Carbs and weight loss: what’s the magic?

In a very confusing ocean of nutrition advice for weight loss and social media storms about diets, often carbs are blamed as the cause of weight gain. The reality is that it is not carbs, it is not fat either but the balance between the number of calories we ingest vs. the number of calories we consume. In other words, it is how we play with our energy balance. This matter is more complex than we think, and it will be the subject of future articles.

For now, what’s the “magic” behind the fast weight loss people experience when they cut carbs? None, it is just biology.

We all know that we need glucose (sugar) for our body to properly function. Tissues such as the brain need approximately 130 gr of glucose per day, but it cannot make its own glucose supply. This is where diet carbohydrates come in. When the carbs intake is low, for instance during fasting or while sleeping, other processes kick in to compensate for the glucose needs via gluconeogenis (glucose formation from e.g., fats or proteins) or ketosis (yes, we run on fat while sleeping).

Our body has the ability to store glucose for future needs in the form of glycogen mainly in our liver and skeletal muscles and with it, water. Actually, for every gram of glycogen, we hold approximately 3-4 gr of water. In other words, carbohydrates help to retain water. Does it ring any bells already? Yes, if you are used to eating carbs and suddenly you cut them off your diet, along with consuming your reserve of glycogen, you get rid of the water that was stored with it. On the contrary, if you are not used to eating lots of carbs, you might feel thirster than usual after a carb-rich meal.

The unfortunate side of this “magic secret” is fast weight loss linked to low-carb diets if that you have not lost any fat!

By the way, people going through heavy calorie restrictive diets, especially when accompanied by low protein intake, might experience water retention due to hormonal changes and osmotic balance. Although it might seem a paradox to some, eating more after a long period of extreme dieting leads to fluid rebalance. The result: we lose water and weight!  So next time you get on a scale and feel like screaming, do not panic because it might be due to a normal weight fluctuation from change in water balance. Remember that weight loss is never linear.

So, what’s the answer to the question “what’s the “magic” behind the fast weight loss people experience when they cut carbs?” None, it is just biology.

Unless you have medical conditions to justify a carbs restricted diet, often restrictive dieting is not the solution. Instead of going thorough dietary habits you cannot sustain long term, learn how to balance your nutrition, give priority to quality and low processed foods, maximize your calorie output by exercising and being regularly more active, and improve your sleep habits/quality for efficient recovery.

Stay strong!


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