I think it’s safe to say that the average person enjoys starchy carbohydrates at least to some degree, whether you’re talking about warm, crusty bread, pizza, bagels, pasta, cake, cookies, pastries or donuts.
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.
Let’s take a closer look at this condition which is very likely a big factor behind our skyrocketing obesity rates, how to recognize the signs, and very importantly, how to break free of the addiction.
Carbohydrate addiction—yes, it’s real
Although there are many different definitions of “food addiction” from various sources, 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.”
Unfortunately, much of the mainstream medical and scientific community still hasn’t fully embraced the idea that people can be addicted to food. Search mayoclinic.com and you won’t even find an entry for “food addiction.”
But the idea of food addiction is not new. As long ago as the 1940’s scientists were reporting early findings that suggested people could become addicted to certain kinds of foods. By the early 1960’s studies showed that starchy carbohydrates in particular could be addictive.
By the time the 1980’s rolled around, research in this area exploded, and began to include studies of the effects of carbohydrates on brain chemicals, including the neurotransmitter serotonin.
Regardless of whether food addiction will soon earn recognition as a valid medical diagnosis, as those suffering with addictions to certain foods—especially carbohydrates—can tell you, it’s VERY real.
Tell me why
I think it’s a fair statement that 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 some of the common causes and underlying factors behind carbohydrate addiction:
1- It’s all in my head! (or brain)
Current research supports the fact that a primary underlying cause of carbohydrate addiction lies in your brain’s reward system.
You see, 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…Ahhh. 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 get a feeling of euphoria…
And then crave more carbs as a result!
Having an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can cause serious fatigue.
And 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.
In addition to providing a quick burst of energy, repeatedly relying on refined carbs like this can lead to dependence, overconsumption, cravings, and eventually full-blown addiction.
3- Yeast overgrowth
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 the 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.
4- 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 sticks 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.
In addition, with chronic stress your adrenal glands can eventually become exhausted, causing an even greater desire to depend on refined carbohydrates for energy.
This too creates a vicious cycle whereby a “sugar-induced high” will quickly be followed by a “crash and burn low” which can cause anxiety and jitteriness, and eventually another sugar craving to bring about the “high” again.
5- Menopause and/or pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS)
As levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone drop, women can become more prone to insulin resistance, where your body’s cells don’t respond as they should to insulin. This in turn can cause sugar cravings to soar, since your cells haven’t received the glucose they were expecting to get from your blood.
In addition, as hormone levels change, the body attempts to raise levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin, and since sugar triggers a serotonin release, this can cause a cycle of cravings for refined carbs.
Researchers have found is that depressed people who crave carbohydrates seem to unconsciously turn to the high-carb foods to boost their mood, and most cravers reported feeling less depressed after eating high-carb snacks.
This is a reflection of the increased production of serotonin following refined carbohydrate ingestion, and actually mimics the action of antidepressant medications!
Studies have found that as much as 40 to 60 percent of our vulnerability to addicted can be directly linked to our genes.
How will I know?
If you’re somewhere on the spectrum of refined carbohydrate addiction, chances are excellent you probably know it or at least suspect you might have a problem.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to see if carb addiction may be an issue for you—answer yes or no to each (partially derived from Food Addiction-The Body Knows by Kay Sheppard):
A Food Addict’s Questionnaire
1. Has anyone ever told you that you have a problem with food?
2. Do you think food is a problem for you?
3. Do you eat large amounts of high calorie food in a short period of time?
4. Do you eat to overcome shyness or insecurity?
5. Do you eat when you are disappointed, tense, sad or anxious?
6. Is it difficult for you to stop eating after one or two sweets or a small serving of refined carbohydrates?
7. Has your eating ever interfered with any part of your life?
8. Has being overweight ever affected any part of your life?
9. Do you weigh yourself once or twice (or more) a day?
10. Do you frequently eat more than you planned to eat?
11. Have you hidden food so that you would have it just for yourself?
12. Have you felt angry when someone ate food you were saving for yourself?
13. Do you worry that you can’t control how much you eat?
14. Have you ever felt frantic about your size, shape or weight?
15. Have many of these methods of weight loss have you tried in the past?
_____Compulsive, excessive exercise
_____Over the counter diet pills, gums or candies
_____Sorbitol (for laxative effect)
_____Chewing and spitting food
_____Special food, drinks or supplements
_____Weight loss programs
16. Have you ever felt so ashamed of the amount that you eat that you hide your eating or hide evidence of it (wrappers, etc.)?
