I've just finished reading yet another disturbingly mis-informative article about how "terrible" carbs are and how they are to blame for our health woes. More specifically, this article, published in Chatelaine last month has painted carbs (specifically complex, nutrient-packed ones) as the cause of being overweight or "fat." Frankly, I'm surprised and disappointed that Chatelaine (one of my favorite Canadian publications!) published this misleading article. Sadly, many innocent readers (especially those who are desperate to lose weight) will take this article to heart and start restricting carbs. That's unfortunate...for many reasons.
I'm sick and tired of hearing and reading about how carbs are evil. Carbs are fattening. Carbs are addictive. Carbs cause Diabetes. Carbs create belly fat. Carbs are poison. Ugh...PLEEEEEEEASE!!!!! Carbs are ESSENTIAL! They keep is alive! Carbohydrates are our most important source of fuel and energy. Period.
Your brain's only fuel: Carbohydrates are the brain's only source of fuel. Our brain requires about 100 grams of carbohydrates per day minimum. If you fall short, you'll end up feeling fatigued, not being able to focus or concentrate and becoming irritable and even feeling depressed. Decision-making becomes much harder when your brain isn't fueled well-including decisions about food. Intense carbohydrate cravings surface and as a result, most people overeat or even binge on refined carbohydrate foods. This can happen on a daily basis if not multiple times a day, leading eventually to weight gain.
The "satisfaction component" in meals and snacks: Carbohydrate foods, specifically starchy carbohydrates like breads, pasta, rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, baked goods etc. trigger a release of the "happy" hormone Serotonin in the brain. Serotonin helps you to feel satisfied and satiated after a meal or snack. This hormone helps to make you feel full, both physically and emotionally. When you've eaten a meal that is low-carb or containing no carbs, you may feel physically full (from protein and/or vegetables), but you will not feel satisfied. You'll feel as though something was missing from your meal and start to crave starchy or sweet carbohydrate foods within minutes. This often leads to evening snacking/binging on not-so-healthy foods. When you do include a good source of carbohydrates coming from whole grains or starches, your meal ends up being much more satisfying and you're less likely to go carb-hunting later.
The Deprivation Cycle: Most women (including me!) naturally love carbohydrate-rich foods. Why wouldn't you?? They taste good, they give you energy and they make you feel good. When you deprive your body of a food that you love, whether it's fresh bakery bread or chocolate, you will be more inclined to binge on it. You want what you can't have. If you forbid yourself from having carb-rich foods, you'll find that they are all that you think about and will likely over-indulge at some point, only to feel guilty and restrict again. Getting caught in this cycle is not going to help in the weight loss department.
Nutrition deficits: Most low-carbohydrate diets suggest to minimize carbohydrates coming from whole grains and starches, fruits, and even dairy products like milk and yogurt. If someone restricts these foods, they are not only depriving their body's of energy and fuel, but also essential vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants for proper health.
Ketosis: High protein, low-carb diets may also increase the risk of kidney problems, Osteoporosis, heart disease, and Ketosis. Ketosis is a dangerous metabolic state that the body enters when it is severely deprived of carbohydrates. Being in a state of Ketosis can cause organs to fail, Gout, kidney stones and kidney failure. Ketones can also blunts natural appetite and cause nausea and bad breath.
Enjoy carbs in a healthy way (AND reach your weight loss goals!):
Instead of cutting carbs, enjoy them regularly and in combination with protein. When it comes to grains and starches, focus on whole grains most of the time and indulge in white, refined starches only once in a while. Whole grains are more nutrient-rich and are high in fibre, which can help to keep you fuller longer and stabilize your blood sugar.
Include a whole grain food (bread, pasta, rice, quinoa, cereal etc.) at every meal. If you are trying to trim down, aim for 25% whole grains/starches, 25% protein-rich foods (lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, beans/lentils, tofu, nuts and seeds etc.) and 50% veggies and/or fruit at your meals. At snacks, focus on vegetables and fruits in combination with protein-rich foods.
Eat every 3-4 hours and give yourself at least 15 minutes to eat. Ditch the deprivation cycle by allowing yourself a treat or two a day (something that you absolutely love) in a small but satisfying amount.
After reading Dara Duff-Bergeron's great post on YMC, where she speaks about the controversial (and deeply disturbing) Vogue article recently published - about a mother shaming her overweight daughter, I was inspired to carry on the discussion, as this is an area that I am quite passionate about.
With the recent "anti-obesity" movement in North American (particularly American) schools, children are often taught that being "fat" or "overweight" or "chubby" is wrong, bad, and ugly.
Because of these messages and this stigma, children are now at a higher risk for developing eating disorders, low self esteem, being bullied, and even, worst case scenario, suicide. The claims that are circulating, in regards to children being at a higher risk of chronic disease and early death from being overweight, are NOT supported by scientific research or evidence, yet they're being thrown around freely. Children who are not overweight are hearing these messages too. They are also taking note of how "disgusting" it is to be overweight. These children are also at a higher risk of developing disordered eating patterns, unnecessary food restrictions, and food fears.
