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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Carbs and Guilt: The Wicked Vicious Cycle

I think that most weight loss surgery post-ops will tell you that processed carbohydrates led to their obesity. After surgery during weight loss we live by the four rules or guidelines from our bariatric centers concentrating on a high-protein diet. Then somewhere along the line the snack monster attacks and we return to processed carbs. A little nibble here, a taste there. At first it doesn't slow down our weight loss so we test the water and more carbs come back into our diet.

Then the cycle is set and suddenly the scale reverses directions and we regain. This happened to me and it all started with an innocent graham cracker. Pretty soon it was stacks of graham crackers, then popcorn and then Nutter-Butter cookies. The snack monster had me firmly in its wicked grasp.

Not only did I gain weight from the carbs, I felt shame and guilt because I knew better and I promised my surgeon that I would comply with the rules. I committed for life to be a good bariatric patient and here I was doing the same thing that made me obese in the first place: mindlessly eating nutritionally void foods.

My cycle became predictable: a moment of lost willpower lead to a carb binge followed by a guilt binge and resolve to do better. I repeated the cycle often, sometimes more than once a day.

What I have since learned is that the carb monster is not necessarily a mental demon. The carb monster is the body's biological roller coaster that results with a blood chemistry imbalance. More often than not it has nothing to do with willpower or personal integrity. According to Drs. Richard and Rachael Heller in Carbohydrate Addicts, blood sugar swings are the leading physical trigger for carb cravings. They write, "High-sugar, refined starch, convenience and comfort foods feed the (carb) addiction like a drug. They produce correspondingly high blood sugar and insulin levels, which leads to more cravings. They also produce higher levels of the brain chemical serotonin. In sensitive people, particularly those who may have low serotonin levels to begin with, a carbohydrate binge is the equivalent of self-medicating, just to get the sugar high.”

I realized that not only am I a recovering morbidly obese person, I am a carbohydrate addict. That’s why I was spinning out of control when I broke from the high protein weight loss surgery way of life.

Read Bamagal's: The Protein Dilemma

According to The Merck Manual of Medical Information, “The theory behind high protein, low carbohydrate diets is that slower-burning energy sources – protein and fat – provide a steady supply of energy and thus are less likely to lead to weight gain. In addition, people tend to feel full longer after eating protein than after eating carbohydrates, because carbohydrates empty from the stomach quickly and are digested quickly. Carbohydrates also strongly stimulate insulin production, which promotes fat deposition and increases appetite.”

Clearly if I was going to return to the same addictive carb cycle as before weight loss surgery I would also return to rapid weight gain and ultimately morbid obesity. My only choice if I elected to keep the weight off was to follow the four rules and eat a high-protein low-carbohydrate diet for the rest of my life.

Is this easy? Heavens no. We live in a world full of temptations where it’s easy to be obese. I, like many of the LivingAfterWLS Neighbors, have recommitted myself many times again to following the protein first rule. When I succeed I enjoy more energy, fewer mood or blood sugar swings and overall better health. And I don’t gain weight. The easiest way for me to follow the protein first rule is start the day with protein and have my meals planned. If I start the day with carbs, even something presumably healthy like whole-wheat toast and peanut butter, the carb-cycle begins.

Understanding the role that carbohydrates play in my nutrition has been helpful in sticking to the high protein, low carbohydrate way of life. It releases me from the self-loathing and guilt that I associated with a lack of willpower. The carb binge is not necessarily about being out of control mentally or emotionally. A carb binge is the body’s attempt to regulate blood sugar, which escalates into a recurring need or drive for starches, snack foods, junk foods or sweets.

The easiest way to avoid this vicious cycle that feeds on itself, over and over, is to follow the guidelines we committed to when we promised our surgeons we would be good weight loss surgery post-ops. They gave us the tool and the rules; now it’s our turn to prove ourselves!


Lisa Sargese said...

I switched from chips and processed carbs to good foods. I still get snacky, heck, I may even crave the carbs due to an addiction, but eating the carbs that are GOOD for us will not lead to weight gain. Wasa dipped in fat free sour cream, brown rice with tamari soy sauce, high fiber bread (at least 3g of fiber in one slice), fruits, vegetables and nuts are all satisfying, nutritionally dense carbs that satisfy my cravings and keep me energized and healthy. The Carbohydrate Addicts Diet is a great book. Another one is Overcoming Overeating by Drs. Hirschmann and Munter. This was a great post!! Love, Lisa

Anonymous said...

i have always thought about how surgery patients would need to rearrange their lives for this type of surgery, but you have painted a picture for me.

i am kinda glad i chose to stick to trying to lose the weight with exercise and dieting. i wouldnt wanna go through that.