Carb…the other four-letter word
I used to think that just by looking at carbs, no no, let me retract that, just by THINKING about carbs, I would gain weight. Really and truly there was nothing you could say to change my mind about that. “It’s just how I am” I used to think. “I’m not meant to metabolize carbs”.
I believed this with pretty much every fiber of my being and tried for years to avoid carbs to the best of my abilities. And on the rare occasion, I did eat carbs, I was drenched in guilt and wrecked by remorse and fear. Fear that I’d gain weight, from that single carb-filled item. Maybe it was pasta, or a bun for my burger, or a slice of pizza, or even a sugary drink from Starbucks. The feelings of regret and guilt set in almost immediately, and so did the extra workouts to burn off the carbs I had just consumed. Sound familiar…?
Throughout all my years in synchro (synchronized swimming), I battled my weight (well really, the culture of the sport made me feel as though I was battling my weight because of unrealistic ideals, but that is for a future topic 😉 ). So I was constantly trying to lose weight. I remember being on the national team one summer and having THAT conversation. You know, the one about not looking “fit”…(yeah, I had that convo a couple of times during my time as an athlete). Anyway, so I had this convo with the coaches about not looking fit and once again needing to try and slim down if I wanted to keep my spot on the team. I remember the coach telling me, if I just cut out carbs, I’d lose the weight.
So I did. I cut out carbs completely. Chicken and salad for 8 weeks anyone? And actually, I did lose weight. I lost a lot of weight and pretty quickly (to be expected when cutting carbs and training 8 plus hours a day as a 16 year old, but I digress). I kept my spot that summer thankfully, and I remember walking away from training with one strong thought…“If I just stop eating carbs, I can lose weight quickly”.
Maybe you’ve found yourself having similar thoughts. Maybe you’ve even cut the carbs and lost the weight. But then pretty soon, cutting carbs isn’t working anymore…
By the time I was competing at the collegiate level, I had been avoiding carbs for years. Unfortunately, my body caught on that I was NOT under any circumstance going to give it the energy it desired in its most desirable form (aka carbs) and so it adapted. Our bodies are pretty darn smart like that. Cutting carbs no longer provided me with quick weight loss, or any weight loss for that matter. In fact, I felt like the more I restricted carbs, the more weight I gained! Hence the feeling that even thinking about carbs resulted in gaining weight. Because, honestly, it felt really really true.
Fast forward to retirement and finally being ready to give up my food rules and find food freedom, I knew I had to face my fear of carbs head on. So, as my logical brain does, I went back to science. What is the science of a carb and what does it do in my body? Heads up, I’m about to neRD out on you. You’ve been warned.
So what IS a carb? A carbohydrate, at the chemical level, is carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Okay, that doesn’t sound so scary. They combine to make sugars and starches and grains. That feels a little scarier, but let’s stick with carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. When broken down in the body, carbohydrates provide our cells with ENERGY. Well heck, it feels pretty darn amazing to be energetic am I right? Nothing really to fear with energy! (Actually, maybe cutting carbs was the real reason I felt so tired all the dang time…you too?!).
Okay, so basically, at the most scientific level, carbohydrates are just organic compounds that contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, and when consumed, they provide our body, our cells, and our brain, with energy (YOU WERE WARNED about the neRDing!).
Now don’t get me wrong, recognizing this about carbs didn’t automatically make me feel less guilty about eating them. But it did allow me to lean into some truth about them. And the truth is, carbs weren’t making me gain weight. I didn’t have a problem metabolizing carbs. Inadequate energy intake resulting in a decrease in my resting metabolic rate and ongoing state of stress was what was causing the weight battles. Not the carbs (man we hate on carbs a lot don’t we?).
Eating carbs was actually part of the solution though. It was providing my body with consistent, adequate energy (you know, that thing carbs gives us), that helped my body feel SAFE, allowed me to find my set point weight (it feels really good to live in this place), slowly break down and overcome food rules, and realize how freeing it is to live without the constant fear of carbs lurking over my shoulder.
So maybe carb isn’t the other four-letter word after all <3