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Carb Withdrawls & How to deal
Deciding to go cold turkey on your favorite carbs (yes, the same ones that are bad for you, but so delicious) could be the hardest time in your life. The fuzzy brain, the headache, trying to beat the urge to run away from home and the whine of “I'm hungry” from the kids (oh wait that's not from the carb addiction).
Don't worry, you aren't alone, carb addiction is a very real thing, not just a made up condition or the figment of your imagination. The research is in, and it has been discovered that sugar addiction shares similarities to drug addiction, whereby pleasure and reward centers in the brain are constantly seeking their next “high” or feel good moment. See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2235907/ or https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2235907/
However, the good news is that carb addiction is not that difficult to break. In fact, after just 2 weeks or so of going hardcore carb commando, you can do without them, and you will not be subject to violent mood swings and out of control cravings.
The Seven Stages of Carb Withdrawals and some handy tips
Stage 1) Dude, I totally got this…
You've got all of your low carb snacks ready to go – your meal plan is on point. Who said this was hard?
Stage 2) The Cravings Kick In
Ohhhhh, so those cravings. The ones they warned me about. Yep, carbs are one addictive beast and it won’t let go of you without a fight. Plus, the temptation will be everywhere. Stay strong. Eat some protein and fat.
TIP: Prevent Hunger From Occurring Sometimes, the difference between a craving and true hunger is confusing. In general, if you hear or feel your tummy “rumbling” you’re hungry. At other times, you think you’re hungry, but no signals are being sent from your tummy.
The best way to prevent this?
Eat timed/planned meals. If you find waiting 4+ hours between meals isn’t quite working for you, divide that one larger meal into two smaller servings, which can be taken to hours apart. Ensure the meal is rich in protein and quality fat, as they are both very filling and will shut down your desires for sweets and starches.
The moderate amount of protein and high fat intake in a low carb/keto diet really helps to satisfy your hunger, so you want to eat less naturally.
In addition, when you begin to burn fat for energy, as you will on a low carb/keto diet, you will not experience blood sugar spikes, which also helps to naturally regulate the appetite, as long as you eat protein and healthy fats on a regular basis. THERE IS LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL, I promise!
Stage 3) But probably not before the Headaches….oh the headaches.
Much like when you give up that other addictive vice, caffeine, headaches are a very commonly reported symptom of carb withdrawal. Time to invest in some aromatherapy oils, and make sure to drink plenty of water (especially if soft drinks or juice were your main source of hydration beforehand).
Stage 4) You may feel some aches and pains.
Detoxing comes with aches and pains, or even flu-like symptoms (the infamous Keto Flu), in the throes of carb withdrawals. One remedy I vouch for is a warm bath with Epsom salts, which studies have suggested may help flush out environmental toxins. But if you feel really out of sorts, check yourself out with a doctor.
Stage 5) Mood swings? What Mood Swings?
At this point, your brain receptors are screaming: CARBS BRING ME CARBS!!! Between that and the headaches and the cravings, you may understandably have some gnarly mood swings. It’s helpful to have a solid support network around you during this stage, to help you remember why you started.
TIP: Keep Yourself Busy
Do you notice that you, or your kids tend to gain an extra 5, 10 or 25 pounds during holiday or vacation times? Even though you may not be travelling and trying exquisite cuisine, the act in itself of being home all the time, bored as hell paves the way for overeating.
Binging on carbs offers a short time fix for feelings of boredom, like smoking a cigarette to fix an itch. Keep yourself engaged in activities will help distract your mind from useless snacking, starting an addiction if you haven’t yet developed one. Plus keeping yourself busy will help you keep your mind off the cravings, the headache and body pain…
Stage 6) You may even get “the shakes”.
Just like a T. Swift song, your body may need to “shake it off, shake it off”. Mild tremors are linked to stress and blood sugar drops, so try having a snack or herbal tea to see if that helps. And do see a doctor if you are worried.
TIP: Stay Happy
Fun Fact? There have been many studies that revealed that cravings are not necessarily a result of hunger, but rather your mood. If you’ve ever watched a show like the Biggest Loser, one thing that usually resounds is the trigger than started the cascade of weight gain.
Normally, it was some sort of depression- having lost a family member, being bullied at school, having no friends or sheer boredom.
Food does improve your mood, albeit for a very short period of time, but then just leads to you wanting more and more, frequently that bag of chips or candy.
Instead of filling up your brain with somber, woe-is-me thoughts, do something to take up your time, such as visiting somewhere new, doing something you truly enjoy, getting some exercise or going to a movie.
stage 7) But suddenly, you’ll come out the other side feeling better than ever.
It could be a few days or a few weeks, but you’ll suddenly “get” what everyone was talking about. You’ll feel brighter, clearer and better than ever, as each day without the carb overload gets easier. No more cravings, no more blood sugar roller coasters, no more sugar-related headaches or 3pm slumps.
The key to getting over missing carbs is surviving the first two weeks, and getting them out of your sight. It is futile trying to break the cycle, when you have cookies stashed in your pantry begging to keep you company. In no time, you won’t be missing any of them – when your skin starts to clear up, you lose a bit of weight and you have control over your appetite again.
Stay strong and stick to it and I'll see you on the other side!