Give Us This Day…But I’ll Skip the Bread
My students used to ask, “If you were going to be stranded on a deserted island, what two foods would you bring?”
My standard answer used to be bread and cheese. But several years ago I started toying with the idea of giving up bread in my diet…Crazy idea, huh?
Bread is everywhere in our American diet! It’s in some form at e-v-e-r-y meal and given freely at restaurants to tide us over while waiting for the plates to come. A handful of crackers, a piece of toast or half a bagel is an easy snack to grab between meals. In fact, toast slathered in peanut butter or topped with a fried egg was my grab-and-go breakfast most morning as I rushed out the door to teach.
How do you go without toast in the morning? And how do you eat a sandwich without bread? Will I be able to keep from uncontrollably stuffing delicious, crusty artisan bread in my mouth during monthly book club meetings if I’m depriving myself day to day? What will I use to sop up that delicious pasta sauce/gravy/broth without a warm loaf of sourdough or French bread? No Chonga bagel, banana bread or scone with morning coffee? These questions vexed me as I thought about the challenge I was delivering myself.
Why Give Up Bread?
My cravings for bread and all its cousins was overwhelming my appetite; it was controlling me. It was my addiction. I was beginning to notice that, for me, those cravings spread out to all things carbohydrate and comforting.
Remarkably, the first week without bread wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I planned ahead. I set out with unrelenting determination and succeeded. It seemed easy.
I started the second week pumped up…and then I blew it at Thursday’s book club – crusty bread with artichoke dip! From Friday across the weekend, feeling defeated, I gave in to more bread, pasta, French toast, and Sunday’s homemade noodley casserole topped with breadcrumbs with a hunk of crusty bread on the side. Miserably bloated and fatigued on the couch after dinner, I vowed to win this battle. I got up and tossed any wheat-containing products in the trash.
By Monday morning, I’d regained my resolve to begin anew. I threw the bread and noodle casserole down the garbage disposal. During week one I started getting up 15 minutes earlier to eat oatmeal or eggs before leaving the house. I also made the switch from sandwiches to salads so lunches were covered. I planned out each dinner and shopped accordingly so I’d have everything I needed at home.
Everything went well that entire third week until Friday afternoon when my hand snatched the last (stale) donut out of the box in the staff room and it went directly into my mouth in 5 bites… Without. Even. Thinking.
Mistakes are okay, right? Of course! But grabbing that donut unconsciously made me feel powerless, out-of-control; like I’d always lack the self-control to change my eating habits. Well, the reality is that most of us will make many slip-ups when trying to give up a food group. Why? Because much of our eating is unconscious. I definitely was an unconscious eater! In fact, I’d label myself as a Hurried, Emotional, Waste-Not eater!
As a Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (FNTP), I’ve learned that it was not only my hurried, stressful, raised-to-clean-my-plate self that causes me to crave carbohydrates. It was also my low-fat, high-carbohydrate refined-foods diet causing imbalances in my blood sugar and disturbing my digestive health.
Common Causes of Carbohydrate Cravings
- Low Blood Sugar: The most common cause of carb cravings is low blood sugar, which is caused by low-calorie diets and going too long between meals. When blood sugar is low, tiredness occurs and the brain signals the body that it needs an energy boost. This is an example of the body getting its signals mixed up because it creates cravings for unhealthy sugars and carbs to try and satisfy a deficiency. Over-consumption of simple carbohydrates creates blood sugar imbalances which produce too much insulin, mood swings and water retention.
- Low-fat Diets: Low fat diets are generally high in carbohydrates and sugar. This is particularly precarious because eventually you will become more and more insulin resistant. Insulin’s function is to maintain stable blood sugar by controlling the amount of glucose that is absorbed from the bloodstream. When the body starts to become insulin resistant, it stops responding to insulin and instead takes every calorie it can and turns it into fat. So even if you eat very little, you will gain weight.
Take note that insulin resistance can lead to more serious problems such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and possibly Alzheimer’s disease.
- Serotonin Imbalance: Another common problem is an imbalance of the hormone serotonin which can bring on feelings of sadness and depression. When this happens the body signals the brain that it needs to feel good again. Cravings for sugar and simple carbohydrates develop because they produce a burst of serotonin which makes us feel good for a short time, but then serotonin levels drop back down again. This starts the sugar/carb cravings all over again, creating a vicious cycle.
- Candida overgrowth has become a virtual epidemic, brought on by medical modernizations (like antibiotics and birth control pills/shots/patches) and a more “civilized” diet of highly refined, processed foods and sugar. Candida, a group of common yeasts that lives within our intestines and certain mucous membranes, can be another cause of sugar and carbohydrate cravings.
Everyone has candida within them. We are born with it. Candida usually lives in harmony with our other intestinal bacteria. The “good” bacteria that reside in our gut keep candida under control, preventing a “population overgrowth.” Candida’s function in the body is to eat up any putrefied food particles in our digestive system before any potentially harmful bacteria can have a feast, multiply, and become threatening to our health.
In general, candida feeds on sugar. If you have an overgrowth of candida and eat a high-carb diet, research is showing that Candida has a way of literally communicating with us that it is “hungry” and needs to be fed more sugar-converting foods. You may experience a shaky feeling, a grumbling emotional response, or you might feel as if your whole body is SHOUTING at you to feed it. Yep! Another possible cause of sugar/carb cravings!
Symptoms associated with Candida overgrowth vary from person to person but there is a high likelihood that you, like most of us, have carb cravings and at least three or more of the symptoms from this list.
Breaking the Cycle
Through a three year on-again-off-again process, I can proudly say that I am now 90-95% off bread and its relatives. I’m okay with this percentage because I have a desire to be healthy, to feel my best. I’m not looking to be perfect. When I want an occasional special treat – French toast, pancakes, some bread at book club – I eat it . . . and I don’t beat myself up for it. After eliminating bread from my diet, when I choose to eat it, I know the physical and digestive consequences I’ll experience from consuming certain breads and wheat products.
Carbohydrates are no longer controlling me. In changing my diet, I have kicked my carbohydrate cravings and stabilized my blood sugar. No more mid-morning hunger or mid-afternoon slump!! I’m continuing to heal my digestive system and work on my “unconscious eater” habits.
Note: I plan to continue this blog thread in the future by sharing with you why and how our family has adopted a gluten-free and grain-free lifestyle.