How to Cut Carbs without Starving or Hating Your Diet
You’ve decided to cut carbs because you think it will help you lose weight and control your blood sugar levels.
Well, you’re right on both accounts, but if you stop eating carbs, what’s left to eat?
There’s no denying that high carb foods are fun foods. They include bread, cereal, potatoes, french fries, pizza, chips, candy, and milk chocolate and the list goes on.
But, the evidence is clear that high carb foods keep blood sugar and insulin elevated. And, we know that the more insulin you have in your blood, the more fat storage you have going on inside your body.
So, if you want to lose weight, you must limit or completely avoid the starchy and refined carbs I mentioned earlier. But, where does that leave you?
Let’s take a look at how to cut carbs without starving or hating every minute of your diet…
You’ve Cut Carbs…Now, What Do You Eat?
Carbohydrates are one of the three major nutrients that make up your diet. While you need to eat some carbs to reach your healthy weight loss goal, not all carbs are created equal. In this video, I share which carbs make losing weight easier and which ones block weight loss.
The 3 Nutrients That Contain Calories
There are three macronutrients, in the foods you eat. They are carbohydrates, proteins, and fat. These nutrients provide your body with calories, which it uses as fuel.
If you reduce the number of carbs you eat, you’ll need to fill the gaps in your daily eating. You have two choices: protein or fat.
Problems with Boosting Protein
Increasing your protein intake sounds logical because we know that protein is a building block of muscles and many other substances in our bodies.
Without protein, you wouldn’t have antibodies to protect you from viruses, and you wouldn’t have enzymes that help run all the metabolic reactions in your body.
Bottom Line: Protein is an important nutrient, so the more, the better… Right? Well, no.
There are problems with high-protein diets. These problems stem from the fact that excess protein is not stored as extra muscle or extra enzymes or what have you.
In other words, extra protein doesn’t get stored as extra protein (i.e. You don’t build muscle by sitting on the couch and eating beef jerky and drinking protein shakes.)
Here’s what happens to excess protein:
1. Excess protein gets excreted, which is hard on your kidneys.
If you eat too much protein, your body ends up with more nitrogen than it needs. This nitrogen must be expelled through urine, which places a strain on your kidneys. This is a problem for everyone, especially those with kidney disease.
2. Excess protein gets converted to glucose by your liver.
Since the body cannot store protein as protein, any excess can be converted to glucose. That glucose becomes blood glucose or blood sugar, and that is the exact opposite of what you want when you are on a low-carb diet.
3. Excess protein activates the mTOR metabolic signaling pathway.
Another thing that happens with excessive protein intake is that it activates the mTOR metabolic signaling pathway. The mTOR pathway has a good and bad side.
The Good Side of mTOR: It is a necessary pathway for growth. So, if you’re into muscle building, you appreciate this pathway.
The Bad Side of mTOR: Excessive stimulation of this pathway due to a chronically high-protein diet inhibits clean up and repair at a cellular level, which can increase your risk of chronic diseases.
While the research is still new in this area of nutritional research, I suspect you will be hearing more about mTOR in the coming years and how it’s linked to many chronic diseases and cancers.
But for now, the takeaway is that your health and weight can be negatively affected when you eat too much protein on a low-carb diet.
So far, you’ve limited your carbs, and you now understand why it would not be beneficial to replace those lost carbs with high protein.
Is Eating Fat OK on a Low-Carb Diet?
With extra protein taken off the list of foods to replace your reduced carb intake, you are left with adding fat.
But, you can’t eat more fat…Right? After all, you’ve been told for decades that eating fat makes you fat.
Since the 1970s, The United States Government’s Dietary Guidelines have been telling us that a high-fat diet causes obesity and heart disease. So increasing your daily fat intake must be a bad idea?!?
With starchy carbs gone, and warnings to not eat excessive protein or fat, you’re left with very little to eat.
Unfortunately, that is called a starvation diet, and your body tends to rebel when you don’t feed it.
So, how do you cut carbs without starving or being so miserable that life is no longer worth living?
Well, there is a solution.
Acceptable Carbs & Fats to Eat on a Low-Carb Diet
Fortunately, not all carbs, proteins and fats are created equal. Some are beneficial for weight loss, and some are not.
I’m going to focus on breaking down carbs and fats for you to show you which ones to eat and which ones to avoid.
I could break down protein as well and say that there’s a difference between animal and plant sources of protein, but when it comes to weight loss, this difference means little.
So for simplicity, I’ll focus on the two macronutrients that have the most impact on your body’s ability to lose weight and the enjoyment of your diet: carbs and fats.
Did you notice that I mentioned the enjoyment of your diet?
If you’ve watched my free video series on my 0,1,2,3 strategy for weight loss, you know about my 3Es, meaning for your diet to work it has to be Easy-to-Follow, Effective and Enjoyable.
You can go low-carb and eat nothing but plain cooked chicken breasts and broccoli, but that’s not much fun and is doomed to failure.
You want to eat the right foods, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy what we eat. Let’s look at the food choices that will leave you feeling satisfied. I’ll start with acceptable carbs…
Carbohydrates That Work on a Low-Carb Diet
When it comes to controlling your weight, carbs run the gamut. They can either destroy or improve your chances of losing weight. Their fiber content determines the difference.
