pasta with sauce in the plate

How often should you have carbs?

I was recently speaking with someone who reminded me of a diet myth about how often we should have carbs: you can only have carbs at one meal per day. I think many of us subconsciously follow this rule. In fact, I actually recently caught myself thinking, “I had a bagel for breakfast so we shouldn’t have pasta for dinner.” I caught myself – WHY NOT? Who said we can only have carbs one meal per day? Is there any legitimacy to this?

This diet rule arose out of the low-carb and keto diet craze. And it stems from this belief that carbs are bad for you and cause weight gain. Surprise, surprise, like most diet rules, there is no science to back this one up.

You can have carbs for every meal of the day if you want.

  1. Carbs don’t cause weight gain. There is no single food that causes weight gain. Weight gain is a product of calorie excess and other complicating factors such as hormonal status.
  2. Carbs are not bad for you. Our bodies need carbohydrates and are designed to run on them. It’s our body’s preferred fuel source. In fact, our brain is extremely dependent on carbs for its fuel. Our bodies are not designed to burn fat as our primary fuel source – ketosis is a survival mechanism.
  3. Carbs are nutritious. Different carbohydrates contain important nutrients and, if we’re restricting our carb intake dramatically, we could be missing out on that nutrition. Take fiber as a prime example.
  4. Eating for enjoyment is important. We, as humans, eat for many reasons. Enjoyment being among them and just as legitimate as every other reason to eat. If you’re not enjoying what you eat, you’re not going to be satisfied by it. And when that happens, you’re probably going to continue to eat more as you seek out that satisfaction. This can lead us to feel frustrated and out of control around food.

For more information about low carb diets, check out this blog post.

Should You Try the Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet has become the rage for rapid weight loss recently, but is it worth giving it a try? As I do with any fad diet, especially ones that involve eliminating entire food groups, I examined this one with a healthy amount of skepticism.

First, what is the ketogenic diet? You may recall the Atkins diet craze that preceded the South Beach Diet back in the late 90s/early 2000s – this is like a more extreme Atkins. Essentially, you slash the amount of carbs you are consuming down to just 2-4% of the calories you consume per day and focus on eating large amounts of fat. Your body primarily relies of carbohydrates to burn for energy. By cutting the amount of carbs you are consuming down to such a small amount, you force your body to begin to burn fat for energy – thus the weight loss results. Burning fat for energy – sounds great, right?

Well, not so fast.

First, it is very important to note that this is an incredibly unsustainable diet. As anyone who has tried Atkins or South Beach will tell you, you can cut out carbs…for a while. But long-term it’s just not doable. For most people, this is invitation to deprive and then overeat carbs when it finally gets to be too much. Such a diet is great for setting up a pattern of yo-yo dieting, which has been linked to heart disease and diabetes, as well as more weight gain over time. Furthermore, if you don’t follow this diet completely, you won’t see the results, which makes it even less sustainable.┬áBasically, you will lose significant weight quickly on a ketogenic diet, but you will regain it quickly as well – this is not a diet for long-term weight loss.

If you are able to adhere to this diet in the long-term, the weight loss effects are likely to fade over time. Additionally, many experts say that this diet will result in muscle loss, which will slow down your metabolism, hindering further weight loss. You will also likely see a significant drop in your energy levels. This diet is not recommended for people with heart disease for the above reasons (remember, your heart is a muscular organ).

There are also a number of nutritive issues with this diet. For one, you really need to make sure you are supplementing very well because you will not be consuming anywhere near the nutrition your body needs on this diet. For another, this diet is very low in fiber, so you may encounter some serious digestive issues.

As a certified health coach, I do not espouse any diet plans that are unsustainable or involve cutting out an entire food group. This diet is not an exception. However, I am even more opposed to this diet because of the dangers it can pose to patient health. The keys to lasting weight loss are and will always be: a sustainable, balanced diet of fresh produce, healthy fats, and right carbs, regular exercise, and supportive healthful habits such as stress management.

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