Q. Glen, Do low carb diets really work? Even more important, can they keep the fat off permanently, or is this yet another temporary quick fix?
A. Yes and No! Its not the carbs! Its the calories! Here is the truth!
Fat Loss Lie #8: "Zero carb or very low carb diets are best for permanent fat loss"
The Low Carb Diet Truth
No diet issue has ever created more confusion and controversy than the low carb vs. high carb debate. You are about to finally hear the low carb truth... simplified... But then, you will also hear about a few surprising "twists" to the low carb story!
Contrary to what certain "gurus" tell you, carbohydrates are NOT fattening. As you learned in part 5, what's fattening is eating more calories than your body can use at one time. If you eat too much of anything, it will get stored as fat. Period. That is the pure essence and scientific truth about fat loss:
IT'S NOT ABOUT THE CARBS!!!
IT'S ABOUT THE CALORIES!
But don't throw out your low carb diet just yet!
Reduced carb dieting does seem to have some beneficial effects on weight loss and fat loss, but it may not be for the reasons that most people think! In fact, it may not have anything to do with carbs at all ... it may be about protein and appetite regulation!
Low carbers usually don’t want to admit this - they usually want to insist on “metabolic advantage” - but the fact is, one of the biggest reasons that low carb diets can help improve fat loss is because it's very difficult to overeat when you restrict an entire group of energy dense foods like carbohydrates.
And there we have the truth again - if you eat less because of a low carb diet, you lose weight because you ate less, not because you ate less carbs. Got it? Less carbs = less calories!
Test it for yourself:
See how easy it is to overeat if you are told "eat as much of anything as you want." Then see how hard it is to eat a surplus of calories if you’re told, "eat as much as you want - but only lean protein, salad veggies and green veggies with a little bit of essential fat." You will lose fat like crazy on a diet like that, but it's not necessarily because carbs are low, it’s primarily because the CALORIES are low!
The problem is, most people cannot stay on a diet so restricted in choices. That's why over the long term, low carb diets aren't really much more effective than any other diet.
Appetite control - a legit benefit of low carb diets?
Very low carb diets often tell you not to count calories and they say you can eat as much as you like if you just stick to protein and fat. However, they're making a huge assumption that by restricting carbs and allowing fat intake, your appetite will regulate itself and you will eat less as a result.
That's often exactly what happens with low carb, high fat diets - you tend to eat less automatically - so appetite control appears to be a legitimate benefit of low carb diets. However, there is nothing special about "low carb diets" that allows you to eat unlimited calories. If you eat in a caloric surplus, you are going to gain weight, no matter what the macronutrient composition of the diet.
High thermic effect: A second weight loss advantage of a low carb (higher protein) diet?
Here's another potential advantage: Low carb diets tends to be higher in protein. Since protein has a much higher thermic effect, it can lead to slightly greater fat loss than a diet of the same calorie amount that is high in fat and carbs.
In a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2005 (93(2): 281-289), researchers followed a group of 113 overweight subjects after 4 weeks of a very low calorie diet, through a 6 month period of weight maintenance. The subjects were divided into a control group and a protein group that was given an extra 30 grams of protein in place of an equal amount of carbs.
The researchers found that the group with the higher protein intake was less likely to regain the lost weight, and any weight gain in the protein group was lean tissue and not fat. The results were attributed to higher thermic effect and a decrease in appetite.
A third advantage to low carbs?
Another potental benefit of carb restriction is better glycemic (blood sugar) control. This may provide some body composition and health advantages for individuals who are carb intolerant or who suffer from "metabolic syndrome" (where the body doesn't process sugar very well and tends to overproduce insulin).
Of course, as with nearly everything in life, there are two sides to every coin...
Disadvantages of low carb diets
1) For most people, strict low carb diets are difficult to stick to.
If you remove most of your carbohydrates from your diet for a long period of time, you're setting yourself up for a relapse. You tend to crave what you cannot have, both physiologically and psychologically. The more you cut the carbs, the easier it is to rebound will be when you put carbs back in.
2) Very low carb diets are often unbalanced and missing many nutrients.
It's still up for debate whether low carb programs like the Atkins diet are unhealthy, but removal of entire good groups such as fruits and 100% whole natural grains is definitely not nutritionally balanced for fiber, phytochemical and micronutrient intake.
3) Very low carb diets may cause low energy levels.
Most people will feel physically tired and mentally irritable without carbs, so their training will usually suffer: Low carbs = low energy. Low energy = poor workouts. Poor workouts = poor results. This makes low carb diets a poor choice for highly active people. The reason I don't recommend "very low" carb diets to my clients is because I am a strong advocate of weight training and cardio training as part of a fitness lifestyle. When you are training hard, you must "feed the machine" and eat to support your activity.
4) The intial rapid weight loss on a very low carb diet can be deceiving.
Much of the initial weight loss on low carbs is water and even lean tissue. If you drop 5-7 lbs in your first week on a low carb diet it sounds impressive, but if one pound is fat, 2-3 pounds are water and 2-3 pounds are muscle, what did you accomplish? Your goal should be fat loss, not "weight" loss.
Taking a lesson from the leanest athletes on Earth
On an interesting side note, I've made an 18-year long study of how the world's best bodybuilders and fitness models get so incredibly lean. One thing I noticed was that almost every bodybuilder or fitness competitor uses some variation of the low carb diet to prepare for competitions. Why? because although there are disadvantages, they want those low carb advantages, even if it's a difficult diet to follow.
Most bodybuilders however, use an interesting variation on the traditional low carb diet. It's called "carb cycling," where you increase carbs at regular intervals rather than staying on low carbs all of the time. Carb cycling makes low carb diets safer, more effective and easier to follow.
The bottom line?
Yes, there is something to the low carb diet that helps accelerate fat loss. But in the end, it all comes back to calories and to whether or not you can stick with your program. Ability to comply with a program may be the biggest factor of all in long term success, not the level of carb intake. Low carb diets work primarily because they make you eat less. Eat too much and you gain weight, regardless of whether it's protein, carbs or fat.
My advice is not to jump into a low carb diet without reason, but to assess whether you are a good candidate for this type of approach. Then, if you decide to try the low carb approach, it's best used temporarily to break a plateau or reach a peak and it appears that a small reduction in carbs with a slight increase in protein is enough to get most of the benefits of low carb diets.
Cutting out carbs completely (or even dropping all the way to 20-30 grams a day as some programs advise in the beginning), is not necessary, it's hard to stick to and is probably not healthy in the long term. It's usually not wise to go to extremes in anything and that's as true for nutrition as anything else in life: moderation is the key..
Any personal health questions or problems mental or physical or before starting any diet or exercise program.Please consult your physician !
Wishing You Great Health!
Any questions? Ask Glen