Today I want to discuss how to lose weight and still eat carbs.
Carbs have gotten a bad rap over the years.
I grew up at a time when the Atkins diet was all the rage. Whereas now, Keto is all that anyone seems to talk about.
Both of these diets have one thing in common – cutting out carbs.
Now I don’t know about anyone else, but I LOVE my carbs, but at different stages in my life I have followed a diet that completely cut out carbs or severely restricted them.
I’m not going to lie, each time I did this I did lose weight (or more importantly for someone who exercises as regularly as me, I lost body fat), but there were many more disadvantages to cutting carbs that are now far more obvious to me than they were before.
What follows is more about my random thoughts about eating carbs and losing weight.
So, I apologise if there seems to be no specific order to my ramblings, but much of what I talk about here are the specific feelings that I have had about this subject.
I have researched many of these topics over the years, plus I’ve also learned from trial and error what seems to work for me.
How to Lose Weight and Still Eat Carbs
When it comes to eating carbs or not eating carbs if you’re trying to lose weight, there’s always one rule I live by: If I know it’s a “bad carb” then I won’t eat it, if I’m not sure, then it’s probably okay.
Allow me to explain.
Even though you are here reading an article about how to lose weight and still eat carbs, you definitely know what a bad carb is.
Should you eat oats or a Danish pastry for breakfast?
Would lunch be better for you if you ate a baked potato or a portion of chips (fries to my friends from across the Atlantic)?
A dessert filled with whipped cream or a bowl of natural yoghurt topped with fruit?
A packet of crisps (potato chips) or an apple and a banana?
There you go, I can guarantee that you knew the answer to every single one of those questions.
The main problem when it comes to “bad carbs” is that they taste soooooo good! LOL.
But, you know I’m right.
Carbs also produce that feel-good factor inside us, but I’ll speak more on that in a moment.
I also mentioned whether we should eat carbs that we’re not sure about.
To be completely honest, this is all down the information we receive and learned behaviours.
Two sources of carbs that I probably eat every single day and that many of you may avoid like the plague are potatoes and rice.
They are high in carb content, so surely they must be bad for you if you want to lose weight?
Know The Difference Between Good and Bad Carbs
We typically assume that carbs are grains, although this is simply one type of carbohydrate.
There are various fruits, vegetables, sugars, alcohol, and even certain forms of dairy that are also carbs.
It is actually a specific compound that is found in food that constitutes it being a carb.
Carbs are generally divided into separate categories including, fibre, starch, and sugar,
However, when it comes down to whether a carb is considered good or bad then we only need to know if it is whole or refined.
A whole carb, as the name implies, means that the food has retained its “whole” original chemical composition.
A prime example of this would be a kernel of wheat, which contains bran, germ, and endosperm.
The bran and germ component is where we find all the “goodness”, such as vitamins, minerals, and fibre.
But, a refined carb will have all the “goodness” taken out by the manufacturer, thus leaving us with the endosperm.
This is why processed carbs get such a bad name, as all the good stuff has been removed.
Fibre is what makes us feel full after a meal, and the numerous antioxidants and micronutrients that have been removed is what guards us against certain diseases.
All of this good stuff is also what is responsible for helping the digestive system work in the way it should.
This all makes a huge amount of sense to me now in terms of eating unhealthy food.
Without wishing to name any specific companies, but I know whenever I eat food from a particularly famous fast-food outlet, I can literally devour two people’s worth of food in one sitting, and somehow I feel hungry again about two hours later.
Additionally, my stomach usually hurts and I feel uncomfortable for the rest of the day (although that could just be the fact that I’m greedy).
Eat Healthy Carbs to Lose Weight
Another common misconception is that all carbs contain unhealthy sugar.
There are various types of sugar such as, galactose, glucose, and fructose.
Starches like grains and potatoes will be broken down into glucose in the digestive tract, which in turn raises blood sugar levels.
However, you could never compare the sugar in a potato with that of a bar of chocolate.
