Making a Case for Carbohydrates and Fats

I’ve found that the decade of life you started dieting likely dictates what macronutrient you are afraid of.  The 90’s were all about fat-free (which was miserable) and today fat is a dieter’s friend and carbohydrates are the enemy (equally as miserable).  I’m certainly glad fats are back, but I think it shows how easily we succumb to extremes in thinking and behavior. It seems we find it necessary have something to blame, which I suppose makes sense.  If we can isolate THE problem, control it, avoid it and banish it from our lives, our problems will be solved.   

Let’s say you do that- which millions of Americans do annually - otherwise known as dieting (or constipation as I call it, since that seems to be how it ends up) and you get rid of carbs and fats.  You start your day with an egg white scramble and grab a chicken salad for lunch.  What happens when you get home at the end of the day?  You face-plant into a bag of cookies and then you blame yourself because you have no will-power or self-control (both misguided terms when it comes to food, if you ask me).  But it’s not you.  Feeling full and satisfied from your meals is not your problem, it’s your SOLUTION.  Not feeling full and satisfied from your meals is what leads to problematic behaviors.  Have you ever noticed that the same macronutrients (fats and carbs) you try so hard to avoid are the same ones you overeat or binge on?  It’s not a coincidence.  Remember, restriction is not a solution for chaos, it CAUSES it.

In our current nutrition culture of villianizing a new food or macronutrient regularly, it’s hard to believe that all food can fit.  There’s a place for protein, fats, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables at each meal.  But extremes are easy.  It’s so much easier to think and behave in terms of rigidity or chaos, all or nothing.  In fact, while teaching a class or conducting a personal session, I can immediately sense the tension in the room increase exponentially when I mention that maybe just maybe we could find some middle ground?

Here’s my theory: I don’t think we are afraid of carbohydrates and fats, I think we are afraid of PLEASURE.  Feeling pleasure means we are vulnerable.  In that state, we may worry we can’t trust ourselves.  Being vulnerable means we run the risk of getting hurt; our defenses are down and we may feel out of control.  When we truly love our food, we believe that maybe it won’t love us back.  BUT, approaching life in that way just never works.  Being afraid means we sit on the sidelines and watch our lives pass us by, not to mention never learning the essential characteristics of confidence and self-trust.  As you get curious about your body and your life, you will be able to learn, grow, become better and develop the ability to make decisions that are in your best interest.  

For those of you who would like a more objective answer, I would point you toward the research done on Blue Zones, which I find fascinating.  Blue Zones are small pockets of populations around the globe that live the longest and healthiest.  They are of interest because they enjoy long, healthy lives with a large population of Centurions, meaning they live to 100 or longer.  Currently there are 5 groups who meet these criteria and are located in Loma Linda, California, Sardinia, Italy, Okinawa, Japan, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica and Ikaria, Greece.  Their staple foods are rich in carbohydrates and are often "fear-foods" for dieters: potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, beans, rice, etc - these make up the bulk of their meals. They also enjoy olive oil, nuts and seeds, avocado, fish (i.e. high fat foods). But there’s no diet or workout routine, their lifestyle is such that they naturally do the following:

  • Live active lives.  They don’t set foot in a gym (which of course isn't to say you couldn't). They are active throughout the day (gardening, walking, chopping wood, etc) rather than sitting for long periods of time and then finding a pocket of time to be active at the gym.
  • Eat a lot of plant-based foods, in fact that’s the majority of what they eat and you wouldn’t see them taking supplements.  
  • They prioritize relationships and have “tribes” or support systems of family and friends.  Meals are typically social and pleasurable; food is not feared, meals are not rushed through or skipped if they don’t have the time.
  • Set aside a day each week for worship and rest.

I think it’s obvious that we have things pretty backwards.  Pleasure, rest and relaxation (and don’t confuse that with numbing feelings or “zoning out”) are important habits to cultivate if you seek health.  Meal times are a great way to practice.  If you find yourself with disordered eating habits such as restriction and bingeing, I would encourage you to include carbohydrates and fats at each meal.  Remember, feeling full and satisfied from your meals is not your problem, it’s your solution.  As you slow down and savor your meals, I think you will find that the carbohydrates and fats you love, love you back.

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD