I first touched upon carbohydrate addiction in my blogpost I am a Food Addict. I gave my own personal experience and gave insights from Zoë Harcombe (PhD) and Jason Fung (MD). In this post I am passing on information from Dr. Lucy Burns who is a general practitioner located in Australia. Dr. Burns is passionate about this topic because she is a self-proclaimed carb addict.
Lucy Burns’ resource is one of many that I have included in my free resource list. If you are interested in receiving the full list and receiving occasional emails from me, sign up is provided in the sidebar of this page. I’d love to keep in touch!
How do I know if I’m addicted to carbohydrates?
The first step in dealing with carbohydrate addiction is to decide if you fall into that category. Below is a list of criteria for defining addiction from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders. If you meet two or three criteria, your addiction is mild. If you meet four or five of the criteria, you have a moderate addiction. If six or more criteria are met, your addiction is severe.
- Using more of a substance than planned, or using a substance for a longer interval than desired.
- Inability to cut down despite desire to do so.
- Spending substantial amount of the day obtaining, using, or recovering from substance use.
- Cravings or intense urges to use.
- Repeated usage causes or contributes to an inability to meet certain social, or professional obligations.
- Persistent usage despite users knowledge that it is causing frequent problems at work, school, or home.
- Giving up or cutting back on important social, professional, or leisure activities because of use.
- Using in physically hazardous situations, or usage causing physical or mental harm.
- Persistent use despite the user’s awareness that the substance is causing or at least worsening a physical or mental problem.
- Tolerance: needing to use increasing amounts of a substance to obtain its desired effect.
- Withdrawal: characteristic group of physical effects or symptoms that emerge as amount of substance in the body decreases.
There are two mechanisms of addiction.
The nucleus accumbens is a part of the brain that responds to an influx of dopamine that the addictive substance triggers. Dopamine is our pleasure hormone. When this happens over and over, we need more and more of the substance to feel the same effect. We develop dopamine resistance.
The hippocampus is a part of the brain that lays down memories. It helps us to remember that good feeling after eating the foods that give us the dopamine hit. It is what helped to keep us alive when food was scarce by helping us to remember where to find that bush of berries, for example.
The amygdala part of the brain creates a conditioned response to certain stimuli. It links certain stimuli with the food. Our five basic external senses- touch, taste, vision, hearing, and smell are strong drivers of behavior. Think of the aroma of baked goods and the sweet taste and how they make you feel.
Humans are a reward driven species and even small things cause a dopamine response. For example, having success with a new goal or talking with a close friend can give us this positive feedback. Some things give a big dopamine response, but then we develop tolerance to it.
Our modern, processed food has been engineered in such a way by food scientists to reach the bliss point. The bliss point releases the maximal amount of dopamine. These foods are always high in sugar/carbohydrates, often mixed with fat and salt.
If you need support dealing with carb addiction, contact me for a free 60 minute discovery call to see if health coaching is the right support for you.
Why do we eat it?
We think it’s the taste, but it’s not. It’s the feeling.
Marketing is smart. They understand that our thoughts create our feelings and our feelings are what drive our actions and this is how they market to us. They use language to bring about these feelings. The feelings are buried in our subconscious and reinforced by society.
This societal message is relayed to us starting in childhood. Starting very young, we are rewarded or made to feel better with sweet treats and we continue to do this with ourselves and others into adulthood. Overeating and eating large amounts of carbohydrates has become normalized.
How do we manage carbohydrate addiction?
There are two phases to managing carbohydrate addiction, the detox phase and the rehab phase. In order to have success breaking this addiction, we need to address the thoughts and the feelings, not just the actions.
This is where you must understand how dopamine works in the brain, the tricks that the marketing companies are using, and the conditioning that we’ve all received. This phase also involves planning.
- Get rid of all the junk food in your house. Be prepared for a tantrum from your brain! Don’t listen to the thoughts and stories that your brain tries to tell you. If you need some extra enforcement around this refer back to my blogpost Thoughts are like Airplanes.
- Focus on eating protein and fat. They are highly satiating and hard to overeat.
In this phase you must undo memories and the associations that you have of your junk food.
- Create new memories and understand that memories are just neural pathways, connections between two nerve cells. They are very deep, but the good news is that we CAN learn to “steer our brain around into a new path.” This is call neuroplasticity.
- Self-talk is important. Remember the stories we tell ourselves often end up as Mental Loopholes. Be aware of these. Stay up in the watchtower of your thoughts.
- Beware of conditioning. Remember Pavlov and his dogs? This is a very real thing. This is the work of the amygdala part of our brains. Know your conditioned responses. These may include things like eating in front of the television or eating in the car. You will want to break these cycles whatever they may be for you. These are your triggers.
- Commitment is very important. Not only will you have your own thoughts and stories to deal with, but the mixed messaging from marketing, as well as family and friends. If there are “food bullies” in your life, you can remind them that food is not a team sport and that what you eat has no bearing on them.
In the coaching world, there are no failures, only learning experiences. It’s important to remember that a slip is not a failure. Here are some tips for getting through them.
- Show compassion to yourself.
- Examine your triggers and the circumstances and figure out how you can do things differently next time.
- Be firm with yourself, but fair.
- Reaffirm your commitment to what you want. This is where visioning and goal setting and knowing your values and strengths can come in handy.
- Have a support system in place.
“Carb addiction is not your fault but it is your responsibility. Everything you need to fix carb addiction is within you.” Thank you Dr. Burns for these truths and hopeful words.
I hope this post helps you to understand the why of your condition if you are struggling, and I trust it gives you hope that there is a way out of it. I wish you wellness and peace on your journey. If you need extra support, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.
2 thoughts on “Carb Addiction is Not Your Fault”
What a great post! It is somewhat reassuring to me to have this validation. I love the idea that carb addiction is not my fault but it is my responsibility. I have been learning to manage my addiction for over a decade. The process is ongoing. A big deal for me was rethinking BLAME (Be Limping Along Making Excuses). Take the LE as a Learning Experience and BAM: Be Amazingly Motivated!
Thanks for your post!
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I’m glad you found this helpful. I’m happy to hear that you continue to work toward freedom in this area. It is helpful to be reminded about the addictive nature of refined carbohydrates as the overconsumption of these products has been so normalized in society. This makes it easy to rationalize that there is something wrong with us if we think about things differently due to our own negative experiences. I’m currently reading Nourishing Wisdom by Marc David. It talks about the psychology of eating and includes a whole body approach, including emotional and spiritual aspects of it. I will need to add this one to my Resource List! Thank you for sharing BLAME. That is a great way to turn things around!