As a medical weight loss specialist, a question I get asked regularly is “Why is a low carb diet so essential for weight loss?”
If your typical diet is high in carbs, you may have difficulty with losing weight even if you carefully count calories. Sure, you may lose a few pounds initially (mostly “water weight”), but typically you’ll then plateau, and no matter how careful you are to restrict calories, the weight just won’t come off.
Dieting “Wrong” Can Be Worse Than Not Dieting At All
What you don’t know is that you may be changing your metabolism in a way that makes weight loss even more difficult.
Many cultures eat a diet high in starch. Starch equals carbs. While were at it, sugar equals carbs. Unless you’re prepared to reduce the amount of starches and sugar in your diet over the long-term, you’re unlikely to experience significant long-term weight loss.
Once You Understand, It Makes Sense
It’s reasonable to want to know why. If you cut calories and do exercise, shouldn’t that be enough?
The problem is that you need to change the composition of your diet to help your body build and maintain lean muscle mass, while burning fat. Exercising should build muscle, but if you don’t have the right building blocks, it just burns it away. Building muscle requires protein.
Why a Low Carb Diet Is Needed
So when you’re losing weight, and restricting calories, you need to trade carbs for protein. You have a limited “budget” of calories, and you need to choose them carefully.
Your body needs protein for almost every function it has. Your cells, hormones, neurotransmitters all require protein. If you’re eating less calories and your body doesn’t have enough protein, it will take protein directly from your muscles.
Workouts will be exhausting, and difficult to keep up, and you won’t get the weight loss benefits you normally would from exercise.
Benefits of Choosing More Protein
Exercising, if you have adequate nutrition, builds muscle. That’s great for your metabolism because muscles burn more calories than fat. So if you build some extra muscle, it’s easier to lose weight and keep it off. Muscle also takes up less volume than fat – so you look slimmer.
I’m sure you can see why having muscle stripped from your body due to a lack of adequate protein is a problem while dieting. That’s why dieters need to reduce carbs. More protein helps build muscle (and keeps existing muscle healthy). Choosing fewer carbs and more protein is simply the best way to lose weight, because it’s in sync with what your body needs.
Don’t Sabotage Your Own Metabolism
If you fail to offer your body extra dietary protein while losing weight, you lose both fat and lean muscle while you’re dieting, instead of losing mostly fat. The longer this goes on, the worst the effect, as your body is robbed of lean muscle mass. Since that lean muscle mass burns calories even when you’re at rest, having more of it is definitely good.
When that lean muscle mass is reduced, people say they have a “slow metabolism”, and they are right. This is one of the reasons for rebound weight gain when people lose weight by cutting calories without cutting carbs.
Getting the Nutritional Balance Right For Dieting
The food you eat (the calories you consume) while dieting will be a mixture of carbs, protein, and fats. It’s essential to get the balance right – and that’s one of the key things we help our clients with during our medical weight loss program. None of the three will be completely eliminated, but for dieters reducing carbs while increasing protein and some good fats is the most effective way to go.
It’s a Lifestyle Change
What this means is that you may have to make changes to your typical diet, not just eat less of it. You may not be able to eat some of the traditional dishes that your culture or family has always enjoyed during your period of dieting. Even a vegetarian may have to make adjustments to increase the protein proportion of their diet.
Instead, look for higher fiber, higher protein, lower (and less starchy) carb choices, and keep up gentle to moderate exercise (even just a short walk daily) and you’ll see the weight come off and stay off.