Can you fix those carb cravings?
What a great theory. There is no doubt that we crave carbohydrates, or sugar rich foods, in one form or another. Just think of the legendary example of an onion. If an onion was sitting on your counter, looking ripe and ready to eat, would you say, “I just can’t walk by a ripe onion without eating it.” Probably not.
Most of us will say we can’t resist chocolate, cake, cookies, soda, chips, or bread, though. If you are that rare outlier that doesn’t, good for you. You can stop reading now. You will never understand me. Cookies are ingrained in my DNA.
And the most interesting part to me is that an onion is “better” for your health than any of those high sugar foods. If we look at our basic biology and the need to feed ourselves with nutrient-rich foods for survival, this is a complete mismatch. It can’t just be our primitive brains sending us toward carbs. It has to be something more.
Why Do We Like Carbs So Much?
Carbohydrates seem to have a pull on our minds and our souls. Just watch your little ones. If they are anything like mine, they will gravitate to anything with sugar. And the more you give them, the more they want.
My one-year-old, Eliza, started it as soon as she started foods. And I am constantly catching my teens sneaking chips or desserts even after they claim to be stuffed at dinner. So stuffed that they couldn’t eat a single bite of vegetables. Who hasn’t been there!
Like my teenage step-son, less than 5% of Americans report eating a healthy diet according to the US Council for Responsible Nutrition. And the typical American diet consists of 45-65% carbohydrates. We are packing carbs into the diets of our youth and then wondering about the consequences.
From sugary sports drinks and flavored coffees to goldfish crackers and fruit snacks, carbohydrate addiction seems to be a learned behavior that may be only getting worse with the next generation. Add to that the fact that dinner for many kids consists of 3 food groups: pizza, hot dogs, and macaroni/pasta. You have created a carb-heavy diet, the recipe for future carb-addiction developing before your eyes.
I know, carbs are convenient and easy. And, after a long day at work, you just get tired of making foods that your kids won’t eat anyway. The good news remains that studies show that even picky eaters WILL adapt most of the time. It may take 30 parental tries to get them onto vegetables but kids will come adapt their tastes if you keep trying. And what is more important to us parents than our child’s future health?
Adults are Just As Bad …
We may eat our vegetables but carbs are still a staple for adult food cravings. According to Mindless Eating author and food researcher Brian Wansink, PhD, of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, his own study found that the most common comfort foods for women included ice cream, chocolate and cookies. Sounds about right. And for men it was ice cream, soup, and pizza or pasta. All carbs.
For most adults, carb cravings come in 3 categories:
- Between meals – that includes all of those high carb snacks that we so frequently can’t resist. For many of us parents, it includes snacking WITH our kids or on their leftovers. We wouldn’t want good food to go to waste after all, right?
- With meals – This is the potato, bread, pasta, or even soda that you consume as part of your meal. There truly is little nutritional value but they sure taste good.
- After meals – Aahhh … dessert. Ice cream, cookies, cakes, candy. How can you finish a meal without something sweet?
Wait, if we are talking about between, during and after meals, isn’t that basically most of the time? And we wonder why we crave carbs so much. They are the go-to food for most of us, and our kids, most of the time. We will never fix our carb cravings if we don’t start by recognizing the problem itself. And the fact that the problem of carb cravings leads to a near constant state of carb-loading.
What Do the Guidelines Say?
The American Academy of Pediatrics saw the growing sugar addiction in youth as such a problem that they addressed sugars specifically in their last guideline update. Their 2015-2020 recommendation includes “less than 10% of calories per day from added sugars.” That includes all of those cereals, snacks, meals , and desserts. That means that less than 1/10 of what your child eats should be sugar-rich. How close are you to that at your house?
The US Dietary Guidelines also recommends limiting added sugars to less than 10% of calories per day for adults. There seems to be a trend here. If we need to limit carbs for our health yet we feel regular carb cravings. how can this be fixed in a way that is not excruciatingly painful? Let’s start by breaking down our carb addictions one category at a time …
How to Fix Those Carb Cravings
- Between Meals – this one is easy. Get them out of the house. If you, and your kids, just can’t resist the goldfish crackers, you don’t need them in the house. Neither you nor your child will go for an apple or hard-boiled egg as a snack if those crackers are available and easy. Just resist the urge to bring them into the home. You can have them when you are out as a treat (and believe me, your child is getting them at school or daycare). The truly ongoing mindless snacking occurs at home, though. If you struggle with carbs, why set yourself up for disaster?
- During Meals – Pick one carb for your meal. Adding carbs into your diet is not necessarily a bad thing as long as it is not the majority of the meal. If you are having pasta, you really don’t need the bread with it. When you have steak and a potato, you don’t need the bread either. If you want the bread, ditch the pasta and make meatballs instead. I also love the Mindless Eating technique of leaving the carbs off the table. Place your salad and vegetables on the table to reach for if you would like seconds. Leave the carbs in the kitchen. That way it takes just a little more work to get to if you are looking for seconds. You will be much more likely to grab the healthy stuff with that small change alone.
- After Meals – So, I like dessert. I like dessert a lot. And I struggle with this one more than anything. I can ditch the carbs with meals easily but I like something sweet after a meal. For those of you like me, find healthy replacements for the home. Most low-carb diets will recommend berries with cream – and they really do fulfill that sweet urge. If you need that cookie, go get one while you are out but don’t bring a dozen cookies into your home. One cookie is much less likely to cause damage than a box of Oreo’s staring you in the face when you go for mindless eating at night.
Simply starting with these strategies to fix carb cravings will start you down a better path. Remember that carbohydrates are part of our diet and not all bad. You don’t have to eliminate them all together. But you will never fix those carb cravings if you don’t become cognizant of your eating and actively work to minimize them in your diet.
Simple Solution: You can fix those carb cravings through a few simple steps for yourself and your family. Simply leave the sugary snacks out of the house and pick one carb per meal. It will make a difference.
For More Blog Posts on Going Low-Carb, check out: https://doctormome.com/post/should-you-go-low-carb-or-keto/
For More on Incorporating Carbs into a Healthy Diet, check out: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/carbohydrates/art-20045705
And Your Child’s Diet Guidelines: https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/executive-summary/#figure-es-12015-2020-dietary-guidelines-for-americans-at-a-glanc