Starch only contains sugar in the form of glucose, whereas table sugar is half glucose and half fructose.
And it is the fructose portion of sugar that typically causes weight gain.
This will also explain why some people put on weight when all they seem to do is “juice” fruit, and lots of it – high fructose content.
Therefore, the starch from carbohydrates will have a completely different effect inside the body.
So, you can (and should) include complex carbohydrates as part of a healthy, well-balanced diet in order to lose weight.
As I’ve mentioned it’s not so much carbs that are the problem, but the type of carbs that we choose to eat.
What Do I Think Of Low-Carb Diets?
One of the most popular methods of losing weight is to cut carbs in favour of increasing either our protein or fat intake, and in some cases both.
I recall reading The Atkins Diet handbook many years ago and simply made up my own version.
I literally went overnight from eating oats, cereals, bread, rice and potatoes on a daily basis, to having absolutely no carbs in my diet.
In fact, I’ll even go as far to say that I more-or-less lived off chicken and eggs for a number of weeks with the occasional vegetable thrown in for good measure.
To be completely honest, I can’t actually remember the results in terms of fat loss (rather than weight loss for me), but I do remember feeling quite ill and tired for most of the time.
I believe I lasted no more than about 20 days before sinking my teeth into a fat, juicy, greasy burger (with the bun I might add), a massive portion of chips (fries), followed by s strawberry milkshake, and a Brown Derby (a hot doughnut smothered in ice-cream and sprinkled with nuts and lashings of chocolate sauce, if anyone is interested).
Suffice to say I loved every second of eating this artery-blocking meal, but felt very ill afterwards.
However, I should add that I have always been a person of extremes.
The Keto diet seems to be all the rage at the moment.
Keto works on the concept that your body will go into ketosis after a while through limiting carbs (only about 5%-10% of your daily food intake should be carbs, so probably 50g of carbs or less), and this switches the body’s metabolic state from burning carbs to burning body fat.
This metabolic state can actually be fairly beneficial for people who suffer with conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, or epilepsy.
With that said, you can still be eating low-carb by sticking to under 150g of carbs a day, while eating fruit and small amounts of rice and potatoes.
I don’t want to get into the ins-and-outs of which way is better, but I will say that low-carb diets can still lead to weight-gain.
Unfortunately, through restricting carbs, and those feel-good emotions we have from eating them, many people will overeat proteins and fats.
And even if a fat is a “good fat” eating too much of it will only lead to gaining weight.
I often shake my head when I see someone refuse a slice of bread because they’re afraid it’s going to make them fat, but sees nothing wrong with gulping down half a gallon of full fat cream or devouring a whole block of cheese.
Forget low-carb diets, to me any type of diet is simply a short-term fix, which isn’t sustainable.
This is generally why people often put on weight after they have followed a diet for a period of time.
The word “diet” conjures up thoughts of restriction, and once you have finished restricting yourself and go back to your normal eating habits, you’re going to put weight back on again, and usually more than before.
I would rather eat a proportionate amount of carbs, protein, and fat, and the only restriction I will place on myself is how much I am putting into my mouth (and also perhaps the time of day I will eat certain foods, as you will discover in a moment).
I know this is probably quite opinionated of me, and I may even get hounded to death by pro-Keto, or pro-Atkins, or pro-anything people, but this is just how I see it.
As I mentioned above, we KNOW when we’re eating something we shouldn’t. I see nothing wrong with the occasional treat, but it’s when a treat becomes a habit that we generally become all serious and decide it’s time for a drastic change.
The DANGERS of Low-Carb Diets
I’ve already said that I don’t wish to get into an argument with pro low-carb dieters, but there are various medical and scientific studies which prove that eating carbs is actually essential for our long-term health, as opposed to cutting them down, or cutting them out completely.
There’s this study by the European Heart Journal in 2019 that based their research on 25,000 people.
