Can you manage weight while still eating carbs? YES, YOU ABSOLUTELY CAN.
This is an area filled with scientific misinformation and social media driven myths and extremes. We lose weight when we are burning more calories than we consume. While energy balance is an oversimplified view of weight management, zoning in on diet and exercise is a great place to start for achieving your goals.
So why do people turn to very low carb diets in order to manage weight? Carbohydrates, for most of us, represent the majority of calories we consume, and are typically the main culprit in our standard “junk” foods. Additionally, fat and protein tend to be more satiating and nutrient dense.
So if fewer carbs are better for weight management/loss, are no carbs even better? The answer to this question is more complicated, but given glucose is the main fuel for your brain, muscles and organs, drastically reducing carb intake and forcing the body to create glucose from protein, or run on ketones, for extended periods is not advised, and is very difficult to sustain from a dietary point of view. As with most things, a more balanced approach that does not require dramatic dietary changes or restriction is going to be most effective over the long term for weight control
Here are a few tips for maintaining healthy carbohydrate consumption while managing weight, particularly body fat:
- Understand how much you’re eating and evaluate your portion sizes- think, half of your plate for veggies, a large palmful for protein, and healthy fats, which maybe leaves you with 30% for starchy carbohydrates. While percentage breakdowns may vary, prioritizing protein, fat and vegetables helps to inform a more reasonable amount of starchy carbs.
- Consume most of your carbs immediately before and after working out to maximize performance, effort and carbohydrate usage.
- Eat real food, real carbohydrates, and organic where possible! Carbohydrate sources like broccoli, green beans, apples, fresh figs, sweet potatoes, and whole oats, will give you more food volume for a given amount of calories and carbs, and you’ll feel fuller for longer. Avoid highly processed and refined carbohydrates such as white breads, pastas, sugary foods and drinks. These will spike your blood sugar and cause a crash, leaving you more hungry and likely to overeat.
- Eat your carbs with protein, fat and fiber, to help keep your blood sugar stable. Even changing the order of the foods you eat, saving starchy carbohydrates for last will help regulate blood sugar.
- Get enough sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation has been shown to increase ghrelin (a hunger regulating hormone) levels which stimulates cravings, appetite and hunger, and in most cases, this has people reaching for junky carbs.