Giving Up Carbs: Why It's a Grieving Process

In general, I gave up eating carbs in January of this year. I fought it for a long time. How can a Krispy Kreme doughnut be that harmful? The thing melts in your mouth and is down the hatch in less than two minutes.

Then I developed joint issues and muscle issues and weight issues, and my nutritionist said, "It's time. Carbs are not your friend. They convert to sugar, which is not your friend either." I have to admit, I had come to a place in my life where I was miserable enough to change my diet. That seems to be the only way we Americans do it. We have to suffer before we change.

So, I ditched bread and crackers and rice and pasta. And then most desserts (because most of them are carb-y: cakes, pie, cookies.) Then I got depressed. What the heck am I going to EAT?!?!??!

My nutritionist knew. She directed me to the produce section of the grocery store. Hmmm. I wasn't totally unfamiliar with it. I liked salads. But, given the choice of a salad, or a sandwich - with bread - well, you can imagine.

For about two months, I was sad about this sacrifice, and I didn't really know why. It's all just food. It wasn't like I was starving. But, the deprivation...it felt like I was in mourning. Which seemed a bit dramatic for just a diet change, but it eventually came to me.

There are emotions and memories attached to food.

Oprah has talked about her own struggle with this, but I never experienced it until I gave up carbs. It's not only the doughnut I'm missing, it's the fun/love/surprise/excitement/community attachment to the doughnut. Think about this:

1. The first hard, crunchy thing many of us eat is a Cheerio. We start out with a gloppy form of rice cereal, then usually a banana. But, the Cheerio is a giant leap into things we're going to chew. Even with no teeth.  Not only is it tasty, it's fun to play with. It rolls around, and it sticks to a moist little finger. Once we can handle Cheerios, they become our traveling companions. Mom packs 'em up for every outing. I occasionally find a stray Cheerio in a pew at church.

2. Before too long, Gold Fish crackers enter the scene. Yummy little carbs with tiny smiles on their orange faces. They become a regular staple as well.

3. Next, the carb star that enters our lives forever: Macaroni and cheese! What human on the planet did not grow up with mac and cheese?! My mom made it from scratch, but my kids grew up with Kraft in the blue box. Paula Deen has a gourmet version, as does Ina Garten. Once we discover mac and cheese, carbs our part of our DNA.

4. Which brings us to pasta. The first semi-fancy restaurant I fell in love with was Olive Garden. First dates, homecoming, prom. Fettuccine Alfredo, rotini, cavatappi, bow ties, even wagon wheels. Spaghetti, of course, but all those fun shapes! I had to try them all to see if they tasted different. Pasta satisfies like nothing else. And if that's not enough...bread sticks!!! Painted with garlic butter. Carb coma.

5. Pizza. If it hasn't passed our lips by the time we're five, we must be living in a third world country. Pizza is always the quick go-to with company, youth group, or birthdays. For several years, when our three kids were young, we had pizza every Tuesday night simply because Little Caesar's had a deal on Tuesdays - buy one, get one free. Pizza, pizza.

6. Cake. Throughout our entire lives, cakes carry celebratory significance. They mark many milestones: birthdays, the end of Little League/Soccer/Pee Wee basketball seasons, graduations, anniversaries, promotions, and farewells. Wedding cakes are so big they have to be carried by two people or rolled in on a table. Across the nation, cakes are a part of church suppers, bake sales, and are frequent gifts for a new neighbor or an ailing one. Bundt cakes, Upside Down cakes, layer cakes, Dump cakes. So many memories.

7. Homemade bread. For those who enjoyed baking, making bread from scratch made a comeback in the 70's. With the invention of counter top bread machines, non-bakers joined this carb overload movement. We discovered new recipes using earthy grains like quinoa, rolled oats, oat bran, and buckwheat. Our family favorite is whole wheat dinner rolls, painted with honey butter. Our daughter is the master at making these.

It's no wonder we are attached to carbs. They (not cotton) are the fabric of our lives. Carbs are woven into our first crunchy bite, early road trips, family dinners, sleepovers, copious high school adventures, romantic adolescent exposure to fine dining, and every celebration of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Never, for any celebration, have I ever heard, "Let's all share a cabbage."

No wonder veggies are not our first choice. No wonder we have to learn to choose them. All the fun, exciting, adventurous things in life are linked with bread and cake. The inhumanity of it all.

So...many of us find ourselves (often in mid-life) having to retrain the tummy and the brain, but most of all, the heart. Because we love our carbs, we love what they have meant to us, where they have taken us, this life-long journey hand in hand with dough. We're leaving a relationship, and it's heart-breaking.

Once I understood it, I had to grieve a bit. Over time, it got easier to walk away, because the carbs had become abusive. They were turning on me, making my joints swell, my fat fatter and my bloat bloatier. I decided I wanted better health over carbs. It's a choice I have to made daily.

I still have a cupcake on occasion, or a dinner roll at Thanksgiving, but the bulk of my diet is now produce. I've learned to love bok choy, butternut squash, roasted beets, and kale chips. I'm in a new relationship, with the produce aisle, and it's quite satisfying.

If you've discovered carbs are not your friend either, you're not alone. Be gentle with yourself while you break up with the bread sticks. Shed a few tears, and then walk away with your head held high.

And don't look back. There's probably a Krispy Kreme shop in the rear view mirror.

Follow my journey with fibro/RA and how I got better here: 






Kate said...

Ugh! I understand! That's what I hear from many people since I got diagnosed with fibromyalgia - drop the carbs! I'm a carb freak; love pasta and bread the most. But if my flares continue to slow me down, I may have to say goodbye, too :-(

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Love this post! I'm going to share it!

I'm mostly known as 'MA' said...

It's true carbs are a fabric of our lives. I'm still eating them and love my comfort foods, but when they are making you miserable instead of comfortable it is time to change.

Rita said...

Carbs are really difficult to give up. You hit the nail on the head with this post. You should be so proud of yourself! :)

Brenda said...

Thanks for your humor! This post has really spoke to me about continuing to take my health seriously and monitoring everything I put in my mouth. Thanks for sharing your information.

Jo-Anne's Ramblings said...

Yeah I don't know how I would cope without my carbs to be honest they make up a large part of my diet but many of people do just to cut them from their diet and that is ok if that is what people want