatory experience.
Carb Tolerance LevelUnfortunately, I went off that diet, and regained weight. And although I tried from time to time to do it again, it never really worked for me. Now I realize that for whatever reason (I blame menopause), my body has become less tolerant of carbohydrate, and the amounts permitted on the Zone are just too high for me. Once I found my new carbohydrate tolerance level, I again experienced control over my eating, and the "Welcome Silence" experience.
Carb Cravings – Sending a Message
These days, my understanding of carb cravings has totally changed. Instead of cursing them, or giving in to them, I try to simply receive the message they are sending – that my carb level has edged up too high. It’s time to evaluate my eating patterns and readjust. Everyone missteps from time to time. Aren’t we lucky to have such a vivid communication system telling us we’re off track? It’s simply that we're standing in front of that vending machine, refrigerator, or snack food aisle when we “just need a pick-me-up”. Our bodies are calling to us in those moments - we just have to listen.