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How To Tell If You’re Addicted To Carbs

August 24th, 2010

Read time: 3-4 minutes

Last week I spoke about the connection between excessive amounts of cardio exercise and carbohydrate ‘addiction’, and how these two behaviours more often than not lead to dietary and fat loss failure. As far as generalisations go, this is one that I’m quite happy to put my name to. I base this not only on my own personal exercise and food history, which I’ll grant has been more tumultuous than the typical person looking to slim down and tone up, but rather on the experience of many frustrated clients and gym goers who’ve crossed my path over the years.

So whether you suspect you could be in cardio overload or addicted to carbs – or both (as they tend to go hand in hand), or if you just can’t figure out why you don’t get results despite all your good efforts, then this article is for you.

Which came first; the cardio or the carbs?

The long and short of it is that it doesn’t really matter. As we’ve discussed previously, if cardio overload is coupled with a diet predominantly high in carbs – even clean ones, such as fruits and wholegrains – and it’s at the expense of adequate protein and good fat, then you’re going to find it very tough to lose body fat or ever feel your best. More likely than not you live on a roller-coaster of energy ups and downs. And the truth is that I really can’t say for sure whether it’s hormonally based and all that cardio is jacking up your cortisol and causing you to constantly ‘need’ carbs as the authors of this book indicate, or if it’s more psychological and your frequent scarfing down of starchy grains and bananas by the bunch is guilt-tripping you into upping your weekly cardio requirement. And really, who cares? Let’s focus on how to identify if your cardio and carb habits are holding you back from your health goals, rather than how those habits became established in the first place.

Totally addicted to carbs: a checklist

These are my red flags for carb addiction.

  1. You have a very foggy mind and struggle to get going in the morning – until you have something like yogurt, muesli, or fruit. Or sugar with your coffee 🙂
  2. Speaking of which – the idea of coffee without sugar horrifies you
  3. You use sports drinks like gatorade, because you feel you need them to get through your workout or because you get dizzy or nauseous without them
  4. You would rarely eat something like a salad with meat/chicken or soup or indeed anything for lunch without adding some form of grains
  5. You crash mid-afternoon and the only thing that perks you up is fruit, yogurt, or some kind of sweet temptation
  6. Dinner always includes potato, rice, pasta, noodles, or bread – or a big bowl of fruit for dessert. The idea of just green vegetables and protein seems crazy at worst, or just plain unsatisfying at best.
  7. You suffer frequent low blood sugar related attacks like dizziness, black spots, or nausea.
  8. You often feel physically weak and drained, despite having adequate sleep and ‘eating well’.
  9. You eat the healthiest diet of nearly anyone you know – according to conventional standards. Yet for some reason you just can’t get in shape.
  10. You frequently experience extreme energy highs followed by extreme energy lows
  11. You just never quite feel full or satisfied; you seem to need to eat all the time
  12. Your exercise regime is cardio based with just a small amount of weight training (or none), and you always fuel yourself before and after training with a carb-based meal or snack!

If 6 or more of these apply to you, and – most importantly – if you’re struggling to meet your health and fat loss goals, then you could well have a carbohydrate addiction.

Does this sound like you?

My disclaimer

A few points that I think I need to make on this topic:

  • I most definitely do not think all – or any (real) carbs – are ‘evil’.
  • Whilst I typically eat and advocate a low-carb diet I recognise that there’s a time and a place for any food to be used in moderation, and carbs can even be deliberately used to your advantage post weight training (for example)
  • I know that some people tolerate a carb-based diet very well, and would do poorly without grains, sugary fruits etc. This article is for those people (the majority of people) who do NOT tolerate carbs well.
  • But mainly it’s for those who are stuck in a cycle of following mainstream nutrition and exercise advice and wondering why they never get anywhere
  • My thoughts and theories are – as ever – based predominantly on my personal and clinical experience. If your experience is different (or the same!) please share.

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6 people have commented
  1. Peta says:

    Hi, my name is Peta and I am a Carb Addict.

    Kat, do you offer a 10 step program to end my addiction to carbs?
    I am working on one meal at a time… lunch carbs have been outed, breakfast is this weeks challenge and dinner; we’ll just handle one meal at a time.
    I know there is a time and place for carbs, and i’m pencil-ing them in, just nowhere near as much as I have in the past 🙂

    • Kat says:

      Hi Peta
      I am actually writing about this in my next post; stay tuned!
      Well done on what you’ve achieved so far 🙂
      Kat

  2. Farnoosh says:

    Dear Kat, you got me thinking and I sent this over to the hubby too and will share on Twitter as well. I read over this several times. I only qualify for two of these more or less and not all the time, #5 and #11 so here is my life lately. I started cycling/spinning indoors and I do that at least once a day it seems. Sometimes I go to two classes with 1 hour of cycling in the AM and then yoga/cycling combo in evening especially during this 30-day challenge. I do a lot of power yoga (at least 3 times a week, classes at least 90 min long) and I eat (99%) a vegan diet. But I am so hungry all the time. I have lost about 2-3 pounds but I am at my ideal weight BUT what worries me is this: How much I crave crave crave carbs especially RICE!! I am drenched with sweat from my spinning class so I know I lose a lot of calories but I still worry. I LOVE raw foods and lots of vegetables but the rice and now the fruit smoothies with some nuts, those are my killer foods now. Should I worry?????

  3. Deb says:

    Hey Kat,

    Up until a few weeks ago I would have probably agreed with you %1000, however I’ve recently stumbled upon some differing points of view, backed by science and now personal experience.

    Ever heard of Matt Stone? Not the South Park Matt Stone, but http://180degreehealth.com and http://180degreehealth.blogspot.com
    He’s raised some interesting points regarding leptin, thyroid function, fructose and starches.

    I once was convinced that pretty much all starches were evil metabolic doer’s , but now I’m thinking it’s more about “Sugar” including the Fructose found in fruit that could be the culprit. Of course packaged processed crap is at the top of the “enemy #1” list, but potatoes, brown rice and real unadulterated whole food starches have become my fat loss friend.

    • Kat says:

      Hi Deb. It sounds like you may be one of the lucky few out there who not only tolerate carbs well but actually need them in order to get lean. I’m jealous! Around 25-30% of people (in my experience) need starches regularly in order to stay in shape, as I sort of mentioned in my disclaimer at the end of the post. It totally agree about the fructose issue, although I’m wary of saying fruits are the energy as they are still a natural food. For sure one that is commonly abused though. My advice is to generally stick to low GI/ high antioxidant fruits such as berries and stone fruits.

  4. […] one by saying I’ll back off for a bit after this! In the past few weeks I’ve told you how to tell if you’re addicted to carbs (hint: if you are, then this one is for you), asked you if your cardio habit is fueling your carb […]