I'm a pretty avid follower of the paleo blogosphere, and I must admit that I'm feeling very confused these days as to how I should be eating. It seems as if we are moving away from the low-carb paradigm towards one that includes safe starches. I used to hang my hat on the low-carb theories, but now I'm not so sure anymore. I understand that ideal macronutrient ratios really depend on the person, but I'm not sure how to interpret the data in a way that clearly delineates what I should be doing.
Background: I'm a 22 year old female and currently about 20 lb overweight. I was heavy during my childhood and peaked in weight during my high school years. I believe that my weight issues began when I started eating emotionally as a child to deal with my parents' separation. I have dealt with these underlying emotional issues, and I've dropped about 50 lbs since my heaviest. Now I'm just looking to lose the last 20-30 lbs.
I've been slimmer (and nearly at my goal weight) in the past in extreme situations (studying abroad at a high altitude, working on a dairy farm) but anytime I return to a "normal" American lifestyle, I can't seem to maintain that body composition. I am worried that I may have unintentionally starved myself during these periods, especially when I was in South America, had a nasty parasite, and had absolutely no appetite for about a month. Anyway, I digress...
This whole controversy over whether low-carb is good or bad for weight loss is taking a toll, because I'm having a hard time sticking with any sort of protocol. I will commit myself to low-carb then find myself out at a sushi restaurant with friends, justifying white rice and sweet potato, and then suddenly I'm down the rabbit hole and eating cups of pineapple or coconut ice cream by the pint. I definitely have an addictive/compulsive personality, which is how I became overweight/metabolically deranged to begin with, so my first inclination is to really cut out the sugar/carbohydrates. I've had success with it before. I guess my real question is, am I setting myself up for failure? Am I struggling with sugar binging because I was so restrictive in the past? I know I can lose weight with very restrictive low-carb, but I don't want to set myself up for failure in the future if low-carb is going to make my body think it's starving. At the same time, I've heard eliminating carbohydrate can help heal the metabolism and insulin/leptin resistance issues. I just don't know what to do, and I'm finding it paralyzing.
Any insights you have would be extremely appreciated. I'm sure I'm not the only one struggling with this issue.
The majority of folks that I have seen, in my experience, that advocate a safe-starch diet aren't necessarily looking for weightloss but for a suppression of physical symptoms and discomfort.
Speaking as a recovering food addict, the only way I have been able to lose weight, whilst staying healthy, is via low-carb paleo. I experimented with carbs and some of my old symptoms came back (slow, leaky gut, gas), and more importantly, I couldn't control my binge impulses. On the weight loss front, the results were disasterous.
What works for me will not work for you, but it can provide a framework for you to develop your own self-experimentation. But what you can (and should) walk away from this knowing, is that every person, while being the same species, is shaped by their genetics, their own neurosis, food concepts, gut bacteria, and histamines that control how, why, and what they can eat.
It can be hard being the lone voice in a small room, and the success of higher carb paleos out there is fairly hard to ignore, but you must find your own voice and know what works for you. Otherwise, you are leaving your health in the hands of strangers, even the well-meaning, well-educated strangers here on Paleohacks.
If a food triggers compulsive eating, you shouldn't eat it. So maybe low-carb works best for you, but if you do eat carbs, I would suggest sticking with the sashimi at the sushi restaurant and limiting yourself severely in terms of carbs to things like PLAIN steamed tubers. Based on my high-carb low-reward paleo experiment, those so suck so bad that you might start to actually even hate carbs.
I know it's often worthless advice since psychologists cost a pretty penny, but if you can, it is worth looking into cognitive behavioral therapy.
i feel like i've been struggling very much with the same issues -- the constant back and forth between various "protocols" and feeling the need to justify and adjust my eating plan based on "evidence." most recently i decided to say: SCREW IT too all of that.
like you, i could stand to lose about 20 lbs, so i've tried the low-carb thing, and eliminating all starchy veg, dairy, and fruit. the only thing that happened on that eating plans, is that i started craving a ridiculous amount of dark chocolate (90% but still, if you eat a half a bar or more a day, that doesn't do you any favors). i noticed that when i introduced "safe starches" a la PHD, those cravings immediately stopped. in either scenario my weight actually stays pretty much exactly the same, except that i hold 2-3 lbs. more of water when i eat the starches. i know this is not "real" weight gain, since i can lose it pretty much on command by going low-carb again.
since i'm an active person (occasional bike commute, 1+ hours each way, cross-fit or weight lifting several times a week, running races fairly regularly on weekends, and generally a lot of walking due to living in NYC), i decided that i need the carbs. more than that though, i decided i need to let go of all the mental energy i put into my eating. therefore, i decided to eat based on what i feel like eating, whether carb or not, assuming that my body knows what it needs. and yes, it annoys me that my weight seems to be staying the same, but in the end i'm healthy, i feel great and my mind isn't so preoccupied with eating.
it feels weird to have whole meals without significant amounts of protein - like lunch today was a baby kale salad with sweet potato, avocado, feta, sundried tomato, and sunflower seeds - but i'm currently going through a phase where my body simply doesn't want a lot of protein and fat. why should i convince myself otherwise simply because i can recite a cases of weight loss that deemed eating plenty of protein as crucial? in the end, i'm the only one who can know what makes me feel good at the moment.
i've been doing so much eating based on external cues (research studies, paleo/primal blogs, other people's weight loss success stories...), but in the end it's about what suits ME. if that means that i have rice crackers or rice noodles and a bunch of fruit, so be it. i think the body should be pretty good at self-regulating. as long as i listen closely to my body, i'll head the right direction, and eventually, my body will reflect that.
