I can’t believe I am writing this post! Three years ago - no way. The funny thing is, when an area of our life isn’t serving us, it can be very hard to see it. But, hindsight is 20/20. For those who didn’t read my fit chick journey story I encourage you to start there for a bit more background on my journey.
Cutting out carbs is popular right now, but the truth is it doesn’t work for a lot of people, and may even have consequences. I recognize that every body is different. I hope that my personal share today encourages you to re-evaluate what you’re doing, and why, and do some self-exploration on what feels good and works for you.
What is low carb?
The truth: it is hard to know. In the research, studies define low carb at varying levels. Typically a diet that is being used to go into ketosis is called ‘very low carb’ but the amount of carbs will vary and each body will react differently. In general, many associate low carb with removing grain and starchy foods as well as fruit. This leaves non-starchy vegetables as the main source of (their minimal) carbs. I wrote a post on if a low-carb high-fat is worth the hype and you can find that post here for more.
During my journey I was intentionally eating as few carbohydrates as I could manage. It was much lower than what would be typical for the average person and certainly extremely low for my level of physical activity. I ate minimal grains, no gluten, and gluten-free products were allowed in only a limited amount. I didn’t eat oats, or rice, and measured out my potatoes and other starchy vegetables (which in some phases of my journey were only allowed on lifting days). My main sources of carbs were sweet potatoes and fruit. I really believed grains were not good for us. But, as I was healing my relationship with exercise I also moved in with my SO. I quickly realized feeding two (and feeding a man) was no easy feat, not to mention expensive. I was relaxing about exercise, and decided it might be time to relax about food. I started adding rice, gluten free bread, and before I knew it I was eating gluten again, cooking pasta, and eating english muffins. It is hard to see you have food fear when you’re in it. I realized there were foods I loved as a child that I hadn’t eaten in years. Adding them back helped me see I had been scared of them and helped me realize there was nothing to fear. Adding more carbs into my life has improved my quality of life. Here is list of what happened when I stopped avoiding most carbs and switched to a more balanced, hearty diet (including a protein, fat, carb, and vegetable at each meal).
what happened when I started eating more carbs
Digestion improved. I have struggled with constipation for as long as I can remember. Stress management and the introduction of grains has helped me drastically in a way gluten-free life never did. While I know my body doesn't handle a lot of gluten well, I have learned my boundaries and still eat other grains daily.
Cravings decreased. That night snack that I needed daily and had to fight with myself to avoid is no longer. I occasionally eat something at night if my stomach is growling or I feel like honoring taste hunger for a bit of ice cream, but I no longer suffer from the desperate need for a snack every night.
I don’t crave chocolate. Seriously. I used to not be able to live without chocolate available for dessert or bedtime snack, now I can’t remember the last time I bought a chocolate bar.
Meal satisfaction went way up. Way. Up. I eat, it satisfies, I’m not hankering for something else or left feeling full yet empty.
Less eating events during the day. I am satisfied. My snacks are heartier when grains are involved, so the snack I eat actually holds me to the next meal.
More exploration with plant-based meals since I don’t fear incorporating grains or starches.
Less food anxiety. I know what does and doesn’t make my stomach feel good. I can make a decision about what to eat without worrying about the carb count and instead just focus on what feels best for me.
Easier to eat out. See above.
I still eat veggies. Imagine that. I started eating more carbs, but I didn't stop eating fruits and veggies. The muffin I might get on a Sunday doesn't stop me from eating a salad for lunch.
My period is regular. Ladies - please take note. I struggled with menstrual irregularities for YEARS since coming off of birth control 8 years ago. For the last year I have had a regular cycle. Balanced hormones are about more than just your period, they impact mood, appetite, skin. This matters.
I have fewer hypoglycemic episodes. I would suffer intense shaking, sweating, nausea, lightheadedness, and fatigue almost weekly, now it is once in a blue moon. Those are symptoms of low blood sugar. Did you know that eating inadequate carbs actually can lead to insulin resistance?! This means that the fewer carbs you eat, the less adept your body is at handling carbs when you do choose to indulge.
I spend less money on groceries. Even a brown rice pasta is cheap and quicker to make compared to trying to fill up on only non-starchy vegetables.
I'm less preoccupied with food. My body is happy and satisfied.
I didn’t gain weight. Do you need to hear that? I DIDN’T GAIN WEIGHT. I workout at a lower intensity and still didn't gain weight. Did you know the stress of under eating, and exercising more than is good for your body causes persistent inflammation in your body and prevents weight loss and may even promote weight gain?
What this means for you
Consider the breakdown of your meals. There should be a source of protein, a source of fat, a starchy carb and a vegetable at every meal. Snacks should be hearty enough to serve as a nice bridge between meals. I have found my groove which includes plenty of carbs through the day and typically a veggie, meat, and fat focused dinner. Find the balance that fits your needs.
It begs repeating, I am promoting a balanced diet. I don’t suggest you go eat cereal, pasta, and pizza for your meals everyday. Include a variety of foods to find the most satisfaction. The more satisfaction you get from your food the less you will have cravings because your body will feel good about what it is fed (see my chocolate and night snack craving mentions above). Your body is smart, if it doesn’t get what it needs, it will ask for it later. If adding more carbs seems intimidating, try starting with breakfast since you need the most fuel early in the day.
Disclaimer: If you have allergies or must avoid certain foods for a medical condition or to function at your best, then keep doing what is best for you. We are all unique. If you are currently in a fight with yourself and food and desperate to keep your carb intake low, I encourage you to think twice and consider what is the worst that would happen if you loosened your grip.