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Friday 5: Five Hard Truths About Carbs

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Bread1People are constantly asking me questions about carbs. “Do you eat carbs?”

“I bet you don’t eat bread. Do you?”

“Do you eat pasta?”

I’ve got five harrrrrd truths for you people who are struggling with the carb situation. Hopefully this’ll help.

1) I do not live a low-carb diet. When you talk about carbohydrates, you’re talking about fruit. You’re talking about vegetables. The key sources of our vitamins and minerals. You need those. And, yes, you’re talking about breads, pastas, biscuits, cupcakes, cookies… the whole nine yards. When most people talk about living “low-carb,” they’re often referring to cutting refined carbs, most commonly understood as “things made with flour.” I do, however, cut those things.

2) Why? Because, when you start counting calories and start understanding where your calorie totals for your day are going haywire, you wind up realizing that most of those calories? Come straight from refined carbohydrates. Refined carbs are, more often than not, an unnecessary caloric black hole. That big giant roll of bread on your lunch sandwich? Probably could’ve swapped that out for a salad – don’t most sandwich toppings often wind up sounding like delicious salads, anyway? – or could’ve been rolled in a nice strong leaf. That big giant bowl of cereal? Yeah, one serving size might say “80 calories,” but you didn’t realize that that “one serving size” is for “one half cup of cereal” and that you actually ate four servings this morning. That massive serving of rice in your kung pao chicken you ate? If it was over a cup of it, it was well over 300 calories that you didn’t need… because you could’ve easily tossed some steamed broccoli in there with that, instead, and been much more satiated with less calories and more food.

Wonder bread ingredients3) Quality matters, and can determine the difference between a filling carb and a not-so-filling one. And, while it’s ideal for one to seek out organic, local, sustainable, hand-crafted goods… that’s not what I’m talking about, here. A quality bread is little more than flour, yeast, salt, water and some oil. That’s it. Not… um… all this stuff, here. Quality flour, believe it or not, has protein in it. Oil, pure fat, helps fill you up. Yeast has a sweet flavor that it can yield to dough. A quality piece of bread is awesome. It can be filling. And, if it isn’t filling for you, then you shouldn’t be eating it.

4) If a carb isn’t filling in an adequate portion size – and only you can determine what’s “adequate” for you and your needs – then guess what? It’s time to let that high-carb food go. A good pasta will fill you up long before you could fall asleep from eating it, but if you’re not getting that good quality pasta, it’s okay to turn down the lessor quality. A good cupcake… you might not even get to finish it. Don’t scarf down a bunch of cheap ones looking for the same feeling. You won’t get it. A bowl of store-bought cereal? People are going through two-to-three boxes a week. It’s never going to fill you up, and you’re overdoing it on the calorie totals because you’re so busy trying to eat to get “full.” Let that go. Not happening. Find another option.

5) Refined carbs are the reason why, when most people tell me they “had a craving” for something… I usually give them the side-eye-of-eternity. If you’re craving nails (like, hammering nails) or cornstarch, then I’m willing to believe it’s a nutritional deficiency. Cravings for cookies, cupcakes, ice cream (the store-brands have so much sugar in them that yes, I’m counting them too), chips and goodness knows whatever else are not cravings. They’re emotional eating… harmful reactions to stressors in or lives. Refined carbs just happen to be the most common vessel for emotional eating, and if you find yourself taking in refined carbs in obscene amounts, then consider scaling back. As in, no longer buying products that make you feel like you can’t only “eat just one.”

I’ve even got a bonus one for you: if you’re a runner, you often don’t worry about this. You need every darn calorie you can get your mouth around!

Who’s got carb questions for me? Let’s hear ’em!

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Lily March 9, 2012 - 1:20 PM

I think people can feel cravings for cupcakes and cookies. But, I think it’s sort of similar to the craving addicts feel.

Erika Nicole Kendall March 9, 2012 - 2:11 PM

I agree, but that furthers my point that they’re generally not cravings meant to fulfill a substantial need. They’re really, in comparison, quite “surface level.”

Rochelle April 27, 2012 - 12:08 PM

You body can crave carbohydrates. The are a quick source of energy and often it is the bodies way of requesting quick energy. The catch 22 is that many choose refined carbs and sugars. These refined carbs spike the blood pressure very quickly but then you get the big let down as blood sugar drops and you end up feeling more tired and more hungry which causes more quick energy cravings and ends up creating a vicious cycle and even an addiction to refined carbs. I agree they can be emotional triggers for many instead of cravings but I find when a eat a balanced meal of good quality carbs, fats, and proteins and get enough rest. I do not crave refined carbs. Yesterday I was stressed after a big exam and wanted chocolate pretty badly. Instead I went to a really nice horticultural garden and walked 3 hilly laps around the garden. I actually felt better and did not experience the typical mid afternoon energy tank.

