Keeping your body happy and healthy can take a lot of work. Almost everyone struggles with knowing what, when, and how much to eat, and the conflicting dietary advice can drive you bananas. That said, being on the lookout for weird signs you’re eating too many carbs may help you feel better overall.
Carbs have had a bad rap among dieters ever since low-carb diets, like Atkins, rose in popularity in the early 2000s. Before then, simple carbs formed the base of the now-outdated food pyramid. At the time, diet experts recommended that bread, cereal, rice, and pasta should make up most of your diet, accounting for six to 11 servings per day—which exceeds the recommended servings of the fruit and vegetable groups combined.
Carbohydrates, or carbs, are made up of sugars, starches and fibers. They are commonly found in white bread, pasta, whole grains and processed foods. Some people would separate carbs into “good” or “bad,” but all carbs are necessary for the body because they are converted into energy.
While switching to a low-carb diet isn’t essential to lose weight or build muscle, make sure you’re eating quality carbohydrates, preferably whole grains, vegetables, and anything with a lot of fiber. And if you’re worried that your diet might be too carb heavy, these are some signs that you’re suspicions are correct. Keep an eye out for any of these issues and adjust your diet accordingly.
So, how do you know if you’re eating too many carbs, especially the refined kind? Here are signs you’re eating too many carbs.
How Many Carbs Should You Be Eating Per Day?
“The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that carbohydrates make up 45 to 65% of your total daily calories,” says New Jersey-based registered dietitian and certified diabetes expert Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE author of Belly Fat Diet For Dummies. “Based on a 2,000 calorie diet, that’s 225 to 325 grams of carbohydrates per day.”
Palinski-Wade adds that your carbohydrate needs depend on your age, activity level, and individual metabolism. But regardless of exactly how many carbs is right for you, the type of carbs to eat is the same for everyone.
Everyone should aim to consume healthy carbs: slow-digesting carbs like 100% whole wheat bread, steel-cut oats, beans, lentils, and whole fruits and vegetables. And you should avoid fast-digesting carbs such as sugary cereal, white bread, white rice, and processed snacks.
“It’s best to get your carbohydrates from whole foods, rather than from added sugar such as cane sugar,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian in the New York City area. “Calories from added sugar should be capped at 10% of your total daily calories.”
Signs You’re Eating Too Many Carbs
Feeling Sluggish Or Fatigued
If you’ve ever eaten food and then felt like taking a nap right after, it could be because of your carbohydrate intake. Eating too many carbs elevates your blood sugar, causing your body to have short bursts of energy and eventually leading to a “crash” or feeling of exhaustion and tiredness. If you’re worried about your sleeping habits, familiarize yourself with the amount of sleep doctors recommend every night.
Your Body Bloats
Carbohydrate naturally binds with water in your body. For every gram of carb that you consume, you also hold on to three grams of water. So, after you eat a carb-rich meal, your body retains excess water and you look and feel puffy as a result.
Bathroom Troubles Can Be A Sign You’re Eating Too Many Carbs
How many carbs you eat can have a big impact on what happens behind closed bathroom doors, thanks to carbs’ fiber content (or lack thereof). As the Mayo Clinic explained, fiber is the key to healthy bowel movements because it adds bulk to your stool and softens it. This makes it easier to pass, preventing constipation. Refined carbohydrates, however, have been stripped of their fiber, which means they may leave you backed up if you overindulge.
Even if you’re eating fiber-rich carbs from whole-food sources, though, you can still overdo it. According to Healthline, consuming too much fiber can cause a number of unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea and (ironically) constipation.
Vegetarians and vegans are at the highest risk for over-consuming fiber-rich carbs. In a 2014 study published in the journal Nutrients, researchers compared the diets of individuals following a variety of eating philosophies and found that vegan participants consumed an average of 41 grams of fiber while vegetarians ate 34 grams daily. By comparison, the omnivores in the study only consumed 27 grams of fiber.
When it comes to regularity, the key is to eat high-quality, fiber-rich carbs in moderation.
Your Mood Swings
Wide fluctuations in your blood sugar can make you feel irritable and moody. “Sugar isn’t the only thing that will spike your blood sugar,” says Suarez. “Refined carbohydrates, a fancy word to denote carbs that don’t have much fiber, and starches, break down very quickly to sugar in the body and can cause highs in your blood sugar.” The body responds by secreting insulin, leading to blood sugar lows—that” crash and burn,” kind of feeling. “The more carbs you eat, the more variations in your blood sugar and your mood,” says Suarez.
