Carbohydrates: Friend or Foe?

If you’ve been anywhere around in the last 10 years then you’ve certainly known someone who has tried a low carb diet or maybe YOU dabbled in one of these “miracle” diets yourself! The reality is that yes, these diets such as Keto, Atkins and South Beach do work. Their ability to quickly decrease weight is undeniable, however, when it comes to sustainability and long-term success that’s where we run into a problem.

So how exactly does carb restriction lead to fat/weight loss? Well, it all starts with your body’s preferred energy source which is carbohydrates or glucose. Contrary to popular belief, carbohydrates are not evil! In fact, adequate carbohydrate intake is essential brain function and energy balance. I eat carbs EVERY DAY! The problem that many people run into is the excess intake of carbohydrates with low energy expenditure.  See, when you take in carbohydrates, your body stores them as a source of energy or glycogen. Throughout the day as you move, workout, etc your body uses these carbs to fuel your day-to-day energy requirements. If you feed your body a lot of energy but don’t expend any of it (i.e you spend most of your time in front of a computer or you don’t workout) the excess glycogen (energy) is stored as fat. Over time, this excess storage can significantly contribute to increased adiposity and an unhealthy BMI. Your body stores these carbs for future use, but if you never tap into them (i.e you continue to consume excess energy) your body will continue to store these carbs which will further compound weight gain and adiposity. In addition, there’s also the water weight effect of excess carb intake. For every gram of glycogen that is stored there are 3grams of water attached to it. 

Now, in contrast, when we think about a low carb diet you are essentially depriving your body of its main energy source and forcing your body to use fat for energy. In addition, you aren’t storing all of that “water weight” anymore so you see the effects of a reduced carbohydrate diet on your weight almost immediately! The first several days of a low carbohydrate diet will almost certainly lead to water weight loss that is evident on the scale. Prolonged decreases in carbohydrate intake will lead to further fat loss and subsequent weight loss. Now, as long as you never indulge in carbs again you’ll most certainly maintain your weight loss. However, the minute you indulge in carbohydrates you’ll first notice the water weight which will show up just as fast as it left! Then, overtime the weight will return and for any people, they will end up gaining more weight then prior to initiating the diet and now enter the world of yo-yo dieting. 

Friends please understand that this is a VERY simplified explanation of the role of carbohydrates but I think you get the point. When I am asked “What’s the best diet?” my answer “The diet that works and is sustainable.” So, while very low/no carb diets work, for most people it’s just not sustainable therefore it’s not my preferred method of weight loss. I subscribe to balance rather than restrictions. There is no “bad” food…all food is “good” but some foods should be consumed sparingly while others should be consumed in abundance. This is strictly due to the effects the foods have on the body and nothing else.

Tackling an unhealthy BMI does NOT have to be torture and it is not complicated. You CAN maintain long-term success by setting realistic goals and making small lifestyle changes ever time. If you have been thinking about making a lifestyle change that is sustainable, give us a call and let us help you start this journey. Remember healthy living is a marathon not a sprint. It takes support and accountability to be successful and we are here to do just that!