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My Paleo Diet Experiment: Breaking the Carbohydrate Addiction

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When I considered testing the effectiveness of the Paleo Diet on myself, I thought that I wouldn’t have too much difficulty with the dietary restrictions.  I believe that I was eating pretty well, especially when I consider how I used to eat.  I felt that over the last couple of years, my eating habits changed from horrible to pretty damn good!  I now eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, so I figured going Paleo wouldn’t be a problem.  I could eat all the meat I want as long as it’s lean.  In fact, my meat intake was going to increase during my Paleo Diet experiment.  What I didn’t expect was how much I was going to miss grains.

When I think back on my dietary life, I always loved carbohydrates.  To this day I believe that there has never been a piece of cake that I didn’t like.  However, my love of carbs didn’t stop at cake.  I love fresh bread, pastries, pizza, etc.  If it is made from flour, I’ll probably like it!  Despite my longstanding love of bread and cake, I didn’t think that eliminating grains from my diet would be an issue.  After all, my bread intake has been cut from two loaves of white bread per week 3 years ago to one loaf of multigrain bread every eight weeks.  In my mind, I hardly ate grains. I figured this Paleo Diet restriction would be a cinch.  Boy was I wrong.

Maybe it’s the forbidden fruit syndrome, but after two days of not eating any grains, and not having any sugar, I was in serious need of some bread products.  My freezer contained some sliced baguettes that were going to be made into bread crumbs.  They were a little freezer burnt, but that didn’t matter.  These frozen crispy sticks of bread looked great to my carbohydrate starved eyes.  It was all I could do not to thaw one in the microwave (I did take one out of the freezer though and seriously considered it).

After fighting off my desire for frozen and stale bread, it occurred to me that I must be going through some sort of withdrawal.  This bread has sat in the freezer for months, and it has never looked that good to me before or since. Surely, I am not the only one to crave carbs like this. In the March 2003 Journal of Nutrition article Sugar and Fat: Cravings and Aversions, Susan Yanovski concludes that cravings for specific macronutrients, such as carbohydrates, result from a physiological need to alter neurotransmitters in the brain.

The idea that carbohydrate cravings are real and have physiological and psychological components was studied as far back as the 1980s.  JJ Wurtman wrote in Clin Neuropharmacol in 1988 that the relationship between excessive appetite for carbohydrate-rich foods and mood disorders may explain repetitive weight gain or the inability to lose weight among some obese individuals.

The fact that carbohydrate cravings have been validated in scientific journals made me feel better.  It’s not just forbidden fruit or personal weakness on my part.  Rather, my urges to eat any bread or donut I see is really my desire to alter my brain chemistry with glorious carbs! 

After five days without any bread products or grains of any sort, my cravings have started to dissipate.  They are not gone completely, but the stale, freezer burnt bread doesn’t look appetizing anymore.  I’m not sure if my desire for bread will ever disappear, but I do know that I won’t let the cravings beat me. 


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About Layne Pennell

  • When I went paleo a year ago, I found out the difference between foods you love and foods you eat habitually. I used to start off every day with a bagel or a danish. Amzingly, after a short time, I was living nicely without all that wheat. The thing I miss the most is macaroni and cheese, and I still do minor cheats on that if I’m in a city like Savannah. I work in New York City. How can I pass up all of those bagels? I just do.

  • Thanks for the motivation Terry!

  • Ian

    Hi Layne, keep up the grain-free living! It’s worth it, here’s some motivating pep-science 🙂

    Don’t forget that some of the breakdown peptides produced by digestion of wheat fit and activate the opioid receptors on your neurons. For many, wheat is literally addictive, and cessation can lead to withdrawal, including nausea, so it’s not necessarily just a carbs thing.

    Once you’re wheat free, your leptin and insulin receptors will be free of lectin activation, and your appetite and metabolism will start to self-regulate properly.

    Your gastrointestinal mucosal immune cells will also be free of constant presentation of gut content antigens, and concurrent adjuvant (immune-excitation) activity by what germ agglutinin and gliadin, which activate many TLR receptors, and promote production of a plethora of interleukins, TNF-alpha and interferon-gamma. Without this effect, your immune system will be more inclined to put any self-harm on the back burner, and all sorts of health issues can clear up, from low level aches and pains to full blown autoimmune conditions.

    Finally. you may well start to turn around the usual Westerner’s lifelong progression of atherosclerosis. Lectins from grains can shed endothelial glycocalyx (via EGFR), may stimulate arterial wall thickening (via insulin-like actions), and likely promote inflammation that leads to heart disease / stroke. As I’m sure you know, non-grain eating modern hunter gatherers seem wholly free of these conditions, even in populations that smoke heavily(!)

    So, definitely stick to it 🙂 Good luck!

  • Great comments Ian. I am going to research the information you provided. Sounds like an article or two there.

    You definately seem knowledgable in the area of wheat intolerance. It would be great if you wrote a guest article on PaleoCookbookDiet.net

  • jaye kaye

    The quote attributed to Susan Yanovski is an incorrect interruption of this study. Read her conclusions. She writes “In summary, although food cravings are very common, evidence for specific macronutrient craving as a form of self-medication
    appears to be inconsistent at best.” There is no such thing as “carb addiction”