Cutting always starts off relatively easy and manageable. The calorie deficit is not yet low enough for you to feel any adverse side effects and you’re likely still consuming enough in terms of carbs/fats to still have relatively high energy levels.
Once you get that little bit deeper into a cut though and your calorie deficit starts to increase, then the cut gets a little more challenging both physically and mentally. One of the hardest things to deal with when cutting is of course food cravings.
How to stop cravings when cutting? You can’t completely stop cravings when cutting but you can reduce cravings when cutting. Do this by staying hydrated, eating zero/low-calorie alternatives to your favorite foods, consuming foods high in fiber like vegetables, and using appetite suppressants like coffee and green tea.
Cravings for sugar, carbs, and junk food will usually get worse the longer you are cutting for and therefore it’s not possible to completely stop cravings. There are, however, strategies that you can use to reduce cravings making them more manageable and I’ll be covering all of these tips in this article.
Why Do You Get Cravings When Cutting
For the vast majority of people, cravings when cutting will typically come from the calorie deficit and in particular, the depletion of carbs. The cravings are therefore mostly going to be for sugary items rather than carbs in general.
The reason for this is a combination of mental and biological, we know that donuts, biscuits, chocolate, and other sweet items or “junk” food can give us a quick and easily absorbed hit of sugar. Potatoes, oats, rice, pasta, are all slower digesting carb sources so when depleted, we’ll instead crave the fast-hitting source first.
This is not a hard and fast rule for everyone so keep that in mind but for most people, you’ll crave the immediate sugar source. Below, I’ll lay out the researched and more specific reasons for why you get cravings when cutting (the above was a more generalist view so feel free to skip these more scientific reasons).
1. Sugar Withdrawal
Sugar is one of the most addictive substances on the planet and it’s the single biggest craving that you’ll have when cutting. The reason for this is due to the dopamine (feel good) hit you get when you consume foods high in sugar.
You remember which foods gave you this dopamine hit and your brain actively craves more of it. This has been observed through clinical studies on rats and mice who after experiencing a dopamine hit from an outcome, will push their bodies through pain barriers just to get this hit again.
This is the power that comes with sugar/dopamine and is one of the mental reasons why we crave sugar/carbs when cutting.
There is also a biological reason as well. When blood sugar rises and insulin spikes after a moderate to high intake of carbs, this can then lead to an equally large drop in blood sugar and insulin.
These steep rises and drops put us through an aggressive cycle of consuming fast-absorbing carbs followed by the drops that make us then crave them again. Blood sugar and insulin levels are therefore a big cause of cravings when cutting and this is why a low-carb diet often leads to more cravings (due to the dropped blood sugar levels).
Ghrelin and Leptin are the two hormones that we are most impacted by when it comes to hunger and cravings when cutting. Leptin is a hormone that helps to control weight in the long term and when we lose body fat, leptin levels increase and stimulate hunger.
Ghrelin works in a similar way but on a short term scale. When our stomach is empty, ghrelin will send a signal to the brain to stimulate appetite (cravings) and hunger. When on a low-calorie diet, you can see how less body fat and a more frequently empty stomach will lead to these hormones working in overdrive.
It’s a survival mechanism and this is why during a large calorie deficit, willpower is needed to resist these hormonal urges to eat more.
How To Stop Cravings When Cutting
As mentioned earlier, there isn’t really a way to stop cravings on a cut and everyone will experience (and be able to cope with) cravings differently. Just because you can stop them completely though doesn’t mean you can’t significantly reduce cravings and make them more manageable.
With this in mind, I’ve listed some of the best things you can do to try and stop cravings. Some will be more effective than others whilst combining them can have a noticeable impact on cravings to the point that you might not even notice them!
1. Stay Hydrated
Often, feelings of hunger and cravings can be associated with needing to eat but a lot of the time, this feeling of being hungry is actually confused with being thirsty.
We can rarely tell the difference when the hypothalamus in the brain indicates a need for thirst over water which leads to people consuming more food when water was the viable (and needed option). Whenever you feel cravings or hunger, your first priority should be to hydrate.
Drink water until your urine runs clear and if you still have cravings or feelings of hunger, it’s likely because you are hungry. A lot of the time though, drinking water will act as an appetite suppressant, quench thirst and even stop cravings.
2. Keep the Calorie Deficit Small
This will be unavoidable the deeper you get into a cutting phase as a greater calorie deficit will be needed for continued weight and fat loss. When starting out, however, you should look to make progress with the smallest calorie deficit that you can get away with.
If you only need a calorie deficit of 100kcals to lose 1lb of fat over the course of a week when combined with cardio and weight training, you won’t find additional benefit from instead starting with a 300kcal deficit.