They found that people with the lowest carb intake were at the highest risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. In fact, low-carb eaters had a higher risk of mortality in general.
What was even worse was that some of these diseases are typically associated with people who were extremely overweight or obese, but among low-carb eaters, non-obese were most at risk of dying.
Then we have this study by The Lancet that ran over 25 years and was published in 2018.
To get straight to the crux of the matter, it was found that those who ate 50%-55% of their diet from carbs were the least likely people to die.
However, I think it’s important to note that The Lancet went on to say that people who consumed too many or too little carbohydrates in their diet were a higher mortality risk.
Therefore, you can also eat too many carbs, as well as too little.
So, if you want to hit the “sweet spot” in terms of your health and your longevity then aim for about half of the food you consume on a daily basis being made up of carbs.
No CARBS Before MARBS
Just to lighten the mood for a moment, I wanted to share with you a video that always makes me laugh.
For anyone not from the UK, and especially Essex (which is only about 30 miles down the road from me), I can assure that we’re not all like this.
However, the cast of The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE) frequently enjoyed their holidays/vacations in Marbella. And what was foremost on their minds was to be in great shape before they stripped off on a beach.
And of course their famed way to achieve this was to completely cut out carbs from their diets in the weeks preceding their holiday.
I LOVE Arg – his eating habits remind me of my own, LOL.
The Benefits of Carbs For Weight Loss
I’ve never been one to focus too much on numbers, especially when it comes to counting calories.
With that said, the numbers don’t lie – Fat contains 9 k cal per gram, whereas protein and carbs are 4 k cal per gram (it’s probably also worth knowing that alcohol contains 7 k cal per gram. Hint hint, at those of you looking to lose weight).
I spoke of the fibre contained in carbs and it’s interesting to note that the body can’t actually digest fibre.
Fibre will need to get to the bacteria found in the intestines, which contains specific enzymes to digest the fibre, and it is then able to convert these to essential compounds.
Therefore, you could say that fibre is actually crucial in order to maintain a healthy gut, which is associated with maintaining a healthy weight.
In fact, there have been various studies which prove that soluble fibre, such as those found in oatmeal, can improve cholesterol as well as helping with weight loss.
A Quick History Lesson About “Eating The Right Way”
“Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince; dinner like a pauper.” – Adelle Davis (1954)
“Butter is gold in the morning, silver at noon, and lead at night.” – Thomas Cogan (1584)
The most famous piece of “advice” about when and how we should eat has been around for over a half a century.
However, this “advice” can probably cast its origins back to nearly over half a millennium ago.
Unfortunately, it’s “advice” that few of us follow, and I for one have typically always gone the complete opposite way around it.
Basically, what both Davis and Cogan were getting at here is that our largest meal of the day should be the first meal, and then subsequent meals should get smaller as the day progresses.
This actually makes a huge amount of sense when you think about it.
In the vast majority of cases we may have gone approximately 10-12 hours without food from our last meal of the day to our first meal the following morning.
In effect, we have been fasting, and the first meal will break this fast, hence “BreakFast”.
I actually went for a period in my life when I typically skipped breakfast (just as many people do) in favour of a sweet pastry and coffee mid-morning for a “boost” in energy.
This was before I understood the importance of eating regularly in order to stop the body going into “fight or flight” mode and believing it was being starved, thus holding onto FAT to store as energy for later use.
And yet my mid-morning treat was based around giving myself energy, so I obviously had an inkling that eating was important in terms of energy.
However, no matter how hard I try, my last meal of the day has usually been my biggest meal of the day.
I think many of us do this for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, it’s just the way it is, it’s a learned behavior. Our parents did it, their parents did it, so it only makes sense that we do it too.
Secondly, prevention is better than cure.
We actually know that we are going to go a long period without eating, so surely it makes more sense to stuff ourselves silly and fill ourselves up beforehand, rather than doing it the other way around.
Or is it?
Can The Timing of Eating Carbs Help With Weight Loss?
