How many times have you heard “low carb” and “weight loss” in the same sentence? It’s no secret that “low carb” is a common theme in today’s dieting world. Maybe you’re thinking about trying it… OR maybe you’re thinking about trying it AGAIN, because it worked for you once before. But now you’re thinking “this time, I’ve got to actually stick with it”, right? Well I say FORGET IT!
Find out why you initially lose weight on a low carbohydrate diet, why it doesn’t work in the long run, and what actually DOES work!
Why the weight loss with low carb diets?
It’s common for those just starting a low carbohydrate diet to initially lose a significant amount of weight over a short period of time. But here’s a fact you may be interested in… Every 1 gram of glycogen (this is the stored form of glucose/carbohydrate in the body) holds on to about 4 grams of water. So when you initially cut carbs, depleting yourself of glycogen, you are primarily losing water weight… not fat! If one remains on a low carbohydrate diet to the point that there is no glycogen or glucose to be used, the liver will start a process called gluconeogenesis in which it breaks down lipids and proteins to generate the glucose required for brain function. This is often accompanied by symptoms of physical exhaustion/fatigue, lack of mental focus, irritability, and the often described “low carb flu.” Eventually, your body will kick in to ketosis, a metabolic state in which the liver produces “ketones” from fat for the brain to use… essentially this is a “fat burning state.” However, high levels of ketones can be very dangerous as it can lead to dehydration and changes in the chemical balance of your blood.
Why do most people regain their weight back?
It’s hard enough to follow a strict diet that avoids 3 major food groups (grains/starch, fruit, and milk/yogurt), let alone one that also makes you feel like crap! And even after just one “cheat day” with a moderate amount of carbohydrates, your starving liver and muscles will store as much glycogen as they can, including the extra water weight. This is what causes the significant re-gain of weight when one goes off of a low carbohydrate diet… not to mention, the overindulgence that can likely occur after finally giving in to those “forbidden” foods.
Why do I need carbohydrates and how much?
Carbohydrate is our most readily available source of energy (over fat and protein). It is the first to be used for energy during exercise, and our brain’s require glucose (from carbs) for energy. The minimum recommended amount of carbohydrate is 130 grams/day as this is about the amount required for daily brain function. Most people will require more than this, especially those who are very physically active.
So back to the question… Should I cut carbs to lose weight?
While I say NO to following a low carb diet, I do say YES to cutting back on carbs if you are currently consuming a lot of “empty calorie” carbohydrates. Empty calories come from foods/beverages that contain a lot of calories with little to no nutritional value. These include sweets or foods with added sugar (candy, cookies, cake, pastries, ice cream, sweetened cereals, etc.), high fat/fried or refined carbs (potato chips, french fries, Cheetos, etc.) , and regular sodas or other sweetened beverages. These foods/beverages are contributing an excess of calories, likely putting you above your “caloric budget” necessary to promote weight loss.
So what does work for weight loss?
Weight loss ultimately depends on calories in vs. calories out, regardless of where those calories are coming from. But because the body requires all 3 macronutrients (the nutrients that provide energy/calories), it’s a good idea to get a balance of all 3,,, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. The quality of foods/beverages also matters. It’s pretty hard to lose weight if you’re feeding your body mostly junk and not the right fuel. So when it comes to carbs, focus on fiber-rich sources such as whole grains (whole wheat or rye bread, brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, oats, bran, popcorn, etc.), beans and peas, and fruit (which contains both fiber and natural fructose “fruit” sugar). Fiber will help keep our appetites and cravings under control by keeping us feeling full longer, provide us with sustainable energy, and assist with digestive regularity. Other nutrient rich carbohydrates are milk and yogurt which contain natural lactose or “milk” sugar, as well as protein which has a satiating effect. All of these carbohydrate sources will give you more “bang for your buck” in terms of the nutrients per their calorie content, compared to the refined or high sugar versions mentioned above. So when it comes to cutting calories for weight loss, I first suggest cutting some of the “empty calories” in your diet first and/or replacing them with more nutrient dense (lower calorie) alternatives. So instead of that pie and ice cream for dessert at night, instead have fruit and low fat Greek yogurt. Or in place of regular soda, switch to sparkling water with lemon. Making changes like this over time, can have a huge impact on our waistlines… and for the long run! 🙂
Please share… Have you ever tried low carb dieting? What was your experience? What are you currently doing to lose/manage your weight?