Ugh! It just riles me up!
Skinny-stress and its consequences.
The constant stress and anxiety that a child feels to be thin or look a certain way creates a cascade of unhealthy events. When kids are stressed (due to bullying, social pressures, embarrassment etc.), a release of stress hormones (such as Cortisol) is triggered in the brain. These can actually lead to depositing more fat cells, insulin resistance, and a disruption in the balance of Leptin and Neuropeptide Y, which are hormones that regulate hunger. When a child (or adult!) is constantly stressed about her weight (which, let's be honest, is rampant in our society), she is unknowingly perpetuating the "problem," and, likely, gaining more weight, thus creating more stress.
Quite a vicious cycle, no?
What about pregnant women?
Believe it or not, there is new research to support that when pregnant women stress about their weight gain chronically throughout pregnancy, the Cortisol released gets passed through to their placenta, putting their baby at an increased risk of poor stress management and coping skills throughout their lives! Crazy, huh?
Playing the "food police"—a dangerous game.
Just as the author of the recent Vogue article has done with her seven-year-old daughter, many well-meaning parents encourage restrictive eating patterns, so that their kids reach or maintain a certain weight. This can eventually lead to unhealthy body image, decreased self-esteem, disordered eating patterns, and perhaps even a full-blown eating disorder (which, by the way, can be deadly)!
The prevalence of disordered eating and eating disorders is scary. In fact, it's the #1 killer among young women who have a mental health issue, according to the DSM. The pressure to be thin in our society is astronomical. It sickens me to think that kids are also affected by this pressure at home, in their 'safe place.' It leads to chronic over-eating or under-eating, obsessions about food, and an unhealthy relationship with food.
Be a model (not the fashion kind).
We need to start thinking and talking about this as women and as mothers. We need to start eating for enjoyment and start honouring our bodies' natural cues for eating. We need to ditch the diet mentality once and for all—our kids will follow suit!
Instead of encouraging weight loss in your kids, encourage healthful eating, enjoyable physical activity, and body acceptance. Healthy people (including children), come in all shapes and sizes. Just as you wouldn't encourage your children to try to make their feet smaller or body taller, you shouldn't encourage your growing and healthy child to lose weight. You will only be encouraging negative and even deadly behaviours later on.
Thanks for reading!
Avoid getting caught in the see-food trap this Easter and remember to indulge mindfully.
Easter is one of my favorite holidays simply because it involves chocolate. I may or may not have a mild obsession with it. Ok, I absolutely, without a question do. If I go a day without chocolate, I've either been kidnapped and denied all foods, or there's been a recall on all chocolate in the city. These scenarios will likely never happen, so let's assume that I enjoy it every day, in a moderate but satisfying amount.
Regardless if you're a chocoholic like me, you're likely going to have access to an unusual amount of chocolate this weekend and will be faced with temptations that you otherwise wouldn't have. Your kids will also likely have access to MUCH more sugar than usual. Although you want to let them enjoy it without TOO much restriction, you also want to limit the amount of chocolate (or other treats) that they have so that they don't miss out on other nutritious foods. Oh, and aren't on a sugar perma-high all weekend.
Don't pre-buy: Don't plan on purchasing chocolate Easter eggs or treats until the day before the big "hunt." If they are lingering around (even in the pantry), you're bound to taste-test them more than a few times.
Do eat a healthy breakfast: Eat a balanced breakfast with your kids before the hunt starts, or RIGHT after it's done. You and your kids will, without a doubt, mindlessly devour copious amounts of chocolate if you are starved.
Portion treats out: When each of you have enjoyed a few treats (and by that I mean 3-5 small chocolate eggs or the equivalent—enough to feel satisfied), divide the rest into 2-3 egg "mini treat bags" and stick them in the freezer or in a cupboard that is difficult to get to.
The point is not to "hide" the treats, but rather to get them out of eyesite so that you're not constantly thinking about them and mindlessly snacking on them (like I did so innocently at Christmas time). Portioning treats (or any food for that matter) out will naturally encourage you to be more mindful when you eat them. Only seeing 2-3 Easter eggs forces you to rethink whether or not you need more after you've finished. If there are 30 Easter eggs in front of you, you will most certainly lose track and overeat.
Don't replace a meal or snack with Easter treats: You don't want to replace healthy nutrition with chocolate or candy. What will happen, is your blood sugar will spike and drop fairly rapidly and you'll be hungry again within minutes. This is when you'll dig into the Easter Basket again for another hit of sugar. You'll also be depriving your body of important nutrients. Instead, enjoy portioned out treats after you've eaten a balanced, healthy meal or snack.
The Take Home Message:
Instead of restricting or depriving yourself of yummy treats this weekend, choose to indulge in the ones that you absolutely love (in my case, chocolate) in moderate and satisfying amounts. Portion them out and enjoy them once or twice a day after a healthy meal or snack.
Photo credit: Matthew Wyatt