Something that I have become more aware of through my research into something completely unrelated (sleep deprivation and insomnia) is that the body’s metabolism generally slows down as the day wears on.
So, our metabolism is at its highest earlier in the day and by the evening it is ticking along a lot slower.
Based on simple science, it makes more sense to eat food for energy when our metabolism is higher, as it’s easier to break down for energy.
When our metabolism is at its lowest ebb, it is far more difficult to break down food for energy, so often this gets stored as fat.
I have previously read that our metabolism tends to be at its highest from 10am to 2pm, when it reaches its peak.
The Story of Cutting Carbs After 2.30pm
I recently read this article by Lauren Levinson and it certainly had some very interesting points.
Basically, Lauren wanted to lose weight quickly, in fact in the 2 weeks prior to her wedding.
So, she completely cut out carbs (and alcohol) for these 2 weeks and managed to lose a fair amount of weight.
This “solution” was based on advice from celebrity trainer and author, David Kirsch.
However, Lauren knew this wasn’t sustainable, and she later turned to David once more to discover if there was a way to still enjoy carbs (and wine) without constantly feeling bloated.
David explained it was all about portion control and timing.
In terms of portion control, rather than eating a whole baked potato at lunch, Lauren could eat a quarter or half the potato, and save the rest for another time.
Her plate should have a good protein source, such as fish or poultry, and then be packed-high with vegetables.
As for timing, she was given a cut-off point for carb intake of 2.30pm. There was no exact science behind this timing, although it does seem to fit in with our “highest” metabolism levels that I mentioned earlier.
The idea was that by eating carbs in the morning and throughout the middle of the day the body had enough fuel to see Lauren through the entire day.
However, by cutting out carbs after 2.30pm the body has the opportunity to burn these carbs off throughout the rest of the day, as well as being able to drain off the excess water found in carbs (this is what typically causes “carb bloating”).
The result is that Lauren lost weight, but still enjoyed eating carbs.
It is also important to note that Lauren was also exercising with David 5 times a week.
Lauren also decided to consult two Doctors about David’s theory and received 2 quite different answers.
One Doctor, Dr. Waples, didn’t buy into the fact that there should be a set hour when we cut off carbs.
He explained that because carbs often spike blood sugar levels, you wouldn’t want to feel this spike and crash during the day when you are most likely to need to be focused and energetic, e.g. at work, exercising in the gym, studying, etc.
So, in reality Dr. Waples believes that carbs can make you feel groggy.
Furthermore, Dr. Waples stated that carbs can actually help us sleep better due to the increase in serotonin.
Serotonin, or the happy hormone as I like to call it, is most commonly associated with that feel-good factor we have (remember how I spoke earlier of carbs making us feel good?)
Serotonin is typically released into the body by activities that make us feel great, it is responsible for that feeling of “being on a high”.
Serotonin also happens to be responsible for increased levels of melatonin in the brain and body (or the sleep hormone as I like to call it).
So, Dr. Waples is saying that by eating carbs at night we can actually get a better night’s sleep.
This is important in terms of weight loss in a couple of ways.
Firstly, getting a good night’s sleep is crucial for our bodies to perform to the best of their abilities. You’ll be more alert the following day, more likely to exercise, more in control of your mind, and you’ll probably have a great day.
Secondly, from personal experience (and various studies tend to agree), I know that if I’ve had a bad night’s sleep I tend to overeat the next day.
I feel groggy, lethargic, and probably a little sorry for myself – my solution, a few thousand extra calories should make me feel better.
This actually leads to increased levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), which is known to hold onto body fat.
Doctor. number 2, Dr. Berkowitz, saw things a little differently.
Dr. Berkowitz stated that our energy demands are far lower at night than during the day.
Therefore, eating a carb-laden meal in the evening is likely to see us store these extra calories, which will eventually lead to weight gain.
Plus the spikes and drops in insulin from our evening carb-intake may impact on how well we sleep.
