Do you struggle to go a day without carbs like bread? Get irritated, feel tired and end up with a headache if you stop eating them? Not to mention the struggle because you actually enjoy eating them? 😱
Years ago (before I retrained as a nutritionist) I bought a book called The Carbohydrate Addict’s Lifespan Program and decided to follow it’s diet plan – I did their quiz and I was convinced I was a ‘carbohydrate addict’.
There was nothing I loved more than a slice of toasted Vogel’s bread – yum! It seemed to prove their point.
Now I was convinced that carbs were evil, I was sure of it, and I was going to avoid all carbs. Forever.
Well, maybe for a little while, as it turned out…
Are carbs like bread truly ‘evil’?
Because let’s face it, carbs are everywhere… in your bread, in your apple, in your broccoli… oh and yep, in your cupcake. So what exactly are we supposed to do?
First off let’s take a good old reality check about carbs.
Carbs (carbohydrates) are actually an important part of our diet, as they fuel our body cells. Even sugar isn’t all bad; our brains actually feed exclusively on one type of sugar – glucose. Without carbohydrates, or more importantly sugar molecules, you wouldn’t be reading this blog post right now.
Carbs can be loosely categorised as sugars, starches and fibres. And yes, starches and fibres are just varying chains of sugar molecules joined together.
Our digestive system breaks all carbohydrates down into individual sugar molecules for absorption into the body. The sugar molecules are then typically changed into glucose, our body’s fave fuel (just like your car loves petrol or diesel).
The exception to this rule is fibre; our digestive system can’t break fibre down so it passes through our gut undigested – much to the delight of our gut bacteria who feed on it and make our life much more pleasant and healthy.
Without dietary fibre you’d be up sh!t creek (literally), without a paddle. You don’t want that. So you need yourself some good fibre in your food.
On the other hand, you don’t need a whole pile of added sugar in your food. Added sugars in processed foods like confectionary, soft drinks, biscuits, cakes, processed foods and all that great stuff will cause our blood sugar levels to spike up, as they’re digested and absorbed more quickly than complex, bigger carbs…
Plus those types of carby foods generally offer little in the way of vitamins, minerals and other helpful little goodies. All in all, not great for our health.
So basically, there are ‘carbs’ and there are ‘carbs’. In other words, it’s more about what the food offers as a whole, rather than just the ‘carb’ content of the food.
Of course cupcakes do offer one other thing…
If we were all devoid of emotion, didn’t care for happiness, had no memory of our childhoods, and basically were just zombies (without the flesh-eating tendency), then I would recommend you avoid all candy floss and other sugar-laden or low-fibre carb foods.
But you are not a zombie (nor am I, for the record).
You and I both have favourite foods we love, foods we grew up with that remind us of happy days, foods we relish just for their taste – not for their antioxidant content, not for their fibre content, their carb count or any other measure of nutritional superiority.
We eat those foods because we enjoy them. And enjoyment is as valid a reason as any to eat a food (I know this is blasphemous for some diet extremists).
When someone says to us – “you can’t eat your favourite food, it’s got carbs in it,” you tend to feel quite disappointed. You might try to follow their rule. But then you feel resentful. You long for your favourite food.
Until finally you cave in and eat your favourite food. Then you feel guilty for eating it. Then you’re back up sh!t creek (without that damn paddle).
You balance your enjoyment of food with your healthy eating goals – then you don’t feel resentful about missing out, because you’re balancing enjoyment and health.
Give yourself permission to seek and find pleasure in eating – it’s what we’re designed to do!
This approach is called ‘gentle nutrition’ and it’s one of the guiding principles of Intuitive Eating which is my jam (not the sugary spread jam, but the approach I take in my online coaching through ZEST).
With gentle nutrition we figure out what we really want to eat and eat just enough of it to satisfy our happiness, rather than trying to avoid the thing we REALLY want to eat, and instead hoovering up a packet of bliss balls, a smoothie and everything else in the pantry.
If you want a piece of bread – have a piece of bread. No food is bad or evil. No single food or even day of food defines your entire life. It’s just one snack, one meal, one day. You can add the enjoyment factor into your life and still make healthy eating a goal.
A healthy relationship with food is about eating healthy foods AND eating foods that make you happy too. You can’t have one without the other.
P.S. Want to read more about this topic? Check out my blog post Clean Eaters – Are They Better Than Us?