Skipping out on carbs because you think it’s healthier for you? Here’s what one dietitian learned from her journey to low-carb and back.
Three years ago – I never thought I would be writing this. The funny thing is, when an area of our life isn’t serving us, it can be very hard to see it at the time.
But, hindsight is always 20/20.
And as a dietitian who was obsessed with physique and fitness, nutrition and diet was something I placed a lot of emphasis around.
Cutting out carbs was definitely a part of what I use to do, and it’s hard to argue that it’s still one of the most popular trends right now.
But the truth is, it doesn’t work for a lot of people, and may even have consequences. Of course, it’s important to recognize that every person’s body is different, and I hope that my personal story encourages you to re-evaluate what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and consider self-exploration on what really feels good and works for you.
But before we go there, let’s talk about what a low-carb diet is.
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.
During my obsession with all things fitness, I was intentionally eating as few carbohydrates as I could to manage my size. It was much lower than what would be typical for the average person, and certainly extremely low for my high level of physical activity.
I ate minimal grains and 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 that were sometimes allowed on lifting days. My main sources of carbs were sweet potatoes and fruit, and I truly believed grains were not good for us.
But, as I was healing my relationship with exercise, I also moved in with my significant other and quickly realized feeding two (and feeding a man) was no easy feat, not to mention expensive. I started to relax about exercise, and decided it might be time to relax around food. I started adding rice, gluten-free bread, and before I knew it I was eating gluten again, cooking pasta, and eating english muffins.
The thing is, it’s hard to see you have food fear when you’re actually in it.
And I started to realize there were foods I loved as a child that I hadn’t eaten in years. Adding them back actually helped me see I had been scared of them, and helped me realize there was nothing to fear.
Adding more carbs into my life actually improved my quality of life once I switched to a more balanced, hearty diet, which included a protein, fat, carb, and vegetable at each meal.
Here are 3 ways that adding carbs back in my life improved my health, mentally and physically.
1. MY HEALTH WENT BACK ON TRACK
My digestion improved because of the fiber I was introducing back into my diet. I got back a regular cycle after struggling with menstrual irregularities for years because my hormones were likely back in balance. I no longer suffered weekly from intense shaking, sweating, nausea, lightheadedness, and fatigue that was induced by hypoglycemic episodes.
2. I FELT MORE SATISFIED
My cravings decreased and no longer desperately needed a snack every night. My meal and snack satisfaction increased, and I no longer left feeling full yet empty. I even spent less on groceries, because brown rice pasta is cheap and quicker to make compared to trying to fill up on only non-starchy vegetables.
3. I ENJOYED FOOD WITHOUT FEAR
I was able to explore how to incorporate more plant-based foods because I no longer feared incorporating grains or starches. I had less food anxiety, and was able to make decisions about what to eat without worrying about the carb count and just focus on what felt best for me. That, in turn, made it easier to eat out and enjoy myself with friends.
Oh, and one more thing (and not that these numbers matter): I didn’t gain weight, despite working out at a lower intensity. In fact, the stress of under-eating and over-exercising can cause persistent inflammation in your body, prevents weight loss, and may even promote weight gain.
Ultimately, it’s about finding the right balance that fits your needs.
It begs repeating, but it is important to include a balanced 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.
If you have food allergies or must avoid certain foods for a medical condition to function at your best, then keep doing what is best for you. We are all unique. But if you are currently in a fight with yourself and food and desperate to keep your carb intake low, think twice and consider what is the worst that would happen if you loosened your grip.
Your body is smart, so if it doesn’t get what it needs, it will ask for it later.
Adapted from the original article.
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Courtney Ferreira, MS, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian based in Baltimore, MD with a passion for helping individuals reach their health and wellness through flavorful whole foods and freedom from counting calories, fat, and minutes on a treadmill. For more insightful tips on living your healthiest life, visit Courtney at the RealFoodCourt.