THE TRUTH ABOUT CARBOHYDRATE ADDICTION
Most people enjoy starchy carbohydrates at least to some degree, whether you’re talking about warm, crusty bread, pizza, bagels, pasta or pastries. But for growing numbers of people, their affinity for starch goes WAY beyond enjoying an occasional dessert or having toast with their eggs. Instead they have become obsessed with eating starchy carbohydrates, and contrary to what others think, they can’t “just have one” or “just say no.” Because for people like this, starchy carbohydrates have become an addiction.
Carbohydrate addiction—yes, it’s real
Although there are many different definitions of “food addiction,” Food Addicts Anonymous describes it best:
“Food addiction manifests itself in the uncontrollable craving for excess food that follows the ingestion of refined carbohydrates, primarily sugar and flour substances that are quickly metabolized and turned into sugar in the bloodstream.”
Tell me why
Most people that are addicted to a substance (such as alcohol, drugs or cigarettes) didn’t necessarily choose to become addicted. The same holds true for carbohydrate addiction–people don’t choose to become obsessed with carbs to the point where they lose control of their eating. Instead there are factors that “help” the process along…and can result in the descent into addiction.
Here are four common underlying factors behind carbohydrate addiction:
It’s all in my head!
Current research supports the fact that a primary underlying cause of carbohydrate addiction lies in your brain’s reward system. When you eat starches and sweets, your pancreas releases insulin. In addition to regulating your blood sugar, insulin also decreases your bloodstream’s concentration of amino acids—except for tryptophan. Eventually the tryptophan makes its way to your brain, and triggers it to produce serotonin (your feel good chemical). Then…ahh. You get that soothing, calming sensation you’re seeking. In addition, refined carbohydrates also trigger increased releases of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, and as your brain becomes flooded with these chemicals, you can get a feeling of euphoria… Then crave more refined carbs as a result!
Having an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can cause serious fatigue. In an effort to combat this fatigue, many people reach for quick pick-me-ups like soda, chips, candy bars, crackers and other similar vending machine offerings.
Candida or yeast overgrowth is another factor behind carbohydrate cravings and addiction. Most refined carbohydrates, even if they are starches, are quickly converted to sugar upon digestion. Yeast feeds on sugar, and in turn can multiply out of control and overcome your friendly intestinal flora (which normally helps to keep yeast in check and under control). A vicious cycle can result whereby the yeast, wanting more nourishment, triggers cravings for sugar, which in turn leads to greater yeast overgrowth, which then triggers more intense cravings for sugar.
Stress and adrenal overload
Stress triggers the release of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones raise your heart rate, dilate your blood vessels and mobilize fat and carbohydrates stored in your body for quick energy for the “fight or flight” reaction. Once the stress ends, adrenaline production subsides, but cortisol stays around to help refuel your body and bring it back to balance—and it does this by making you hungry. But when stress becomes chronic, this can lead to the familiar “stress eating” of carbs, since your body is repeatedly following the instructions of cortisol and looking to refuel itself. Break the cycle of craving and addiction now! If you feel that carb addiction is an issue for you, know this: there is a whole lot you can do to help turn that around! Here are six very effective measures you can take to help release the hold that carbs may have on you and break free of those cravings:
Look at what’s underneath
First and foremost, look into any underlying conditions mentioned above that may be an issue for you. That can include getting your thyroid tested, getting a blood sugar test, or requesting a comprehensive stool analysis to look for yeast overgrowth. Also be sure to check out food allergies, as sometimes people crave the very foods they’re allergic to.
Clean out your cupboards
It’s much easier to say no to refined carbs when you don’t have them in your house to begin with. So go through your cupboards, pantry, refrigerator and freezer and GET RID OF THEM!
Load your plate up with good carbs (fruits and vegetables)
Eating a variety of whole foods will provide a good representation of nutrients to help keep your entire body in tip-top shape. Emphasis should be placed on good carbs–fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains—plus meats, poultry, fish, healthy fats, dairy and eggs. Strive to divide your plate up like this: 40% good carbs, 30% proteins and 30% fats. Balancing your meals this way can be helpful in balancing your nutritional needs and providing ample amounts of healthy proteins and fats to stave off hunger and cravings. Try to have a tossed salad with dinner every day. It will help fill you up and provide needed fiber to help keep your bowel movements regular (which can help eliminate any existing yeast overgrowth you might have).
Supplement with probiotics to counteract sugar’s effect on your gut
Sugar feeds yeast, so if you’ve been eating a lot of refined carbs, chances are excellent you’ve got a degree of imbalance in your intestines and your friendly flora may be waving the white flag of defeat. In addition to having a healthy diet of real foods and good carbs, probiotic supplementation can be extremely helpful in restoring your flora balance to a healthier ratio.
Stress can play a major role in carbohydrate cravings, so if you’re in a cycle of chronic stress, it’s time to take measures to chill out. Exercise is by far one of the best stress reducers around. You can also try meditation, yoga, prayer, starting a hobby, adopting a pet, deep breathing, aromatherapy and listening to classical music. Do whatever works for you.
Reach out for support
Addiction is difficult to overcome, so be sure to seek out support as necessary, including family, friends and support groups. Seek out professionals who understand food addiction and can help you with your self-care program such as therapists, personal trainers and life coaches.
You CAN do it!