Can I eat carbs to lose weight?
This is a very common question that people ask me, and there are a lot of different opinions out there online. So I think it’s important to take some time to really break this down and put it into context.
Let’s start with an example of an average person who might have 10 to 25 pounds to lose. That person hasn't likely been following an optimal nutrition plan, so the first step in their journey is to clean up their diet. In the early stages of that kind of weight loss, I’d generally suggest cutting carbs out of their diet for anywhere between one and four weeks.
That last part is key: This isn’t something they should do forever! It isn’t binary: “carbs are always bad” or “carbs are always good”. It's all about context: Where your body is now, not where it has been or where it will be.
The fact of the matter is if you have a good amount of fat tissue to lose, your hormones and your physiology are not optimized to be able to break down and assimilate carbohydrates. If you are in an inflamed state, if you've been chronically eating lots of sugar and processed foods, your body can do with a little break from carbs.
So say we’ve removed the carbs from this person’s diet, and they’re eating at a calorie deficit. This is normal, and a calorie deficit is important for fat loss, but we also don’t want the deficit to be too high or that will cause further problems and impede progress. We can’t ask someone whose diet is 40-60% carbohydrates to kick the carbs and not replace those calories somehow! We replace some of those carbs with things like fibrous vegetables, healthy fats from olive oil, and raw nuts and seeds. We’ll also increase the amount of protein they're eating. This way they won’t feel hungry all of the time, and it will be a lot easier to stick to their nutrition plan!
Here’s the kicker: Once they’ve cut carbohydrates and cleaned up their nutrition for a while, their physiology and body composition are sure to improve. Which in turn will actually allow them to start reintegrating carbs! As our body composition changes and as we lose weight and reduce inflammation, our bodies become more able to efficiently break down and assimilate those carbohydrates and use them for energy.
And when we're ready to reintroduce carbs, it's all about quality. Things like brown rice, sweet potatoes, low glycemic fruit like berries and apples are great! These are complex carbohydrates won't spike insulin levels, won't disrupt blood sugar, and will be easier for our bodies to process and digest.
I mentioned earlier that I would probably have someone with 10 to 25 pounds to lose cut carbs for anywhere from one to four weeks. In some cases, with individuals who have a lot more fat, this may be even as high as six to eight weeks. It all depends on your body and where you’re at. Remember: context! The best way to determine the ideal path for you is to consult with a fitness professional who can accurately and safely assess your body-fat percentage and nutritional needs. They’ll be able to give you a solid plan to follow based on your body, as well as track your progress and make adjustments along the way!
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