It’s not uncommon to experience food cravings when transitioning from a carbohydrate-heavy diet to a keto diet. Cravings can occur for several reasons, including nutrient deficiencies, stress, inadequate sleep, and changes in your blood sugar levels. However, the most common reason for experiencing cravings on the keto diet is that your body is still used to running on glucose. While you’re adapting to keto, you’re limiting glucose but not fully up and running with ketones. This leaves your body a bit confused as to where to get its fuel. The result? Carb cravings. Switching over to using ketones (fat) as fuel takes time (typically a week or two, maybe even longer). Once you’ve transitioned, you’re likely to find you no longer experience food cravings! Until you’re fully keto-adapted, however, you’re going to want some tips and tricks to deal with those pesky cravings; read on to learn more.
How to Curb Cravings
Here’s the good news; while cravings may be irritating, they’re absolutely manageable. Use these four guidelines to calm and prevent your cravings before they throw you off track.
#1 Eat Lots of Fat and Protein
Fat and protein are your friends on keto. While fat is clearly a cornerstone of the keto diet, protein will help keep your blood sugar stable and induce a sense of satiety. If you’re experiencing cravings, it may be that you’re skimping on one of these two essential macronutrients. When in doubt, especially in the beginning, make sure to have some high-fat and high-protein snacks around.
#2 Eat Regularly
The best way to manage issues with blood sugar (a common cravings trigger) is to make sure you’re eating regularly. If you let yourself get too hungry, your steady resolve to stick to a keto diet can rapidly devolve into an immediate need for food. If you’re struggling with cravings, eat at least three meals a day, with a snack or two if needed.
#3 Get Enough Rest
The number one non-food related cause of cravings is inadequate sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body’s hunger hormones get confused and imbalanced – leaving you craving sweets. In fact, research shows that just one night of sleep deprivation can increase levels of the hormone ghrelin, which is responsible for appetite and hunger.
#4 Try Keto-Friendly Alternatives
If you really have a hankering for a specific food like brownies, cookies, cupcakes, or any other seemingly off-limit foods, you can try a keto-friendly alternative. With the popularity of the keto diet, you can find more keto-friendly recipes for sweet treats than ever. Most recipes replace wheat flour with a nut-based flour and include sugar alternatives like erythritol and monk fruit.
#5 Check for Nutrient Deficiencies
When your body is low in certain nutrients, it can result in cravings. A common example of this is how women tend to crave chocolate (rich in magnesium) during their period. Low levels of magnesium can increase symptoms of PMS and therefore, cravings for magnesium-rich food would make sense, as a woman’s body tries to rebalance itself.
If you think your cravings may stem from nutrient deficiencies, talk to your healthcare provider about testing for deficiencies.
#6 Manage Your Stress
Experiencing a high level of stress is directly associated with changes in eating behavior. Compulsive eating and overeating often result from unmanaged emotional tension, which can be the cause of cravings.
If you have a lot of stress in your life and you find that your go-to comfort is food, trying to manage your stress and get ahead of the urge to soothe with food is your best bet. Some stress-management techniques include yoga, meditation, walking, journaling, deep breathing, and physical exercise.
Keto-Friendly Swaps for Carb-Heavy Cravings
Here are some excellent keto-friendly swaps that you can enjoy when those cravings hit:
Quick No-Cook Keto Snacks:
- Instead of potato chips, try pork rinds.
- Instead of cheese and crackers, try cheese and olives or celery.
- Instead of trail mix, opt for a nut mix (without the dried fruit).
And for the cooks out there, here are some fantastic recipes to calm your sweet tooth or satisfy your comfort food cravings:
Savory Keto Recipes:
1. Cheesy cauliflower mashed potato casserole
2. Air fryer garlic cheese rolls
3. Enchilada chicken casserole
4. Keto vodka pasta with sausage
5. Keto pizza with broccoli rabe, mushrooms, and sausage
Sweet Keto Recipes:
1. Keto hot chocolate
2. Chocolate peanut butter cups
3. Pumpkin spice mousse tart with chocolate-almond crust
4. Flourless chocolate cake with chocolate glaze
5. Vanilla donuts with chocolate glaze
A Word of Caution on Eating Lots of Sweet Keto Foods Containing Sugar-Alternatives
Not all sugar alternatives are created equally. For instance, sweeteners like monk fruit and stevia may impart additional health benefits like antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. On the other hand, sweeteners like sucralose and aspartame have been associated with health issues like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and impaired gut health.
What’s more, research shows that consuming foods that contain sweeteners (even ones that are free of sugar) may still stimulate an insulin response. Due to the learned response from consuming sweet foods, they may feed your cravings and lead to overeating.
An example of this would be the strong correlation seen between people who consume diet sodas and the incidence of metabolic syndrome. At first glance, it wouldn’t make much sense that diet soda (free of sugar) should contribute to metabolic syndrome. However, due to the conditioning of your body to expect calories along with sweet foods, metabolic activity may continue as if sugar was ingested – even if it wasn’t.
Some people do just fine with sugar-alternatives and don’t experience any issues with blood sugar. A simple way to find out if your body tolerates sugar alternatives is to blood test for food sensitivities after you consume them.
The Final Word
Although cravings can feel like do or die in the moment, you’ve got plenty of tools to fight off those unwanted urges and stay the course. The good news is, after you’ve become keto-adapted, your cravings will subside significantly, and your days of battling with carbs will be in the rearview.