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 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, there's no disputing the fact that carbs are a great form of energy and help make up a balanced diet. You should only cut them from your diet if you've been instructed to do so by your doctor or dietitian for health reasons. Still, you can make healthier food choices that'll help curb your carb craving (especially when you're not actually hungry). With the help of registered dietitians and nutritionists, we've rounded up some expert-approved strategies on how to stop eating carbs while still feeling completely satiated and—dare we say it—happy.
Keep reading for some easy tips on how to stop craving carbs.
Cut Back on Refined Carbs
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 Amy Shapiro, registered dietitian, nutritionist, and founder of NYC-based private practice 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).
In addition to aiding with weight loss and bloating, cutting back on refined sugar can help mitigate mood swings, stress, and even skin issues—that's no coincidence.
Find 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, New York City-based registered dietitian, nutritionist, and founder 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 rice for cauliflower rice or opting for black bean pasta over white.
You can also start your meal with a salad, ask for cut-up veggies with your hummus instead of pita, snack on fruit instead of candy, or wrap your burger in lettuce leaves, adds Shapiro. Get creative, and you'll never go hungry.
Limit Sugary Fruit Juices
Jeanette Kimszal of Root Nutrition Education & Counseling explains that the excess sugar found in sodas and fruit juices is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure , elevated cholesterol, and heart disease.
The sparkling water trend train? Climb aboard. If you are used to drinking soda, swap to a flavorful sparkling water or drink something similar to Bai 5, which is naturally sweetened.
For healthy individuals, stick to less than 25 grams (about six teaspoons) of sugar a day. Those with a health condition should consume less than this, at around 15 grams (a little less than four teaspoons).
Avoid Confusing Thirst With Hunger
Making sure you're getting adequate water intake daily can prevent thirst from being confused with hunger. Aim for 15 cups (women) or 11 cups (men) of water a day.
"Since the hypothalamus is the structure in the brain responsible for signaling both hunger and thirst, it is no wonder you may wind up getting the two confused," says Kimszal. "One way to determine whether it is thirst or hunger is to drink a glass of water, wait a few minutes, and see if you’re still hungry." Bottom line: Drinking water may help suppress those carb cravings.
Limit Alcohol Consumption
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.
Kimszal says that if you're looking for a low-carb alcohol option, go for wine or pure liquor, as they have very little to no carbs. Clear-colored alcohol, which tends to contain less sugar and fewer calories, is also an option.
Have a Protein-Rich Breakfast
Research shows that 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, egg—they're all solid options. Other ideas for filling breakfasts include oatmeal with nuts or seeds, turkey bacon-wrapped asparagus, or Greek yogurt with fruit.
Opt for Low-Carb Snacks
Swap your midday chip bag with a low-carb snack and you'll find that you'll feel fuller, faster. Kimszal's recommendation? Nuts and seeds. "Nuts and seeds offer both protein and fiber, which help satisfy your hunger and keep you full longer," she says. Or, if you're the crispy-crunchy type (we hear ya), go for these protein chips by Quest, which only have four grams of carbs (and an impressive 18 grams of protein) per serving.
Choose a Milk Alternative
"Milk has about 12 grams of carbs in one cup, and is considered a high carb food," notes Kimszal. "If someone has a certain amount of carbs to stick to for the day, they may want to eliminate milk from the diet." Thankfully, supermarkets are stocked up with milk alternatives like almond milk, coconut milk, pea milk, and nut milk(s) such as macadamia and cashew. You can also pop some in a blender with some berries for a healthy, low-carb snack.
Limit Starchy Vegetables
It's no secret that some vegetables are higher in carbs than others (think: the potatoes that come on the side of your meal at your favorite steakhouse). Kimszal says that if you’re sticking to a low-carb diet, avoid foods like sweet potatoes (27 grams of carbs per one cup), white potatoes (37 grams of carbs per one cup), and butternut squash (16 grams of carbs per one cup). These all happen to be starchy vegetables. "Alternative vegetables lower in carbs include zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli, celery, green beans, and spinach," says Kimszal.
Replace Sugar With a Low-Carb Sweetener
"If you want to add a little sugar to your diet it’s best to limit it to the daily recommendations of 25 or 15 grams a day," says Kimszal. And while sugar itself is a low-carb sweetener (a teaspoon of sugar has 4.2 grams of carbs), too much of it in your diet can be harmful to your overall health. Kimszal recommends a low-carb, low-calorie sweetener like stevia or monk fruit, but says to look for a less processed version, as many brands contain additives and additional sugar. (We like this one from Enzo since it has 0 percent sugar and fat).
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