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Carbs, Glorious Carbs

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Ahhhh, carbs. Apparently enemy of all things diet, they’re the current thing to ditch. I know this, because I tried it. Not for long, mind – it’s not much fun, it makes you feel pretty terrible, and it’s certainly no way to lose any weight you’d actually like to keep off. We laugh about it now, but it gave my housemate and I a deep, unspeakable bond… Not unlike that shared by war veterans.

While shared trauma might make friendships stronger, there is no reason whatsoever for you to do any diet that gives you PTSD. Ever.

Also, as a tangential word of warning, you should never admit to a nutritionist that you’ve even entertained the idea of a no-carb diet. It took Matt about a week and a half to stop giving me the eternal side-eye of shame after I ‘fessed up to that one. Oops.

So, let me start by saying, as loudly and clearly as possible – your body needs carbs. Not only do they provide vital energy to be used in the muscles of the body, but they’re also brain fuel – and they help your central nervous system function properly. Last I heard, these things functioning right were at least on a par with looking hot on my personal value scale.

But it’s the type of carbs you choose that make all the difference. If your carb intake is mostly doughnuts and white bread, then yes – they’re probably at least partly to blame for the extra inch you’re pinching – because they’re chock full of simple carbs and sugars. Not only will these things expand your waistline, but they throw your blood sugar all over the place – meaning you can be on a food high one moment, and a carb coma the next. I know I’m way too familiar with that feeling.

But starchy, complex carbs are not the devil. Anything but, in fact. Potatoes, root vegetables, oats, and wholemeal breads, pastas, and cereals – the non-sugary kind – all fall under this category, and they’re all great ways to get your carbohydrate intake at the right level in a healthy way.

They’re also good sources of fibre. Which, it turns out, is super-important.

We don’t often talk poop here, because unlike Gillian McKeith, I’m doing an actual PhD from an actual university, and also… Eww. However, fibre is an important part of your diet for a lot of reasons. It keeps things moving, if you know what I mean; it slows down the absorption of other nutrients, meaning your blood sugar stays nicely regulated (which reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes); and it makes you feel full, which is never a bad thing.

As with all things in these here parts, it’s about making the right decisions, and ensuring the right balance.

Swap your white bread for multigrain, for instance; choose a nice jacket spud rather than a portion of chips; rice instead of naan… All of these are smooth switcheroos that mean you’ll be getting the most out of your meal, without feeling like you’re missing out. And when you’re working out your carb intake in the context of your daily allowance, it’s a good idea to follow the Eat Well Plate, which you can find here – if you can stick to that, you’ll get everything you need. Happy days.

The thing is, against the diet logic that’s become so pervasive since the Atkins diet burst onto the scene, there’s no reason for you to cut out anything from your diet completely (unless you’ve got an intolerance – but even then, that doesn’t mean you can’t have treats, as the fabulous blog The Intolerant Gourmet more than proves.) Rather, it’s a matter of moderation and self-control. Both of which are things you need to learn over time, if you’re anything like me. I still haven’t mastered the art of eating half a chocolate bar and saving the rest for later, and I’m not sure I ever will – but at least I know that much. Which means when I do want to chow down on something chocolicious, I can plan to eat the whole tasty thing, because I allow for it when calculating my daily intake. Good times.

I think it’s also worth adding that, while changing your diet seems ridiculously complicated at first, it does get easier – and not just because I’ve got a better understanding of it. Nope, I can safely say that now, my body pretty much knows what it wants, and it tells me when it’s not getting that. For example, I have definitely eaten and enjoyed cake since I started my ‘journey’ – but I’m more satisfied, and more comfortable, when I’m eating healthy, clean, (mostly) unprocessed foods in the right balance. A really nice apple, these days, is one of the things that makes me as happy (if not more so) than cake, because what I like has changed so much.

It takes some time to work out what you like, and what you don’t – and if you really don’t like something, there’s no point forcing yourself to eat it. Brown rice, for instance, is one that divides people – personally, I love its chewiness, but I know a lot of people who can’t stand it. But the closer you get to removing processed foods and refined carbs from your diet, the more your taste buds will change – so keep experimenting!

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