“No More Carbs, Ever” is NOT the Answer
Here’s a quick story:
A woman is driving her car through the countryside late at night. She hears a pop and a bang and pretty soon smoke starts pouring out from under the hood of her car. She pulls over, inspects the damage, and realizes that she’ll need to be towed into town.
After about a half-mile walk, she makes her way to a farm house and starts knocking on the front door. The lights go on inside, there’s some muffled cursing, and finally the farmer opens the door.
She explains her situation and the man replies, “Well, it’s damn-near midnight, and ain’t nobody gonna be open this late. Tell ya what: leave yer car there fer now, sleep on this couch here in the livin’ room, and we’ll getcha on into town tomorrow morning to get yer car all fixed up.” She quickly agrees.
He gives her a blanket, some pillows, and is about to head upstairs when he turns his head sharply. “One thing, Miss. I got two boys upstairs, twin boys. They’re seventeen. They’re my pride and joy and I can’t have some woman messin’ around with ’em, y’understand?!”
“That’s no problem, sir,” she says. “I’ll just get right to sleep and stay down here.” And with that, the farmer makes his way back up to his bedroom.
Well after a little tossing and turning, the woman can’t help herself. She starts thinking about the farmer’s twin sons upstairs, imagining what they might look like
and eventually decides that she’ll never get any sleep until she at least goes up there and snoops around.
So she tiptoes upstairs, finds their room, and after a little while things are starting to get hot and heavy. Right before they really get to it, she stops them and pulls two condoms from her pocket.
“You guys know what these are?”
They turn to each other with slack-jawed frowns, then turn back to her and shake their heads.
“You have to wear these,” she explains, “so I don’t get pregnant.” They quickly agree, and off they go.
Forty years later, the two boys—now middle-aged men—are sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch of the house, watching the sun set.
“Say,” says the first brother, “you ‘member that woman ’bout forty years ago come up here with her car broke down and stayed the night?”
A wide grin spreads across the second brother’s face. “Oooohhhh, you ornery devil, I certainly ‘member her. Clear as if it happened yesterday.”
The first brother continues. “Well, do you really care if she gets pregnant?”
“No,” replies the second brother after a moment of reflection, his grin fading. “No, I don’t reckon I do.”
“Well hell, that does it,” says the first brother resolutely. “I’m takin’ this thing off!”
Now that’s just some old joke, but the lesson is widely applicable. Yes, at the time, it was vital that the two boys throw on some rubbers so the woman wouldn’t get pregnant. Afterwards, it was no longer necessary that they have them on. But, misunderstanding the instructions, they wore the rubbers for forty years.
Similarly, when I tell fat people that excess carbohydrate has made them fat and that they should minimize their intake of carbohydrate, it’s not that they can never eat any carbs again at all, forever. It’s that they need to stop eating carbs now, just for a little bit, as an intervention. Then, when they’re the size they want to be, they should begin reintroducing carbohydrate—from unprocessed starches—being careful to notice if their hunger gets back out of whack, or their energy levels start to dip in the middle of the day, or they start regaining some of the weight. Gradually, they will calibrate themselves to the ideal level of plant carbohydrate for them that results in the desired body composition.
Are carbohydrates bad? Well, shit, I don’t know. I know they’re not necessary for human survival. Fat is. Protein is. Yet there is no such thing as an Essential Carbohydrate. We have Essential Amino Acids and Essential Fatty Acids. But nothing about Essential Carbohydrates of any kind. To be clear: humans do not require carbohydrate. For anything. At the same time, to be clear: the fact that carbohydrates are not essential is not proof that they cannot be beneficial.
Bad, though? Maybe, maybe not. Some people can tolerate them. But as I mentioned in this post, we should not be trying to figure out what we can tolerate; we should instead be more interested in what’s best. The way I put it to my clients is that no, these things are not poisonous, but if you’re interested in losing weight there doesn’t seem to be any GOOD reason to eat them. A sustainable way of eating treats food as medicine and as metabolic/hormonal information for your body. So, everything you eat should have a purpose and be eaten for a reason. And if you hold all the food you eat to this high standard— “is this helping me stay healthy and vital and lean?” —carbohydrates rarely make the cut.
Also, what goes for one person doesn’t necessarily go for another. So a blanket statement of “Carbs Are Always Bad!” is not really helping. If you are one of the people who has gotten fat, though, the very first culprit you should suspect is excess carbohydrate intake. Obesity is seemingly impossible in the absence of carbohydrate.
Yet many have lived long, happy lives eating a wide variety of plants, including starchy, carb-filled ones. And while I will be the first to point out that a fat person needs to severely restrict their carbohydrate intake to become regular-sized, I find it hard to argue against a diet of animals and plants (this unfortunately excludes grains). Some have suggested that carbs are okay so long as they’re in season. I can get behind that.
Eat strictly and optimally to quickly reach your desired body composition. But then what? Sometimes you have to embrace your modern life. Optimal? Maybe not. But so long as I am able to maintain my ideal shape, I’m going to have some bourbon, some delicious beers, and some occasional desserts. Might take a few years off the back end of my life, but I plan on living a looooong time. No sweat!
To get less fat: cut carbs. Once you’re regular-sized, eat animals and plants, including starches. Great for your gut microbiome, full of beneficial nutrients, and helps control hunger.
Sugar and Grain: NO
Potatoes, carrots, beets, rice, beans: YES.
Several thousands of generations of our ancestors lived through Ice Ages and innumerable hardships without any carbohydrate at all, and we are perfectly equipped to lead full and healthy lives without them. But in the 21st century, don’t be the person who, having maintained the desired body composition for decades through strict elimination of carbohydrate, realizes that he could have been enjoying reasonable amounts of starchy carbohydrate foods this whole time and finally exclaims, “That does it; I’m takin’ this thing off!”