Quite possibly one of the most popular diet models out there is the Low-Carb diet. It is one of the first methods people will try to lose weight.
The Low-Carb diet has become popular as a result of the rapid changes many people see on the scale and because it cuts out many foods that people tend to overeat. However, very few people can actually stick to a Low-Carb diet for very long periods of time and when they do drop the diet, the weight usually comes right back. This can be extremely discouraging, especially because carbs make up a large percentage of popular foods and giving them up entirely is next to impossible for most people.
This leads many of us to ask, “is the low carb diet worth the effort?” In this article we are going to take a look at why the low carb can work, as well as analyzing the downsides of the diet so you can conclude for yourself if this diet method is worth your effort
Why The Low Carb Diet Delivers Quick Results
The Low-Carb diet is very enticing to many because you can see the scale drop several pounds in a week or two. Unfortunately, this does not mean you are burning several pounds of fat. Instead, the majority of that initial weight loss is body water. This is because carbs make the body retain water. Therefore, when you start cutting them from your diet, your body is not able to hold on to as much water and starts to shed it.
The loss of body water does help you look more defined, however, the appearance is short lived. This is because once you start eating carbs again, your body will start holding on to water again. This means that one day of eating carbs after being on the low carb diet would cause you to notice the scale jump back to very close to your original weight (depending on how much you lost before the “bad” day).
These weight fluctuations can be extremely demoralizing, even though it is mostly water weight, and leads many people to quit this diet. Actual fat loss takes time. A calorie deficit of 500 calories a day leads to about 1 pound of fat loss a week. Any cut more aggressive than this is not recommended for a number of reasons that will make it counterproductive long term.
Where the low carb diet does excel is it forces many people to cut out calorie dense foods such as pastas, muffins, cereals, bagels, and sweets, like donuts, cookies, ice cream, brownies, and more. These foods are extremely calorie dense and cutting them out of your diet can be an easy way to lower the calories you consume, which could trigger weight loss if you drop below your maintenance calories.
However, this advantage is also what causes many people to quit the diet. Those same foods you have to cut out on the Low-Carb diet are the same foods that many people love eating. Like come on, who doesn’t like a cookie?
Cutting out favorite foods uses a lot of willpower. Self control only lasts so long and when it does finally break, it can lead to a binge. These bad days can be demoralizing, especially with the water weight gain, and can quickly spiral into giving up on the diet entirely, which typically means regaining all the lost fat.
This process of losing and gaining the same weight over and over again is so common it has a name: Yo-Yo Dieting.
With all of the above taken into account, weight loss only occurs when you burn more calories than you eat in a day. Cutting out carbs can be an effective way for you to subconsciously adjust your calories to below your weight maintenance level, however, there is nothing special about cutting carbs out of your diet in terms of weight loss. The advantage is that switching up your eating pattern may cause you to make healthier choices that are lower in calories than your usual choices but even, then you might still gain weight if you eat too many fats and protein.
Low-Carb Diets Effect on Performance
One of our body’s primary sources of fuel is glucose. Our body derives glucose from digesting carbs. When we eat a Low-Carb diet or cut out carbs entirely, our body must adjust to using another fuel source for energy: fat.
Disclaimer: just because our body switches over to burning primarily fat for energy does not mean you will lose fat. Fat loss only occurs in a calorie deficit. If you do not eat in a calorie deficit, the body will just replenish all the fat it burns for energy.
When our body is burning primarily fat for energy, this is called Ketosis. It takes time for the body to adapt to being in Ketosis.
In the meantime, many people will also experience increased fatigue and brain fog for several weeks. On top of this, you may experience headaches for the first week of this process. These symptoms are often called Keto Fatigue.
Furthermore, numerous studies done on athletes during this transition period have shown performance decreases for several weeks to several months as their bodies adapt . However, as their bodies started to adapt to the diet, they did notice that performance levels returned to normal levels .
What this means is that you may feel pretty shitty for the first several weeks of being on the Low-Carb diet. This could affect how you are able to perform at work, as well as at the gym. You might notice that you cannot push yourself as hard as you usually do.
Moreover, it has been reported that post workout recovery also suffers during this transition period. This means that your body takes longer than usual to repair the muscles, so you may have to take even more rest days if you notice that your body is excessively sore or your strength keeps dropping from session to session.
To sum it all up, the Low-Carb diet boils down to cutting out many types of foods from a person’s diet. Many of these foods are calorie dense and easy to overeat, so, when they are removed from a person’s diet, they may subconsciously eat fewer calories. Besides that, there is not really any special benefit for cutting carbs from your diet, as you can still overeat on fat heavy foods and protein.
Furthermore, many types of foods that people enjoy eating contain carbs. I have noticed that restricting these foods can often lead people to binge on them when they take a break from their diet or stop altogether. We all want what we can’t have.
This often leads people to take a break from their diet or give up altogether. This process of Yo-Yo Dieting can be mentally exhausting for many and can cause more harm than good.
On top of all this, there are the symptoms of Keto Fatigue that make this diet even harder to stick to as you will not feel yourself for several weeks. Plus, the detrimental effects it has to your training during this time period can mean you do not burn as many calories at the gym or make as much progress in the weight room.
With all that being said, if the Low-Carb diet works for you, then by all means go for it. Just know that there is not a special factor that makes it better for losing weight than any other diet.
In my opinion, relying on crash diets to cut weight, like the Low-Carb diet, are mentally straining and do not end in the results that people want. It is much easier to take the time and slowly learn a healthy eating pattern that you enjoy eating so that you can use it year round to maintain weight. For many people, carbs can be an important part of their diet and do not need to be cut out in order to lose weight.
If you are looking for a way to adjust your diet for long term success without cutting carbs, check out THIS ARTICLE.
If you want to learn about how you can fit that occasional donut or cookie into your diet and not mess up your progress, you can learn more about calories and how to think of them HERE.
One last thing is that the Low-Carb diet can be advantageous for a quick weight drop to appear thinner for a special event. By going on a Low-Carb diet for 1 to 2 weeks leading up to an event, such as a beach trip, you can gain the appearance of being thinner due to shedding water weight. This can help you get that little extra boost you want. However, just be aware that once you start eating/drinking normally again, that weight will come right back and you will jump back to where you started. This is just a temporary fix.
If you want to find a permanent fix, feel free to reach out to me HERE for personalized diet advice and workout plans.
 Chang, C. K., Borer, K., & Lin, P. J. (2017). Low-Carbohydrate-High-Fat Diet: Can it Help Exercise Performance?. Journal of human kinetics, 56, 81–92. https://doi.org/10.1515/hukin-2017-0025