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Do you have a carbohydrate phobia?

Some people are afraid of heights. Some are afraid of snakes and spiders. 
Considering the prevalence of disordered eating in endurance athletes, it wouldn't be surprising to hear that many athletes are afraid of carbohydrates. 

Although the presence of a piece of bread may not produce the same physical symptoms as being confined in a tight or crowded space, it's not uncommon for athletes, fitness enthusiasts and chronic dieters to experience similar thoughts, feelings and physical sensations - like guilt, anxiety, panic, fear and worry - when it comes to carbohydrates. 

Primarily due to the diet industry and popular media, many athletes have irrationally demonized carbohydrates - despite plenty of good research and evidence that carbohydrates play an important role in optimal health. Not only are carbohydrates essential for athletes but regular consumption of wholesome complex carbohydrates (such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, potatoes, beans and lentils) can help with sustainable energy and blood sugar levels - thus minimizing the risk for excessive snacking or grazing and reducing cravings for sugary-rich foods. Denying yourself of carbohydrates only contributes to overeating the foods you are trying to avoid. 

And so begins the vicious cycle:

Great danger can come from labeling food "good" and "bad." Similar to any other phobia, intense distress when faced with the source of a phobia can affect physical, mental and emotional health. For example, fear of carbohydrates can affect your ability to function normally in social settings, at holiday events, around your family or when training for a sporting event. Even thinking about a situation when you may be tempted to eat carbohydrates like pizza, pasta, a cookie, a sport drink or a bagel, may cause intense fear, anxiety and panic. As a result, you may try to do everything possible to avoid the situation. 

Carbohydrates contain essential nutrients that our bodies need to function well on a daily basis. Most importantly, our brain needs glucose. Without it, fatigue, headaches, anxiety and irritability may result. Carbohydrates are essential for keeping blood sugar from dropping too low and if/when it happens, the brain will send out neurotransmitters that drive you to crave whatever high-carb, sweet, sugar and quick digesting carbs that are available. This is why many people on low-carb diets (whether intention or unintentional) often feel out-of-control around carbohydrates. Again, the vicious diet-binge cycle results. 

Carbs are not bad. Having a black or white, all or thing, good or bad mentality around food is unhealthy. Feeling guilt and shame about eating a handful of pretzels, or a piece of pizza is not mentally healthy. Eating a bagel is not physically unhealthy. 

Prioritize wholesome real food sources of carbohydrates (alongside healthy fats and quality protein) and when you choose to indulge, do so responsibly with intention, mindfulness and with a well-fueled and well-nourished body and brain.