For the past 60 years, we’ve been taught that weight loss happens when we eat a low-fat diet, exercise more, and control the portion size of our meals. Yet, as anyone who’s tried to lose weight in this manner knows, the promise of results do not often match the actual results.
Low-carb dieting is nothing new. It has been used as a medical intervention and dieting strategy for decades if not centuries, yet it has always had a hard time gaining traction.
The social media phenomenon of our current age has changed the game. Success stories seem to be everywhere and you’ve likely had your curiosity peaked. In this post, I explain why low-carb and keto diets work for weight loss.
Summary: Why Low-Carb Diets Work
- Low fat/high carb diets became popular in the early 1990s thanks, in part, to the iconic food pyramid. However, obesity rates climbed quickly during the decades following.
- Insulin is the fat-storing hormone. Eating a low carb diet, keeps insulin levels low.
- A low-carb diet is defined as a diet consisting of fewer than 125 grams of carbs/day.
- A keto diet is defined as a diet consisting of fewer than 50 grams of carbs/day.
Low-Carb Dieting 101- Why Low-Carb & Keto Diets Work [Video]
In this video, you’ll learn…
- Why insulin is the game changer when it comes to fat loss
- How to eat to get insulin working for you
- How many carbs to eat for weight loss
The Origin of Low Fat/High Carb Dieting
Whether you are in your 20s or 70s, you have likely grown up with the belief that eating fat makes you fat. Therefore, if you want to control your weight, the smart thing to do was eat less fat and replace those calories with carbs.
This ideal was illustrated very clearly in the iconic USDA Food Pyramid published in 1992 that shows fats and oils in the tiny space at the tip of the pyramid and the foundation of bread, cereal, and pasta at the bottom.
Why Low Fat/High Carb Dieting Caught On
This idea of cutting fat and boosting carbs made sense for many reasons. First, carbohydrates are an easy source of energy for your body. Your digestive system has little trouble breaking them down into their basic sugars, which absorb quickly into your bloodstream. This quick absorption means quick and easy energy.
Also, gram for gram, fat has more than two times the calories of carbs. So, the weight loss formula that made sense on paper was that weight loss should happen when you replace fat with carbs, employ a bit of willpower to control food portions, and burn off excess energy through exercise.
The Problems with Low Fat/High Carb Diets
The first problem was that we all got fatter eating this way. We’ve all seen from the familiar obesity maps that show how obesity has skyrocketed since the middle of the last century.
The second problem was that no one could follow this simple formula for very long because it causes hunger. For years, we fell into this collective mindset that those who could not lose weight either lacked willpower or lied about what they were eating. When in reality, the flaw was in the equation.
How Insulin Changed the Game
What we didn’t understand at the time was that fat storage and fat burning are hormonally controlled processes, and the hormone that is pulling the strings is insulin.
Insulin’s job is to store energy. When you eat carbohydrates (energy), your blood sugar goes up. High blood sugar is an inflammatory and unstable state for the body.
To remove the excess sugar, your pancreas pumps insulin into the blood. If you consumed more energy than you needed, the excess gets stored as body fat.
How a High Carb Diet Encourages Hunger & Fat Storage
Remember that sugar is a quick and easy form of energy. It’s like twigs on a fire. You eat it, move it, and poof it’s gone. You got a little burst of energy, but if you want to keep your fire burning with these quick-burning carbs, you have to continually eat and stoke the fire.
If you don’t, your body reminds you to eat by making you crave carbs, and the cycle repeats itself. You are left with a feeling that you need to eat every couple of hours, and therefore, you never leave fat-storing mode.
Fat cells only work in one direction at a time, so if you’re locked in fat-storing mode, you are not releasing fat from storage. When you eat a high-carb diet, you keep adding energy to your belly and hips and end up carrying tens of thousands of calories of energy with no way of accessing it.
Why Low Carb Dieting Works
Low-Carb dieting works because it interrupts this cycle. When you reduce the number of carbs you take in, your blood sugar levels remain low, which keeps insulin low. The low level of insulin allows fat to be released from the fat cells.
That released body fat can be burned by your cells for energy, bypassing the need for sugar. As a result, you feel energized all day long both mentally and physically, and you don’t crave sugar because your body is running on its alternative fuel, which is fat.
How Many Carbs Can You Eat on a Low Carb Diet?
The generally accepted division line between a high and low carb diet is 125 grams of carbs per day. Therefore, to follow a low carb diet, you want to eat fewer than 125 grams of carbs a day.
However, what is right for you will depend on your metabolism. If you have been eating a high-carb diet for years and you have been overweight for years, you will likely find that you need to drop your carbs to get the fat-burning door of your fat cells to open.
For instance, a keto diet is simply a very-low-carb-diet that brings your carbs below 50 grams per day.
The Next Step
That explains why a low-carb diet works. But, there are challenges that come with making this shift from a high-carb diet to a low-carb one. Part of the challenge is physical because you are removing the twigs from your metabolic fire. In other words, remove carbs and you rob your body of its quick and easy energy source.
There are steps that you need to take to help your body through this transition from being a good sugar-burner to being a good fat burner. This is where a lot of the confusion surrounds low-carb dieting. To clear up the confusion, see my post on 5 Common Low Carb Dieting Mistakes.
Thanks for reading and have a wonderful week!
About the Author:
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.