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In Defence of Carbs: they don't make you fat and they are important.

September 12, 2017

 

home made god

 

something told me 

that i was not beautiful 

unless my thighs did not touch. 

something told me

that i was not beautiful 

until i lived only on plants 

ignoring hunger pains

sunken cheekbones 

dead eyes. 

some thing told me 

that i was not beautiful 

unless my stomach was tight, 

spread over my bones like cheap spray paint. 

chipping off at the edges 

shrivelling at the sight of oil. 

donteatthat/donteatthat

until three days later

when the inside of my refrigerator looks like the aftermath of a hurricane.

diet pills and cheeto dust and self hate 

sliding down my throat and sinking into my bloodstream. 

my collarbones are not even 

thank my home made god for turtlenecks. 

my arms have too much extra skin. 

pray for winter, 

or at least that nobody asks why i’m sweating in a long-sleeved tee in the middle of July. 

something told me 

if i could fumble with a squishy belly in my bathroom mirror 

i did not belong in a bikini. 

something told me

the world was made for girls who can run six miles 

or have skin the colour of caramel 

or hate the taste of bread. 

something told me 

the world was made for the stick-thin clones of a plastic barbie doll. 

but i am here to tell you: 

the world was made for women who know their worth. 

the world was made for girls who know 

that their rating on a one to ten scale 

does not determine whether or not they are beautiful. 

the world was made for girls who are strong. 

the ones who lift each other up; 

human pyramids of good hearts and shared tears. 

 

This poem by M Linch is the voice of ill health struggling to get better. I hope she really has turned a corner as her poem seems to suggest but as mother of an old school friend once told me, eating disorders are like alcoholism - they stay with us for life. Though Kate’s Mum was in her forties at the time and had anorexia as a teenager she still had a complicated relationship with food. 

Why start a blog post about carbs with a poem about anorexia? Because when people become afraid of an entire food group that sounds like an easy first step to disordered eating. There is a brief summary of what carbs are below this article for anyone who isn’t entirely sure what I’m talking about *. 

In her poem M Linch writes that the world was made for girls that hate the taste of bread. I don’t know anyone who hates the taste of bread. I do know women who choose not to eat it though. It is Anthony Warner in his book The Angry Chef who points out that it has the highest protein content of any staple food apart from soy and is a significant contributor of fibre and B vitamins, it has calcium and magnesium in it too. the person who eliminates bread from their diet is 

cutting out many delicious items, denying himself moments of great joy.. Although many might consider such denial as trivial, we often underestimate the power of simple pleasures to enrich our lives and improve our well being (19).

If simple pleasures aren’t a priority in your life or don’t fit in your training plan then Stacy T Sims outlines in her book Roar carbohydrates importance for athletic performance and for women.  

In the exercise community Sims recognises that carb has become a four letter word and she explains that it is an essential micro nutrient because the body uses carbohydrates for energy to fuel the body, brain and nervous system. Our glycogen supply, which is the stored carbs in our muscles and liver, is limited and we need 1 cup pasta or beans or 1 potato daily purely for the support of the central nervous system to maintain red blood cell production, keep our immune system running and fuel our brains. Our brain requires 60 percent of our body’s resting glucose. It also uses 25 percent of the body’s energy budget. Our high glucose demands are not met on a low carb diet.

On top of this, high fat low carb eating elevates levels of cortisol, which harms protein synthesis. Without the fuel it needs our body then eats muscle which makes it very difficult to make more muscle. This process hurts the immune system which is taxed by exercise stress. 

Sims also explains that women process carbs differently to men. When women drop too low in carbohydrate it causes a drop in estradiol (female sex hormone) and a rise in estrone (one of three oestrogen hormones that fat tissue secretes, which signals your body to store more fat) and the stress hormone cortisol which also signals fat storage. Under long periods of high stress

your body is thinking that it is in a famine, in response it stores as much fat as it can and doesn’t want you to produce any babies, in other words: situations of high stress and low calories leads to a round tummy and menstrual dysfunction. 

If you would like to feel happier, have more energy or mental clarity then you might be interested in Brierley Wright’s listicle where she briefly and loosely cites different studies; mainly from the Journal of Nutrition, that exhibit the benefits of carbs. She claims that those on low carb diets experience more depression, anxiety and anger and also perform worse on tests of working memory and visuospatial memory than those of control subjects. This was an internet article, you can believe it if you want. Her initial statement needs no peer review though: 

There's a common misconception that carbohydrates make you fat. They don’t. Sure, if eaten in unnecessarily large quantities they could contribute to weight gain, but, then again, so could too much of any food. 

To shift our mindset from one of deprivation we need to focus on the food that we should eat. We can fill ourselves with goodness instead of whittling ourselves away. We can add seeds, nuts or extra vegetables to any meal. We can eat good oils found in things such as oily fish, olive oil and avocado which also increase satiety. We can pack our snacks (a bag of nuts/ some fruit/ veg sticks and almond butter) instead of eating from a vending machine. We can eat when we are hungry and find other things to do when bored or stressed (cup of tea anyone?). We can be kind to ourselves, no-one has a perfect body and everyone is worthy of love. Warner’s main motivation for writing his book was to engage people with food, to encourage them to eat a varied diet, to seek pleasure without needless restriction. Food is the ‘creator of of memories and bringer of joy’ (228) 

This joy is not just for those with thigh gaps and flat stomachs, it is for all of us, for girls, boys, women and men who are strong, who lift each other up; human pyramids of good hearts and shared tears. 

 

 

*  Carbohydrates are found in starches such as potatoes, maize, rice and other cereals; in the sugars sucrose (table sugar), glucose and fructose which are found naturally in many fruits and some vegetables. Glycogen is carbohydrate stored in the liver and muscles. Cellulose in the cell wall of all plant tissue. The World Health Organization recommends that national dietary guidelines set a goal of 55–75% of total energy from carbohydrates, but only 10% directly from sugars. Thank you Wikipedia.  

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