Why am I Craving Carbs? — 8 Common Reason

A common complaint I hear from my clients is that they are constantly craving carbs and want to know how to stop.

I am going to share 8 common reasons I hear from my clients when we dive into their cravings.  Plus we will go over what carbs are and their benefits. Lastly, we will talk about how to stop craving carbs and your next step

Hey, I’m Jenn, a Registered Dietitian who has a passion for helping individuals fuel, think, and move to the best versions of themselves without sacrificing their relationship with food. If you want practical, evidence-based nutrition advice to improve your performance and wellness — Learn how I can help

Let’s dive in…

What are Carbs and why do we need them?

Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients (the other two are protein and fat) and the most misunderstood. Carbs are the body’s main and preferred source of fuel and provide the quickest energy

Besides fiber, all carbohydrates are broken down into glucose which enters the bloodstream to be used by the brain, muscles, and nervous system for energy. Unlike our muscles and liver, the brain can’t store glucose for energy so it needs a constant supply. (Remember this for later).

The fiber found in carbs (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds) is not digested. Instead, it provides other health benefits such as:

  • Helps maintain bowel health
  • Feeds the good gut bacteria
  • Helps lower cholesterol levels
  • Helps control blood sugar
  • Keeps you fuller longer
Food sources of carbohydrates

Let’s look at some of the benefits of carbs…

Benefits of Carbohydrates

Provides Energy:

  • The preferred source of fuel for the brain, central nervous system cells, and the muscles (i.e. skeletal, smooth, and cardiac muscles)
  • Carbs are stored in the muscles as glycogen and used when exercising = serve as the major source of energy during exercise
  • Serve as the only energy source for red blood cells and under anaerobic (without oxygen) conditions

Spares Protein: 

  • Ensures that the protein you eat will be used to build and repair muscle tissue rather than for energy
  • Prevents your body from breaking down muscle tissue to use for energy

Aids in Healthy Digestion & Optimal Functioning of Body Systems: 

  • Provide Fiber, Vitamins and Minerals
  • B vitamins are co-factors in metabolism and necessary for metabolism to happen
  • Fiber in carbs adds bulk to the stool and can help prevent constipation along with adequate fluid intake (*note if you are not eating enough good overall or not drinking enough fluids, fiber can make constipation worse)
  • Fiber in carbs also feeds the beneficial bacteria in the GI tract which in turn helps to regulate your immune system and decrease inflammation
  • Fiber binds and removes cholesterol from your blood which helps to lower your cholesterol levels and improve heart health 

Improves Mood & Overall Feeling:

  • Fiber in carbs helps you feel full as fiber takes longer to be digested and absorbed (*note if you’re malnourished, consuming lots of high-fiber foods won’t be beneficial)
  • Not feeling overly hungry helps you to avoid “hangry” moments
  • Carbs cause a release of serotonin which can help increase your emotional energy, improve your mood, and help you sleep better

Why am I Craving Carbs? 

As much as I wish I could give you a simple answer to why you are craving carbs, nutrition, and cravings are complicated. There are potential biological, hormonal, and psychological reasons for craving carbs.

I made a list of 8 common reasons my clients find themselves craving carbs. Let’s dive in…

8 Reasons Why You’re Craving Carbs

You Need Fuel

Has it been a few hours since you last ate? Have you been intentionally or unintentionally underfueling for a while? 

Remember, carbohydrates are the body’s preferred and most efficient fuel source. When we haven’t eaten in a while or are under-fueling, our body will start to crave quick energy… aka carbs.

You may not even know that you are hungry. When we ignore our internal hunger cues and rely on external cues to eat our body stops sending us those internal hunger cues. Craving carbs could be a biological signal to eat something. 

For example, when we haven’t eaten in a while there is an increase in ghrelin and neuropeptide Y. Ghrelin is the hunger hormone that tells you it is time to find food. Neuropeptide Y also tells you it’s time to eat but it gives preference to carb intake. 

You Have a Craving

Sometimes we just get a craving for a certain food even if we aren’t physically hungry.  

Taste hunger is the desire to eat something because it looks, smells, or sounds delicious, regardless of whether or not you are physically hungry. 

Have you ever craved a particular food…only to ignore the craving and eat other “healthier” foods to try and quench that craving? 

My guess is you still had the craving and none of the other foods you tried satisfied you. If we allow ourselves to satisfy cravings, we are less likely to binge on other healthier foods trying to avoid the food we truly want. 

