How to Hack Carb Cravings When Eating Healthy

Dying for a bagel you know you shouldn’t have? Or maybe that slice of pizza or cake? When we’re craving carbs, we’re usually talking about craving refined carbs like those from sugar and wheat flour. After all, broccoli includes carbs but you never go out of your mind craving it like you do wheat and sugar products. Nothing will derail a diet or healthy eating goals faster than your typical carb cravings.

Here are ways to cut those cravings in order to stick with eating healthier. Not all are vegan friendly but they’ll help in getting you off refined carbs.

Understand Your Cravings

To break free, it’s best to understand why we’re so intensely craving those “bad” carbs in the first place.


Sugar is highly addictive. In a famous experiment, cocaine-addicted rats were offered a choice between a hit of cocaine or a hit of sugar water. They went en mass for the sugar water. Humans may vary somewhat from rats but we are equal fiends for sugar. However, it’s a relatively new love affair. Modern processed sugar only came onto our cultural scene in the mid-1800s when we developed the technology to mass refine and ship it. In the early days of mass-produced sugar, we ate only 3 pounds a year per person. Today, we eat roughly 153 pounds a year.

Sugar is now well-known for its link to all sorts of ill-health yet we don’t realize just how pervasive this white crystal powder and its other forms have become in our lives. See Kick the #1 Food Habit Destroying Your Health With the Book of the Month: The Case Against Sugar.

If you can’t go a week without needing a food with added sugar as an ingredient, consider yourself addicted. Once you admit the problem, it’s easier to deal with rather than blame yourself and your willpower for failing.


Similarly, the staple of modern Western food is extremely addicting wheat flour. Like sugar, it’s become highly refined – so finely milled compared to wheat in the early 1800s that it basically hits your bloodstream like sugar. One slice of regular bread (white or wheat) actually has a higher glycemic index than a serving of table sugar! Which means we get a massive sugar rush from eating most refined flour products, along with the accompanying highs and lows in blood sugar that propel a cycle of cravings.

But that’s not the only problem with our typical wheat products. The gluten in flour breaks down into morphine-like chemicals that bind to your opiate receptors.

Wait, morphine-like chemicals and opiate receptors???

That’s why you go all gooey over a bagel, pasta, bread and most baked goods and tell everyone you can’t live without them. That’s your addiction talking. For more on gluten and our love affair with wheat, see my article How Wheat and Gluten are Damaging Your Brain and Body and What to Do About It With the Book of the Month: Grain Brain.

The takeaway: Basically sugar is crack and wheat is smack to us humans. Hacking carbs therefore isn’t just about willpower. It’s about hacking addiction. Plain and simple.

Cold Turkey

The best way to beat your carb cravings is to go cold turkey. Toss out or give away the sugary snacks, desserts and drinks. Same for breads, pastas, pizza, etc. that contain gluten. Get them out of the house, stop buying them and don’t let them past your lips.

Yes, these beloved foods must go. Yes, you can live without them. There are literally so many other awesomely delicious foods and dishes out there that you could never taste them all in your lifetime. You’ve just gotten addicted to mostly eating only those which contain sugar and gluten, i.e. wheat.

Yes, you will go through withdrawal. Like climbing the walls and wanting to gnaw off your arm withdrawal. The 1st week is horrible. I won’t lie. Having experienced it, I’m well aware of the process. After that, it’s more bearable. But you have to endure some intense short-term pain to come out free. It’s like quitting caffeine, only harder because sugar and gluten are in practically everything unlike with caffeine. Our society is so addicted that our culture is basically one big 24 hour self-dealing drug den.

Your health, though, will drastically improve once you’re off these substances and eating real food like you were meant to. Your energy levels will climb. You’ll feel vital and clear-headed, probably lose weight and start looking younger too. And the health impacts are extraordinary. Many ailments will start to disappear within short time, some like insomnia, indigestion and constipation in as little as a few days. And that’s the small stuff. The big stuff will start to reverse too. See my article What Happened When I Gave Up Bread.

So it’s worth it.

There Is No Easing Into It

Lets face it, as addicts we’re likely to fall off the wagon and binge refined carbs like crazy at some point. The point is to pick ourselves up, give ourselves a stern lecture, followed by words of encouragement before getting back with the healthy eating program.

When dealing with carbs and carb cravings, a little change at a time will be difficult. It’s like a heroine or cocaine addict trying to quit a little at a time: nearly impossible. That and any moment of weakness threatens complete relapse.

When I went gluten-free, it took me literally a year and a half to quit craving pizza completely and reach the point where now I’m not sure why I ever really worshiped the stuff (I’d eat it at least 3 times a week in my carb heydays). In the first six months, one moment of relapse had me eating an entire pizza in a sitting and ordering several to eat later. Honestly, other gluten foods are still problematic. Bagels, I’m talking about you. If they are in the house because of guests, I’ll have a bagel in my mouth before I even realize it. Sugar is just as bad. The best thing for me and probably you is to not have these products around. Period.

