“A compelling hunger, craving, or desire for carbohydrate-rich foods; an escalating, recurring need or drive for starches, snack foods, junk food, or sweets.” – Richard Heller, Carbohydrate Addicts.
Does the above statement describe you? Are you addicted to starchy carbohydrates and sugars? Don’t worry you’re not alone. Step 1: Environmental Clean-Up – The first thing you need to do is a kitchen cupboard clean out. Cakes, cookies, pies, chocolate, ice cream, breads, pastas, and whatever other sugary starchy foods you may have in your kitchen must be removed. You are allowed to keep some starches and sugars in your kitchen – oatmeal, potatoes/sweet potatoes, brown rice, and your sugary workout shake are okay to keep. This may seem a little dramatic but we want to remove all temptations. If your family isn’t ready to give up their carb addiction then relocate all their starches to a single cabinet that you won’t open on a regular basis.
Step 2: Eat Starches Only During and After Workout – In this step we limit your starchy carbohydrate consumption to the workout and postworkout period. We did not remove starches completely because I don’t want you to go through complete carbohydrate withdrawals plus it is unnecessary for most people (especially at this stage). Some researchers think that carbohydrate cravings are due to hyperinsulinenemia (e.g. elevated insulin levels) so we want to control insulin as much as possible. The one time where you can control insulin’s ability to direct carbohydrates and sugars towards muscle and away from fat is during and after exercise. Exercise is like a drug to your muscles. Exercise initiates the movement of hundreds and hundreds of insulin responsive glucose transporters to the surface of your muscles primed and ready to cram your muscles full of sugar. This makes during and after your workouts the best time for carbohydrate dense foods.
Step 3: More Fruits and Vegetables – By limiting your starches and other carbohydrate dense foods you will be greatly decreasing your carbohydrate and food intake. But we don’t want to drop your carbs too much, thus it is important to increase your fruit and vegetable intake. Increasing your fruit and vegetable intake will prevent you from dropping your carbohydrates too much too fast. Fruit and vegetables are also very satiating and provide a large volume/bulk to eat. This will help curb your appetite.
Step 4: Increase fats – Fats like fruits and vegetables will help curb your appetite. Fruits and vegetables help dampen your appetite by stimulating the stretch receptors in your stomach, signaling your brain that you have had enough to eat. There are also some visual satiety cues that scientists are trying to figure out as well (i.e. you brain sees a plate full of food, despite it being low in calories). Fats work via a different mechanism and stimulate hormones and signaling molecules that tell your brain that you are not hungry. What most people don’t realize is that insulin (which is released when you eat carbohydrates) is a satiety hormone. So when you cut out high carbohydrate foods, at some level you need to make up for those satiety signals. Steps 2 and 3 work together to make that happen.
Step 5: Minimize or Remove Artificial Sweeteners – Artificial sweeteners do not contain any calories but there is some evidence to suggest that they still stimulate insulin (the hormone we are working very hard to control). I also believe that artificial sweeteners “simulate” your sweet tooth preventing you from getting over your carbohydrate craving. While I think it is better to drink a beverage sweetened with a zero calorie sweetener than it is to drink one sweetened with sugar/high fructose corn syrup it is even better to drink the unsweetened stuff. I’m weary of pretty much all zero calorie sweeteners, natural or not. In moderation they are fine but just because stevia is ‘natural’ doesn’t mean that it is good for you. There are still questions about adverse health effects of stevia. It is important to remember that natural doesn’t equal healthy…. after all cocaine is natural too. So when you are trying to kick the carb craving pass on diet sodas and other artificially sweetened beverages as much as possible.
Never Turn Back
Being addicted to carbohydrates is like any other type of addiction – you are never “cured”. Once you have followed the above 4 steps for 3 solid weeks you can start increasing your starch intake by adding starches to your second solid food post workout meal and breakfast. But you can’t turn back to eating starches all the time, sweets, and/or junk foods. If you do you will have to refocus yourself and kick the craving for a second time. I always tell clients that there is not ‘going back to eating normal because eating normal got you in trouble in the first place!” This is the new normal.
There it is. The official 5 Step Carboholics Anonymous “Lose the Addiction Plan of Action”. If you are hooked on carbs don’t worry or be embarrassed. Your craving for carbohydrates is driven by physiological mechanisms (that has just gotten a little out of control). The above 5 steps will help you reign in your physiology, kick the cravings, and shed some body fat while you are at it.