We stand by the notion that the "perfect" diet is whatever makes you feel your best and supports your lifestyle—pizza included. That said, if you're looking to lose a little weight, it's helpful to consider the science in order to make the most efficient adjustments to your eating plan. And sadly, research shows that cutting carbs is a pretty solid strategy to go about it—especially if you're looking to reduce your body fat percentage.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, a recent study out of Stanford University finds that a low-fat diet can be just as effective as dialing back on the bread basket. But if you'd rather keep your avocados on rotation—an excellent choice, we might add—then know that cutting carbs doesn't have to be painful or difficult. In fact, there are a few expert-approved strategies for tackling carb cravings while still feeling completely satiated and—dare we say it—happy. That's no coincidence: In addition to aiding with weight loss and bloating, cutting back on refined sugar can help mitigate mood swings, stress, and even skin issues.
Keep reading for four easy tips that can help stop carb cravings in their tracks.
#1: Assess the carbs you're eating in the first place
Not all carbs are created equal, and adjusting your diet could be as simple as cutting back on refined, or "white," carbs. "These 'empty' carbs are ultimately void of nutrition and cause blood sugar spikes," says nutritionist Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, of Real Nutrition. "Some examples of these things include soda, candy, muffins, bagels, and french fries."
Those blood sugar spikes are actually what cause those pesky cravings in the first place. Scientists have found that a little while after a carb-heavy meal, our insulin levels tend to plummet—which leads to intense cravings for more carbs. (Incidentally, this is the same area of our brain that is associated with addictive behavior.)
#2: Honor the craving… with a healthy replacement
You're in for a miserable ride if you let yourself go hungry. Instead, make smart substitutes. "It is hard to cut out anything from our diet without finding an enjoyable substitute," says Maria Bella, MS, RD, CDN, of Top Balance Nutrition. "I would use this as an opportunity not to focus on restricting carbs, but as a chance to try new foods and recipes instead." She suggests swapping cauliflower rice with the regular variety or opting for black bean pasta over white.
"Start your meal with a salad, ask for cut-up veggies with your hummus instead of pita, snack on fruit instead of candy, enjoy nuts instead of pretzels, or wrap your burger in lettuce leaves," adds Shapiro. Get creative, and you'll never go hungry.
#3: Swap your soda
The LaCroix trend train? Climb aboard. "If you are used to drinking soda, swap to a flavorful sparkling water or drink something similar to Bai 5 ($2), which is naturally sweetened," says Shapiro.
Another bonus: Drinking water can help suppress those cravings. "Stay hydrated, as the hypothalamus in our brain tends to confuse thirst and hunger," says Bella.
#4: Consider taking a break from alcohol—or clear things up
The impact of alcohol on our bodies is undeniable—and the same goes for when we give it up. That's not to mention that when we're a little buzzed, it becomes that much more difficult to make healthy choices around our cravings. Consider scaling back to see how you feel.
And if you'd rather not, that's cool too—an alternative is to stick with clear-colored alcohol, which tends to contain less sugar and fewer calories.
#5: Start the day strong
Research shows that a opting for a protein-rich breakfast can help you reduce cravings and overeating later on in the day. "We often crave carbs when we are really hungry or when we are not getting enough protein," says Bella. "Protein suppresses the hunger hormone ghrelin." Fish, quinoa, eggs… They're all solid options.
Next up: Learn which foods are associated with incredible skin.