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The carbohydrate addict’s diet is an eating plan that emphasizes foods low in carbohydrates (carbs). It is based on the theory that some people develop unmanageable cravings for high-carb foods due to the pancreas producing too much insulin, leading to weight gain.
American research scientists Rachel Heller and Richard Heller developed the carbohydrate addict’s diet in the early 1990s after the husband and wife lost a combined 200 lb (75 kg) on the diet. Both Hellers are professors and researchers specializing in biomedical sciences. They outlined their method in their first book, The Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet, published in 1991. They have since expanded upon the diet in subsequent books and several updates of the original book. The term “carbohydrate addiction” was coined in 1963 by Robert Kemp, a biochemist at Yale University.
The carbohydrate addict’s diet is a program based on the theory that balancing insulin levels in the body will lead to reduced insulin resistance and less cravings for foods high in carbohydrates. The diet has two steps: reduce the high-carbohydrate foods that are consumed, and regulate insulin levels by using dietary supplements Although the Hellers recommend an exercise program with the diet, there is not a major emphasis on exercise. The Hellers define carbohydrate addiction as a compelling hunger, craving, or desire for foods high in carbohydrates, or an escalating and recurring need for starchy foods, snack foods, junk foods, and sweets. These foods include breads, bagels, cakes, cereals, chocolate, cookies, crackers, pastry, fruit and fruit juices, ice cream, potato chips, pasta, potatoes, pretzels, rice, pies, popcorn, and sugar-sweetened beverages. The Hellers also advocate avoiding sugar substitutes (Equal, NutraSweet, Splenda), which they theorize causes the body to release insulin and the body to store fat.
Up to 75% of people who are overweight are addicted to carbohydrates, according to the Hellers. Carbohydrate addiction is caused by an over-production of the hormone insulin when foods high in carbohydrates are eaten. The insulin tells the body to take in more food and once the food is eaten, the insulin signals the body to store the extra food energy as fat, the Hellers hypothesize. When too much insulin is released after eating, it is called post-prandial reactive hyperinsulinemia. Over time, some people with this condition develop insulin resistance, where cells in tissue stop responding to insulin. The body continues to produce insulin but because the tissues do not respond to it, the body is unable to use the glucose (sugar) properly. Insulin resistance is often found with other health problems, including diabetes, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. When more than one of these diseases are found together, it may be termed “insulin resistance syndrome”
There is no medical test to indicate carbohydrate addiction so the Hellers developed a self-administered quiz to determine if a person is a carbohydrate addict. The quiz, which is available in their books and on their Website, asks ten “yes” or “no” questions. They are:
- Are you hungry before lunch even if you’ve had a full breakfast?
- Is it hard to stop eating starches, snack foods, junk food, or sweets?
- Do you feel unsatisfied despite having just finished a meal?
- Do you eat when you are not hungry?
- Do you snack at night?
- Are you lethargic after a big meal?
- Are you tired and/or hungry in the afternoon without a reason to be?
- Do you continue to eat even when you are full?
- Do you yo-yo diet?
Scoring of the quiz is based on the number of “;yes” answers. A score of 0–2 indicates no carbohydrate addiction. A score of 3–4 suggests a mild carbohydrate addiction. A score of5–7 suggests a moderate addiction. A score of 8–10 indicates a severe addiction to carbohydrates.
The carbohydrate addict’s diet begins with the entry plan, which allows two complementary meals and one reward meal each day for the first week. In subsequent weeks, the diet is adjusted depending on a person’s weight loss goal and amount of weight lost in the previous week. The diet also allows for a snack and salads. The complementary meal is composed of one serving of meat and two cups of low-carb vegetables or two cups of salad. There is an extensive list of meats and vegetables to choose from. The reward meal can be as large as the person wants but it must be composed of equal portions of protein, low-carb vegetables, and high-carb foods (including dessert). The reward meal must be eaten in an hour. A snack is the same as a complementary meal but half the size. The diet allows for an unlimited amount of water, diet drinks, and unsweetened coffee and tea.
Very few people need a morning breakfast to provide energy through the day, according to the Hellers. Since food takes several hours to clear the stomach and a few more hours to be processed in the small intestine, it is the food that is eaten the night before that gives a person energy for the first part of the next day, the Hellers say. For people who are not hungry in the morning, the Hellers recommend skipping breakfast and having just coffee or tea. Skipping breakfast is not a practice widely recommended among dieticians and nutritionists.
