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Carbs vs. Calories in Weight Loss

Are you trying to lose some weight, and confused about the contradicting information out there? It seems that everywhere you look, you see someone’s success with keto and in the next post a disgruntled person or health practitioner bashes it. Every day a new trend like carb cycling, the carnivore diet, etc. comes out and confuses you more. Why all the perplexity on carbohydrates and weight loss?!

Why do I need carbs? What do they do?

Carbohydrates are found in grains, starchy vegetables, fruits, and dairy. Whether in the form of starch (like grains) or a simple sugar (like fruit), we use it a very similar way in the body. Carbs are our primary energy source, and are essential to push you through your workday and your workouts. Carbs are also important for efficient brain function, maintaining good digestive health, among other things.

Choosing NUTRITIOUS carb options is important.

While all carbohydrates break down to glucose in our body (the form of sugar we can absorb and use), not all carbs are created equal. Responsible carb choices include foods that are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Refined sugar products and white grains contain very little fiber or natural vitamins. Whereas whole grains, fruits, milk, and starchy vegetables (like potatoes and peas) contain significant amounts of these key nutrients. For this reason, the latter examples provide our body with tons of nutrition, while helping to maintain blood sugar and hormone balance.

Why does “cutting carbs” making you lose weight?

There are a couple reasons that people see rapid weight loss initially when going low or very low carb, and I’ll cover two big ones today. The first is that carbohydrate molecules carry water. If you were to cut out carbs completely, you’d also see mild to severe dehydration, and in turn, a drop in water weight. Of course, this plateaus very quickly.

The second reason for initial weight loss, is that many of the carb containing foods that people consume are not “responsible" carb choices. These highly processed, high calorie items include sweets and refined sugars in beverages (e.g. Starbucks, soda), or enriched wheat products (e.g. white bread/bagels, cakes/cookies). Since these items are very high calorie and low in essential nutrients, cutting them out can lead to weight loss.

Is cutting out carbs sustainable for the long haul?

The short answer is…not really. Your body doesn’t like to be short on essential nutrients that it can only get from carb containing sources. So if cutting out carbs is the only change that you make to lose weight, you will likely revert back to your “old ways” eventually. This will put you right back on the track you were when you started.

Is there a better approach?

It is important to learn how to be balanced and consistent in your eating pattern. You may have heard it before, but weight loss really does come down to a calorie deficit. This deficit is created by decreasing our intake from foods, or increasing our output from physical activity. So you can eat nutritious carbs, proteins, and fats and still lose weight! The key is eating the right amount of the right foods. This leads to weight management for life, rather than weight fluctuation which is common in diet patterns that manipulate carbs - and can have negative effects on heart health. So stick to whole grains, enjoy fruits and veggies, good protein sources (both plant and animal, you choose), and enjoy your indulgences occasionally.

Here’s the bottom line.

A balanced diet rich in nutritionally dense foods, and low in foods with added fats and sugar, will ensure that you get all essential nutrients while maintaining a proper calorie level. It will keep you full and satisfied - body and mind.

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