Dieting can be a painful experience, because for some people, food is not only sustenance, but also comfort, a mental boost or a way to relax. When food is associated with feelings beyond hunger, dieting takes on a whole new level of difficulty. To make matters worse, many of the foods that people choose to fill these voids create real chemical / hormonal reactions in the body. This leads to intestinal cravings and cycles of overeating.
One issue that fuels this problem is the body's response to insulin. In an attempt to manage the sugars we consume (stabilizeize blood sugar), insulin is secreted from the pancreas. Keep in mind that “sugars” go far beyond just sweets and pure sugar. Carbohydrates are metabolized as sugar in the body; therefore, carbs spike your blood sugar in the same way.
The problem comes from diets too heavily loaded with carbohydrates. When you eat sugar or carbohydrates, your body will release insulin. This leads to the release of serotonin, a brain chemical that elevates your mood. Insulin is a necessary link in the chain of events that produces serotonin. Serotonin deficiency (a cause of depression), increases susceptibility to cravings.
The release of this mood-enhancing chemical explores the strong association bond created when you eat sugar or carbs. When you eat a simple or refined carbohydrates, you satisfy the brain and there is an increase in serotonin, but it will not trigger the signal that tells your brain you are full. People eat sugars and carbs, leading to a pleasurable feeling; however, it also spikes blood sugar.
The body's response is to release insulin and, without the addition of protein or fats, blood sugar crashes. Because of the body's survival mechanism, the resulting low-blood sugar creates intestinal cravings to eat. Thus, a cycle of compulsive overeating is created. Over time, these quick spikes in insulin and glucose can damage your metabolism, leading to insulin resistance and more cravings. By eating a complex carb, protein or healthy fat with your simple or refined carb you can slow the spike and crash cycle, thus leading to less desires to reproduce the pleasure response.
Today there is more research than ever shining light on a diet too heavily based in carbohydrates. Books like “Wheat Belly” and the recent trends towards “gluten-free” and “Atkins like” eating plans show the real effects of carbohydrates on the body. However, to be clear, carbohydrates are not evil. They serve an important purpose in the body. The body uses carbs for energy.
Sounds good, so why not fuel the energy reserves? Here is the problem; any sugar / carb source not immediately burned for energy will be stored as fat! You guessed it, too much energy fuel in, and not enough energy spent, and you will be building a nice storehouse of fat. This is a huge problem in our sedentary lifestyles. If you will do physical labor all day, much like our ancestors, you could use those carbs to keep you going for the work you need to accomplish. However, if you will be sitting most of the day, all you are doing by eating a carb-rich diet is padding your seat.
The nice thing is that the body not only burns carbs for energy, but it can also burn fat. You may say great! Sign me up! However, for the body to burn fat for energy, it must not have any carbs available to burn. This is the foundation of the Adkins diet, avoid carbs, burn fat, and lose weight. However as we know all things are not so simple. A total carb-free diet can cause other deficiencies in the body.
Many body systems are ruled by chemical / hormonal reactions caused by food. Eliminate one, and there will be side effects. Remember the “feel good” high from carbs? Gone-Many on Adkins report mood changes and other unpleasant side effects. In addition, the biggest issue is do you want to avoid carbs forever? Most people do not and as soon as they begin to indulge, old patterns emerge and bring with it the weight that was lost.
That is why extreme dieting fails. It does not take into account human nature combined with human chemistry. So what is the answer? First look at your relationship with sugar / carbohydrates and evaluate their effect on you personally. Break out of any bad cycles of consumption you have developed. Stack the deck! By choosing your food combinations wisely, you can regain control of cravings and make “dieting” easier and more productive. In the end, you get healthier by choice, not by chance.