You’re Always Tired
Even if you get a solid night’s sleep, if you eat too many carbs at breakfast and lunch, you’ll most likely struggle to stay awake by late afternoon.
Although eating carbs can give you a short rush of energy, they eventually turn to sugar and leave you feeling tired and lethargic.
Try swapping out bread and cereals with lean proteins and vegetable. You will notice a big difference in your overall energy levels.
You Have High Cholesterol
Did recent cholesterol numbers leave you kind of concerned? It may be the carbs. According to SF GATE, dietary carbs can raise your blood cholesterol levels. If you’re worried, then a chat with your doctor about ways to get those cholesterol levels down may be helpful.
Are you seeing the numbers on the scale steadily increasing, despite all your hard work on the treadmill? Or maybe the numbers aren’t climbing…but they’re not exactly going down, either. You’ve hit a weight loss plateau.
One possible reason you may be having weight loss woes is that you’re eating too many simple carbs and, by default, too many calories. The reason for this is that, by volume, simple carb foods tend to be more calorie-dense than complex carbohydrates.
For example, one cup of cooked rice contains about 170 calories and 37 grams of carbs, while one cup of cooked carrots contains only 55 calories and 13 grams of carbs. Plus, those 13 grams of carbs in carrots also includes 5 grams of fiber, a nutrient that will help you stay full for longer.
And never forget the weight-loss-defeating power of simple sugars, which are found in fast-digesting carbs. “Research has found that diets high in added sugars are linked with wider waistlines and increased levels of visceral fat (a.k.a. belly fat), the dangerous fat that can increase insulin resistance and the risk for type 2 diabetes,” says Palinski-Wade.
Always Feeling Thirsty
Do you sometimes feel thirsty even after chugging a whole bottle of water? That isn’t always one of the signs you’re not drinking enough water. It could be because of your diet. If you ate a high-carb meal, your blood sugar level elevates, making you feel more thirsty and causing more frequent urination. The water helps rehydrate your bloodstream and removes the excess sugar through your urine.
Your Belly Swells
Many common sources of carbohydrate cause abdominal gas. Carbonated drinks, for example, and foods rich in fiber are common gas-producing foods according to the National Institutes of Health.
Joint Pain Can Result From Eating Too Many Carbs
If you wake up feeling achy, inflammatory carbs may be to blame. As registered dietitian Trista Best at Balance One Supplements told Health Digest, “Refined carbohydrates can cause stiff and painful joints because these types of carbohydrates are very pro-inflammatory. This inflammation is widespread throughout the body and specifically the joints, making them difficult to move and painful.”
That’s bad news for the one in three Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 living with arthritis. Among individuals with arthritis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that about 50 percent have persistent joint pain and one in four have severe joint pain. According to the Arthritis Foundation, refined carbohydrates are indeed one of the food groups responsible for inflammation.
Just like carbs, though, inflammation can be both a good and a bad thing. According to Harvard Medical School, acute inflammation occurs immediately after an injury and produces warmth, redness, swelling, and pain. This brings white blood cells to the area, where they can begin the healing process. But if the inflammatory response becomes chronic, the body becomes confused and begins attacking healthy tissue.
You Eat A Lot But You’re Hungry All The Time
When you eat a diet that is high in carbs (60 to 65 percent of calories) you need to continually eat them every few hours in order to maintain blood glucose levels.
When your blood sugar is continually elevated, your body is not very efficient at shifting between burning fat and glucose, which means that if you don’t eat and blood glucose drops, you feel tired and brain function is not as sharp. The effect is often worse in people who are overweight or have insulin resistance.
The solution is to get your body metabolically flexible so that it can shift from burning glucose to using stored body fat for energy without a hitch.
There are two methods of adapting the body to burn fat readily:
First, reducing carb intake in favor of protein and fat has been shown to increase fat oxidation in lean people.
Second, performing high-intensity training (HIT) such as sprint intervals has been shown to increase fat burning in both lean and overweight subjects. For overweight, sedentary people, doing HIT training is the catalyst to improve metabolic flexibility, whereas altering diet alone does not appear to be effective in the short term.
You Crave Sugar
Do you feel like doing a happy dance when you dive into a piece of chocolate cake or hoard sweets and nibble on them throughout the day? If you crave sugar and can’t imagine a day without it, you may be eating too many carbs. (Find out how to undo a sugar binge.) Your brain increases dopamine in response, rewarding you for eating more sugar. “When you eat foods with sugar or refined carbs, your brain lights up and stays that way, giving you constant food cravings.