I’m sure you understand the irresistible urge when it comes to your own cravings. Here’s what’s worked for me to stop most cravings or at least mute them.

Close Cousins

When it comes to quitting sugar and refined carbs, close cousins are your friends. For instance, rice is a great substitute for pasta and other wheat dishes. It’s got carbs and white rice isn’t necessarily great health-wise but it will sate your carb craving for the most part without the same addictive claws as wheat. It makes a perfect vehicle for awesome lunches and dinners – so that helps with 2 out of 3 meals. It’s a carb but not a refined carb. Key difference.

Oats are great for cutting addictions to sugary or floury breakfasts like bagels, muffins, donuts, sugary cereal, etc. It’s still a carb so it will help with cravings but it’s also a gluten-free whole grain, not a refined carb, that will feed your gut biome and help regulate appetite. Just stick with steel cut, rolled, or quick oats over instant. Instant oats are horribly processed and will spike your blood sugar more than wheat.

Sugar doesn’t really have a close cousin. Honey, while not a refined sugar, is still a sugar. So is maple syrup and agave. Eating foods loaded with them isn’t going to help you or your cravings any. Instead, start replacing your sugary foods and desserts with milk and juices. They’re both full of lactose and fructose. And before you go crazy saying fructose and lactose are still sugar, the point is to REPLACE your main addiction and wean off it. They’re like methadone. Plus, it’s hard to down 5 cups of either like you can with soda and other sugary beverages.

black ceramic bowl filled with cereal
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My go to replacement for intense sugary snack cravings was literally a bowl of Cheerios with a cut up banana. It has a very tiny amount of added sugar and while processed, it’s made from whole oats and has very few ingredients. The sugar content of the milk alone (12 grams or 3-4 teaspoons of sugar) sated my sugar tooth when I wanted ice cream, cookies, etc.

Dairy can really help with cravings. Milk products are not just naturally sugary, they’re also opiate-like. The chemicals in milk, and especially cheese, break down into morphine-like chemicals that bond to our opiate receptors (just like gluten). This is one of the reasons we love cheese and why cheese and bread together (hello pizza) are one of our ultimate weaknesses. So up your dairy intake to come down off the sugar and wean off the wheat and gluten.

A bowl of yogurt with nuts, seeds and fruit is a great morning breakfast to kick both sugar and gluten habits thanks to the fructose of the grapes and the lactose and protein in the yogurt. Both are arguably better for you than donuts, pastries, etc. Plus, you won’t get that blood sugar spike, carb crash, and renewed carb craving in a couple of hours.

For snacks, eat cheese, fruit and non-gluten whole grain crackers. Make smoothies with yogurt or milk with fruit or protein like nut butters. Basically, use the opiate-like rush of dairy products to wean you off the wheat and gluten. A dairy addiction, unless you’re lactose intolerant, is a much better eating behavior to have than refined carbs and if you ever go vegan you’ll be able to overcome it.

Additionally, swap to other less addicting carbs like corn tortillas over flour tortillas and corn chips and salsa instead of sugary snacks. Start looking for near cousins of your worst offenders, something you’ll enjoy eating but which won’t feed your addiction or lead you away from eating mostly non-processed foods.

Be Too Busy With Other Food

As with love, sometimes we heal fastest when we move on with someone new. In this case, we want to move on to foods so delicious we forget about our former loves. This becomes increasingly easy after the withdrawal of the 1st week.

Fall in love with new hearty soups and fragrant dishes you never tried because, like me, you were too busy stuffing your face with pizza. Binge on hummus, olives and cheese. Discover artichoke dips and zucchini fritters. Drink up the coconut water, kombucha, teas and espressos that your stomach didn’t have room for because it was full of Pepsi.

Go gaga over taco bowls, curries and stir fries. Try Indian, Chinese, Thai and Lebanese classics. You won’t find a lot of refined carbs here, just awesome food. Move on and have fun with the new culinary experiences and adventures. That will help cure your fondness and nostalgia for refined carbs.

From The Kitchn

Gaining Food Perspective

In transitioning to a healthy and addiction-free way of eating, mindset is everything. Our cravings are very much chemical-based so we should come at them armed with techniques to defeat them behaviorally and nutritionally rather than relying on mere willpower. Start viewing the chemicals in your food like sugar and gluten as drugs, ones you should say no too or at least only use recreationally – not for nearly every meal, snack and drink like has become common in modern culture. Use other foods to get your carb fix – ones healthier for you and which will help you transition through withdrawal and wean you off your dependencies.

You’ll find that when you do this, you’ll fight clear of refined carb cravings. Your body and mind will thank you too.

Like this article? Please share it so that others can learn these health secrets and start living their best lives now.

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