Why do I reach for a big bowl of pasta at the end of a stressful day? And why do I need that bagel first thing in the morning to feel normal? Processed carbohydrates release serotonin in the brain – the feel-good chemical associated with happiness and peace.
There’s a difference between unhealthy carbs – like the heavily processed chips, white bread and pasta – and healthy ones – like quinoa, whole fruits and whole wheat bread. Unhealthy carbs release a rush of serotonin in the brain and have a low satiety value in the stomach – meaning they leave your stomach quickly. Healthy carbs provide a sustainable release of serotonin in the brain and have a high satiety value in the stomach – meaning they leave your stomach slowly and keep you fuller for a longer amount of time.
Of course, serotonin is also associated with how we think and feel. Low serotonin is associated with depression and anxiety. Certain thought patterns can keep you trapped in an addiction to unhealthy carbs. For example, pessimistic thinking, where you always predict a catastrophic or negative result, and personalization, where you interpret all failures as a result of you not being good enough, are two of the most common. The more you avoid these thought patterns, the more you will boost your serotonin. And as you have learned, low serotonin can make you crave unhealthy carbs.
When people say they’re “self-medicating” with carbs, it’s not just an expression – it’s a potent and potentially addictive chemical response.
Am I a Carbaholic?
Ask yourself these 4 questions to determine if you are indeed addicted to unhealthy carbs.
1. Do you need an eye-opener? If you need to have unhealthy carbs within an hour of waking up, you may be addicted. Needing an eye-opener is one of the ways we assess for all types of addiction.
2. Have you been unable to cut down on the amount of unhealthy carbs you eat? Not being able to cut down means that you are powerless over unhealthy carbs. Admitting you are powerless is one of the key action steps in 12-step programs – whether that program is Alcoholics Anonymous or Overeaters Anonyous.
3. Do you keep your unhealthy carb eating a secret? If there is a difference between your public eating and private eating, this means that you are ashamed to let people know just how many unhealthy carbs you eat. This is one of the warning signs of an eating disorder called binge eating disorder. Binge eaters sometimes will eat very healthily in front of family and friends but then later consume mass quantities of food in private.
4. Do you feel guilty after eating unhealthy carbs? Guilt is information that you know that what you’re doing is bad for you. You know that you have eaten based on above-the-neck emotional hunger rather than below-the-neck physical hunger. Physical hunger is easy to satisfy, but no amount of food will be enough to give you the happiness or peace you’re really longing for.
If you have answered yes to any of these questions, you may be addicted to unhealthy carbs.
Proceed to the Kick Your Carb Habit in 28 Days challenge and conquer your addiction. Click here to start.