Sure, you might lose more weight in the first or two but every time you cut calories drastically, you reduce the results you can get with each possible calorie reduction. The key is to get more from less.
The smaller your calorie deficit whilst still hitting fat loss targets, the less hungry you’ll be over the coming weeks and months and the few cravings you’ll have. It’s tempting to go hard with the deficit to speed up fat loss but this will make it harder in the long run.
3. Stay Busy and Distracted
Boredom is one of the biggest causes of overeating, we eat when we are bored. Keeping your mind active throughout the day will go a long way towards reducing cravings that come with boredom or inactivity.
Eating is a time filler so while this advice might seem to be a bit generic, you really need to get some hobbies and activities that you can do to keep your mind busy whilst on a cut. Not only do you need to make sure you’re not thinking about food but you’ll also need to stay distracted from the hunger hormones and signaling mentioned earlier.
The key, however, is not to just exercise more to try and get the dual benefit of staying busy whilst also burning some more energy. The reason for this is that the more energy expended, the more likely you are to suffer from cravings to replenish the glycogen stores and satisfy the insulin spikes.
Therefore, look for low impact activities that focus on mental engagement but less on strenuous activity. Chores, DIY, and gardening do involve energy expenditure but not a significant amount so some home improvement is definitely a good thing to consider when cutting.
4. Keep Your Stomach Full
An empty stomach signals the release of ghrelin so you want your stomach to stay fuller for longer. This can’t be solved by consuming more calories each day so to keep your stomach full you need to eat foods high in fiber and voluminous.
Leafy green vegetables are usually a go-to choice for cutting as they are plentiful in vitamins and minerals, high in fiber, contain water to help fill up your stomach, and most importantly, are low in calories.
Regardless of what the calories say on the nutritional information for leafy green veg (as well as beans, legumes, and other vegetables to an extent) is that the energy needed to break down these vegetables is just as much as what you’d receive from them so gorging on green veg is definitely a craving minimizer during a cut.
5. Use Appetite Suppressants
Water and staying hydrated can in itself act as a form of appetite suppressant but you’ll also want to make use of other well-known appetite suppressants if you want to stop your cravings. Some of the main ones that most people can enjoy (without impacting your calorie intake) are coffee and green tea.
A few cups of each per day can go a long way towards suppressing your appetite for hours at a time and it’s a trick many people will make use of when intermittent fasting.
When deep into a cutting phase, coffee can be a good option not only to suppress appetite but also for an often needed energy boost. It’s important though to ensure you are consuming coffee to aid your cut but not so much that you have become reliant on it.
Sugar is addictive but so too is caffeine so don’t try to replace one vice with another.
Green tea performs the same appetite suppressing quality as coffee but with a significantly lower quantity of caffeine. Just keep in mind that you won’t get the same energy boost with green tea but on a more positive note, you also won’t get caffeine withdrawal or dependency to the same extent.
6. Consume Craving Alternatives
Oftentimes, the cravings you are having can be for very specific foods that you have some form of emotional attachment to. Pizza, burgers, ice cream, cereal, pasta dishes are all examples of foods that people enjoy eating for flavor and/or social aspects.
In these instances, it’s the macronutrient ratios and overall calories that make these foods almost a no go option when cutting. When you can’t have something, you end up just wanting it even more.
Therefore, to combat this, look for low-carb and low-calorie alternatives to the food you are craving and find a way to make this work with your current diet plan. Low-calorie ice cream is something that has become increasingly popular in recent years and can often be included to meet people’s macros.
Zero sugar drinks, zero-calorie sauces, and carb alternatives are all options you can look to which will satisfy your desire for flavor or “junk” foods when cutting with actually taking in the excessive calories that come with them.
7. Consume Foods That Fight Carb Cravings
I had to save the best for last and one of the easiest ways to stop cravings when cutting is to eat. The only difference being you won’t be eating foods that you crave but rather ones that curb cravings.
You also won’t be doing this when you get a craving because otherwise you’d be consuming food all day and go way over your calorie limit. Below is a list of foods that are high in satiety and including a good portion of these in your diet will help to curb any cravings for large parts of the day.
- Sugar-free chewing gum (the act of chewing helps to eliminate cravings)
- Leafy green vegetables
- Sweet potatoes (great for controlling insulin and blood sugar spikes)
- Sugar-free soda
- Zero-calorie sauces and sweeteners
- Fermented foods
There is no way to completely stop cravings when cutting. It’s both a mental and biological response that comes with a caloric deficit combined with low carb intakes (leading to sugar cravings).
What you can do however is look for ways to minimize the effects or frequency of cravings and if you follow some of the steps listed above, you’ll be much better prepared for dealing with cravings and in some instances, may even be able to stop cravings when cutting!
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