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In the early 2000’s, low carb diets became mainstream when Dr. Atkins released his protocol for rapid fat loss. The reason behind it’s popularity had to do with the fact it produced weight loss results fairly quickly. This was due to the calorie deficit (eating less than you burn) that was created as a result of essentially cutting out an entire food group. As an awareness grew about the increased consumption of carbs due the demonizing of fats, people began adopting the Atkins diet and labeling carbs as a “bad” food.
The main reason low carb diets became so popular holds true for all fad diets, they offer a simple solution that promised amazing results. Since nutrition knowledge is always growing, it can tend to be quite confusing for most people, making a simple solution very attractive. Eventually, the low carb diet craze lost steam as the truth came out about its lack of long term sustainability. This is why it’s critical to educate yourself on proper nutrition and find what works for YOU!
The reason people experience rapid weight loss (not entirely fat loss) from cutting carbs has to do mostly with water and inflammation. When carbs are stored in the body, they carry water with them (hence the word carbo-HYDRATE). Moreover, most Americans are over-consuming simple, processed carbs which leads to an overall systemic inflammation in the body. Not only does reducing carbs lower the inflammation, but as the body burns through the stored carbohydrates, the associated water is lost as well. This is where we get the term “losing water weight” from and is why your friend dropped 5-10 pounds after one week of cutting carbs. On the other hand, this is also why we see the scale go up after a “cheat meal” because even a moderate increase in carbs gets absorbed by the body and brings the water in with it.
So why are low carb diets not recommended for long term results? Simply put, they are very hard to sustain. Our bodies preferred source of fuel is carbs and when we are so used to running on them, our body fights back when we start cutting them out. While a lot of people have seen results eating lower carbs on plans such as a ketogenic diet (swapping the fuel from carbs for fats), the principle of weight loss remains the same; eat fewer calories than you use for energy and you lose weight. Knowing that to be true, every diet works but you have to find one you can stick to.
At this point you’re probably thinking “So are you telling me carbs are good or bad?” and to that I say, neither. Your food choices either get you closer to your goals or they don’t. So if we choose carbs appropriately to use as fuel for our workouts and to keep our energy constant throughout the day, they have their place. If we are over-consuming simple, higher sugar carbs that lend to a calorie surplus then they should be limited. This is why it is crucial to begin to track the food you eat so that you know that amount of carbs (as well as proteins and fats) that are appropriate for you. If this is something you struggle with or don’t quite understand, we would be happy to help you any way we can!