This is very similar to the excitement the brain receives from drugs and alcohol,” says Suarez. A study showed that this food-reward response occurred in obese children, but it also happens to adults. (Find out if eating too much sugar can cause diabetes.)
You Have Mental Fogginess
Wait, what was I doing? Feeling mentally foggy, especially right after a meal, may indicate that you’re eating more carbs than your body can process, according to Be Well. Lessening the refined carbs in your meals may lead to a clearer head.
You had acne in your teen years, but why do you have it now? Researchers have been studying the relationship between acne and diet for years, and many have concluded that a high glycemic diet (i.e. one high in refined carbs) may be the source of recurrent skin breakouts.
In a self-reported 2014 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, for example, researchers identified a correlation between moderate to severe acne and consumption of added sugar, dairy, and saturated fat among young adult males and females.
Headaches and migraines are among the health symptoms you should never ignore. In fact, they can be a sign that your body is being thrown off by excessive carbohydrate intake. Eating foods that are high in carbs, like white bread or pasta, can spike your sugar levels, which sometimes cause headaches.
You May be at Higher Rick of Depression
For some people, the fatigue described by Ewoldt becomes a bona fide “crash” that can have a long-term impact. David Sack, M.D., wrote in Psychology Today, that “research has tied heavy sugar consumption to an increased risk of depression.” He goes on to say that “the roller coaster of high blood sugar followed by a crash may accentuate the symptoms of mood disorders.”
Your Love Of Carbs May Be Responsible For Recurring Yeast Infections
Yeast infections are an uncomfortable fact of life for many women. According to the Office of Women’s Health, 75 percent of women will have at least one yeast infection in their lives, and nearly 50 percent will have two or more.
Although the gastrointestinal and reproductive systems aren’t directly connected, what you put into the former can have an impact on what happens in the latter. As nutritionist Lisa Richards told Health Digest, “A diet filled with refined carbohydrates can create a state of bacterial imbalance in the gut, leading to a host of health issues as a result of Candida albicans overgrowth. Candida albicans is a form of yeast and in some cases can multiply out of control.” Richards explained that this out-of-control yeast overgrowth, known as candidiasis, can cause both oral thrush and vaginal yeast infections.
In an article for Intermountain Healthcare, Marysa Anderson-Cardwell, registered dietitian nutritionist, confirmed the connection between refined carbohydrates and recurrent yeast infections. She advised abstain from or reduce your intake of white flour, white rice, foods or beverages fermented with yeast, and foods containing simple sugars to help prevent against yeast infections.
You Are Insulin Resistant
Eating refined carbs or simply living on higher carb foods all the time reduces insulin sensitivity. This is because refined carbs lack fiber and the body digests them very quickly, leading to a quick spike in blood sugar and insulin. Repeated over and over this leads your cells to become resistant to insulin.
You can see the profound influence of intact fiber in a study that tested the effect of eating an apple, apple puree, or apple juice. Results showed that insulin was highest after participants drank juice, followed by the puree, but lowest in response to the whole apple. The scientists concluded that removal of fiber led to the following ill effects:
- faster and easier ingestion,
- decreased satiety,
- disturbed blood sugar and inappropriate insulin release,
- stimulated hunger and overeating
The long-term effect of diets lower in fiber can be seen with a survey of 187,382 people that found that those who drank fruit juice daily increased their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 21 percent. Those who ate at least two servings of whole fruit—grapes, apples, and blueberries—decreased risk of type 2 diabetes by 23 percent.
How to tell if you’re insulin resistant?
Most people who are sedentary and eat higher carb diets have a degree of insulin resistance, and it’s more prevalent as we age.
Symptoms include the signs listed in this article: having trouble losing body fat, always feeling hungry, craving carbs, and feeling tired.
Diagnostic tests are used to measure fasting blood sugar (should be below 100 mg/dL according to the American Diabetes Association, but a better number is below 84 mg/dL).
An HbA1c or glycated hemoglobin test should be below 5.6 percent, but 5.3 percent is preferable.
Solve It: Favor whole, low-glycemic complex carbs. Examples are berries, cherries, grapes, plums, peaches, and citrus, and all veggies (be conservative with potatoes and sweet potatoes).
Avoid simple carbs, foods with artificial no-calorie sweeteners, and high-glycemic complex carbs. Examples of these foods include bread, pasta, crackers, foods with added sugar, soda, diet soda, juice, sports drinks, cookies, cake, cereal, and grains.
Work out, favoring interval training and lifting weights to improve the body’s ability to use blood sugar and boost the insulin sensitivity of the cells.