What's Healthy About This?

Because you shouldn’t.

“But carbohydrates make me fat!”

I’ve had several clients over the years come in believing this very thing, that eating carbohydrates would make them fat. So, what they would do was go on these all high-protein and high-fat diets, eating only eggs, bacon, butter, steak, water, vodka, and whatever else had very low or no carbohydrates in it for a few days, sometimes a week or two, then having a carb binge, only to beat up on themselves again and again, hating themselves for doing “the wrong thing.” Have you ever done this, or some variation on this?

Well, the truth of the matter is this, you can lose weight very quickly on an extremely low-carb diet. To say that’s not true would be a lie. However, it’s a bad idea. And it almost never works. And I know that because if it did, people would go on a very low-carb diet once, lose all the weight they wanted in a few weeks or months, and never look back.

Your body wants carbohydrates. It really does, and it runs more efficiently on carbohydrates and protein than on protein alone. Which is why starving yourself of carbohydrates will inevitably result in a carbohydrate binge (not to mention the strain it will put on your organs), and for most people, this isn’t usually a binge on garbanzo beans and yams, but on processed boxed foods (think Chips Ahoy, Twinkies, and Ben & Jerry’s).

Let’s look at why very low-carb diets result in quick weight loss. Your body relies on carbohydrates as quick energy, when you starve your body of carbohydrates, it’s going to have to go into your fat stores to burn for energy. Theoretically this sounds great. But, most people don’t get there. This is later on, after a few days when your kidneys have let go of all the water in your body. The initial dramatic weight-loss you experience is water weight, which is why if you eat like one potato chip, and knock your body out of ketosis (a state that very low-carb dieters strive for), and you will hold onto water again and feel as though you’ve gained all the weight back that you lost. This creates a really intense cat & mouse game between you and carbohydrates.

When you don’t supply your body with any carbohydrates, it needs to slow down to preserve energy.  This is why when people dramatically  restrict their carbohydrates, they find that they are unable to exercise very much at all,  they find that they are constipated due to lack of fiber, and they often become nauseated from ketosis.  Because glucose stabilizes serotonin levels,  some folks might find that they are depressed.   Because your body runs so inefficiently on a very low carb diet, you will probably find yourself rebounding at some point with a carbohydrate binge.  This sets up a cycle, again and again.

I had a client come in telling me, “I once lost 10 pounds in two weeks eating just steak and red wine, I know I can do it again…” and despite how much we worked on integrating healthy carbohydrates into her diet, her belief was that all carbs, in any amount were bad. So if she woke up in the morning and “accidentally” had a piece of toast with her eggs, she believed that her whole day was ruined and would continue throughout the day by eating ice cream, cake, cereal, pasta, whatever she could get her hands on, then use that as proof that carbohydrates were the problem. She would then hate herself. It wasn’t that one piece of toast that started the binge, despite the fact that she told herself that she couldn’t eat any carbohydrates because she was addicted.  It was the belief that she couldn’t eat any carbohydrates and the black and white thinking that triggered the binge. She got so angry at herself every time she ate anything with carbohydrates in it and she got so angry at herself for the binges. Each time she started her diet again, she believed that this time it would be different. This time she could stick to it. Her body didn’t want her to stick to it. And when she didn’t, she blamed herself and her lack of willpower.  Finally, after many, many years of this cycle, she agreed to try something different. She saw that she’d been doing this for so long and now weighed more than she ever had. She agreed that for just one month, just 30 days, she’d work in some balance.  “I’m still not eating pasta or bread!” she told me. “That’s fine,” I told her, “but what about some apples, some sweet potatoes, some onions and peppers, some beans…” She agreed and began bringing unprocessed carbohydrates into her regimen. She decided that for the month she would “eat anything that grew,” which was something that she’d read in Louis Hay’s You can Heal Your Life. Not forever, just for 30 days.

Our start date for her experiment was April 1st of last year and she agreed to go until May 1st without succumbing to the lure of a no-carb diet. Despite the fact that she was allowing herself to eat more, each day was a struggle because she really wanted to give in to her desire to reject carbs. As we discussed it over the month, she realized that a huge part of her wanting to control her carbs so intensely was also a desire to have some control in her life. When she gave that up, it opened up more space for us to discuss in therapy what was actually going on in her life that felt totally out of control, such as her career, her relationship, and some of her friendships. As carbohydrates stopped being the center of her focus, her real life, which was admittedly difficult, became something that she was actually able to focus on in therapy.  Each day in April she let herself experiment with different whole food carbohydrates, such as potatoes and sweet potatoes, yams, apples, bananas, avocados, sushi with the rice, and she even ate pasta once or twice without bingeing on it, which shocked her.

The magic that happened in that month was the letting go. As she was able to work on what was really going on inside of her and allow herself to eat really healthy whole foods, she began to let go of bingeing.  Those ten pounds that had been haunting her for years didn’t magically fall off in a month, but about 2 or 3 pounds did. No, it wasn’t the ten pounds in two weeks that she was hoping for, but the promise of that was what kept piling the pounds on year after year after year.

As of right now, she’s not on a no-carb diet, and she’s not on a high carb diet. She is just trying to be nutritionally savvy. She eats whole foods, and exercises and has recently began to feel at peace with her body. She has certainly lost weight and come to a comfortable place for herself physically,  but that’s not what makes this important, what makes it important is that when she stopped obsessing, she was able to come home to herself.

