pasta with sauce in the plate

How often should you have carbs?

I was recently speaking with someone who reminded me of a diet myth about how often we should have carbs: you can only have carbs at one meal per day. I think many of us subconsciously follow this rule. In fact, I actually recently caught myself thinking, “I had a bagel for breakfast so we shouldn’t have pasta for dinner.” I caught myself – WHY NOT? Who said we can only have carbs one meal per day? Is there any legitimacy to this?

This diet rule arose out of the low-carb and keto diet craze. And it stems from this belief that carbs are bad for you and cause weight gain. Surprise, surprise, like most diet rules, there is no science to back this one up.

You can have carbs for every meal of the day if you want.

  1. Carbs don’t cause weight gain. There is no single food that causes weight gain. Weight gain is a product of calorie excess and other complicating factors such as hormonal status.
  2. Carbs are not bad for you. Our bodies need carbohydrates and are designed to run on them. It’s our body’s preferred fuel source. In fact, our brain is extremely dependent on carbs for its fuel. Our bodies are not designed to burn fat as our primary fuel source – ketosis is a survival mechanism.
  3. Carbs are nutritious. Different carbohydrates contain important nutrients and, if we’re restricting our carb intake dramatically, we could be missing out on that nutrition. Take fiber as a prime example.
  4. Eating for enjoyment is important. We, as humans, eat for many reasons. Enjoyment being among them and just as legitimate as every other reason to eat. If you’re not enjoying what you eat, you’re not going to be satisfied by it. And when that happens, you’re probably going to continue to eat more as you seek out that satisfaction. This can lead us to feel frustrated and out of control around food.

For more information about low carb diets, check out this blog post.

photo of people having dinner together

What to do when you overdo it

Feeling like you overate can be a really crummy feeling, but the tactics we tend to turn to in those instances typically aren’t helpful options. Skipping meals to compensate, overexercising, only eating certain foods – these tactics don’t work and promote unhealthy habits. Fact: you can’t “compensate” for overeating. So what should you do when this happens?

First, let go of trying to compensate for overeating. This simply is not how our bodies work. Your body has already digested and dealt with that food accordingly. It is not sitting in a reserve tank to be emptied and you can’t create a void in your body for that food to take up by creating a calorie deficit the next day. Furthermore, even if you do successfully undereat or overexercise the next day, your body will adjust for that accordingly. You may or may not notice it, but 2-3 days later you will be much hungrier than usual and eat more. Remember, our bodies evolved to keep us alive through periods of starvation. Finally, we don’t get to pick and choose what gets burned and what doesn’t.

Second, be realistic and take it easy on yourself. One day of overdoing it isn’t going to make a difference. One weekend of overdoing also probably won’t make a significant difference. You won’t gain 10 pounds overnight and you won’t “undo” any progress you’ve made. Something else to note, when I work with clients who feel like they went way overboard with their eating, very often when we actually map out what they ate, it’s not as much as they thought.

Third, still practice those healthy habits you’ve been working on. Remember, there is no proverbial wagon to fall off of, no proverbial train to derail. Every day is a new opportunity to pursue your goals and those 4 margaritas didn’t “ruin” that opportunity. So carry right on with eating in balance. Move your body. Drink plenty of water. Listen to your body.

If you want to avoid overdoing it the future, keep in mind the main reason why we engage in overeating is deprivation. When we don’t allow ourselves to eat certain things, when we dub certain foods “bad,” we give those foods all of our power. It’s human nature to respond to deprivation this way. The best way to make sure these overindulgence episodes happen rarely, is to give yourself permission to the eat the foods you want to eat when you want to eat them. Yes, absolutely, practice balance and make sure you’re also eating lots of veggies. But, chocolate cake doesn’t only have to happen on your birthday. Mashed potatoes and gravy don’t only have to happen on Thanksgiving. When we only let ourselves enjoy these foods once a year, that’s when we get into issues with last supper eating.

photo of people having dinner together
Trying to compensate for overeating is not the answer. Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

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