Will cutting carbs help me lose weight?
Atkins. Keto. Paleo. All these buzzwords have one thing in common…they describe a diet where very little carbohydrates are eaten. These diet fads, while well-meaning, have led to the vilification of a whole one out of three macronutrients….carbohydrates (the other two being protein and fat). Think about that again….out of only three basic macronutrients possible in the human diet, these diet plans are asking you to severely limit one of them. Proponents tout the quick weight loss benefits of these diets. But then how come people in countries such as Italy, where carbs like pasta and bread are such staples, aren’t particularly overweight? Is a low carb diet really superior?
What is a carbohydrate?
Sure, when you think of carbs you picture bagels, cookies, cereals, bread, etc., but what exactly is a carbohydrate? And what does it do in your body? Scientifically speaking, a carbohydrate is made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Carbs provide energy for your muscles, brain, heart, kidney, and central nervous system. They aid in digestion (in the case of fiber, which is a carbohydrate) and keep you feeling full longer. There are two main types of carbs….simple and complex carbs. Simple carbs can be found in fruits, milk, and sugar, while complex carbs can be found in whole grain breads, brown rice, seeds, and nuts. One all-important type of carbohydrate, needed for healthy digestion, is fiber.
Are low carb diets superior?
Or are they just all hype? One of the main mechanisms suggested as the reason low carb diets work is the carbohydrate-insulin model of obesity. Put very basically, it states that carbohydrates result in more insulin production, which results in more weight gain. Whereas lowered insulin=weight loss. However, one study found that, while insulin levels dropped when study participants began a low carb diet, they lost the same amount of weight that they had lost while following a same-calorie diet with a normal amount of carbs.
Weight loss on low carb diets
One of the big draws to low carb diets is the initial amount of weight you lose. It’s true that many people report big drops in weight especially when they first begin the diet. However, to understand how this happens, we need to take a step back and look at what carbohydrates do in your body. They are first either used up for energy or converted to glycogen. For every gram of glycogen stored in your body, it will hold on to 2.7 grams of water. So when people cut out carbohydrates, they are losing this stored water. In other words, rather than losing fat, you are losing water, and once you go off the diet, you gain it right back. If water retention is a true concern of yours, however, there are many simpler ways you can lose water weight, including increasing your protein intake, increasing the amount of water you drink, and monitoring your sodium intake.
Low carb vs. low calorie diet
New research suggests that a low carb diet is no better than other types of diets. One study compared a low carb diet to a low fat diet. Those in the low carb diet group lost weight more quickly initially, but researchers found that over the course of a year, there was no significant difference between the total amount lost by those on each types of diets. Low carb diets often result in a reduction of calories by virtue of the fact that dieters are eliminating an entire food group from their diet. In this way, they act similarly to a reduced calorie diet.
Sustainability of a diet
The best diet is one that you don’t necessarily think of as a diet per se. Meaning, one you can see yourself doing long term. Crash diets may help you shed a lot of pounds initially, but at some point you will hit a plateau, and that is usually where yoyo dieting comes in. You go on an extreme diet, lose a lot of weight, feel great about yourself, then hit a plateau. You get discouraged, or sometimes you just figure you’ll take a break from dieting for a while, and you gain back most if not more than what you lost. Which leads to you going on another extreme diet to lose it all again. So back to low carb diets. Ask yourself this: do I really see myself still not eating bread or rice, or any type of carbohydrates at all 5 years from now? If the answer is no, this is not a sustainable diet for you. Think about whether you can follow a diet that doesn’t allow you a piece of bread every now and then or a slice of cake on your child’s birthday.
So enjoy a bagel when you want, just remember the old adage “everything in moderation”. Have your pasta, with some olive oil for healthy fat, some chicken for protein, and a nice big salad. And in terms of diets…stick to something that you can see yourself doing long term. If a low carb diet is sustainable for you and your life style, go for it!
My suggestion is also to opt for smart food choices in general rather than fad diets or diets that promise too-good-to-be-true weight loss, and you’ll be much more likely to lose the weight and keep it off too, without feeling deprived in the process!
This is exactly how we do things at the MOTHER STRONG LEAGUE ! A realistic and sustainable approach to training and nutrition, so you can have long term success and results. Come join us at the Mother Strong League by clicking HERE