As a nutrition coach, I think one of the top questions I get asked is what I think about carbs or more specifically, what I think about the low carb (or zero carb) diet. So I decided to share my thoughts on carbs and let you decide what works best for you & your body.
Now, just for a little background, the diet industry every decade or so likes to pick a food or a food group to condemn, vilify and blame for all our health and weight issues. When I was growing up, the problem was fat. As I started dieting early in life – I think I was 10 when my mom took me to weight watchers for the first time – so I grew up learning that fat was evil. That we needed to eradicate it to improve our health and lose weight. Now it’s carbs that are our nemesis and as a result, the keto diet is extremely popular and probably the top recommended diet out there.
I get it. It’s easier to blame a food or a whole food group for diet woes than to really address what the underlying issues are. But the science doesn’t back this up. From a nutritional standpoint, complex carbs, good fats and lean proteins are essential for good health. In fact, when we look at what happens to our bodies when we go low-carb or zero carb for even a few days, it can cause a cascade of issues in our bodies that can have long term effects. Carb reduction costs us and it causes things like:
- decreased thyroid output
- increased cortisol output
- decreased testosterone
- impaired mood & cognitive function
- muscle catabolism
- suppressed immune function
In a nutshell, your metabolism will slow, your stress hormones will sky rocket, your muscle building hormones will decrease and you will feel crappy, cranky and even sick.
So can decreasing carbs help you lose weight? Sure, temporarily it will help. But from a science standpoint what you are losing is water weight and glycogen that is stored in your muscles. It’s not a long term solution.
So then why is keto so popular? Well, because the diet claims that by eating close to zero carbs you can enjoy enhanced health, better quality of life, increased performance & brain function, ripped abs … and the list goes on. All while enjoying a ton of butter, bacon, cheese and steak.
I have read the science behind the keto diet and I know that there are benefits for certain people – most of them with brain issues or diseases. And I will tell you that for certain people – myself being one of them – eating a diet that is lower in carbs is what works best for me. But when I say I eat a lower amount of carbs, I mean they make up 25-30% of my food everyday whereas on a Keto diet they often 5% or lower.
As a carb lover, that makes me sad. As a nutrition coach that makes me concerned. Why? Because often when we embark on restrictive diets – and make no mistake Keto is very restrictive – and cut out foods or food groups, we set ourselves up for failure. Why? Because who can and will follow that kind of eating regimen long term? Not many people.
As a nutrition coach, as much as I help my clients with building simple habits and hitting short term goals, I am a big picture kind of gal. I know the healthiest thing my clients can do is build a lifestyle and eating regime that is consistent. I help clients plan not just for now, but for a year from now, and five years from that. By doing so, I know they stand a MUCH better chance of boosting their metabolism so they hit their body weight goals, improve their health & physical fitness and most importantly, create a healthy way of living that they don’t need or want to take a break from.
Because it’s not about going back to eating ‘normally’. No, this is about creating a modified version of your current lifestyle that will be your NEW normal.
And without carbs, well, we compromise on your health. And if you were to ask me which is more important, your health or a scale weight – I will choose health every time. Because when we focus on making decisions to improve our health we do it from a much more positive place than doing it because we are desperate to hit a scale weight. And when we focus on making healthy choices, we naturally will lose weight & feel better.
And cutting curbs to low or zero levels in your diet isn’t a long term solution. Its a short term band aid that ultimately will cause you more health issues than it solves.
And because everyone is different with respect to what balance of foods or macros they should have to attain their goals (weight loss/maintenance/muscle gains) then that balance should be adjusted from time to time and from person to person. Nutrition is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
Beyond that, carbs are delicious and they are fantastic for:
- Energy resources
- Hormonal balance
- Increased cognitive ability
- Muscle building
- Weight loss
If you are struggling with carbs, it might just mean the TYPE of carbs which you need to address. When I say carbs, I mean complex carbs that are found in whole foods – lots of vegetables, potatoes and then brown rice, quinoa, lentils and more. I don’t include highly processed carbs in that list because they low in nutritional value and often high in refined sugars, chemicals and other fillers that do nothing for your health. Not only that, processed carbs are engineered to taste delicious, so we have a hard time controlling how much we eat of them. Which is the crux of why we struggle with them. It’s not that carbs are the enemy, it’s just often we are eating the wrong carbs and in less than healthy portion sizes. If you fix that, carbs are no longer the issue.
So, I encourage you instead to approach eating more simply and positively. Think balance and moderation over restriction and:
Enjoy a wide variety of minimally processed, whole & fresh foods.
Observe how you look, feel & perform.
Decide how to tweak your diet based on what you observe about your progress or results. Figure out what works best for you and forget what works for others.
Remember, the only diet rules come from what works for your body and your lifestyle. And above all, remember that carbs are your friend!
If you are struggling with weight loss, health or nutrition and would like my help with creating a lifestyle that supports your goals, improves your health and makes you look & feel great, then we should chat! My online nutrition coaching is highly effective and affordable so you can get the one-on-one support and help you need to achieve your health & nutrition goals. Learn more here!