A few months ago I ran an online survey on PCOS symptoms. Out of 4022 respondents, 3997 said that their most troubling symptom is their uncontrollable carb cravings! So if you feel like you are constantly thinking about pizza, pasta, bread, and sweets let me put your mind at ease that you are not alone. As I always tell my patients – these symptoms mean your root causes are not well controlled. Get those under control and your symptoms will improve.
There are several underlying reasons for these cravings. Insulin resistance, altered appetite hormones, inflammation, stress, and fatigue are just a few. If you keep reading this article you will learn a lot more about your cravings and help put you in a place where you feel more empowered with your PCOS.
Causes of PCOS associated carb cravings
Many influencers talk about intermittent fasting as being the next big thing when it comes to weight loss. I am here to tell you it definitely is not. Spending more than 12 hours in a fasted state will increase your stress hormone and make your blood sugar go too low. This will increase your cravings and many times lead to binges around 4/5 pm. Generally, you will find yourself binging on high sugar foods which in turn affects your insulin resistance negatively.
Eating too many processed carbs.
For those who follow me, I am sure you know I am not in favor of a gluten-free lifestyle for PCOS unless you are celiac. However, refined and processed carbs such as white rice, white bread, white pasta, donuts, and other sugary foods are low in fiber and have a high glycemic index. This can cause your blood sugar and insulin to spike and drop quickly followed by increased urges to eat more carbohydrates.
Not eating enough protein and fat at meals.
Eating meals that are balanced and contain enough protein and fat can help prevent sugar and insulin spikes as well as keep you full for longer. I actually have 2 breakfast recipe books full of breakfast recipes that can help get you set up for a successful day.
Not sleeping enough.
Sleep affects hormones that regulate satiety, hunger, and how efficiently you burn calories. Too little sleep can lower levels of leptin and raise levels of ghrelin, which can increase hunger for sweet and/or starchy foods.
- Consuming inadequate carbs, especially if you are an active person. I commonly see my patients with PCOS follow very low-carb diets. Many of them quote Instagram accounts that favor the keto lifestyle for PCOS. While low carb or keto may work for some people (pls note I am not in favor of the keto diet for PCOS), others feel exhausted. Exercising regularly and not having an adequate carb intake can result in very powerful carb cravings as well as low energy levels. Carbs are the major fuel used by our muscles as well as the preferred fuel of our brain. If you exercise regularly and don’t eat enough carbs, your body may go into “carb seeking mode” and that’s when the cravings can get quite severe. In addition, you will likely find you feel tired all the time.
Having high-stress levels.
I am sure you know how many negative effects a stressful lifestyle has on our body. When we are under stress our adrenal glands will produce the stress hormone cortisol. Having high cortisol levels makes our body produce a chemical called neuropeptide Y. This can increase our urges and cravings for high sugar and high starch foods and often leads to binges.
Altered hunger hormones.
Women with PCOS are often leptin resistant. This can cause hunger more often as well as cravings and reduce the number of calories you burn. Which results in weight gain. I speak about this a lot in the PCOS blueprint program.
. Most women with PCOS suffer from a degree of insulin resistance. We know that this results in several nutritional deficiencies. So it’s possible there is a connection to cravings.
Ways To Beat Your PCOS Carb Cravings
- Keep a journal to identify eating patterns. I find journaling about your eating patterns and triggers can really help you understand your eating patterns much better. This is the journal I use with my clients – download it and use it in your day.
- Eat meals every 4 – 5 hrs. Plan your week in advance so you are always prepared when you start getting hungry.
- Eat protein. Protein sources such as fish, meat, eggs, and soy – keep you full for longer and prevent sugar and insulin spikes.
- Fat is an important part of your meals. If you grew up in the 90s like me you remember the fatphobia. We had no fat everything and fat was demonized. However now we know that including fat in your meals can go a long way to keep you feeling full. Focus on healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, nuts, and salmon. You will be surprised how it will help you feel better and fuller.
- Make sure you are eating enough! Many women restrict their food intake too much and this eventually leads to binge eating so make sure you are nourishing yourself enough.
- Sleep! Make sure you are getting 7-8 hours of good quality sleep at night.
- Stress management. Let’s be honest living a stress-free life is almost impossible especially in the midst of a pandemic but finding ways to manage your stress is essential. So make sure you find 1 hour for yourself per day – do whatever makes you feel good – whether it’s a walk, a Zumba class, breathwork, journaling, or reading a book.
- Supplements. When working with clients I always focus on food and lifestyle first but sometimes supplements may be worth a try if you can’t tame your PCOS carb cravings. Supplements such as Inositol, chromium, and magnesium amongst others have proven to be useful in helping to beat cravings
References: #1 #2 #3
If you experience frequent carb cravings, I’d recommend you play detective! Keep a food journal for at least a week. Record what you eat, the time, how much sleep you got, what you did for exercise along with any emotion you felt before you had the craving. You’ll likely be able to figure out what caused the craving and come up with a solution!
I’d love to hear about your carb cravings and help you brainstorm ways to beat them! If you support my work please do buy me a cup of coffee.