Guess what? It is okay to eat food because you are craving it. Food is not only fuel but it also brings us comfort and joy. While it shouldn’t be your main or only source of comfort (we all need a self-care tool kit) it is 100% okay to honor our cravings.  

Your Menstrual Cycle

During the mid to late luteal phase (about 2 weeks before your period), women experience a drop in serotonin levels (the feel-good neurotransmitter). 

Eating carbohydrates causes a spike in insulin, which helps neutralize the other amino acids and allows tryptophan (an amino acid) to make its way to the brain. Tryptophan is needed to produce serotonin. 

So really, it’s just our body not only trying to improve our low energy levels during this time but also trying to improve our low mood. 

You Just Exercised

When we exercise or train, our body uses the stored glycogen (stored form of carbohydrates)  to produce adenosine triphosphate aka energy to fuel our workout. 

Our liver stores around 80-100 grams of glycogen and our muscles store around 300-400 grams of glycogen. How long it takes to deplete those stores will depend on the intensity and duration of our training. 

We often think about the importance of carbs before a workout and protein after a workout. But it is also important to eat carbohydrates after a workout to help restore glycogen in the body. 

You’re Tired

Remember, ghrelin the hunger hormone? When we do not get sufficient sleep (7 or more hours a night) there is an increase in ghrelin. 

Studies have found that insufficient sleep increases energy intake by over 250 calories with a preference for higher fat and carb foods. 

Developing a sleep routine should be an important part of everyone’s self-care toolbox. Sleep is when our body recovers and recharges to conquer each day. 

You’re Stressed

When we’re stressed our body goes into a seek comfort and save mode. 

Like we talked about before, food is a source of comfort. When we are stressed we seek comfort. It is okay to eat for emotional reasons but just like I mentioned before we don’t want food to be our only comfort or coping mechanism. 

When we are stressed our body also goes into a scarcity mode. It wants to protect us. It increases appetite and cravings so that it can store nutrients for later use. 

You’re Blood Sugars are Imbalanced

Carbohydrates are the quickest of all of the macronutrients to digest. When we eat them alone (which is also okay) we experience a quick rise and fall of blood sugar.

When blood sugar drops you may feel the dreaded “hanger”. This happens when the brain is not getting enough glucose. When your brain needs quick energy it will signal for you to eat quick digesting carbs. 

To avoid the quick rise and fall of blood sugar, pair carbohydrates with protein and/or fat. 

You’ve labeled them as “Bad” or are Restricting Them

Labeling a food as “bad” or “unhealthy” flips a switch in the brain, putting the food on a pedestal and activating the reward system for that food. 

When we do this you will want that food even more. Which will typically bring guilt because when we eat a food labeled “bad”  we often tell ourselves that we are “bad” for making that decision. 

Instead, we want to be aware of the labels we put on food and why. Then we need to work on giving ourselves permission to eat all foods and let go of the guilt of eating. (This will take a lot of practice). Then we can learn to build a meal or snack with the foods we want and add the nutrients we need. 

Craving Carbs: 8 reasons why am I craving Carbs

How to Stop Craving Carbs

First, I need you to answer this question:

Why do you want to stop craving carbs?

Is it because you’ve been told they are bad? If so, I want you to hear me when I tell you that carbs are an essential part of the diet. They provide energy and nutrients that our body needs to function optimally. 

Carbs also bring comfort, pleasure, and enjoyment. They fuel our workouts so that we reach our performance goals. 

My hope for you is that you are able to give yourself permission to let go of strict food rules and eat the carbs. 

Give yourself permission to eat when you are hungry and eat the foods you crave and add the nutrients you need. 

If you are stressed, build a selfcare toolbox that has more than just food for comfort. If you need help building your toolbox, I would love to guide you. 

Next Step

If you are not comfortable giving yourself permission to eat and need help with the journey to food freedom…

Or if you don’t know if you are getting the energy and nutrients you need to reach optimal performance and total wellness…

Schedule a free 15 minute call today! I will be your evidenced-based dietitian who helps you feel confident in your fueling choices.

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist | Website | + posts

Jenn Schmidt is a licensed and board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in Minnesota. Her specialty is in performance nutrition and wellness, which focuses on helping individuals fuel, think, and move towards their best selves without compromising their relationship with food. Jenn is passionate about all things food-related and enjoys making complex science easy to understand for her clients and readers.

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