Is a low-carb diet really effective? I suppose it depends on your definition of effective. Yes, a low-carb diet will help you lose weight quickly, sometimes faster than anything short of a complete crash diet. However, there are some things you should know about carbohydrates that will help shed some light on why a low-carb diet is by no means a permanent weight loss solution, how it will affect you, and why it is not particularly safe.
The Truth About Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are a fundamental source of energy for your body. Even if you do not know why (and the why is not particularly important for the scope of this article), you know that if you eat a lot of sugar, which is a carb that your body digests very quickly, you get a sudden boost of energy. It follows, then, that if you eat less carbs, you'll have less energy; so if you choose to pursue a low-carb diet, be prepared to feel a little more sluggish than usual. Also, as I'm sure you know, exercise is an essential aspect to any weight loss program, but if you are not eating enough carbs, you will find it more difficult to get through your workout. Mental toughness will only get you so far – at some point your body is going to need fuel.
The Truth About Low-Carb Diets
When you eat, your body can essentially store excess carbs for later. These carbs are stored as fat, which is why a low-carb diet can help you lose weight so quickly. When you stop eating enough carbohydrates, your body will pull on its reserves (fat) to give you the extra fuel you need. Sounds great, right? You can just let your body rely on fat to get you through your day. After you lose all of your unsightly fat, you can simply start eating carbs again to supply your body with the energy it needs and like magic, you'll be thin!
Unfortunately, there's a problem that anyone who advertises a low-carb diet conveniently ignores. Having an excess amount of food to eat (at least in some parts of the world) is a very new problem that our bodies have not yet learned to deal with. Our metabolism is much better at preventing us from starving than it is at letting us lose weight, so if you try a low-carb or even a crash diet, your metabolism will slow down and your fat will become even more stubborn. You'll lose less weight that second week than you did your first, and even less during that third week. When you finally do start eating carbs again, your body will convert even more of them into fat than it normally would in preparation for another fast. This is why a low-carb diet is not a permanent weight loss solution – in fact many people will end up even heavier than they were before the diet because their bodies will take a while to realize that another fast is not imminent.
Finally, carbohydrates should be part of any balanced diet that will also include protein and fat. If you are lacking any one of these elements, you are likely to feel hungry even after eating a high calorie meal because your body is not having its nutritional needs met. This is true even if you are eating the same number of calories as before.
How Many Carbs Should I Eat?
With all of this said, there are some things that you can do to make sure your body is not constantly converting all of your carbohydrates into fat. First, it's entirely possible that you can eat less carbs without eating too few. For a 2,000 calorie diet, you should be eating about 300 grams of carbs, which comes to 1,200 calories (you'll have to adjust this if you're taller than average and / or are exercising a lot, but 300 grams should be a minimum). It may seem tedious, but one day you should take the time to measure out your foods and use the nutritional information on the labels to calculate about how many carbs you're eating in a normal day (you can also search online for foods that don 't have a label, like fresh fruit). If you're eating more than 300 grams worth, then you can cut back without risking low energy levels or having your body go into starvation mode (just make the change gradually over time if you're over by a lot).
Upgrade Your Carbs!
When you're at about 300 grams of carbohydrates daily, you can focus on upgrading the carbs you eat. Fruits and vegetables are the highest quality sources of carbs you can find – they're complex carbohydrates which means they'll provide you with sustained energy over a period of time (as opposed to most sugars that break down quickly and lead to a crash) and they're easy for your body to digest (they're also very nutrient-dense). When you do eat grains (and it's hard to get to 300 grams without eating grains), opt for 100% whole grain options. Whole grains pack a good dose of fiber that will help keep you full longer and will ease some of the pressure you're putting on your digestive system. Whole grain cereals are becoming increasingly more popular and most of the bread in the bread aisle will say something like 100% whole wheat or 100% multigrain. You can also pick up whole wheat pasta, brown rice instead of white, and whole wheat pizza crusts, tortilla shells, and crackers. Make these upgrades a part of your everyday diet and you can watch your body permanently transform safely without sacrificing your energy levels.