That doesn’t mean that taking care of yourself by choosing not to eat certain refined carbohydrates is a bad thing, however it might be good to reframe your thinking not as a “low-carb” diet but as a “whole foods” way of eating. Allowing yourself healthy whole foods will do nothing but nourish your body. And if you wind up eating a piece of cake or some pasta once in a while, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed miserably, you haven’t knocked yourself out of ketosis and you don’t have to binge. This is just about being good to your body by choosing to bring in healthy whole foods rather than reject carbohydrates totally.

I am currently taking new clients! So, please don't hesitate to contact me if you'd like to discuss therapy, coaching or consultation either online, over the phone or in person.

9 comments on “I Can’t Stop Eating Carbs!

    1. Avatar of Leora Fulvio
      Leora Fulvio Post author

      Thanks for your comment, but do you care to elaborate?

      I’m all for lively debate and differences in opinion, but I definitely need more than this to go on!

  1. katcha

    but how about carbs from fruits and vegetables and still having binge episodes on bread, cakes, poridge, rice, rice-cakes.simply everything with some dough or similar???

    1. Avatar of Leora Fulvio
      Leora Fulvio Post author

      Do you mean that eating whole food carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables can trigger a binge on processed carbs? If that’s what you’re saying, I would believe that the problem isn’t in the whole foods, but the problem is binge eating disorder. If you are a binge eater, you will binge on anything, even apples or garbanzo beans or tofu or meat. The problem comes when you have a belief (magical thinking) that one macronutrient will trigger a binge. Before agrarian society, people weren’t hunting and gathering blueberries then turning around and binge eating loaves of bread. That is largely a problem of “food” processing and chemicals in our foods. So where I do agree that eating chemically processed foods and sugar laden things can be a big contributor in binge eating, I think that if you are eating apples or squash then bingeing on cake, it’s probably more about a message that you’ve sent yourself that you can’t eat these things without triggering a binge. There’s no nutrients in a piece of cake, it’s empty calories, so your body will need more and more and more. A fruit or vegetable is filled with vitamins and fiber, so there is a greater chance that the nutritional needs of your body is met so that you’re not needing to binge to meet those needs.

  2. cariad

    I desperately want this to be true. It makes logical sense. And yet, its not true for me. I’m in a horrible position, because if I don’t eat carbs I get depressed, but if I do eat carbs, I crave more and more and more, until my eating is out of control. No, it doesn’t matter what type of carbs. It doesn’t help if I only have a small amount (ie, half a cup of oatmeal with my breakfast of eggs). I think something is really messed up in my body. If I eat an apple, even if I have something with it, some nuts or some cheese or some Greek yogurt, I’m starving and shaky less than an hour later, and I will crave carbs madly the rest of the day. It takes me three days off carbs to stop the cravings. But they are such powerful cravings that I find it almost impossible to get through the three days. I’m really at the end of my tether with food. I have tried everything – vegan, low carb, wheat & dairy free, intuitive eating, low GI, low fat. Nothing suits me. I know that there is a strong element of emotional eating going on, but it isnt just that, because if I stay off carbs, I can absolutley control my eating, no matter how stressed/anxious I am. Carbs set off a vicious circle for me, and yet without them I plunge into depression. What do you do about that?!

    1. Avatar of Leora Fulvio
      Leora Fulvio Post author

      Thanks so much for this comment. And you for sure are not the only person who goes through this exact process. (Though perhaps you feel alone).

      I have a few questions for you. First, are you sure that you’re actually eating enough?

      Second, are you eating enough protein during the day?

      Third, (and most important) have you seen a doctor and specifically gotten your blood sugar tested? The symptoms that you describe sound very hypoglycemic or somehow blood sugar related. I’m not a physician, so you shouldn’t take my opinion as anything other than an educated guess, but I’d really, really encourage you to see a doctor and get a referral to a nutritionist to help you figure out what is happening with your body/food/moods. They’re all interrelated.

  3. Marine

    Omg. The same thing is happening to me. I lost about 20 kilos (I went from 85 kilos to 65) this summer in a low-carb diet. I succeeded with the first go although it was very difficult and it needed a lot of willpower and support. If I remember correctly the first 5-7 days I was sleeping all day. I was depressed, in a bad mood and didn’t have any energy to deal with anything. After the 5-7 days, I woke up one morning and it was as if all of this was gone, I was feeling great. I wasn’t depressed and I was always in a great mood! On top of that my exercise results doubled. I could do 2 times more of what I barely could do when I was eating low-carbs. I also noticed changes in my brain functionality; I could definitely concentrate faster and deeper to things and it always felt like it was ”charged” with a lot of energy but at the same time I was calm and could think things over in a whole other way. All in all, lost 20 kilos and I felt the healthier I’ve ever had. Then comes September when I have to dinner outside. I said to myself that it would be the reward for my success and that one serving of pasta wouldn’t change anything. When I got home I ate a lot of bread and other high carb foods. I was still thinking as if it was a reward. Next day I still ate carbs. And the day after that and it so went on. After 1 week of uncontrollably eating carbs, I said to myself that there is no need for myself to go on that stupid diet again since I lost all that weight. After 7 months of trying to get back to it (seriously I tried every day) I haven’t succeeded and on top of that I gained 30 kilos (now weighing 95 kilos). Every time I try to start the diet I get really depressed and stop. I don’t even know what to do I just keep eating this stuff. And as I type this message right here, I’m eating a bowl of cereals with a lot of sugar and Nesquik :(

  4. Nasser

    you are 200% right in everything you mentioned regarding restricting your carbs intake !!.. I’m going through cycles of losing & gaining weight (happens again & again) due to carbs restriction !!.. very informative article

    Thankk’s

    Marine

    I kinda undergo the same situation because I planned to get 6 pack ABS in one summer & still strugging on how to get back to it. The auther her is providing us the solution.

    Wish you the best

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