Erika Nicole Kendall April 27, 2012 - 2:26 PM

Your body craving “energy” is one thing; your body craving “carbs” is another and the two don’t feel even remotely the same. Sorry.

nadia June 21, 2013 - 5:16 PM

Would it be better if I ate bread I made myself instead of at the store? I know it sounds weird but I love bread and it has felt like a sacrifice giving it up…

Erika Nicole Kendall June 21, 2013 - 8:19 PM

Of course it would. However, it’s still quick calories that you may not necessarily need. You have to determine what’s best for you, ultimately, but keep in mind that, when it comes time to reassess, you’ll need to consider all this.

Alicia January 18, 2015 - 4:01 PM

I would try making something called “oopise” bread if I were you, it’s a bread sub that you make at home without flour, or whole grain wheat bread because you can count on seeing white bread on your thighs next week.

Candis March 9, 2012 - 1:56 PM

Hi Erika, when you say “a quality bread”, is there a specific store brand that you suggest? Or do you bake your own??


oekmama March 11, 2012 - 7:27 AM

Hi there,
I bake my own bread, and it’s not as hard or as time-consuming as you would think. I work part-time and normally do this in the evening. Here’s the simplest recipe I use:
First measure out the amount of flour that you need into a deep bowl. Should be room-temperature. Use a spoon to make a ‘well’ or indent in the flour. Put your dry yeast then a cup of warm water into that indent. Throw a kitchen towel over the bowl to make it dark and leave that for 15-20min.
If your kitchen is cool, you might want to put this on or near a radiatior. When you come back, add a few pinches of salt, 6Tsp of olive oil, herbs and mix together with a fork til you have a firm dough. Let it rise for another 30 min.
You can use this as a pizza dough (abt 30min at 200C), if you roll it out, or dinner rolls, or ciabatta, etc.

You can vary this however you want, with wholewheat flour, add different spices, walnuts, dried chopped tomatoes, and so on… hope that helps.

Good luck baking higher quality bread!

PS- you can also bake ahead and freeze. If you want to freeze dough, then double the amount of yeast you use, so that when you defrost enough of the little critters are still alive.
If anyone’s interested, I can tell you how I do my sourdough…

Telekendall April 13, 2012 - 10:17 AM

You should try Ezekial Bread. Its amazing. Almost pure protein and keeps you full forever!!!!

Diandra March 9, 2012 - 2:36 PM

After some trial and error, I have found that my body actually does not function very well on a low-carb diet. Instead, I am buying whole grain everything, and eating those in moderation. I like baking – cupcakes, muffins, my own bread – which I rarely ever do, because I end up with way too much of everything. I mean, of course the two of us could eat a dozen muffins in two days, BUT… ^^

The funny thing about low-carb diets is that those people usually increase their protein intake, and guess what the body does when it has got protein and no carbs? Right, it turns protein into carbs. Magic!!

Chris C April 26, 2013 - 8:51 AM

Except a lot of people, myself included, think that you shouldn’t eat a ton of protein on a low carb diet (certainly not much more than normal), but you should be eating more fat. But first you have to shed the notion that “fat is bad” and that “fat makes you fat” and all the other nonsense… It’d be pretty hard to gain weight on a low sugar (no grains, no other concentrated carbs) while eating about the amount of protein you need, and fat.

LBrooke March 9, 2012 - 3:11 PM

When I started following the way you changed your habits, I definitely discovered the whole black hole carb problem. Had to pretty much cut those, and if I do get a craving for it.. I literally sit there and eat a bad of corn. Yep, that’s what I do. I know those still have a decent amount of calories as well, but no where near as much as refined carbs. And next time I’m craving something, if it’s not featured on that show Weird Addictions: chalk, nail polish, laundry detergent, or nails.. I will definitely tell myself that it’s NOT a craving! LOL

Gloria March 9, 2012 - 3:30 PM

I’m a runner, and there have been a few times when people have tried to convince me that ALL carbs are bad and that I should eat minimal fruits and veggies, absolutely no grains (oatmeal, brown rice, good quality pastas and breads) and survive off of proteins and fats. Yeah…tried it once for a month, had very little energy, couldn’t run as far, and gained weight. While I do not believe in a low fat diet, I do think your diet needs to be broken down into a balance of carbs, proteins, and fats.

