There are many reasons why carbs can be addictive which extends further than the dopamine release that occurs in the brain as I explained in my previous post Are You Crazy for Carbs? Certain people are more prone to carb addiction due to various mental and physical health factors. If you know or suspect that you may have one or more of the following health issues than consider addressing these issues with either a doctor who practices integrative/functional medicine or a natural health professional.
Causes of Carb Addiction
When a person eats excess carbs over a long period of time, their body has difficulty balancing blood sugar levels. Their cells stop being responsive to the insulin their body is producing to deal with all that glucose. This condition is called insulin resistance. As a result their body produces even more insulin to try and balance the blood sugar levels which in turn fuels the vicious cycle of frequent hunger and intense cravings for more carbs to ‘feed’ the excess insulin.
Hypoglycemia can then turn into diabetes where one requires insulin injections to regulate blood sugar levels. Symptoms such as irritability, dizziness, trembling, racing pulse, sweating, anxiety, confusion or weakness can all be signs that a hypoglycemic person has gone without carbs for too long. If left untreated, more severe symptoms such as poor coordination, passing out and even coma can occur. Essentially, eating too many carbs can make your body dependent on them.
2) It’s all in Your Head
Carbs cause our bodies to release serotonin and dopamine—the happy chemicals. This is why we tend to crave carbs when we are down, stressed out or seeking comfort on cold winter days. The more we rely on them for comfort and stress relief the more those habits reinforce those neural pathways that tell us carbs equals comfort. Reducing your insulin levels will also help control the neurotransmitters in the brain that are responsible for cravings.
3) Adrenals and Thyroid
Underactive thyroid which causes extreme fatigue can lead a person to reach for a quick energy source like carbs or sugar. Similarly, stressed and tired adrenals (whether the stress is chronic or actue) can lead to carb cravings. When your body is in fight or flight mode carbohydrates are used for fast energy. Cortisol, the stress hormone that is released, tries to rebalance your body and one of the ways it does this is by making you hungry so that the body can ‘re-fuel’.
4) Get Your ZZZ’s
Lack of sleep and cravings carbs are synonymous, and the research is there to prove it. A study at the University of Chicago discovered that leptin levels decreased and ghrelin levels increased among sleep deprived men. The hormone ghrelin tells your brain that you are hungry so you definitely don’t want too much of that hormone floating around. The hormone leptin, on the other hand, which is decreased when you don’t get adequate sleep, tells your brain you are full. Similar studies have found that people who slept for less than 6 hours tended to eat far more food and it tended to be calorie dense food like carbs compared to people who slept 8 hours a night and ate far less food in general. Sleep to lose weight and make healthier food choices!!
Yeast overgrowth (candida) is caused by many factors such as antibiotics and overconsumption of carbs and sugar. Yeast overgrowth can create intense cravings or even addiction to carbs. Candida is when there is an overgrowth of yeast in the intestines. Yeast releases small quantities of alcohol and it feeds off carbs and sugar. When a person cuts their carb intake they can experience the same symptoms as alcohol withdrawal. Unfortunately, many people blame themselves for their lack of willpower in cutting carbs when they are actually facing yeast overgrowth and have no idea their gut is running the show. It is also noteworthy that cravings for sugar and carbs tend to be most intense during the yeast’s ‘die-off’ period–when the last of them are being starved because they are not being fed sugar in any form.
6) Anxiety and Depression
Let’s face it, most of us have struggled with one of these mental illnesses at one point in our life. When anxiety or depression creeps in, comfort food is a great source of relief. In fact, as I mentioned above, carbs release the feel good chemicals in our brain. Addressing carb addiction without firstly addressing the anxiety and depression is setting yourself up for failure.
7) PMS/Menopause and Hormone Imbalance
Insulin resistance can occur in women during certain times in their cycle or at certain points in their life as their progesterone and estrogen drops. As their insulin production increases they might suddenly find themselves experiencing intense cravings for sweets and carbs. Addressing hormone imbalances is key.
8) Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency
I have mentioned in previous posts how important essential fatty acids (Omega 3’s and 6’s) are. If you are deficient (and many of us are), your body will make you eat and then eat some more until it gets what it needs. EFA’s also help to control insulin levels which as we know has everything to do with cravings and carb addiction.
As you can see mental and physical health as well as lifestyle play an important role in carb addiction. Trying to white knuckle your way through carb addiction likely won’t work if you’re experiencing any of the above problems. In my next post I will share how to curb carb addiction.