Do you struggle with your weight but find yourself unable to resist plunging into the bag of sweets after a long day at the office? Does an emotional moment have you turning to the pint of ice cream that you have stored in your freezer for such occasions? If so, you may be a victim of carb cravings.

Craving refined carbohydrates such as those found in processed foods like cookies, candy, chips and ice cream is a major obstacle to overcome in any dieters life. Research has shown that those who crave carbs eat an average of 800 more calories than those without carb cravings. Despite what you might think, these cravings have little to do with self control. If you are a victim of carb cravings, follow these five easy solutions to kick them to the curb for good!

1. Eat balanced meals with quality carbohydrates

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There is a huge difference between quality carbohydrates and the notorious refined carbohydrates that are associated with carb cravings. Whole foods containing carbohydrates are not only beneficial to your body but necessary for optimal health. Craving refined carbohydrates often coincides with nutrient deficiencies. Your body is made up of complex communication systems. When indulging in refined carbohydrate foods, your body is not getting the nutrition that it is expecting.

The body then signals to the brain that it is requiring more and more food. Instead of reaching for the bag of chips, combat your carb craving by eating balanced meals with high quality protein, fat and nutrient packed carbohydrate foods such as fruit or starchy vegetables like yams, squash and green peas. By eating at least three balanced meals a day that provide carbs, protein and fat with whole foods, your body will receive the nutrients that it needs to prevent unwanted cravings.

2. Boost your mood with exercise

Hundreds of research studies have pointed towards the link of carb cravings and decreased serotonin levels. Serotonin is the chemical in the brain that makes you feel happy. Refined carbohydrates have been shown to cause a release of natural opioids in the brain and cause a temporary serotonin increase that relates to that “feel good” sensation while you’re packing away a pint of ice cream. This same mechanism creates an addiction of sorts, adding another nail into your carb-filled coffin. In the same way, exercise releases endorphins and boosts serotonin levels without wreaking havoc on your waistline.

3. Drink plenty of water

Are you sure it is carbs you are craving? The part of the brain that tells you that you need an afternoon pick-me-up is the same part of the brain that signals to you that the body needs fluids. In order to prevent dehydration and the average person should drink approximately 64 ounces of water per day. Keeping your body hydrated will prevent you from mistaking your body’s need for fluid for the craving of calorie loaded carbs.

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4. Catch up on your z’s

Inadequate sleep has been shown to cause a disruption in hormonal patterns that may cause increased carb cravings. While you sleep your body produces the growth and repair hormones. When you short change yourself on sleep, your body is forced to produce these hormones during the day while suppressing the body’s natural hunger regulating hormone, leptin.

Leptin is the hormone that tell your body that it no longer is hungry. The hormones responsible for growth and repair while you sleep are also responsible for increased carbohydrate craving during the day. Sleep deprivation promotes the dieters worst nightmare of increased carb craving and decreased ability to sense fullness and satiation. Get at least 6-8 hours of sleep per night to prevent this fatal combination from getting in between you and your weight loss goals.

5. Heal your gut

Making sure you have the right balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in your intestines may be the magic bullet for eliminating carb cravings. When you have an unhealthy gut, it can promote carb craving for several reasons. The bad bacteria not only causes deficiencies in essential nutrients due to improper digestion of food but also paves the way for yeast overgrowth which thrives off of refined carbohydrates. Therefore the body is signaling for more food because of the lack of nutrients at the same time as the intestinal yeast signals to the brain to consume more and more of the refined carbohydrates needed in order to proliferate.

Another cause of carb craving is the inflammation that occurs with an unhealthy gut. Some bad bacteria can promote chronic inflammation which leads to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance not only causes increased carb cravings, but also encourages fat accumulation. As if all of this isn’t bad enough, poor gut health is also related to decreased serotonin levels which as mentions before is directly related to increased carb craving.

Fixing your gut is as simple as eliminating processed foods and foods you may be intolerant to from your diet and incorporating probiotic (good bacteria) containing fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi and sour kraut in order to replenish good bacteria. Have your doctor or registered dietitian assist you in discovering food intolerances that may be wreaking havoc on your gut. Taking a high quality probiotic and prebiotic (food for the good bacteria) might also be a necessary step in the gut healing process.

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