Banishing carbs altogether in an effort to lose weight isn't realistic or even desirable. Maintain a balanced diet with our advice.
Carolyn Williams, Ph.D., R.D.
December 09, 2015
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My meal plan seems to have lots of carbs. How will I lose weight eating this?
I’ve gotten this question from several Cooking Light Diet subscribers, and they’re right to question a diet that’s full of carbohydrates since media have trained us to associate carbs with weight gain. Forget what you may have heard, and let me try to clarify how carbohydrates and weight loss are intertwined, how you can lose weight eating them, and how it’s even essential that you eat carbs to burn fat.
1. Carbs are essential—especially for weight loss.
Carbs are designed to be your body’s primary source of energy, and you need an ample amount of carbohydrates each day for your brain and body to function effectively. Only when your body is adequately fueled with carbs can your body also break down fat stores. If you aren’t consuming enough, you’ll feel the effects—low energy, sluggishness, brain fog, trouble paying attention, and your body will actually go into starvation mode. You’ll start breaking down lean body mass, and your metabolism will slow. If you’re trying to lose weight, this is not what you want!
3 of 7Photo: Randy Mayor
2. Focus on calories first, then carbohydrates.
Weight loss happens when calories burned daily exceed the calories consumed, so ultimately weight loss boils down to total calories, not necessarily the specific foods you eat. Research even shows that the most effective weight loss occurs when people consume approximately 60% of their calories from carbohydrates. This may seem high, but this percentage is right in line with what the Dietary Guidelines recommend for optimal health (45-65% of calories from carbs). If your meal plan is for 1,400 calories, you should eat around 60% or 210 grams of carbohydrates per day. If this number makes you nervous, then use the lower end of the Dietary Guideline range (45-65% of 1,400 calories is 158 to 228 grams of carbohydrates).
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Say the word carb and most automatically think bread, potatoes, rice and pasta, but grains are just one of the food groups that supply carbohydrates. We also get carbohydrates from vegetables like broccoli, green beans, and lettuce, starchy vegetables like corn and potatoes, fruits and juice, some dairy products, and foods that have had sugar added to them during the manufacturing process.
6 of 7Photo: Randy Mayor
4. Quality counts.
If we truly followed the USDA and Dietary Guideline’s eating recommendations, then our carbohydrate intake would only come from high-quality sources such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, and low-fat dairy. We’d still need to monitor portion sizes, but we probably wouldn’t associate carbs with weight gain if we stuck to only the good ones. So when someone gains weight from “eating carbohydrates,” it’s rarely because they’re eating too many of the high-quality ones. It’s because they’re eating too many refined carbohydrates with added sugar or fat (sodas, candy, coffee drinks, chips, snack foods, French fries, and fast food) in addition to a few healthy ones. The extra sugar and fat adds calories on top of the carbohydrate in the food to start with, and the added sugar can cause blood sugar spikes and dips so we feel hungry quicker and eat more.
7 of 7Photo: Jennifer Causey
If you’ve been avoiding carbs or if you’re doubtful that these choices will help you lose weight, I challenge you to just try one week of following the diet exactly as written. I think you’ll find your clothes a little looser, your appetite satisfied, and your energy levels increased.