Carbohydrates often receive a bad rap, but they are essential to a healthy and balanced diet.
I want to discuss a topic often seen as the enemy regarding diets and nutrition. It comes from a place of “Fear Mongering” in the name of “Health,” which often drives people to poor relationships with food and their bodies.
The enemy? Carbohydrates, also known as “carbs”. Carbs have been given a nasty rap over the years, but most people don’t realize that they are vital to human survival.
Our brains cannot function without carbohydrates.
People on sustained low-carbohydrate diets often feel sluggish and, in some cases, develop a restrict-binge-restrict cycle, eventually leading to disordered eating or even serious eating disorders.
At Erica Leon Nutrition, we help our clients learn to let go of fad diets and embrace intuitive eating and eating disorder recovery. One of these fads is thinking that carbs are the enemy.
To understand why Carbs are not the enemy, you first need to understand the difference between Simple and Complex Carbohydrates.
These are the two different types of carbohydrates: simple and complex.
Simple carbohydrates include table sugar (sucrose), fruit (fructose), milk (lactose), and sugars like high fructose corn syrup and honey.
These carbs can raise our blood sugar rapidly, which is helpful when our blood sugars are low.
Low blood sugar can occur in eating disorder recovery or if someone has low blood sugar due to diabetes or reactive hypoglycemia. Low blood sugar can also occur if a person diets and doesn’t consume enough fuel, waits too long to eat, or even when an athlete doesn’t eat enough carbohydrates to support their physical activity.
Common signs of low blood sugar include feeling empty, dizzy, or even shaky, so these are necessary signals to pay attention to!
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, take the body a little longer to digest.
They are made of sugar molecules strung together in long, complex chains. Complex carbohydrates are found in peas, beans, whole grains, and vegetables.
Both simple and complex carbohydrates turn into glucose (blood sugar) in the body and are used for energy.
Including complex carbohydrates like whole grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables in your diet can help replenish your energy stores and energize you throughout the day.
Simple Sugars are Carbs and can lead to “Orthorexia”
In our nutrition practice, we routinely see kids, teens, and adults become fearful of eating anything with “sugar” in it! Diet culture, including media, family, and even health care professionals, can have us believe that eating foods with sugar will lead directly to diabetes or heart disease or cause us to drop dead!
We have seen people become so health-conscious, obsessed, and worried about eating anything with sugar that it can develop into “orthorexia,” a term created in 1998 that means an obsession with proper or “healthful” eating.
Although not officially defined as a full-blown eating disorder, orthorexia can be just as damaging to the mind and body.
According to the Alliance for Eating Disorders, “the desire for healthy eating begins to affect a person’s physical and psychosocial health. In addition to the health risks associated with a limited diet, including malnutrition and weight loss, the individual also faces psychological trauma and social difficulties.”
At Erica Leon Nutrition, we believe a balanced diet includes complex carbohydrates, such as beans, nuts, vegetables, and grains, and fun foods (including simple carbs), such as cake or cookies. Sweets can make our lives that much sweeter and help us avoid feelings of deprivation!
So, if you wonder whether you are consuming enough carbohydrates, there are signs to watch for and we have a list below.
Here are 5 signs indicating your body requires more Carbohydrates:
- Persistent Fatigue and Low Energy Levels If you struggle with persistent fatigue and low energy levels throughout the day, this exhaustion might indicate that your body needs more carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source, and insufficient intake can leave you feeling drained and lethargic.
- Difficulty Concentrating and Mental Fog When noticing difficulty concentrating or dealing with brain fog, your carbohydrate intake might be worth examining. The brain relies heavily on glucose, a form of carbohydrate, for optimal functioning. When carbohydrate intake is inadequate, it can lead to decreased brain function and difficulty focusing. Including carbohydrates in your meals and snacks can give your brain the fuel to operate at its best.
- Slow Recovery and Delayed Muscle Repair For those who engage in regular physical activity or intense workouts, inadequate carbohydrate intake can hinder your recovery and delay muscle repair. Carbohydrates are vital for replenishing muscle glycogen stores, which deplete during exercise. Insufficient glycogen can lead to prolonged muscle soreness, reduced athletic performance, and slower recovery. Including carbohydrates, especially after a workout, can help optimize recovery and ensure your body has the necessary fuel to repair and rebuild.
- Frequent Cravings for Sweets and Sugary Foods Frequent cravings for sweets and sugary foods may indicate that your body craves carbohydrates. These carvings are very common after a period of deprivation, as often occurs with chronic dieting! Instead of relying solely on simple sugars, try to have a balanced plate of protein, dietary fats, and carbs, including complex carbohydrates such as fruits, whole grains, and vegetables, to provide a more sustained energy source and help curb those cravings.
- Insomnia or Disrupted Sleep Patterns Inadequate carbohydrate intake could contribute to insomnia or disrupted sleep patterns. Carbohydrates, particularly those rich in tryptophan, help promote the production of serotonin—a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in regulating sleep. Whole grain foods, bananas, and legumes are excellent sources of tryptophan and can support a more restful night’s sleep.
Your body provides subtle cues when it needs more carbohydrates. Keep this list handy and start listening to your body and incorporating a variety of simple and complex carbohydrates into your meals and snacks. Doing this will help you support your overall energy levels, cognitive function, and physical performance.
Here’s to embracing the power of carbohydrates and fueling your body for optimal health and well-being! And to developing a balanced diet with proteins, fats, and a variety of carbohydrates.
Are you ready to move forward on your Recovery Journey with more food freedom?
Click here to purchase your Recipes for Recovery Cookbook now!
Following the Recipes for Recovery Cookbook will help you:
- Reconnect with positive eating experiences you had before the eating disorder
- Explore new flavors, colors, textures and aromas that connect your senses
- Experiment with previously forbidden foods that bring awareness to the present moment
- Challenge and let go of food restrictions and rigid rules to rekindle a healthy and fulfilling pattern of eating
- See success as you continue to discover food freedom
Not sure what is the best path for you?
Book a discovery call with me and we can discuss where you are on your journey to leaving behind the chaos of food and finding peace… We can determine the next best step that will work for you. Book a call with me here.
Erica Leon is a Registered Dietitian and practices from a Health at Every Size (HAES®) lens. She and her team of eating disorder specialists and Anti-Diet Dietitians provide insurance-based care for eating disorders, disordered eating, chronic dieting, or other health conditions in a safe and non-judgmental space for healing.
We work virtually with our clients from our offices in Westchester County in New York as well as the tri-state areas of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, along with Florida, California, Wisconsin, Iowa, Texas, and Vermont. We are in-network with the following insurance companies: Aetna, Cigna, and United Healthcare; including Oxford, UMR, and The Empire Plan (NYSHIP).
We take the time to learn where you or your family are in the pursuit of health. Respectful of your individual needs and lifestyle, Erica will provide an honest assessment of whether or not you are a good fit to work together. Click here to schedule a 15-minute Discovery Call with Erica to let us know about your needs, and to see which of our Dietitians is the best fit for you!