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How to break out of carbophobia, cut carb cravings, and derail your jones for junkfood

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

Craving carbs? Eat them!

OK, have I got your attention?

Today on the phone with my client Sandra (not her real name), the subject again reared its ugly (and hungry)  head.  Fear of carbs.  Otherwise known as carbophobia.

I bring this up today because Sandra is not alone in freezing up in the face of carbohydrates.  Even the healthy ones.  As a matter of fact, I have had no less than 3 conversations with clients about this in this week alone.  So I know it is a monkey on the backs of many.  Perhaps it’s on yours, too.

I can – and have been known to – (just as I did with Sandra) go on and on about this topic because it is fear of carbs that has made many of us fatter than ever.  How’s that? Let me explain.

Not all carbs are created equal

You know already that all carbs are not created equal.  You can see the difference between a bowl of brown rice and a twinkie as good as the next gal.

Now, intellectually you know they are not in the same league.  Yet when it comes down to actually eating that heaping plate of brown rice, potatoes, or sweet potatoes, you may – even subconsciously – be gripped with the same fear.  It’s almost an unspoken second language among women who have struggled with their weight.

Craving carbs? - eat them!

Whoa, Nelly!  What?  Eat them?  Remember, we’ve already agreed that not all carbs are created equal.  Yet there’s another very important thing you can do to finish defogging the glass on this one.

More often than not, when a client books a consultation with me to find solutions to their weight and energy problems, one of their concerns comes up quickly in the conversation.  And often it looks like this: “I can’t stop craving carbs!”  Or “I’m having trouble with carbohydrate cravings.”

I usually press for details, by asking something like “Oh, well, specifically what did you eat or want to eat?”

“Cookies” is a common answer.  Or, “Chocolate! ”

To which I answer, “Well, cookies get a big chunk of their calories from fat.

A quick Google search for “cookie ingredients” brought up a recipe for chocolate chip cookies with the analysis of:

calories per cookie:  266
total grams of fat per cookie:  12.4

I’ll do the math.  At 9 calories per gram, this cookie packs 112 of those 266 calories in pure fat.

That’s 42%  of those 266 calories kids.  These cookies are almost half fat.  Don’t just blame the carbs here.

PLUS the carbs in these cookies are processed, fiber deficient, and flavor enhanced.  So what are we really craving here?  How about a pleasurable biochemical cascade (quick rush) from fat and concentrated sugars?

Let’s level the playing field here. If were were really “craving carbs” then a bowl of brown rice should do it, shouldn’t it?

But when we’re at a carbohydrate deficit, we can’t get the quick rush we get from high fat, high sugar items out of our minds.

Now that we’ve got that straight, let’s clarify my “Craving carbs?  Eat them!” comment, just in case you’ve still got whiplash from that one.

Quality carbohydrates for fuel from early in the day makes ‘cravings’ for sugar-and-fat junk food dissolve.

Michael Greger, M.D., and Lani Muelrath at the Advanced Nutrition Study Weekend

Has this every happened to you?

You resolve to ‘eat better’ today.  You have a residual fear of carbohydrate – carbophobia  – that has you limiting your oatmeal, measuring out 1/2 cup of rice, or carefully portioning your potato.

And bread?  Fuhgedabout it!

Then about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, you can’t get the cookies, or crackers – or whatever flavor your ‘cravings’ happen to take – out of your mind and before you know it you are shattering your nails and self-esteem ripping open the cake mix.

I thought I invented the term “Carbophobia” a decade ago, yet Michael Greger, MD (above) evidently had the same idea.  Author of the book Carbophobia, Dr. Greger is a physician, author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues  and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous “meat defamation” trial.

I used to do this.  Open face sandwich (1 piece of bread only!),  or 1/2 potato at lunch.  Then come early afternoon? Stay away from my cookie dough and no one gets hurt.

The psychological pain of this, to someone who is fat and overweight at the same time as I was for lo those many years, is devastating.

Yet it can take decades – as apparently it did in my case – to get that eating more generously of those healthy whole grains and starchy vegetables, along with my veggies and legumes and fruits, was far better for my weight loss goals in the long run than holding out with white-knuckle hunger to only dive face-first into the brownie mix.  D’oh!

Carbohydrate is our most important fuel and we can’t fool mother nature for long by denying that.  Hence, the desire for fast carbohydrate in all its unhealthiest forms seizes our eating behaviors in spite of our best intentions.

What about fighting carb cravings by eating fat?

Women have gotten it through the gravevine that if they only eat more fat, they will reduce their carb cravings.  The truth is, fats in our diet other than the essential fats, in balance, that are found in whole foods, hinders the work of insulin to shuttle sugar from the bloodstream  into the muscles.  This can contribute to  insulin resistance and can create its own carbohydrate cravings.   Whole, high fiber and low in fat carbohydrates will allow a solid shuttle of energy into the muscles – and the brain – where you absolutely need them as primary fuel.

We don’t want to “fight” anything.  Work WITH your body and watch carbophobia fade 

Craving carbs means your body is sending the message that you need them for fuel.  It’s a mix up to respond with processed sugars and starches.  Lumping them in the same category as real, whole food carbs as primary fuel has gotten us into a lot of trouble.

Derail your jones for junkfood by responding to your body’s need- and desire – for quality carbohydrate, to satisfaction, early in the day, and watch that overwhelming craving for cr*p be barely a memory.

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