Do Carbs Make You Fat?

More often than not, when I engage in conversation with someone, and I mention my interest in nutrition, I hear about how carbs are so bad for you. It feels like groundhog day, almost, but is it the case? Let’s try and find out. Also, here is my disclaimer saying that I’m not a health professional, and thus, my knowledge or coverage could lack the required depth.

Carbs, Proteins, and Fats

Simply put, everything we can put in our bodies will fall into one of three categories. And, throughout history, ever since dieting started, the players that sell weight loss put their blame on one of the three. I still remember trying the hyper-proteic diet a decade back, cutting both carbs and fats. Atkins and Keto declare war on carbs, but chatting with my grandmother, she’s still stuck with some war on fats that happened during the 90s. I recently read about the anti-diet culture that sells books by declaring war on diets! That’s hilarious, at least to me.

In plain English, let me quickly say a single sentence about what our body does with each of these macro-nutrients.

  • Carbs: The body uses them as quick energy, and they help our muscles get the water they need to work.
  • Proteins: The body uses them to repair muscle tissue after workouts. We don’t need too many of these.
  • Fat: The body uses fat to store excess energy. Therefore fat has nine calories per gram instead of the 4 in carbs or proteins.

That’s all there is to it. But the implications are pretty substantial.

Weight Loss or Gain

Let’s talk about weight. I’m discussing this here first to build an intuition about what could lead people to buy into various beliefs. First, weight and BMR are terrible ways of measuring yourself. Are you measuring body fat or muscle weight?. Just think that ancient science created both metrics when doctors still tried to code things in binary into normal or not. Who gets to say what is normal? It turns out that water, which by the way, has no calories, plays a significant part in how heavy you are on a given day. I prefer to measure myself on whether I can use my body in the way I intend to use it or not. I hypocritically admit that I still weigh myself often, but I’ll soon tell you why.

Speaking of the Devil

As I just mentioned, carbs help you distribute water throughout your body, so your muscles have what they need for working out. Funnily enough, our body uses additional water to break down proteins and fats, thus making us urinate more often. This fact is one of the reasons that could lead people to think that carbs make you gain weight. When I was doing keto, I felt thirsty all the time and drank a lot of water, but my body didn’t retain much of it.

When it comes to feeling full, proteins and fats process slowly. The body can use fats as energy through ketosis, but breaking down fats takes time. So let me repeat this sentence as it applies to stored body fat: breaking down fats takes time. So, then, after eating a high-protein or fat meal, we feel full for a long time.

When it comes to satisfaction, not all carbs are the same. Our palates find highly processed simple carbs delicious because we process them quickly, delivering energy spikes. So, what happens when our reward center receives something very intense that fades out rather quickly? You guessed it! We want more of it! So, for this reason, people tend to find it more challenging to control themselves with carbs; think of your sweet tooth. And we have reason number two that could point in the anti-carb direction. But the solution is rather simple, have items with more fiber and lower glycemic index.

Finally, one rather infamous element present in many high-carb treats is gluten! Gluten is both an allergen and believed to promote inflammation. Inflammation makes one’s body look a bit swollen (chubbier?), and, of course, that’s one more reason not to eat carbs!

Food is Just Food; It’s All in Your Head

As you may have noticed, the previous section shows how easy it is to demonize something based purely on your perception of it. But truth be told, if you eat the right amounts, then you will never gain or lose body fat weight, be it based on white bread or bacon brussel sprout salads. The key component is to understand your body and its fullness cues, precisely what the intuitive eating movement preaches (and more people trying to sell you stuff). But, there is some truth to it. Learning how your mind works is as important as knowing if you’re full or not. Do you use food to cope? Is it easier to eat less some days than others? What are things that influence your motivation? And, here is why I weigh myself every day; it symbolizes the intention I have to take care of myself, helping as a motivator to make choices that align with my goals.

To Close Out

The diet and body image industry leverages our insecurities to sell us products. And the players in the industry leverage the psychology of the masses by painting a common enemy and an easy-to-follow cause to steer us to one product or the other. Then, finally, there is us, who feel guilty if we decide to eat a demonized item one day. Don’t get me wrong; I sometimes feel guilty when eating a croissant, even after a long bike ride and knowing I’m in a calorie deficit. But, unfortunately, we’re all victims of years of bad culture, with untrue beliefs deeply grounded, and it will take some time before we heal as a society. In the meantime, just relax and allow yourself to have those carbs, remember that a content person can find strength more quickly to take actions that have long-term positive effects. Please let me know your experience with all of this in the comments section.

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