Carbs: Diet Staple or Food Addiction?

Many of us have experienced the crankiness and food cravings that come with dieting. And because every woman’s body is different, some “withdrawal” symptoms that women experience when attempting to cut junk food out of their diet may vary in severity.

The carb-filled comfort foods we’ve come to know and love (think pizza, fries, chicken and dumplings, pasta) could be doing more harm than just added a few extra (unwanted) pounds around our midsections. For some Black women, foods that are loaded with carbs could be the reason for serious food addiction.

How do you know if you’re addicted to carbs? While the notion itself may sound dramatic, or even a little silly, many women find that they experience some of the same symptoms that would be present if one were detoxing from drugs or alcohol. For instance, do you try to bribe friends and family members to give you carb-rich foods when you know you’re supposed to be on a diet? Do you experience severe headaches, mood swings, and bouts of significant fatigue when you try to take bread, cereal or pasta out of your diet? Do these symptoms seem to magically disappear as soon as you eat one of your favorite cookies, or even a plain piece of toast?  If this sounds like you, you could very likely be suffering from carbohydrate addiction.

One possible reason for the adverse reaction carbohydrates (especially wheat) have on a Black woman’s body may have to do with ancestry and the traditional African diet. Before the slave trade, Africans relied mainly on rice for starch; Black people ate rice often during slavery, along with carbohydrates like yams, since these foods were abundant and affordable. Wheat wasn’t so widely introduced into the Black diet until the beginning of the 20th century, when doctors began recommending it heavily as part of the food pyramid. The 20th century was also, incidentally, when obesity rates began to rise among African Americans.  Physicians suggest eating foods high in carbohydrates like bread, cereal or oatmeal for energy and fiber. And while carb-rich foods do provide these elements, it may be best for Black women to derive fiber from starchy vegetables and low-glycemic breads and pastas.

Related: Documentary Explores Black America's Dangerous Food Addiction

Historian Dr. Constance Hilliard suggests that a number of Black people have an intolerance to digesting wheat, since our bodies are not naturally programmed to take in this food. Women with this intolerance crave foods that contain wheat stronger than those who are better able to digest this carbohydrate. The dependency on wheat is similar to an opiate addiction—yes, it’s that serious.  This craving can lead to over-consumption, and poses a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, as many women who have an ardent desire to eat wheat several times a day may also be addicted to sugary foods.

High-carb foods, especially processed bread, crackers, baked goods and pasta, are also high in tryptophan, an amino acid that converts into serotonin in the body. Serotonin aids in mood regulation and contributes to sound sleep, so many women who have hectic schedules or stressful lifestyles tend to turn to eat meals laden with carbohydrates in order to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety. Husband and wife research team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Richard and Judith Wertman, confirmed these findings, as well as the notion that carbohydrates can boost the mood—much like medicine. So the more stressed a woman is, the more likely she is to want the foods that aren’t necessarily good for her.

So what can you do if you think you’re addicted to carbohydrates and haven’t been able to get rid of the extra weight, even if you’re maintaining a balanced diet?

First, start slow. Trying to eliminate processed wheat foods from your diet “cold turkey” could backfire. And if you’re sick and have headaches without the wheat, you’re likely to return to eating it quickly, without letting the withdrawal symptoms pass. Each day, try and eat one meal that is completely low-carb. Slowly but surely, your body won’t have such a strong desire for processed foods.

Secondly, eat foods with “healthy” sugars. If you’re addicted to wheat, chances are you often crave sugar. Carry fruit or chocolate-colored almonds around with you to snack on during the day, so you can get your sugar fix without eating harmful carbs.

Third, stay tuned for next week’s Cocoa Plate article, where I’ll offer more tips on living your healthiest life


Tamiya King is a fashion blogger and alternative health writer. She possess an English degree and has been writing professionally for over a decade. King is also a professional image consultant, and is studying to become a certified health coach to learn new and exciting ways to help women look and feel their best. You can reach her on Twitter (@tamiyafking).

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