The truth about carbs and weight loss, part one!

Well not just carbs really. The truth about weight loss and food in general. I’m about to bust all the myths, fads, lies and bullshit about how different foods will ruin your attempts to lose weight, because there’s a LOT of wrong information being put out there. Certain ideas that have just gotten out there and been repeated so often that they eventually just become accepted as facts even though it’s really entirely incorrect.

I’ll start with something that’s actually correct though. Lets begin.

You need to count calories!

I don’t what it is with people and counting calories. No one wants to do it! They’ll blindly follow some unrealistic fad diet, cut out various forms of food that someone’s told them are “bad”, try to not eat certain different types of food at the same time… but try getting someone to count their calories for a couple of days to see where they are going wrong and they just won’t do it!

I used this analogy in an earlier entry; if you were planning a trip somewhere, you’d look at a map and work out where your destination is, what road to take to get there, and how far to drive down that road to get there. Without having that information at hand, you really have no idea where you are going to end up. Am I wrong? Well most “diets” people go on are just like this mystery tour to God-knows-where. If you have no idea how many calories you should be consuming (your destination), no idea how many calories are in different foods (which route to take to get there), or how many calories you’re currently consuming (how far you’ve driven)… the chances of your diet being a success are rather remote.

The truth is that once you know your target calories and have a plan that meets that target, you can’t really go too far wrong.

I’ll say that again in slightly more technical terms. If your daily calorie intake is below maintenance levels, it is IMPOSSIBLE to gain weight. I’ll qualify that statement by saying that you shouldn’t cut back too far below maintenance, and stay slightly above your Basal Metabolic Rate at the very least.  Also if you do something ridiculous like eating nothing but 1000 calories from a packet of chocolate biscuits you probably shouldn’t expect amazing results either, other than screwing up your hormone levels and perhaps giving yourself diabetes.

In short, any sort of sensible balanced / non starvation diet under your maintenance level of calories should result in weight loss.

But what about carbs? Don’t they make you fat?

No. In the past I’ve bought into some false information about certain types of high carbohydrate foods, but not any more. Your body uses carbohydrates for fuel, which you need to get through the day especially if you are training as hard as my clients do. Calories from carbohydrates in excess of energy requirements go in to replenishing glycogen stores in the muscles, and any in excess of that will go towards glycogen storage in the liver. By tracking our total calories and ensuring we are below maintenance (also known as being in calorie deficit) we ensure that there is no excess carbohydrate beyond that required for fuel and glycogen replenishment, so we do not have to worry about a single calorie from carbohydrates going into body fat stores.

So while it’s not necessary to cut out carbohydrates, it’s important to keep in mind that when eating highly processed, low nutrient, low fibre and high carbohydate foods such as white bread there is a danger of allowing your calorie intake to add up, while not satisfying your hunger. As a result we can end up eating twice as much, and exceeding our maintenance level of calories, resulting in weight gain as this excess energy is stored as body fat. This is especially true if we are snacking on junk foods and drinking soft drinks (or even fruit juice) with a high sugar content. For this reason it is important to drink water instead, and choose less processed foods with better nutritional value.

But my friend cut out carbs and lost a lot of weight!

Good for her! But she was probably grumpy, irritable and miserable the whole time as well, not enjoying her meals either, and no doubt put all the weight back on as soon as she came off the diet. More to the point, the majority of the weight lost was probably just from dehydration or even loss of muscle mass or bone density, none of which are very good things at all.

I keep saying this; if you want lasting results, your meal plan needs to be something you can stick to long term. That rules just about all of these low carb or other fad diets out. They’re just not practical.

This article is getting too long already so I’ll save the rest for Part 2. Stay tuned for that!