- Low carb diets don’t work for effective, lasting weight loss
- They come with several side effects
The 80s-90s had the low-fat craze and the 2000s have the low-carb craze. Proponents of low-carb and ketogenic diets proclaim their remarkable ability to help you lose weight fast, but, when really looked at, those claims simply don’t hold water.
About Low-Carb Diets
There have been a number of iterations on low-carb diets over the years – from the Atkins Diet to South Beach to the latest craze, ketogenic diets. The basic premise of them is that consuming carbohydrates makes you gain weight and so, if you cut down on carbs, you’ll lose weight. These diets range in their approach from only making certain “types” of carbs off-limits to limiting your overall carb intake in order to achieve ketosis, a state in which your body relies on fat for energy rather than glucose.
The Problems with Low-Carb Diets
How Low-Carb Weight Loss Works
Nearly everyone who has done a low-carb diet says: 1. they plateaued at a certain point and couldn’t get the scale to budge from there, and 2. once they started eating carbs again they gained all their weight back and then some.
I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t sound like an effective diet to me.
In fact, numerous scientific studies have shown that low-carb and ketogenic diets are no more effective at creating weight loss than any other diet out there. In other words, just like any other diet on the market, it works for a short time but then, inevitably, you will regain the weight you lost.
So why is this?
One of the things that people love about low-carb diets is that they see a big drop in their weight very quickly. To understand why that is, we need a little science lesson.
Glucose is our body’s preferred energy source. When we eat, our body breaks down our food into smaller chemical units, including glucose. Of that glucose, what we immediately need gets used for energy and what we don’t need immediately, gets stored in our body for later in the form of glycogen. Here’s the clincher: for every gram of glycogen stored in our body, 3-4 grams of water is stored with it.
And so, when we restrict or eliminate carbs, our bodies burn through our glycogen stores, releasing that water which then passes out of our body. What does this mean? That exciting weight loss that happens when you start a low-carb diet is just water weight. Hence weight loss quickly slows down on low-carb diets and you will regain weight as soon as you start eating carbs again. This also contributes to that plateau effect I mentioned earlier.
What about the rest of the weight loss?
After that initial drop in water weight, the rest of the weight loss from low carb diets comes from the same source as any other diet: calorie deficit. That’s right, carbs don’t make you gain weight.
By removing or restricting an entire macronutrient from your diet, you are consuming fewer calories without even thinking about it.
And it follows that, once you start to each carbs again, you will come out of that calorie deficit and regain the weight you lost. This also explains the plateauing that many low-carbers experience: our bodies adapt to calorie restriction by slowing down our metabolism. Calorie restriction to our bodies is famine and starvation, so they compensate to try to keep up alive by becoming more efficient with less fuel – as happens with any other low-calorie diet.
Think back to a time you wanted something and someone told you that you couldn’t have it. How did you react?
You wanted it even more, right?
That is how our bodies respond to restriction and deprivation as well. Remember that your body is designed to keep you alive. When you start restricting its energy source through calorie and carb restriction, it panics that it doesn’t have what it needs to keep you alive. And so it mobilizes every tactic it has to compel you to find and consume food. You think about food. You crave certain foods. Smelling food makes you salivate. Your stomach grumbles and aches. You find it harder and harder to resist.
And so we can only hold out on restrictive diets for so long. And then when we go back to our old eating habits. It’s just not effective strategy in the long-term.
Side Effects of Low Carb Diets
Many people don’t realize there are some unpleasant side effects that come with low-carb diets.
You may have heard of “keto fog” referring to a feeling of absentmindedness or difficulty focusing while on a low-carb diet. This occurs because glucose is your brain’s preferred fuel source and it does not burn fat for fuel efficiently. If you deprive your brain of its most efficient fuel, it’s not going to work as well.
Many low-carb dieters also report fatigue and crankiness. The former is also related to the lack of an efficient fuel source for your body. And the latter, well…have you ever had a carbohydrate? They’re delicious. I’d be cranky without them, too.
There are also concerns about the long-term health effects of low-carb and ketogenic diets.
The state of ketosis is, in fact, a survival mechanism to keep our vital processes going during periods of famine. The human body is not designed to exist in ketosis for any extended period of time. Thus, many health professionals are concerned about the long-term effects this may have on our health. This is a focus on ongoing study.
Finally, studies have shown a link between ketogenic diets and cardiovascular disease. Low carb diets’ focus on fat consumption runs contrary to decades of medical science demonstrating the adverse effects of high saturated fat consumption on our heart health. We simply don’t need all that much in our diet and should not consume high amounts of it.
What You Need to Know about Low Carb Diets
Long story short, low-carb diets are not effective means of lasting weight loss and come with a number of risks that don’t outweigh the benefits. They’re just another fad.