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WHAT IS “CARBOHYDRATE ADDICTION”?

A century ago, epileptics were thought to be taken over by “spirits.” Today, epilepsy is a recognized neurological disorder.
Fifty years ago, everyone laughed at the town fool. Now the person who is mentally retarded is only rarely ridiculed and never blamed for his disorder.
Times have changed even for alcoholics. Alcoholism has been recognized as a disease, complete with hereditary and biological influences. A president’s wife admitted her drug dependence, making it acceptable for sports and entertainment figures to talk openly about their problem. These public figures are applauded for admitting to their problem and seeking help.
But overweight? Like alcoholism, it is often genetic in origin; it runs in families. Yet overweight people are still the objects of ridicule and blame. It’s considered in bad taste to tell jokes about the mentally retarded or someone struggling with alcoholism—but jokes poking fun at fat people are still commonplace.
People who are overweight suffer from a disorder that may not be any more their fault than epilepsy or mental retardation or alcoholism. In truth, we still have a lot to learn about the problem of overweight.
Carol’s Story
Carol T. walked into our offices the day before her thirty-second birthday. We saw a soft-spoken, attractive woman who clearly put energy into looking her best. Her strawberry-blond hair was carefully styled, her dress well cut and fashionable. We learned she was an administrative secretary with managerial aspirations.
Her manner and bearing were such that her twenty-plus pounds of extra weight didn’t seem very important on her five-foot, four-inch frame. They were important to her, however. She told us that when one of her old boyfriends had teased her about her weight (he had called her “chubby”), she had become very, very angry.
“Hearing this guy make some comment about my weight made me mad,” she said. “I really hated it.”
We asked her about her dieting history. She admitted there was a part of her that felt she was making “too much of this weight thing,” but there was another part of her that “just wanted to be skinny and feel great.” She also told us that sometimes she had “the feeling that the weight thing and the diet thing” were out of control.
When we got down to details, we found Carol’s history was one we have seen repeatedly in many of the carbohydrate addicts with whom we work. Carol would, for a time, manage to control her food intake, eating so-called diet meals that contained small portions of carbohydrates. The initial phase of “being perfect” would change almost without her knowing it, and Carol would find herself eating the same foods—but in larger portions than the diet recommended or she had planned. (It’s not really cheating, she would tell herself.) But a little extra chicken, meat, or fresh vegetables shortly gave way to extra fruit. (Fruits are healthful, she would rationalize.) Then she would find herself craving starches: bread, rolls, pasta, and potatoes. Powerful desires for sweets and snack foods followed. Carol told us that she would find herself hand-delivering work to another part of the building in which she worked so that she could walk past the candy machine. Even if she successfully held out at first, eventually she found herself, as she put it, “eating anything in sight!”
When she came to see us, Carol summed it up this way: “I’m not happy with the way I look, and I don’t want to keep going on and off diets for the rest of my life.”
We gave her the Carbohydrate Addiction Test that we had developed. But Carol almost didn’t need to take it. We’ve seen hundreds of carbohydrate addicts—and from our first conversation we were pretty sure that she was indeed a carbohydrate addict and probably a candidate for the diet.
Now, let’s return to Carol’s story and her progress after we introduced her to the Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet.
We told her about the scientific basis of her addiction, namely her overabundance of insulin, or hyperinsulinemia, and explained how that made her hungry. We told Carol that the diet was intended to reduce her craving for carbohydrates and, thus, her desire to cheat. We predicted she would find it easier to stay on this diet than she had with other diets.
She listened carefully but admitted to a certain skepticism.
For Carol, the diet unfolded this way:
Day One. Carol admitted that she was surprised at how little she ate at lunch the first day—she attributed it to beginner’s enthusiasm rather than to her body’s response to a low-carbohydrate breakfast. She enjoyed her first Reward dinner, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to eat all the foods she wanted. She had a roast beef sandwich and French fries, but decided against eating the piece of lemon meringue pie she really wanted.
Days Two and Three. Carol said her second and third days were “as easy as the first.” Most diets will deliver an initial weight loss of water weight in the first few days. Often this is seen as something of a payoff for the sacrifices of dieting. Yet Carol was pleasantly surprised. She found on the morning of the fourth day that, without having experienced the feelings of hunger or discomfort, she had lost two pounds.
Day Four. Carol’s weight loss prompted her to put the diet to the test. That night she had veal parmigiana as well as pasta at a local Italian restaurant. She had bread, she confessed, “although, for some reason, I didn’t smother it with butter as I usually do.” She had a large salad with dressing and ate spumoni for dessert. When she got on the scale the next day, expecting to be punished, her weight was unchanged.
Week One Results. At the end of the first week, Carol had lost two and one-half pounds. She had mixed feelings, she confided: she was thrilled to be able to eat, enjoy herself, and still lose weight; but disappointed, too (“I sometimes think that I’d have to lose the whole twenty pounds in one week to be satisfied”). We reminded her, as we do all our dieters, that a one-half to two pound weekly weight loss is the ideal rate for health reasons and weight-loss maintenance. For her twenty-pound weight loss, we recommended a rate of about a pound a week.
Week Two Results. By the close of week two, Carol admitted that she felt like she was doing “something wrong” every night as she ate her Reward Meal. But at the end of the second week she loved the fact that she had lost four and one-half pounds. We cautioned her that she was losing rather quickly.
A Few Weeks Later. . . . Weeks five, six, and seven proved to be a plateau. Carol told us that in the past such weight plateaus had usually meant cheating and, eventually, giving up on the diet. But this time, she told us with a wide smile, “I don’t care. I’ve lost almost ten pounds, and I’m having a ball every night. I wouldn’t even mind if I stayed at this weight.” She didn’t give up—and she didn’t stay at that weight either.
A Few Months Later. . . . Week eight saw her losing weight once again. By week fourteen, she hit her target weight, twenty-three pounds lighter than the day she had entered our offices. We helped her individualize her eating program, encouraging her to increase slightly the quantities consumed at her Low-Carbohydrate Meals. Her weight was established without requiring a jarring or inappropriate maintenance program, a problem common to other diets.
Two Years Later. At her second annual checkup, Carol weighed two and one-half pounds less than her target weight. She told us that she loved “looking like this” and that she was happy to be “in control.”
She added: “It’s a wonderful way to live.”
Carol’s experience doesn’t tell the whole story. We will recount other stories that show how flexible the diet is, how it can be adapted to any lifestyle. There are also important psychological aspects of the diet, like handling the individual triggers that can wreak havoc upon us. And there will be strategies to help in the individualizing of the diet for lifelong maintenance.
But Carol’s experience is typical. We helped her to recognize that she was a carbohydrate addict. She learned what that meant in terms of her body chemistry and her behavior.
Then she, like more than 80 percent of the other dieters who have used this program, lost—and kept off—the pounds she wanted to be rid of.
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Diabetes