Carbophobia: An Introduction

In case you hadn’t already been made aware, I’m training for a marathon, and let me just say this:

The sheer amount of food that it is necessary to pile into my mouth in order to not collapse mid-run is TERRIFYING to me. I feel like I’m eating bucketfuls, but I don’t know how much is enough because everything that isn’t next-to-nothing feels like too much. Whilst I have been able to complete every session so far in my training programme, it is leaving me constantly fatigued; I am dizzy, my head aches, my muscles feel empty and stiff and I’ve been sleeping for extended periods of time during the day. And yet I cannot bring myself to up my calorie intake any more than I already have, never mind consider increasing my carbohydrates, despite having read to saturation point on the importance of carbohydrate for energy when training for a long bout of cardiovascular activity. I still genuinely believe that food = failure. Food = weight gain, regardless, and I cannot get this notion out of my head.

It’s been about 2 weeks and the scale has stayed more or less the same, but the fact remains is that l am very slightly up on when I started. Is it water ? Stored glycogen ? (apparently that makes you retain water). Is it muscle ? What if it’s FAT and I’m over-compensating ?

The thing is, I’m still paranoid that everybody secretly thinks I’m not capable of finishing this 26.2 mile monster of a physical feat, but whether or not they do, I guess I need something to push me harder than the food demons are pulling, so to speak. If I eat more, I may gain weight (the sensible side of me says, ‘Don’t be ridiculous, you’re clearly going to run it all off), but if I don’t start upping my intake I’ll burn out and won’t be able to train anymore, or worse, I’ll injure myself. And then everyone who said or thought I wouldn’t be able to do it because I’m unable to bring myself to eat properly will tut and say condescending things like “I told you so, poor, silly, mental girl.” I think I just about want to prove them wrong more than I am fearful of the pretty much non-existent possibility of gaining weight over the next few months.

(Obviously there are those friends and family members who have been nothing but supportive over the short time I’ve been training and I appreciate that, thank you.)

But so what if I do gain weight ? I know the scale will go up, I know it’s likely to be muscle, I just hate seeing the numbers increase ! (Anyone wants to come round and confiscate my scales, that’d be great.) But ultimately I’ll be super-fit by the time April rolls around, and isn’t that how this whole thing started in the first place ? An obsession with healthy eating and healthy living that got a little bit out of control. I need this marathon to get my life back.

So whilst I’m on the subject of food, energy, glycogen, carbohydrates (let’s face it, when am I ever not ?), let’s do a post about CARBS. I put caps lock on because, for any diet-conscious person, CARBS are SCARY and are to be AVOIDED, and that’s how they say it. Nobody ever says “carbs,” with an equal ratio of emphasis on words that are “carbs” and words that are not; they always say “CARBS” as though the word had slept with their boyfriend and posted the pictures on Facebook, complete with a thumbs up to the camera. Carbohydrates have a bad rep due to the apparent success of diet programmes such as Atkins (it’s all lies – another rant altogether) but the truth is – and here’s where I get preachy again despite never ever following my own advice – even if you’re not doing a cripplingly high amount of exercise, carbohydrates are our bodies’ main source of energy. They are the easiest nutrient (as opposed to say, protein or fat) for your body to convert to glucose, which is essentially fuel. What happens when you don’t refuel your car ? It won’t go. It breaks. It feels sad and tired and gets a lot of headaches and snaps at its loved ones (okay, maybe I’m taking the analogy a bit too far but you get my point, right ?).

So this post is for everyone who has ever said “I’ve just been eating SO MANY CARBS lately,” and clutched at their bellies in an attempt to prove that this has caused them to gain soo much weight. It’s like complaining that your car is full of petrol ! So let’s just forget for a moment that I am a Freaky Eater, and listen to me as though I were a reputable nutritionist, because they’ll tell you the same thing:

CARBS DO NOT MAKE YOU FAT

Carbs.

Do NOT.

Make you.

Fat.

Say it ! Doesn’t it feel great ?!

There is a bit of a catch, as there is with anything. The reason people think that carbohydrates make you gain weight is that if you consume too many your body will have excess glycogen; when this fuel is not needed for energy it gets stored as fat. So the first thing is to make sure you monitor your portion sizes – check the packet for the recommendations.

The second part of The Catch is that there are two kinds of carbs: simple and complex. In order to make carbohydrates your friends, you need to munch more on the complex ones, and less so on the simple ones. Complex carbohydrates include:

Brown bread
Brown pasta
Brown rice
Anything wholemeal/wholegrain
Oats
Fruit/vegetables
Potatoes
Beans/pulses

These foods release their energy slowly, which allows you to feel fuller and more energised for longer, helping to boost mood and reduce sugar cravings throughout the day. Because the starch in these food items hasn’t been refined (to make it white), our body has to do it, which means you actually burn more energy just by digesting a slice of wholemeal bread than you would a white one – they do the exercise for you ! (Obviously you have to take a walk every once in a while too…)

In contrast, these foods containing simple carbohydrates will spike your insulin levels, resulting in a crash that can cause mood swing, fatigue and ultimately increased cake-desire. Try to steer clear of:

White bread
White pasta
White rice
Cakes
Biscuits
Sweets
Fruit juice
Fizzy drinks
Some cereals (check the sugar content: 7g or more per bowl, usually 30 – 50g, is too much !)

Obviously you don’t have to give up these things altogether. It’s hard sometimes – some restaurants don’t even have wholemeal pasta, bread or pizza options. One time isn’t going to result in weight gain – it’s constant consumption of simple carbs that leads to subconscious excess calorie consumption. So if you’re trying to lose weight, see what happens if you try just converting to wholemeal and cutting out fizz (even diet – the sugar-replacement chemicals work in exactly the same way as sugar, there’s no excuse !). It’s all about finding and maintaining balance, which is evidently what I’m going to have to learn, possibly with a bit of trial and error, during these next few months. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m even afraid of ‘good’ carbs, which needs to be remedied.

So tomorrow I’m going grocery shopping, stocking up on wholemeal flour and I will spend next week marathon-training my way through pizza, calzone, and some intriguing bread recipes I’ve managed to stumble across recently…

…watch this space.

Amy x

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About AmySquirrell

Musician Food-lover Student

2 responses »

  1. I think it’s amazing that you’re running the Btown marathon. I would probably die if I ran for anything more than 30 minutes. Go Amy!

    Reply
  2. love this entry! Good luck on the marathon!

    Reply

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