Many people believe in order to lose weight you have to follow strict low-carb diets, eating fewer and few calories and moving more and more. But weight loss isn't always that simple.
In fact, today's increasingly popular low-carb approach can potentially have the opposite effect on your weight loss goals — ultimately leading to weight gain, as well as having a negative impact on your overall health if you take the approach too far. In general, for both maintaining healthy body weight and your overall wellness, the best bet for most of us is to stick with a balanced diet.
It's true that in the short term, low-carb diets can have some benefits. People who go on a short-term, low-carb diet may likely find they initially drop some weight, their blood sugar levels balance out, and they can become more efficient at burning body fat.
This initial weight loss doesn't only come from losing body fat, though. A good deal of the early weight loss is linked to water weight. When we eat carbs, we naturally hold more water, as our body stores water along with sugar (glucose or glycogen). Around 3 grams of water accompanies every 1 gram of glycogen that's stored. So, when we reduce our carb intake and our body burns through stored glycogen, we naturally retain less water, too. Both are broken down from stores in our liver and muscles.
This helps to explain why some people see an alarming weight gain the day after they have a "cheat meal" and gobble up some carbs. It's also one reason why, long term, a low-carb diet isn't the best option.
Long-term low-carb diets can also have some detrimental effects on the body. For one, they can impact metabolism, slow down the thyroid and have a knock-on effect on other hormones as they are all intricately connected. Ultimately, the entire body could be affected.
Limiting carbs can also be an increased stressor on the body, putting you into survival mode and impacting both cortisol — the stress hormone — and sex hormones. In survival mode, the body burns fewer calories at rest, diverting energy away from processes like digestion and toward essential ones like blood flow and brain functioning. Finally, a low-carb diet can also lead to changes in the gut microbiome, impacting the internal production of important nutrients manufactured in the gut. The decrease or large reduction of consuming carbohydrates could mean increased intake of another major nutrient (protein or fat) and lead to unhealthy, imbalanced ratios.
For long-term health, incorporating carbs into your diet, especially in the form of fruit and vegetables, is crucial. Eating a rainbow of plants is the only scientifically-backed diet for improved health over the long term. Instead of focusing on low-carb diets, try the following for your overall health and wellness.
Instead of drastically reducing the number of carbs you eat, work to incorporate them in a healthy way based on your individual goals, dietary preferences and other lifestyle factors. Your gender, overall activity level, and current health status, including any existing health issues, can influence your ideal carb intake. Start by eating more whole food sources of carbohydrates from fresh produce, beans, legumes and whole grains, while minimizing the intake from more processed sources - refined sugar and white flour. A certified health practitioner can assess your individual health circumstances and provide a wellness plan that takes into account the appropriate level of carbs and nutrients that best suit you.
Aim for 7-9+ servings of colorful fruit and mainly vegetables every day. With 2-3 at each meal it's easy to achieve. Introduce starchier vegetables and fruit according to your individuality. Plant-based proteins are easier to digest but you can also opt for high-quality grass-fed meats, pasture-raised poultry and wild fish plus your favorite healthy fats to create balanced nutrient-dense meals. Prioritize meals like smoothies, bowls, salads, and grilled fish and vegetables.
If you feel that no matter what approach you have tried you simply cannot seem to lose weight or keep it off, there could be a deeper underlying issue such as food sensitivity or hormone imbalance. Running a simple at-home lab test can eliminate any guesswork and instead help identify your possible imbalance with the appropriate strategy to support you so you lose the weight and feel your best.