Sunday, 8 January 2017

Post 40: 5 Reasons Why Low Carb Works

Hi guys,

Welcome! This week I want to go back to my roots and discuss something in detail. It’s been a while since I wrote something scientific; instead I’ve been focusing on the psychology of weight loss from personal experience. That was great, and I think it’s right to write from the heart, giving full honesty and showing what you should expect, warts and all. But I felt like my writing was going down a bit of a dark path.

So this week we’re addressing something different. This week we’re going to cover exactly why low carb diets cause you to lose weight effectively, and how it helps you to keep it off.

You can use this post as a go-to source of information for your colleagues, friends and family who might question what you’re up to.

Out of all the diet choices out there, low carb is one of the best, in my opinion. In fact, it becomes more like a lifestyle than a diet, because of the ease of implementation. It’s effective and enjoyable, which begets more compliance, and hence sustainability.

You may not know that a version of low carb dieting (under the form of “banting”) was one of the first popular diets; so it’s clearly been around and hung on through multiple dieting fads.

While on one hand you have to reduce the carbs which you previously found downright addictive, you get to gorge on a load of indulgent and delicious food! So for anyone trying to lose weight as part of New Year’s resolutions, low carb gets my seal of approval,

First we need a little disclaimer. One criticism of the diet is that you only lose water weight, and this is true to an extent. Restricting carb consumption does indeed reduce water weight (see my post on salt for a full rundown), and studies have shown that low carb diets cause the same fat loss as calorie restricted diets. So why restrict carbs? What you should know, is that in those studies the low carb dieters did not have to count calories or restrict the amount of food they were eating. In the end, calories in vs calories out governs fat loss, but by going low carb you will find it easier.

Another criticism is that you will lose muscle mass, but the truth is that if you eat adequate protein and do a little resistance training, this isn’t the case. The problem is that conventional wisdom can’t change its point of view. If you eat a moderate to high carb diet, and you take those carbs away, your body will look at breaking down proteins (muscle) into sugar. However, if you eat low carb, and go through a two week fat adaptation, your body will be instead looking at fat stores for immediate energy. Conventional wisdom completely ignores fat adaptation.

Reason 1: Insulin and Fat Storage

You’ve probably heard of insulin before, and sufferers of diabetes will be intimately familiar with this hormone. Insulin control is the main driver behind low carb’s effectiveness; we could even end the post right here!

Insulin is released by your body to normalise blood sugar levels, but you shouldn’t think that this is insulin’s main purpose. Insulin primarily is used to direct and store energy. If the energy stores in your muscles are full, then the leftovers are taken to fill up fat stores, and they can grow in size and number indefinitely!

So really you should see insulin as a hormone which shuts down fat burning and turns on fat storage.

When eating a low carb diet, you aren’t spiking your blood sugar as often or as forcefully. Carbohydrates cause increases in blood sugar levels, leading to insulin release. This is why we call carbs insulinogenic (they lead to insulin release).

Eating protein and fats doesn’t raise your blood sugar much if at all. In this case there’s no insulin release, so we call them non-insulinogenic (they don’t lead to insulin release).

So the take home message is this: when you eat carbs, your body will fill fuel stores including fat stores. When you eat only proteins and fats, your body will not try to create extra fat.

Reason 2: Insulin and Inflammation

What might be a tad confusing is that insulin also appears to suppress inflammation. That makes insulin sound good right?

The problem lies in the fact that as we eat a moderate to high carb diet, we’re slowly becoming insulin resistant. Our carb consumption causes blood sugar spikes, leading to insulin release. Over time we need more and more insulin to do the same job, because our cells are becoming resistant to its effects.

That means that you enjoy less of insulin’s anti-inflammatory side effects. Therefore by choosing low carb, you’re better positioned to enjoy the positives of insulin.

Reason 3: Satiation, Calories, and Other Hormones

Reason three revolves around how full you feel. When you go low carb, you’ll probably eat more protein and you’ll definitely eat more fat (whether it’s dietary or coming from your love handles!).

In the standard western diet, there are lots of carbs. Carbohydrates are quickly digested and shuttled off your immediate use as energy, or stored for later use. On the other hand, fats take much longer to digest and proteins the longest.

Low carb works because your meals make you feel fuller; the term we use is that they are more satiating. Since your meals are more filling, you don’t get the urge to snack and continually “graze”.

When you eat fat and protein, your small intestine will signal for a leptin release. Leptin is a hormone which tells your brain that you are full, and don’t want any more food. In my post on fruit (found here), you can learn more about this hormone.

This all contributes towards a reduction in the number of calories you’re eating, without the need to count them!

Reason 4: It’s Sustainable

There is a misconception in conventional wisdom that low carb lifestyles are not sustainable. Again this is a point of view problem. Conventional wisdom thinks that people can’t be trusted to stop eating carbs, that they will be constantly craving them. It assumes that people will eventually “give in” because restricting carbs is “unsustainable”.

The truth is that low carb eating is very indulgent, and there is great pleasure to be taken from indulging in previously “forbidden” foods. Someone who eats low carb will also develop their taste buds considerably, so that when they do have something sweet they realise just how saccharine it tastes!

On top of that, you start to break down the pathways in your brain which expect carbs, especially those for sugar. You’re no longer addicted and you get to a point where you can say to yourself “I’m better off without it”.

This is the virtuous spiral I was referring to earlier. You start to see results and lose weight, so you continue to lay off carbs. This leads to further results and weight loss, and positive side effects such as a reduced need for medication (e.g. for diabetes). All this positive feedback reinforces your decision, contributing to low carb’s sustainability.

Reason 5: Constant Source of Energy

When you rely on carbs for energy, you’re going to be riding the blood sugar rollercoaster every day of the week. Periods of high energy are followed by crashes and lethargy. When you go low carb, you become fat adapted. So instead of making you hungry, your body simply looks at its internal stores of energy for fuel.

At this point you will feel like you have boundless energy, which is true to an extent! Fat is stored all around your body. Its purpose is to provide fuel for when we don’t have anything to eat. So when you’re fat adapted your body will siphon off what it needs as and when.

And don’t be fooled by conventional wisdom saying you need sugar to power your brain. When you’re fat adapted, your liver produces ketones from fat which can be used in the brain.


I hope you enjoyed this week’s post; I certainly enjoyed writing it! I want to take a chance to reiterate my earlier recommendation: if you’re trying to lose weight, give low carb a chance. Here’s this week’s takeaways:

  1. Insulin is the key; don’t release as much and give yourself a chance to burn fat rather than create it
  2. Don’t be fooled by conventional wisdom; it won’t change its point of view and the perspective ends up massively skewed
  3. Low carb lifestyles are reinforcing; positive results lead to adherence leads to more positive results

Until next time,


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