Why Giving Up Carbs Is Bad For You

Photographed by Danny Kim
I have always loved carbs. Tuesday nights in my university house on Brighton’s seafront was Two-for-Tuesdays Dominos sessions and, every week, without fail, I’d have my face full of BBQ Supreme. Post-uni, I’d drive a half mile up the road for Pizza Express dough balls (sometimes with friends, usually alone) and munch them in the car while listening to Mellow Magic. The day I discovered Peshawari Naan was the day I found God (for an hour) and, in my early twenties, Saturday mornings weren’t Saturday mornings without slices of charred pitta smothered in taramasalata. Fast-forward a few years, and my loving relationship with carbohydrates had taken a severe bashing. A combination of my career in the fashion industry, work stress and a vulnerability to obsessive thoughts led me to enforce the gradual extinction of all carbohydrates from my diet, resulting in a loss of three stone, five severe nutrient deficiencies and one hospital admission.
What started as a conscious attempt to make “healthier choices” and avoiding foods with a high GI led to me categorising potatoes with arsenic. Unfortunately, it took me having to show a nurse every time I pooed for six weeks for me to realise that my perception of a “healthy diet” was – in a word – fucked. A quick Google of “carbohydrates” brings about familiar themes, article after article. Loosely: “PRACTICAL IDEAS TO LOSE WEIGHT” “THE SECRETS TO OPRAH’S WEIGHT LOSS” “AVOID THESE FOODS FOR A FLAT BELLY” According to much of the media and a whole lot of questionable Instagram accounts, the consensus is either beware of “bad” carbs or steer clear all together. In truth, most of this spin is thrust upon us a) because someone’s trying to flog something and b) because someone wants you to read his or her article/follow them. More often than not, the “nutritional facts” are based on next to no scientific factual evidence and are poorly explained with many contextual essentials missing. Flabbergasted, exhausted and pretty frickin’ hungry, I decided to conduct my own research into the truth behind this so-called evil food group. First port of call – my dietician. “I’m plagued and worried by people who think they’re following an amazingly healthy diet by cutting out carbs”, says Luci Daniels, a registered dietician. “All leading national dietary guidelines tell us that starchy carbohydrates should form the main part of a meal, with total carbs contributing to about 50% of our daily energy/calorie intake. “Skipping carbs can often result in a lack of energy, questionable dietary patterns (often replacing the carb calories with fat calories), or lead to a starve/binge eating pattern, as a carb-free meal tends to be not very filling. Not to mention that the lack of whole-grains can lead to bowel irregularities, especially constipation.” Ah, so that explains why I only did a poo about once every three weeks. And the fact that the climb to the Tube platform was my daily Everest. In fact, the more I learned about the role of carbohydrates in the everyday functioning of my boney body, the more the pieces of my pastry-less pie began to fit together. It seemed that most of the annoying and often-crippling symptoms that I’d made various irrational excuses for were largely due to acute carbohydrate deficiency. Here are some of them: Complete and utter exhaustion
According to the British Dietetic Association, half of our energy intake should come from carbohydrates, as they are the main energy supply for the body. Without a good helping of starch and fibre from carbohydrates, blood sugar levels drop, causing weakness, fatigue and – in severe cases – total exhaustion. Reading the same page of a book over and over and over again
Although our brains only accounts for about 2% of body weight, it uses up 20% of our overall calorie intake, in the form of glucose. The body converts carbohydrates into glucose, which is then used to fuel both the brain and muscles. Not only can a lack of blood glucose leave you hypoglycemic, making it almost impossible to concentrate or learn, but evidence also suggests that long-term lack of carbohydrates can result in significant memory impairments. Basically, if you don’t give your noodle enough noodles, it performs under-par for a while, before eventually conking out all together. Irrational rage at fellow Tube riders/crying hysterically at the Hollyoaks omnibus
Serotonin is often referred to as the neurotransmitter for happiness. When serotonin is released, there’s a vast improvement in our mood. Serotonin brain levels are (in part) dependent on the insulin available to stimulate its uptake to the brain. Where do we get our supply of insulin? Yep, you guessed it: carbs. Stinking breath
Ever noticed that your breath howls if you skip a couple of meals? According to exercise physiologist Gregory Landry, if the body doesn’t have enough glucose from crucial carbs, it starts to look elsewhere. It begins with your fat stores, and produces toxic ketones and acetones in the process. This state of “ketosis” can be extremely dangerous if prolonged and those nasty acetones come bearing a "cover my mouth" stench. Nice. Constant foot cramps (often during sex, embarrassingly)
Yep, I’ve had many a night of intense passion cut short by my Highland Fling style leg jerking and piercing screams (and not in a good way). A lack of carbs means, among many other things, a lack of vital magnesium and potassium. Without sufficient minerals to keep our muscles and heart cells healthy, muscle function suffers considerably. Hence the onset of severe pins and needles and a hell of a lot of leg cramp. Never-ending colds
Ah, phlegm. A familiar friend that overstays its welcome when you’re curbing carbs. The National Institute of Health states that sufficient selenium, riboflavin and iron are crucial for the maintenance of a healthy and effective immune system. A reliable dietary source of said nutrients? CARBOHYDRATES! I hope this information from the experts has given you enough inspiration to order a pizza. But seriously, as Daniels says: “All in all – do include starchy wholegrain foods at least a couple of times a day -cereal/porridge, bread, potato, rice, pasta, quinoa, couscous, crackers or whatever. It’s recommended even for people who need to lose weight. Enjoy and don’t feel guilty about eating a healthy carb containing diet."

More from Diet & Nutrition

R29 Original Series