Why can I eat carbs?

by Brad Pilon

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Yesterday I read another article that took the position of excess calories not CAUSING weight gain. Instead, the authors argued that somehow sick/diseased/altered body fat caused us to overeat, thus causing body fat. Their theory put the blame on insulin and carbs (excess insulin MAKES your fat sick).

While I have concerns over this line of thinking that I’ll share in a different post, the main question that swirled in my head was “If so many people have issues with eating carbohydrates, then why can I eat carbs?”

The easy answer to this question would be the ‘snowflake’ defense – That I’m a unique little snowflake, special in this world. I have some sort of rare unique ability to process carbohydrates…  But that’s not a probable answer.

I, like most of us, am average. Sure, we all have areas in life where we excel, but physiologically speaking I’m not gifted by any means, but I do eat carbs… lots of them. And not just the ‘healthy carbs’ either, I’m an indiscriminate carb eater.  Some of my carbs may be healthy, but others are pretzel balls covered in an absolutely perfect ratio of chocolate to hard-candy-shell that only the geniuses at M&M’s could perfect.

So then… Why can I eat carbs?

Am I impervious to gaining fat?

I was 45 pounds heavier in my twenties then I am now, and it was an extra 45 pounds of fat.  In fact, I spent my mid twenties hovering between 20-30 pounds heavier than I am now, and I gained that weight by overeating. Even now my weight sneaks up by a couple pounds whenever I go on vacation or just generally enter a period of ‘not caring’. So I am capable of gaining fat. I work at staying lean just like everyone else.

Is it my Genetics?

It’s a tough question to answer without actually doing genetic testing, but if I had to guess I’d say no, it’s not my genetics – My family is an excellent sub-section of the population, some skinny, some not so skinny, some diabetic, some celiacs, some tall, some short. Genetics plays a role for sure, but I doubt I won the genetic lottery.

Is it my diet?

Again, I doubt it. You can ask any fitness/nutrition professional who’s ever met me, and they’ll tell you I eat like a typical person. I don’t eat fast food very often, but I do eat bagels, white bread, nutella, pasta, M&Ms, peanut butter, muffins, M&Ms, fruits, veggies, ice cream, artificial sweeteners and most types of meat. I don’t eat massive amounts – but I do eat most of these items on an almost daily basis. So in terms of the actual foods I eat… there’s no magic. I do my best to eat responsible amounts, and like I said I’m not a big fast food person, but other than that – my diet is fairly typical.

Is it the fasting?

Maybe. I’ve been following Eat Stop Eat since 2006, almost 8 years of fasting once or twice per week is how I dropped my extra weight and it’s also how I kept it off. I’ll be the first to admit that this also means that once or twice per week I have no carbs at all (on the other days I just ate the way I normally eat). So it is plausible that my occasional fasting plays a role in my ability to eat carbs on a regular basis and not gain weight… But it also could simply be a matter of weekly total intake – since the fasting is what allows me to eat a little bit more on the days I’m not fasting…

Is it the exercise?

Even more likely. I’ve been lifting weights since I was 12. I enjoy weight training, and other than a few injuries and a couple experiments I did for this blog, I’ve never gone more than a week or two without working out. Other than building and maintaining muscle mass exercise also has a very potent affect on insulin levels and sensitivity. So it could be the exercise.

Is it the body weight?

Also Likely – I think I was 29 when I first started fasting – that’s when my weight moved back into the 170s and my body fat moved back to the 10-12% range. And it has been in this range for 8 years now. For most men a lot of damage occurs between the ages of 35 and 45. Obesity, diabetes, heart conditions – this tends to be the age where it all starts to set in. Perhaps I’ve coasted through the beginning of this age and am reaping the benefits. Who knows? It may all catch up with me in the next 3 years and by 40 I’ll be unable to eat carbs or gluten.

Am I just being Naive?

Maybe. Maybe I’m slowly poisoning myself. But truthfully, of the list of things I do that are slowly poisoning me, eating carbs probably doesn’t make the top ten list. I have the sleep patterns of a parent with young children, If I don’t smarten up my workouts are probably eventually going to take their toll and switch from building me up to tearing me down, I drink alcohol, I drink a lot of coffee, and I sit and type for living… all of which are probably greater evils than eating carbs.

The truth is, while there is no real way to tell the exact reason that I can eat carbs, my opinion is all of these factors contribute to my ability to eat the way I eat and look the way I look. I workout, I eat responsibly, I fast, and my genetics may have something to do with it…

In the end we come all the way back to the lifestyle answer. Being active, not eating too much and the occasional fast all combine to keep my body weight and muscle mass in check, and this allows me to eat carbohydrates in various forms and not get sick, gain weight, or otherwise destroy my health



PS- Obviously I’m not the only person who can eat carbs and not get fat – there are millions upon millions of people in the world who are lean and who are NOT on some form of low carb diet… so the answer again points to lifestyle (at least in my eyes).

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