Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ve no doubt heard all about the concept of low carb dieting.
You’ve also probably heard about all of the alleged benefits – everything from improved wellness to rapid fat loss.
You’re also probably at least a little skeptical – especially if you’ve tried a low carb diet before and struggled with it.
Today’s article is all about low carb diets, and specifically, low carb diets for weight loss. We’ll be taking a look at how exactly this diet works for weight loss, and if it’s something you should pursue.
Low Carb Claims Vs. Reality
When it comes to fat loss, the main claim seems to center around the idea of insulin. When carbohydrates are consumed in the form of food, they’re broken down into glucose. This rise in glucose in the blood stream sends a signal to the pancreas to start producing insulin, a hormone which helps shuttle that glucose to the cells to either be used for energy or stored as body fat.
Certain proponents of low carb dieting argue that by limiting carbohydrates and consuming primarily protein and fat, you effectively limit the amount of insulin the body produces, thus making it difficult to store fat.
This sounds logical in theory. In practice, however, it’s a lot more complicated than that. For starters, the body can, in fact, store all that dietary fat without insulin.
It can also, interestingly enough, still produce glucose without carbohydrates. It does this through a process called gluconeogenesis (say that five times fast), in which the body converts non-carbohydrate carbon sources into glucose, including those found in….drumroll please….all that extra protein you’re eating.
Why Calories Are What You Should Pay Attention To
One of the other low carb weight loss claims is that by shifting from carbs as your primary fuel source to fats, you “flip a switch,” so to speak, that forces your body to burn fat rather than glucose preferentially.
The idea is that this will translate into the body burning stored body fat, which will accelerate the weight loss process, which will accelerate you getting super shredded for beach season.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work like that. Yes, by switching from a diet of primarily carbs to mainly fats, your body will preferentially burn fat. But it will be the dietary fat you’re consuming every day from food.
NOT the fat that’s already stored in your body as fat tissue (i.e., your gut).
Dietary fat (like protein and carbs) still has energy (calories), and when you consume that energy, your body still needs to either use it for something or hold onto it as fat.
To start losing weight, you need to bring your overall calories down low enough that your body is forced to start using stored body fat for fuel.
When you hear people say “a calorie is a calorie,” this is what they’re referring to.
Why You Might Want To Go On A Low Carb Diet
While low carb dieting might not be the holy grail of body composition that its proponents make it out to be, it does have a number of benefits for some people.
Let’s start with fat loss. Certain (keyword) people find that when they drop their carbs and ramp up their proteins and fats that it tends to blunt their appetite. This is mainly because protein and fat (especially protein) tend to be more satiating than carbohydrates, thereby making it a lot easier to cut calories.
Another reason that people have had success on low carb diets is the fact that, by going scorched earth and eliminating all carbohydrates, they effectively removes the majority of “junk food” options by default.
For many guys, this eliminates all the mental energy of sitting around making decisions on which foods they should be eating, because a big part of losing weight is managing your will power throughout the day.
To get an idea of how this works, think of your will power as a battery that gets refilled daily. The more decisions you make throughout the day, the more your battery gets depleted (psychologists call this “decision fatigue”), which can easily lead to overeating later on.
There are also legitimate non-weight loss reasons to go on a low carb diet as well. Diabetics, for example, often report that by dropping both their carbs and proteins and dramatically raising their fats (referred to as a “ketogenic” diet), they’re able to manage their illness much more effectively.
How To Experiment
If you’ve never attempted a low carb diet before, and it sounds like something you might be interested in, try giving it a shot. The trick is to give yourself long enough to get over the initial hurdle and decide if you like it- but not so long that it becomes a struggle just thinking about it.
2-3 weeks is enough time for most people. During the first few days, try lowering your carbs gradually by about 50 grams per day (a “low carb” diet is considered to be less than 150 grams per day of dietary carbs). Feel free to play around in the 30-150 grams range to see what (if anything) works for you.
During this period, you can expect a large initial surge of weight loss. Don’t get too excited, because most of this is simply water weight. Make sure you keep track of both your weight and your waist measurement for a more realistic assessment of how things are working.
Low carb diets may be a solution for some guys looking to lose weight, but they aren’t magic. By all means, play around with it and see if it’s for you – just make sure you focus on the dietary fundamentals and keep the big picture in mind.