People look at me today and tell me that they find it hard to believe that I ever had a weight problem. But I did. I’m the one on the left (see above, circa 1998).
It doesn’t help that everyone else in the picture is skinny.
For decades, over thirty years as a matter of fact, I struggled with weight that – in the words of my mother-in-law – went up and down like a toilet seat.
If you are – as I am – one of those people with a genetic predisposition to easily gain weight – and who also finds it ‘hard to lose’ – then you may be caught in the grip of fear over eating what we all have come to fondly call ” comfort foods”: whole grains, potatoes, bread, and pasta. You may have cultivated – as I did – the habit of cutting back on the ‘carbs’ to get a grip on your weight ‘problem’.
This fear – resulting in the restriction of healthy carbohydrate foods may – and quite likely has – run deeper than you ever realized. It may also be contributing to your weight problem in a manner you least suspect.
Suffering from Carbophobia?
[pullquote]You may actually be caught in the grip of carbophobia, which, as defined in 2003 by the Journal of American Nutrition, is officially a form of misinformation infused into the American psyche through multiple advertising avenues that include magazine ads, television infomercials and especially best-selling diet books.[/pullquote]
To be honest, when I finally reached a turning point in my weight management quest that resulted in the loss of 50 pounds fifteen years ago, I was astonished to find out that as much as I thought the last vestiges of carbophobia had been purged from my brain, there were still lingering tentacles that held my eating behaviors in fatal grip – and actually kept me fat. Though I had learned years previous that eating freely of complex carbohydrates – whole grains, potatoes – all kinds – and other starchy vegetables – were ideal for helping me reach my weight loss goals, I still held back.
A pivotal moment of enlightenment that changed my behavior and contributed to my roaring success came at a physician’s conference that delivered instant enlightenment about my carbophobia problem. The secret to being full without being fat – my dream and the dieter’s holy grail – demands that we abandon our fear of these foods – the ‘starchies’ as I call them (see The 5 food groups: My simple plan for a whole foods, low-fat, plant-based diet) – and recognize that the reason we crave them is because we need them. Here are two reasons that ‘comfort foods’ are essential for your weight loss – and easy weight management – plan.
1. Carbohydrates are the primary fuel for your brain – and your body
The brain runs on glucose, provided by complex carbohydrate foods in your diet. The belly calls for their plentiful presence in our diet to meet the demands of it’s requirements to comply with what I call the Three Rules of Satiety. Applying these three rules – described in depth in the Nutrition Principles chapter of my book Fit Quickies: 5 Minute Targeted Body Shaping Workouts – heralded my successful and lasting weight loss.
For right now let’s focus on rule number three, the nutrition rule.
An important part of nutrition is simply the calorie content in the food we eat. Without sufficient calories each day, we can easily develop what I call ‘stored hunger’. If you’ve ever experienced white-knuckle hunger on the second or third day of a diet – hunger that drives you to eat anything and everything in sight, particularly high-fat high-sugar foods – then you know what I mean by stored hunger. Let’s not forget that you are biologically driven to survive and hunger needs unmet will take over despite your best intentions and strongest dietary resolve.
When we, in our desire to lose weight, cut back on what we perceive as high calorie foods – ‘comfort’ foods such as whole grains and starchy vegetables, for example – in preference to just the high water content vegetables and fruits, the calorie content of our diet can dip too low, threatening our survival instinct. I can’t tell you on how many occasions I would skip the bread for lunch only to find myself face first in a pan of brownie dough in the afternoon, overwhelmed by the desire for ‘comfort’ foods. I would have been far better off by just eating the bread for lunch in the first place.
2. You crave comfort foods them because you require them
When people come to me for help with their weight loss frustration, quite often early on in the conversation I hear them mention their ‘addiction to carbs’. I answer that we’d better be – just as we are to addicted water – because without carbs our brains will addle and our bodies be deficient in energy.
This is precisely why we find them so satisfying and comforting. When you look at a big bowl of fluffy rice, steamy baked potato, or loaf of grainy bread, our interest is immediately peaked because these are part of our natural fuel. It’s only when we deny it or fall for the highly processed alternatives – such as cakes, cookies, and candies – that we get into trouble.
Long gone for me are the days when I would meticulously pass on good grainy bread for lunch with disastrous mid-afternoon rebound. Indulging in whole foods we traditionally characterize as ‘carbs’ has become my best protection against the bad-carb binge – and cornerstone to easy management of my weight, now 50 lbs lighter than 15 years back.
The original ‘comfort foods’ are your friends
From this moment on, I want you to see complex carbohydrates – the original comfort foods – those found in whole, unprocessed or minimally processed whole grains and starchy vegetables – as your friend in weight loss. It will most likely require some reprogramming of your habits of thinking, if you have been dyed in the usual weight-loss wool. Yet the rewards are enormous once you take that step. Your hunger will be satisfied, your ‘cravings’ recognizeable as simply real hunger, and a trimmer body yours.
P.S. Portions of this article appeared in a recent edition of my column at Vegan Mainstream. It struck such a chord with readers that I was inspired to expand the article and share it with you.