There are high fiber carbs and low fiber carbs.
Carbohydrates that provide a good amount of fiber have what I refer to as a good fiber-to-carb ratio. Even if you are on a low-carb diet, these carbs are good choices, and the reason has everything to do with your blood sugar.
You see, low carb diets work because they keep your blood sugar level low, which keeps your insulin levels low.
Insulin is the fat-storing hormone. It is like the doorman into and out of your fat cells. When there’s a lot of insulin in your blood, the insulin pushes the doors of your fat cells open and allows caloric nutrients, including sugar, to pass from your blood into your fat cells.
When insulin drops, the doors of your fat cells are free to swing out, allowing fatty acids to come out of your fat cells and be burned as energy.
ALL carbs break down into sugar but carbs that contain a lot of fiber breakdown slowly, which causes insulin to rise slowly, which is a state your body loves.
A slow and gentle rise in insulin allows sugar to be placed into your muscle and liver cells where it is burned for energy.
The Takeaway: On a low carb diet, you want to avoid low-fiber carbs. Basically, if it’s puffed, popped or processed, it’s a bad carb.
But, you don’t want to go no-carb. You want to keep high-fiber carbs in your diet. These are your carbs with a good fiber-to-carb ratio: non-starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and avocados.
We are on the right track! Nuts, seeds, and avocados are yummy and versatile foods, so let’s keep building your low-carb diet by taking a look at dietary fats.
Dietary Fats That Work on a Low-Carb Diet
When you’re looking at how to cut carbs without starving or always feeling hungry, you must consider dietary fats.
There are definitely good fats and bad fats, but you might be surprised by which fats go on which list.
There are some saturated fats that make the good list and the bad list is topped by vegetable oils, which might sound strange. After all, how can you be bad if you have “vegetable” in your name?
Well, vegetable oils are polyunsaturated fats, which are not very stable fats. When you eat a lot of them, they get incorporated into the membranes that surround your cells making them fragile and more permeable or leaky to substances that you don’t want passing into and out of your cells.
Taking in too many vegetable oils also throws off your omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid balance resulting in inflammation.
Inflammation is devastating to your body. Think of inflammation on your skin and then imagine that inside your delicate blood vessels and cells.
Unfortunately, vegetable oils are found in many foods. If you take a look inside your pantry, you are likely to find vegetable oil or a variation like soybean oil, safflower oil, or corn oil listed on many of the ingredient’s lists.
Vegetable oils are the fats to avoid, but what about saturated fats?
Saturated Fats are Back on the Good List
I’ve come to accept that alongside some of our healthy monounsaturated fats (i.e. avocados, nuts, and seeds), there are some saturated fats that are good for us and help us lose weight.
These saturated fats include coconut oil, and some fats we get from animal products like eggs, butter, certain meats/beef (grass-fed beef is best, but organic and hormone-free has value), and even full-fat dairy products if you tolerate them.
I know it sounds illogical. In fact, as recently as a year ago, I would have sworn that saturated fats were unhealthy fats that lead to heart disease and weight gain.
There are two things that changed my mind about eating saturated fats. First is my personal experience.
How Adding Fat Helped Me Get Lean at 50
I’ve added more fat into my diet and am leaner than I’ve ever been, even though I will be 50 years old in two months.
Fifty is an age when menopause is supposed to make women gain weight, but that hasn’t been my experience, and I attribute a lot of that to boosting my dietary fat intake.
[See my post: Balancing Hormones by Adding Healthy Fats.]
Recommended Reading on Adding Fat to Your Diet
Another reason I’ve changed my opinion of dietary fat is the outstanding books I’ve read by leaders in this field, like Dr. David Ludwig who wrote Always Hungry, Dr. Mark Hyman who wrote Eat Fat, Get Thin, and Dr. Joe Mercola who wrote Fat for Fuel.
All of these doctors share research that exonerates dietary fat and point to the fact that when our diets moved away from fat, we got fat.
How Dietary Fats Got an (Undeserved) Bad Reputation
Back in the 1970s, we decided that fat was evil, so we took fat out of our diets and replaced it with sugar and carbs. The result was a surge in obesity.
In the 1970s one in six people were obese; today it’s nearly one out of two people.
If high-carb, low-fat diets don’t work, we need to consider a shift. And we are starting to see this shift.
People are getting bad carbs and sugar out of their diets and putting fat back in and losing weight.
Not only is the weight coming off, but hunger and cravings are going away, and blood work is improving, which lowers the risk of heart disease, cancers, and dementia.
Bottom Line: How to Cut Carbs without Starving
When you lower your carb intake, you want to eliminate or greatly limit refined and starchy carbs because they don’t have enough fiber to keep your blood sugar in check.
Instead, go for your high fiber carbs, like your non-starchy vegetables and enjoy them with nuts, seeds, and avocados that provide both fiber and fat.
Build meals around good fats, such as eggs, fatty fish, and high-quality meats.
When your aim is high fiber and adequate fat, you have a lot of great meal options that are very satisfying, so if you’ve struggled with hunger, a lack of satisfaction or you tend to lose weight slowly, then high fiber, healthy fat, and low carb is the way to go.
About the Author
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.