For some reason, people are hesitant to cut out processed foods, and they feel the need to cut out key nutrients instead. My snacks throughout the day are pretty much just fruits, and I’ve had people tell me things like this: “Oh, I’ve heard that sugar is really bad for you, even the sugar in fruit, so I’m going sugar free. That apple you’re eating is soooooo unhealthy…but my sugar-free Diet Coke is what is going to set me on the path to a leaner, happier, healthier me!” These people always fail to notice the major side-eye I’m giving them. Lol.

LaDonna March 9, 2012 - 5:26 PM

I’ve been calorie counting for the last 2 weeks and it is really keeping me aware of portion sizes and how many carbs I’m eating. I’ve found that one of the ways I can stop unhealthy cravings is to look up the calories. A few years ago I was craving dairy queen blizzards. Turns out the size medium had 1,000 calories! No wonder I gained 5 lbs in 2 weeks.

J March 9, 2012 - 9:54 PM

This is timely for me. Today I saw my endocrinologist/gynecologist, and she told me to stop eating all bread and potatoes.

I was like………pretty sad about it. And then angry. But I know she’s right: I can’t control my consumption of them, so they’ve got to go.

So now to find creative, ultra-low carb meals.

Lola March 10, 2012 - 12:20 AM

I’ve always wondered about this. Sometimes my office has bagels in the a.m. and I used to indulge but noticed that if I ate a bagel at 9, by 11, I would be starving, like STARVING. Feeling that I needed to eat something RIGHT NOW or pass out. But if I had something else (oatmeal, fruit, etc.) or NOTHING I would be fine or a little hungry. Any idea what that could be?

Biolobri March 30, 2012 - 10:40 AM

Lola, that probably has to do with insulin. Your body secretes insulin to break carbs down but since there isn’t much to refined carbs, it can do this easily and ends up with leftover insulin that is seeking more to break down. Whole grains and higher quality carbs take longer to break down so your insulin doesn’t spike as much.

Anita March 23, 2012 - 2:42 PM

I’m also tried a low-carb diet and Iost weight – I ate like a pig and still lacked energy. So I went wild eating carbs again. I gained weight of course (as in really, really wild) but, even with the weight I have my umph back. I’m slowly losing again because I’m better managing my carb intake with only good carbs, whole grain breads, quinoa, fruit, even rice and potatoes are in the game again because I manage the portion size. I’m not missing out on minerals and vitamins, and now I’m feeling balanced.

curlsz May 18, 2012 - 10:51 PM

for me i realized i needed to add more veges and protein in, i kept track of my meals for a while and realized it was a little uhh carbcentric, i’ve also been reading labels more and noticing some carbs have added sugar for no reason other than taste, it’s not worth it to me to eat that kind of carb

Divine July 8, 2012 - 10:07 PM

I am trying to figure out what are the slower burning carbs and the fast burning carbs? Not sure what to eat? stay away from pasta then its citrus fruits..what are the best slow burning carbs?

curlsz July 26, 2012 - 12:21 PM

Divine, I’ve noticed sprouted grains stay with me longer – I love Ezekial’s english muffin – their whole line is sprouted grains – it’s closer to it’s whole foods form than most other grains and wheat.

Sweetpea October 5, 2012 - 12:15 PM

I realized that I was addicted to carbs when I did the Dr. Oz ‘Kick the Carb” Habit this summer. I realized that I was not nearly as hungry when I had wholesome foods to eat as opposed to the empty carbohydrates I had been consuming. I also realized that I was an emotional eater. Now, I can distinguish between hunger and emotional eating. If I’m hungry, anything wholesome will fill that void; however, if I’m eating due to emotional triggers, I specifically want something salty and potatoe-y! Eating carbs are necessary but there are healthy ones to consume instead of the ones that are nothing but empty calories — which causes you to eat more and more of them.

Aja December 14, 2012 - 12:08 PM

I noticed that you included rice as a refined carb. I often choose wild rice as a “starch” with meals because I still feel hungry sometimes after just eating protein and vegetables. My other go-to are roasted red potatoes or sweet potatoes. My question is, why does rice count as a refined carb?

