As a registered dietitian with a focus on eating disorder recovery, I often find myself discussing the importance of carbohydrates with clients who have concerns about their relationship with food and may have read a lot of conflicting information about carbohydrates online. In this blog, we’ll bust myths about carbs, exploring what they are, why we need them, and the risks associated with restricting them.
What are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are one of the essential macronutrients that our bodies need for optimal functioning. They are the primary source of energy and play a crucial role in nourishing our bodies and minds. Carbohydrates are found in various foods, including grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. They are divided into ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ carbohydrates. With complex carbohydrates being starches which offer slower-release energy and simple carbohydrates being sugars which don’t need to be broken down and therefore act more quickly in the body.
Why Do We Need Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates provide the energy our bodies need to function properly, which allows us to engage in physical activity, supports our mental health, our focus and overall well-being. In the body carbohydrates are broken down into glucose which is the energy that our cells and brain run on. Overly restricting carbohydrates can lead to a range of issues, affecting not only our physical health but also our mental health.
Risks of Restricting Carbohydrates
- Bingeing: Restricting carbohydrates may lead to intense cravings, triggering binge eating episodes. It’s important to maintain a balanced approach to prevent the negative cycle of restriction followed by overeating.
- Poor Athletic Performance: For those engaged in regular physical activities or sports, carbohydrates are essential for sustained energy. Restricting carbs can hinder athletic performance, leading to fatigue and decreased endurance.
- Loss of Menstrual Periods: In some case, among women, carbohydrate restriction can disrupt hormonal balance, potentially causing the loss of menstrual periods. This is a clear sign that the body may not be getting the nutrients it needs for reproductive health and can also impact bone density.
How Much Do I Need Each Day?
The daily carbohydrate requirement varies for individuals based on factors such as activity level, age, and health conditions. Athletes may require more carbohydrates to fuel their training, while those with diabetes need to manage their carbohydrate intake more carefully. An appointment with a registered dietitian can provide more personal nutrition guidance tailored to your unique needs.
Why Do Carbs Make Me Gain Weight?
One common misconception is the association between carbohydrates and weight gain. Those who have restricted carbohydrates may notice a small but fast drop in weight and a small increase when they eat carbohydrates again. The initial increase in weight often attributed to carbohydrates is primarily due to water retention in glycogen stores. When we store carbohydrates in our body to regulate our blood sugars, we also store water with it, this does at all do not impact our appearance but may make us slightly heavier. (Having glycogen stores is a good thing for our health). I hope that understanding this can help alleviate concerns about weight gain from carbohydrate consumption.
In conclusion, carbohydrates are a vital component of a healthy diet, playing a key role in nourishing both the body and mind. For those navigating their relationship with food, addressing concerns about body image, or in the process of eating disorder recovery, it is crucial to avoid dietary restriction and ensure plenty of carbohydrates. Consulting with a registered dietitian can provide more personalised support and guidance on incorporating carbohydrates into a well-rounded, nourishing diet that promotes overall health and well-being.
Take the First Step
If you’re struggling with a disordered relationship with food and exercise, know that you don’t have to face it alone. Professional support is crucial for your journey towards recovery.
As a registered dietitian specialising in eating disorder recovery, I provide personalised guidance and support to help individuals like you establish a healthy relationship with food and exercise.
You can book a free call with me below or get in touch with me here.