Monday, March 7, 2011

"Good Carbs" as a gateway drug

Diet and nutrition experts love to distinguish good carbs from bad carbs.  We've all heard this:  stick to wholegrain breads, jacket potatoes, wild rice and fruit, and drop the refined flour and sugar.

I have always known this advice wasn't going to work for me, which is why I never did any serious dieting.

Eventually I realized avoiding all starchy foods was the way to go.  I admit I haven't always stuck to it 100%, but it has been close enough to be impressive, given my prior track record.

It was the best way for me to get over my carb addiction.  After the first week or so, it became really manageable.  Sort of like giving up hard drugs - have you ever heard of an occasional heroin user?  If you knew somebody who took heroin, would you recommend that they give it up altogether or that a little bit every day is ok?

It occurred to me that the so-called good carbs act like a gateway drug:  I'll bet many people following conventional dieting advice will eat their bowl of oatmeal, a wholewheat pita, a sweet potato, or whatever else is on their slimming menu, and then feel so virtuous (and maybe a little peckish) that they'll reward themselves with a portion of chocolate or ice cream.  Or, since we live in a culture of baking, take a cookie or a "healthy" muffin that is being passed around.  And after that, maybe they'll have another one, because it was so delicious.

Sticking to the so-called "good carbs" leads to a vicious cycle that dooms dieters to failure as they punctuate their meals with hours of waiting for the next one.  And as I've pointed out before, it's hard to find any evidence of anything essential you'll be missing by skipping them, which leads me to wonder why they are actually called "good carbs."

In theory, the conventional advice sounds reasonable, as long as you manage to maintain a carbohydrate intake that is within acceptable limits.  But maintaining this longer than a week or two is really hard.  The hunger is exactly why so many diets fail.

It's actually far easier to radically cut all carbs, replacing them with other delicious foods that bring on a longer-lasting feeling of satiety.  Once the sugar addiction has passed, it's no longer difficult to resist them.

I have no idea what it's like being addicted to hard drugs, or alcohol either, for that matter, but I imagine breaking the habit isn't that different.  Firstly, it's not going to work until the user has their head wrapped around the idea that it's time to stop.  And secondly, weaning oneself doesn't work by half measures.

It's an all or nothing thing.  But the good news is that it doesn't take long for the body to adjust.  And after that, I guarantee you will discover that your carbless meals will be anything but boring.

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