Keto, Atkins, Paleo, South Beach... they've all had their 15 minutes of fame. These diets aren't all the same, but they do share one common, overarching principle...
They're all low carb.
Whether you've heard the success stories or the horror stories, the popularity of this type of diet makes you question whether it's what you should be doing.
Before you decide, take a look at some of the facts.
Do Low Carb Diets Help You Lose Weight?
It may not be for the reason you think.
Carbs give you energy. However, any kind of food you eat can be used for energy by being converted to sugar (sound like a carb, anyone?).
In other words, when you avoid carbohydrates, your body breaks down other food in a roundabout way to get carb energy. That’s not a bad thing, but it should make it evident that carbs aren’t inherently evil.
And just as your body adapts to a low carb diet by converting other foods to energy, any excess food you eat, no matter what it is, can be stored as fat.
Simply put, it’s not the type of food you eat that determines whether you lose or gain weight, but the amount. (There are many studies that show this. Here is one...)
Why Do Low Carb Diets Help You Lose Weight?
When you go low-carb, you’re eliminating a major food category. Which means you’re probably eating less food. Less food means less calories. Less calories means you lose weight.
You also start paying more attention to the food on your plate. You’re not eating absentmindedly — excessively shoveling mashed potatoes into your pie hole (mashed potato hole?). Which means you’re probably making healthier, more nutritious choices overall.
So ultimately, yes, cutting carbs will help you lose weight. Which brings us to the next question:
Is There Any Reason To Not Go Low Carb?
Let’s look at two scenarios:
Scenario #1: Randomly cutting carbs without a well thought out plan
This is where most people go wrong.
Going low-carb can leave you tired and sluggish, and after a couple days it becomes even more difficult to not binge eat an entire package of Oreos.
You will initially lose weight, which will feel great, but it will mostly be water and glycogen (stored energy) loss. Your body fat may well remain. After that, your testosterone can go down and cortisol levels jump up, which results in gaining fat and losing muscle.
On the plus side, you might not have to worry about going to the bathroom as often, due to constipation from a possible lack of fiber.
For women, going too low-carb for too long will mess with your hormones and that comes with a slew of symptoms.
As you can see, just randomly “not eating carbs anymore” isn’t exactly the best idea.
Scenario #2: Doing Everything Right
You’re on a specific plan you know is healthy. All you have to do is stick with it.
The problem is, this can be difficult with any diet. With an extreme diet (one that cuts out a major type of food) it’s almost impossible.
By almost impossible, I mean, like if there’s a room filled with you and your closest friends, the number of people in that room who could stick to a low carb diet for life is probably zero, statistically speaking.
I’m not saying it’s you. I’m saying it’s almost everyone.
In fact, it’s hard to find a long term study on extremely low carb diets because they can’t get enough people to adhere to the plan long enough.
You know better than I do if you’re a “one-percenter” capable of that kind of lifestyle. I would only suggest, if you’ve ever had a difficult time eating healthy before, trying something even more restricting and difficult is probably not the way to go.
To me, starting a diet you can’t maintain is an exercise in futility.
You could just plan on going low carb temporarily until you've lost enough weight. But once you come off that diet, your chances of gaining all that weight back are high.
Unless, of course, you have another specific, and less extreme diet to follow afterward that will actually change your long-term eating habits. In which case, why not just start with that lifelong fix to begin with?
What Should You Do?
Don’t get me wrong, carb rich processed foods and soft drinks do contribute to the obesity epidemic and other health related issues. They lack nutrients and don’t help you feel full.
It's not that carbs are bad. It's that processed foods and their total calories complicate the issue.
But for the average person (not a professional athlete trying to cut weight before a competition), instead of specifically going low carb, you’re better off focusing on portion control, like stopping eating when you're 80% full.
If you still want to focus on eating less carbs, don’t stop eating all of them. Cut back on the ones you know aren’t good for you. The obvious ones like soda, cakes (including muffins and pastries), cookies, etc.
Both of those are strategies we use in our ebook, "Forever Fat Loss." If you're ready to focus more on the long-term changes to your eating habits like we mentioned earlier, that's a good place to start.
Oh, and if all this makes you wonder if a low fat diet is a better option, be sure to read, "Low Carb vs. Low Fat for Weight Loss."