Erika Nicole Kendall December 15, 2012 - 1:22 PM

Let’s put it this way: I’d consider something more along the lines of barley, wheat berries, quinoa, and the like. Most rices are bleached and hulled, resulting in limited protein which is one of the main things that fill you up.

If your meals aren’t fulfilling, I’d consider adding more protein to them. Carbs don’t really help, there.

Eva March 3, 2013 - 5:16 PM

I feel like carbs are my personal demons (dramatic, huh!) So, so, so many times I’ve had my progress thwarted by an uncontrollable need for carbs. I’ve tried everything, eating no carbs, eating few carbs, eating lots of carbs, getting a food plan from a eating therapist… but still every time it results in a carb binge somewhere down the line (I usually last two weeks max without a binge) and I mean bread, pasta and candy usually. Obscene amounts too.

Without carbs, even if I’ve been feeling great otherwise due to my exercise/food choices, I eventually start feeling trapped, not like myself, and very very sad. Afterwards, I feel even worse.

It’s become a horrible cycle that I can’t seem to break no matter what I try. I feel like my urges control my life, control me. The thought of being like this forever terrifies me.

I don’t even know what to do anymore. As I’m typing this, I’m surrounded by bags of candy, and soon I’m going to the kitchen to get some bread and cheese. Starting over starts tomorrow. Again.

I’m stuck!!!

AshBash May 21, 2013 - 9:57 PM

Hi Erika! I have a question. I have been eatting clean now for almost a year, with only a month a “backsliding”, I went cold turkey and it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I’m 5’3 and 110 lbs, I’m pretty slim but I have some residual fat/flab from having my son a yr ago. I’ve been wanting to doing the 28 day challenge which rrequires pyou to cut out all flour type carbs.

AshBash May 21, 2013 - 10:05 PM

Do you feel like this is healthy? Bc even tho I want to loose the belly my real goal is to be overall more healthy so I can play with my son and not be tired and also to motivate my mother and boyfriend by showing them the right way and not neccessarily like tryna beat them in the head w/what I do. U know? Hope this question makes sence. Thanks!

Erika Nicole Kendall May 21, 2013 - 10:52 PM

Provided you aren’t doing any intensive cardio, generally stuff that lasts longer than approx 35 minutes, it can generally be okay.

However, if you’re that petite with that particular problem, I’d wonder what your body fat percentage is, and ask how amenable you are to developing muscle to help eat away at that fat.

Jennifer May 22, 2013 - 2:00 PM

I definitely think that we as a society eat way too many refined carbs – your cookies, pastries, cakes, etc.
But, for me, it’s all about balance. You can’t go through life without indulging once in a while. Otherwise, where’s the fun? I find that if I give myself a small treat 1-2x a week, it helps a lot with resisting temptation at other times.

Katie C. May 5, 2014 - 1:44 AM

Hi, Erika. Do you not consider sugar cravings a legitimate craving? I’m reading “Salt Sugar Fat” right now, which focuses on those three ingredients in many convenience foods. Right now I’m reading part one on sugar, and there’s a lot of talk about basically getting people hooked on food through adding sugar. And I’m sure you’ve read the studies showing sugar lights up the same part of a person’s brain as heroin.

Personal anecdote: I’m a chronic migraine sufferer, and for a long time, I’d experience withdrawal migraines when I tried to give up my caffeine habit (diet soda). I experienced something similar after I succeeded in dumping soda but picked up a nasty sweet tea habit. If I drank a soda (before giving it up) or a sweet tea, the migraine would ease away, but as soon as I tried to give it up again, it’d come back. Do you not consider those types of substances (sugar, caffeine) to be craveable? They’re obviously not nutritional needs, but I see them as a sort of addiction the body has that can result in some unpleasant physical responses if you don’t give in to that craving. Do you have thoughts on this?

Erika Nicole Kendall May 5, 2014 - 10:27 AM

“Getting people hooked,” in my mind, isn’t a ‘craving.’ That’s literally the language of addiction. Those are two different things to me.

The specificity of the “craving” determines the reaction I have, and the strength with which we respond to it determines whether I consider it a “craving” or an “addict’s response,” IMHO.

Keep reading SSF! It’s a great book. 🙂

Edith Irene Smith October 30, 2017 - 10:46 PM

Hi..where were you when I started this crazy low carbs diet. I don’t like feeling limited in my food choices. I really wish I could have done more normal eating instead of going to extremes the way Robert Atkins suggested. Don’t get me wrong… It took 160 lbs off, but I miss grits and oats like crazy.

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