Carbohydrates, people are consistently talking about their love-hate relationship with them. People go on “low carb diets” to (try to) avoid them because they say “carbs are bad”. This is a senseless battle that ends up being unhealthy for both the mind and the body. The reason why and why you will not end up ‘losing’ — weight that is — may surprise you.
Do you know there is no medical definition of what “low carb” or a “low carb diet” even is? There is a major misunderstanding when it comes to carbohydrates that is contributing to our society’s obsession with diets. This confusion is leading us to think about food, all food, not just carbohydrates, totally inappropriately, contributing to eating disorders, obesity and disordered eating in general.
Forms of Carbohydrate
Without getting too scientific, carbohydrates occur in three forms, simple sugars, starches and fiber. Carbohydrates are our bodies’ preferred energy source and uses the calories it receives from starches and simple sugars to power the brain and all of the body’s cell, tissue and organ processes…and not only if you are Michael Phelps. Our bodies can’t breakdown fiber for energy but fiber does offer many health benefits including lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, reduce inflammation and help prevent obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. And people are trying to avoid them?!?! What? This is clearly not in their best interest.
It Will Lead to Less Muscle
If we don’t have enough carbohydrates in our system the body will have to break down proteins in order to get the energy it requires. Normally protein’s job is to provide fuel to our muscles but when we have to use protein to fuel our body’s processes our muscles can’t get the nutrients they need and they begin to breakdown as well and so we can use the muscle itself as fuel since we aren’t eating foods with enough carbohydrates.
When our muscles breakdown our metabolism and our lean body mass decreases while body fat increases. You read that correctly — your body fat will increase.
Sure, when you are on a “low carb” diet the number on the scale goes down…but not in a good way. Weight loss occurs because an inordinate amount of muscle is breaking down. The pounds seem to drop quickly because muscle weighs more than fat. This is not how we want to lose weight.
Total Calories Do Count
If weight loss and management are the concern it is the total calories that you want to be aware of. The where the calories are coming from is key to your health and to avoid excruciating hunger pains while losing weight.
Physical and psychological hunger will get satisfied when we eat a balanced diet of carbohydrates, proteins and fats while limiting the amount of calories we receive from food that contain added sugars (simple sugars), high fat proteins and unhealthy fats that are all found in highly processed foods. It needs to be noted that fruit, although has simple sugar in it, is not a food that we need to work hard at limiting since it is not processed or sweetened, the simple sugar that is found in fruit comes packaged with vitamins, minerals and fiber.
It is unhealthy for the mind and the body to think or even say that we are “avoiding carbohydrates”. It doesn’t even make sense. Foods contain carbohydrates but they aren’t “carbs”. Apples contain carbohydrates but they aren’t “carbs”, they are fruit. Sweet potatoes contain carbohydrates but they aren’t “carbs”, they are starchy vegetables. Foods aren’t “carbs” rather they contain “carbs”. Typically, for meal planning, we will categorize a particular food by the predominate nutrient that food contains.
Avoiding a particular food or food group (unless one has an allergy to it) gives food power that it doesn’t deserve. From years of counseling experience I have found people get the most results, and it is far healthier, if the focus of their attention is towards altering behavior instead of avoidance of food. By increasing the satisfying starches and fiber in our diets instead of focusing on the avoidance of processed and sweetened sugars, we draw the attention to the positive behavior and away from the negative. Because, as soon as we tell ourselves we “can’t” have something, we immediately want it. Try telling your toddler they can’t have their Thomas The Tank Engine.
So stop telling yourself what you “can’t” have and stop avoiding “carbs”. Start allowing yourself to have what you and your body wants in order to have a healthy mind and body.