17. Do you avoid social situations because you’re worried about how much you might eat?
18. Do you overeat more than twice a week?
19. Do you invent plans in order to be alone to eat?
20. Do you seek out companions who eat the way you do?
21. Do you get a sleepy, almost “drugged” feeling after eating a large meal containing bread, pasta, potatoes or dessert?
22. At a restaurant, do you frequently eat a large quantity of bread even before the meal is served?
23. Do you sometimes eat before going to a friend’s home for dinner in case dinner is delayed?
24. Do you feel hungry an hour or two after eating a large meal?
25. If you’re feeling down, does a snack of cake, cookies or other sweets make you feel better?
0 – 1 Yes answers: Carbohydrate addiction is unlikely
2 – 4 Yes answers: Carbohydrate addiction is possible
5 or more Yes answers: Carbohydrate addiction is likely
Break the cycle of craving and addiction now!
If you saw yourself in any of the questions above, know this: there is a whole lot you can do to help turn that around!
Here are some very effective measures you can take to help release the hold that carbs may have on you and break free of those cravings:
1) Look at what’s underneath
First and foremost, look at any underlying conditions that I mentioned above that may be an issue for you.
That can include getting your thyroid and adrenal glands 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.
And if depression is a problem for you, be sure to seek out a skilled therapist.
2) 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!
In addition, when you’re grocery shopping, completely avoid the refined carb aisles at the store, and at restaurants, tell the waiter up front that you don’t want a bread basket.
“Out of sight, out of mind” can apply here too.
3) Load your plate up with good carbs (fruits and vegetables)
Eating a variety of whole foods (preferably organic) 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.
And try to have a tossed salad with dinner every day, over and above what’s on your plate. It will help fill you up and provide needed fiber to keep your bowel movements regular (which can help eliminate any existing yeast overgrowth you might have).
4) Supplement with probiotics to counteract sugar’s effect on your gut
As I mentioned above, sugar feeds yeast, so if you’ve been eating a lot of refined carbs, chances are excellent you’ve got imbalance in your intestines and your friendly flora may be waving the white flag of defeat.
Not only can this perpetuate a yeast overgrowth cycle, but since your gut is where 70% of your immune system resides, you may be taking a serious hit there too!
In addition to having a healthy diet of real foods and good carbs, probiotic supplementation can be extremely helpful in restoring your flora balance.
And for a high-quality supplement that’s up to the task, look no farther than Super Shield multi-strain probiotic formula!
Two of the powerhouse strains in Super Shield, Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus acidophilus, have been shown to be extremely effective in fighting yeast (Candida).
And Super Shield’s 11 other potent strains support L. rhamnosus and L. acidophilus in keeping your intestinal flora in a healthy balance, ready and able to keep yeast in check, fight off harmful bacteria, and help strengthen your intestinal walls and fight leaky gut.
5) Reduce stress
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.
All of the following can be helpful: Regular exercise, yoga, meditation, prayer, counseling, deep breathing, acupuncture, massage therapy, aromatherapy, taking up a hobby, adopting a pet, leaving a stressful job for a better one and ending unhappy or harmful relationships.
6) Supplement with Omega-3 essential fatty acids
Omega-3 EFAs play a major role in the normal functioning of your brain (which is extremely important if you’re prone to depression) and your body’s control of insulin.
Unfortunately, people with a typical diet (especially those who eat a lot of refined carbs) are seriously lacking in this vital nutrient.
But VitalMega-3 can help ensure your body gets what it needs.
VitalMega-3 provides an impressive 1,200 mg of Omega-3s in each daily two-capsule serving, including 600 mg. of the EPA and 400 mg. of DHA that is so highly recommended by health experts.
7) 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. On the flip side, avoid nay-sayers and people who encourage you, shame you or embarrass you into overeating.
You CAN do it!
Know this, my friend:
You CAN break free of carbohydrate addiction—and now that you have some smart strategies to put in place, you can be on your way very soon.
I’ll be here rooting for you all the way.