Children and teens
There are two different carbohydrate addict’s diets for children and teenagers. Both are outlined in the Hellers” book, Carbohydrate-Addicted KidsCarbohydrate addiction affects up to 74% of children and teens, according to the Hellers. It is also a problem in adolescents with behavior, motivation, concentration, and learning problems, and mood swings. On the step-by-.
step carbohydrate addict”s diet, children go at a slower pace, and are offered additional food incentives besides the rewards meal. The jump-start carbohydrate addict’s diet is designed for older children and teens. It offers foods high in fiber and protein for meals and snacks. Like the adult diet, it provides a reward meal in which dieters can eat anything they want, provided it is equal portions of protein, low-carb vegetables, and high-carb foods. The book also provides information on meals for special occasions, such as birthdays, holidays, vacations, and other celebrations. The diets for adolescents also have a vegetarian component.
The premise of the carbohydrate addict’s diet is to correct the body’s excess release of insulin, which occurs following consumption of foods high in carbohydrates. The excess release of insulin triggers an intense and recurring craving for more carbohydrate-rich foods. The diet, combined with exercise, is designed to correct the underlying cause of the cravings, the excess release of insulin.
Like any strict diet, the carbohydrate addict’s diet should be undertaken with the supervision of a doctor. People with diabetes should consult an endocrinologist, who may recommend discussing the diet with a dietitian. Persons considering the carbohydrate addict’s diet should ask their doctors if they need to take any vitamin, mineral, or nutritional supplements, based on their overall health and any specific medical conditions they may have.
There are no general health risks associated with the carbohydrate addict’s diet. Critics of the diet claim it contains too much fat, is not nutritionally balanced, and is not a long-term solution for losing weight and keeping it off. It may be difficult for people to maintain a low-carb diet over the long-term. The diet is not recommended for women who are pregnant or nursing. Individuals who have a history of stroke, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, or kidney stones should talk to their doctor before starting any low-carb diet.
There is mixed acceptance of the carbohydrate addict’s diet and low-carb diets in general by the medical community and dietitians. Some studies have shown low-carb diets can be effective in controlling blood sugar levels in diabetics and in helping people lose weight. Other studies have contradicted these findings. No major studies or research has shown that low-carb diets are harmful to a person’s health; however most professional organizations do not support low-carb diets.
A 2003 study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that a low-carb diet produced a greater weight loss than a conventional low-calorie, low-fat diet after six months. However, after one year, the two diets produced similar weight loss results. A 2004 study by the same medical center found that both a low-carb and conventional diet produced similar weight loss results.
after one year but that a low-carb diet improved the health of people with atherogenic dyslipidemia, a cholesterol disorder characterized by the elevation of triglycerides and a decrease in “good cholesterol” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels in the blood. This lipid disorder is associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Also, individuals participating in the study had better control of blood sugar levels.
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Heller, Richard F., and Rachael F. Heller. The Carbohydrate Addict’s Carbohydrate Counter New York: Signet, 2000.
Heller, Richard F., and Rachael F. Heller. The Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet New York: Vermilion, 2000.
Heller, Richard F., and Rachael F. Heller. The Carbohydrate Addict’s Healthy Heart Program: Break Your Carbo-Insulin Connection to Heart Disease New York: Bal-lantine Books, 2000.
Heller, Richard F., and Rachael F. Heller. The Carbohydrate Addict’s LifeSpan Program New York: Signet, 2001.
Heller, Richard F., and Rachael F. Heller. The Carbohydrate Addict’s 7-Day Plan: Start Fresh On Your Low-Carb Diet! New York: Signet, 2004.
Heller, Richard F., and Rachael F. Heller. The Carbohydrate Addict’s No Cravings Cookbook New York: NAL Trade, 2006.
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American Academy of Family Physicians. 11400 Tomahawk Creek Parkway, Leawood, KS 66207. Telephone: (800) 274-2237. Website: <http://www.aafp.org>
American College of Nutrition. 300 South Duncan Ave., Suite 225, Clearwater, FL 33755. Telephone: (727) 446-6086. Website: <http://www.amcollnutr.org>
American Diabetes Association. 1701 N. Beauregard St., Alexandria, VA 22311. Telephone: (800) 342-2383. Website: <http://www.diabetes.org>
American Dietetic Association. 120 South Riverside Plaza, Suite 2000, Chicago, IL 60606-6995. Telephone: (800) 877-1600. Website: <http://www.eatright.org>
American Society for Nutrition. 9650 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20814. Telephone: (301) 634-7050. Website: <http://www.nutrition.org>
Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. 3101 Park.Center Drive, 10th Floor, Alexandria, VA 22302-1594. Telephone: (703) 305-7600. Website: <http://www.cnpp.usda.gov>
Ken R. Wells.