Well, based on the answers so far, I don't know that your confusion will be cleared up at all. To carb or not to carb is a topic that is almost as polarizing as some in the political sphere. Folks on both sides of the argument are passionate and well-meaning. But we're also pretty much engaged in a philosophical (or physiological) tug-of-war.
I suggest you consider splitting the difference. Go lower carb than you would if eating SAD or the USDA food plate, but not so low that you have to fixate on counting carbs religiously or be anxious about the lack of carbs messing up your metabolism.
Eat small amounts of carbs with meals that also include protein and healthy fat to slow absorption and thus avoid any blood glucose spikes (test for these if you like, but only after you have had carb in your diet for a few days).
Eat fewer carbs on days you are less active. Eat more on days you exercise. Stick with whole food sources of carbs: fruits, tubers, and sure, the occasional white rice.
Think about this as something you practice. Barring food sensitivities or similar issues, there's no reason that you can't periodically indulge with your friends. But see if you can approach your diet so that your diet isn't so restrictive that when you do indulge, it's like a dam bursting. A cheat meal won't hurt occasionally ... it's when that cheat meal turns into cheat week or cheat month (or months) that it's a problem.
And remember, you can always adjust. Stressing about it is certainly not going to help, and since PaleoHacks is unlikely to resolve this for you, you're going to have to go with your gut and experiment with what makes the most sense to you. Best of luck!
I will... find myself out at a sushi restaurant with friends, justifying white rice and sweet potato, and then suddenly I'm down the rabbit hole and eating cups of pineapple or coconut ice cream by the pint. I definitely have an addictive/compulsive personality
It doesn't sound like there is low carb controversy so far as your particular case is concerned. If you gain weight and lose the ability to 'intuitively eat' as soon as you eat any carbs, even 'safe' ones, then you would be better off not eating them. If you could eat just as much white rice/sweet potato as you felt like and then stop then there might be some controversy, but not if it automatically leads to pints of ice cream. Similarly, safe starches might be perfectly satiating if you just eat plain potatos or white rice all day long and so lose interest in eating, but otherwise it may not.
If you think that low carb will lead to bad metabolic effects then I would suggest finding the smallest amount of carbohydrate you can without leading to a landslide of sugar consumption and make it easy on yourself by eating bland carbohydrates possibly from lots of vegetables and eating your carbohydrate after exercise or fasting and with some protein.
Like so many other things with diet, the amount of carbohydrate one should eat will vary from person to person. It sounds like low-ish carb might be a good approach for you, to help you get some cravings under control, but low-carb isn't necessarily the answer for everyone. Someone who's very active will likely do better with some starchy carbs, at least on workout days. Diane Sanfilippo (Balanced Bites) has a "21-Day Sugar Detox" that focuses on limiting certain foods for 3 weeks to get those cravings under control. I'll be trying it out soon, as I still battle a sweet tooth at times, and one little slip can easily send me sliding down the slope... one thing that does help me is to eat some fatty foods when I have those cravings - bacon, avocado/guacamole, or something like that.
What worked for me has varied over time. During the first few months, I ate high protein/fat and low carb. Once I was better nourished, I gradually reduced protein/fat and increased carbs. Nowadays, if you look at total food volume I'm eating about 75% plants and 25% meat. Nutrient density is closer to 50/50 most weeks--on a day-to-day basis that varies widely.
Another evolution has been the breakdown of red meat vs. fish/shellfish; as I became better nourished and healthier my appetite for salmon/sardines/shellfish increased markedly.
I don't "need" a large leafy salad every day anymore but I'm hungry for it 2-3 days per week.
The bottom line for me is don't eat until you're hungry (stomach/gut, not brain) and eat whatever you're hungry for. Doing that definitely causes me to eat less overall but it also causes great variety from day to day and week to week.
A lot of more mainstream researchers ect. are coming around to the low carb for weight loss idea so I'd say that it's probably true.
However low carbs for optimal health is less convincing. I'd pay closer attention to the glycemic load of the meals/snacks you eat that way you can control the insulin exposure of your fat cells without going too low on the carbs.
I don't think your problem is to eat them or not but more so to not have such an all or nothing mentality. I know this from experience. Low Carb will help you lose weight. No doubt. Our bodies just don't need the carbs given we're healthy other ways. But it's OK to eat a few safe starches every once in awhile especially when we're socializing g. Ot because our body needs them but because physiologically you need them to feel normal. And that is OK! It's when you go home and binge because your so upset so you figure what does it matter anyway.
I always say there are two ways to live your life. First you could be in a 30 day detox so things like sweet potatoes and fruit are very sparse and rice non existent. Remember this way of life is more of a short burst of health. Or you live the 80/20 life because face it we're human and need to enjoy life. And if rice and sweet potatoes are your 20 then I say you're on the right track.
Carbs - How low is too low? 6 Answers