Are you thinking about trying a low-carb diet to help with your weight loss efforts? Read this first.
A low-carb diet is something that many trainers and fitness influencers may recommend when trying to lose weight. But why?
How do you know that it’s right for you?
Several years ago, I started working with a personal trainer in an effort to lose baby weight. My daughter was about 8 months old and I was still holding on to about half of the weight I’d gained (45 lbs!) with her. I asked my trainer what she recommended regarding my diet, and she challenged me to cut way back on simple carbs like crackers, store-bought bread, pasta, etc.
So I cut out basically any carbs that didn’t come from fruit or vegetables (the good carbs).
I noticed a change immediately.
However, there was a big problem. Even though I was losing weight, I was also extremely lethargic. Going from a regular Dave’s Killer Bread eater to a carb-free mama was hard. My daughter wasn’t sleeping through the night yet, and I was starting to need coffee to get me through the day. And you know that if I’m drinking coffee, I’m adding milk and creamer.
I felt completely depleted. It became impossible for me to truly do the low-carb diet. I felt starved if I didn’t start my day with some bread or oatmeal. Seriously. My workouts struggled and so did my overall energy. I was showing up to the gym feeling dizzy and tired. Essentially, the low-carb diet backfired.
Your Body on a Low-Carb Diet
Putting your body on a low-carb, higher protein diet is super helpful if you’re strength training often. Your body needs the extra protein. However, a long-term low-carb diet can result in damage to your liver. (Excess protein overworks the liver.) Also, people tend to retain less water with less carbohydrates in their systems, so weight loss in water can be mistakenly perceived as fat loss. You can view the USDA’s current nutritional guidelines here.
The bottom-line fact is that bodies need carbohydrates. They just need good ones.
Balance Still Wins
Just because a diet works for many people or is popular, doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Had I been having a regular sleep schedule at the time that I tried my low-carb diet, it may have worked out a lot better. (I don’t recommend trying it if you are breastfeeding or still not sleeping through the night.) I would have done better losing weight if I’d simply limited my consumption of carbs and processed foods. For me, a high-quality carb (i.e., whole grain vs. white bread) is more important that the amount. The same might be true for you. You CAN still lose weight and consume carbs – especially if cutting entire food groups might backfire.
Still, it’s more important to find something that’s sustainable long-term. It’s the same reason people regain a bunch of weight after doing something super restrictive like the Whole 30 diet or Atkins. It’s just not something that can be done every day long-term.
Something to Try Instead
The first thing to do if you’ve decided against a low-carb diet is to simply change the type of carbs you’re consuming. Start with eliminating highly processed carbs (Cheezits, anyone?) and replacing them with whole grain everything. Also, try consuming complex carbs that come from veggies like sweet potatoes. (See this article regarding complex versus simple carbs.) Your energy should stay up and you’ll stay feeling satiated and satisfied. Note: I am not a doctor or dietician, so everything you try is at your own risk. As always, I strongly encourage you to do your own research.
Examples of great, weight-loss friendly carbs:
- Brown rice
- Bananas & apples
- Whole grain breads (I love Dave’s Killer)
- Whole grain pastas
- Sweet potatoes
- Rolled or steel-cut oats
Note: Getting white versus brown anything (rice, pasta, bread) usually means that the fiber has been stripped from the food. You need that stuff to keep your “systems” going and your energy up! Plus, sometimes “white” foods are bleached. Yuck.
Carb-Cycling: A Low-Carb Diet Alternative
Almost all of us have a tendency to over-do it on carbs. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t need them. Carb-cycling may be a great alternative to a low-carb diet because it involves an intentional use of carbs.
In short, carb-cycling means that you eat heavier amounts of carbohydrates on specific days. On your “off” days, you might get significant less carbs and significantly more fat or protein. In most cases, you’ll want more carbs when you’re doing heavy cardio, and less carbs on days where you’re resting or strength training. The idea is that you only give your body the extra energy/calories when needed. You force your metabolism to stay busy and alert by mixing it up. This more be more sustainable for those of us who really rely on those carbs to power us through long days or hard runs. You can read more about carb cycling here.
The Bottom Line
The food and fitness industries want to sell you something at any given time. Diets are great for starting out, but a truly healthy lifestyle involves every-day decisions. There aren’t timelines because the decision to be healthy doesn’t end. If you want truly significant weight loss and a lasting healthy lifestyle, you’ll realize that your success is the summation of consistency.
Cutting out entire food groups is not something most true fitness professionals recommend as a long-term option. But as always, the decision is yours. The most powerful thing you can do for yourself is do your own research and do what is best for you.
I hope that this post helps you in your own health or weight loss journey. There is no such thing as one-size-fits all when it comes to health, but I hope that this helps get the wheels turning.
Have you tried a low-carb diet? Did it work? Did it last? Tell me all about it by leaving a comment below!