We get a lot of questions about carbohydrates at LSFW.
The big question is
“Are carbs bad for you?”
The short answer is no, they are not.
They are an important macronutrient that gets broken down into readily available energy for your body to use for things like vigorous activity and exercise.
The more nuanced answer is that although they aren’t bad for you, they are consistently over-consumed.
Side note – this is why no/low carbs diets are so popular. When you get 50% of your caloric intake from carbs, once you cut carbs you’ll immediately lose weight because you cut roughly 50% of your calories. It had almost nothing to do with the carbs – it’s just an effective strategy to reduce caloric intake.
You need carbohydrates. But you don’t need ALL the carbohydrates. And they should be in addition to vegetables and protein, not instead of.
How much should you eat?
The average adult needs 2-4 cupped handfuls of carbs per day, with larger humans needing 4 and smaller humans needing 2. Here’s what 2 cupped handfuls look like, courtesy of our friends at PN:
That means you are having 0, 1, or maybe 2 cupped handfuls at each meal, depending on how many meals you eat.
And herein lies the issue.
Carbs are typically non-perishable, affordable, easy to grab when you are in a rush, delicious, and they are extremely easy to eat in excess.
All my favorite foods are versions of carbs and fats.
- My mom’s strawberry rhubarb pie – Carbs and fat crust with carbs for filling
- Mrs. Vickie’s Salt and Vinegar Chips – carbs, salt, and fat
- Haribo gummy bears – carbs and more carbs
- Nutella on crackers with banana – carbs and fat on carbs topped with more carbs
They are also present in many of our favorite veggies, such as corn (arguably a grain but I digress), carrots, other root vegetables, and more. And that doesn’t even include fruits, juices, grains, or booze.
They are ubiquitous.
The other night, for dinner, we had sausage on a bun with corn on the cob – a staple summer meal in my house.
That bun was the equivalent of 2 cupped handfuls of carbs, and the 2 corn cobs I ate were another 2 cupped handfuls.
As a ~200lb human, that single meal was my entire daily quota of 4 cupped handfuls of carbs, and the meal was severely lacking in protein and veggies.
As I said, they aren’t bad for you, but I hope you are seeing the picture that they are very, very easy to overconsume, leading to excess calories, and as per my meal above they often take the place of vitamins and mineral-rich veggies.
So, if carbs aren’t bad for me, but I’m eating too much, what do I do?
I’m glad you asked!
First, bring awareness to what you are eating.
You don’t need to track calories to keep a rough idea of how many servings of carbs you eat in a day. It will be eye-opening.
Second, consider some strategies to systematically reduce your carbs while increasing veggies and protein.
You’ll feel fuller, get more vitamins and minerals, and be many steps ahead with your health and fitness goals. Here are a few simple strategies:
- Swap carbs for veggies at 1 or 2 meals per day. For instance, I could have sausage without the bun and add a salad above.
- Veggies and protein at every meal and eat them first. This is the adult equivalent of “kiddo, you gotta finish your dinner before you each dessert”, and will help you naturally eat less while still feeling full because you consume the more satiating foods first.
- If you have treats, make them a 10/10. Skip the chocolate bars at the cash register and the “just okay” dessert, and make sure the treats you have are things that you absolutely love. I won’t pass up my mom’s pie, but I will pass on mediocre pie at a restaurant.
- Don’t drink your sugar. This means replacing things like juices, pop, and sugar in your coffee, with things like sparkling water, diet soda if needed, or low calories sweeteners.
Lastly, and most importantly, give yourself some grace.
I’m not perfect, and you won’t be either.
But beating yourself up for not hitting a bullseye every day leads down a dark path of guilt, embarrassment, and more often than not disordered eating.
Instead, try to make each day a bit better than the last and it won’t take long before you are feeling the snowball effect of progress, and that momentum is critical for long-term success.