Dr. Berkowitz added that eating carbs later in the day is also the reason for bloating.
Because most people tend to have their bowel movement earlier in the day, typically the morning, the more food we eat throughout the day, the more of an issue digestion becomes. This is why we are more likely to feel bloated at night.
Well, it’s nice to see that even those in the medical profession don’t agree on this matter, so what hope is there for the rest of us?
You’ll be pleased to hear that Lauren did lose weight using the no carbs after 2.30pm method and you can read her full story following the link above.
The Workout Program That Claims You Can Eat “Bad” Carbs & Still Burn Fat
We are told that our body composition, especially when it comes to fat, is more about how we eat than how we exercise.
I always believed in this principle and I have even seen it’s effects – I was regularly exercising 5 days a week, but still had a small “gut” due to my love of food.
However, last year I completely turned this principle upside down and blew it out of the water.
Admittedly, I was training for a specific purpose (The Spartan Race), but I went through a 4-month period where I was training a couple of times a day, often for up to 4 hours a day.
And I have to say I just couldn’t eat enough.
Now I’d never suggest this type of training (or eating) unless you have a long history of exercise, but I was literally eating “crap” 4 or 5 times a week and still producing 6-pack abs, plus an overall lean and muscular physique.
I was confused.
I recently reviewed the Bodyweight Burn program by Adam Steer.
Now Adam is someone who has a great deal of respect within the health and fitness industry.
He is someone that has been producing exercise programs (usually of the bodyweight variety) for over a decade.
His programs have over 80,000 satisfied customers.
Adam has led workshops and seminars in the USA, Australia, Canada, Germany, The Netherlands, Slovenia and Singapore.
Basically, “Adam is the man” and he knows what he’s talking about.
So, it came as quite a surprise to me that his latest online program, Bodyweight Burn, included the tagline, “Enjoy eating more yummy carbs”.
In fact, Adam claims that you only need to workout for 21 minutes a day (not the 4 hours I was going through) and still eat your favourite, tasty, crab-rich foods.
The basic principle here is that long, arduous workouts typically leads to the body producing cortisol.
In the main I agree with this and we now know that cortisol production (the stress hormone) can lead to us storing fat, and this is especially true around the midsection.
Adam also uses his short, intense workouts to lead to “insulin sensitivity”. When insulin levels are low we once again tend to store fat for energy.
However, these workouts are aimed at keeping insulin sensitivity high, thus meaning that you are burning more fat after you have finished exercising.
Due to the high levels of insulin you are able to enjoy more of the tasty, carb treats that would usually make you fat.
You can check out my full Bodyweight Burn review here.
Conclusions I Have Drawn About Eating Carbs & Losing Weight
Okay, there’s a lot of information to take in here, and there are equally many contradictions.
The following merely represents my opinion and what I feel has worked best for me.
Please don’t hate on me, but I am not “usually” someone who has ever had to worry about losing weight, but I have still had my moments.
There are times when I have felt out-of-shape, even looked a little podgy and as though I’m carrying a few extra pounds.
However, the vast majority of the time, through constant exercise and “fairly” healthy eating habits (I say “fairly” in that way because I love a good, old splurge every once in a while, and I’m not adverse to having an entire day eating “crap”) I manage to stay in decent shape.
For me, I have picked the best bits from everything you have read above and I find that it works.
I now do “eat breakfast like a king”, but I split it to pre-workout and post workout. So, in effect I eat two breakfast, but both are consumed before 10.30am each day.
I walk first thing every morning for 45-60 minutes without any food in my belly. For some this would be considered adequate exercise for the day, and yes in many cases it is.
This walk for me is more about the mental clarity it offers rather than the physical benefits, but I am aware that it is still doing my body good.
I will return home and eat a big bowl of oats (made with water, but due to having a “slight” milk allergy rather than anything else), with fruit, milled seeds and nuts, a heaped tablespoon of peanut butter, and a drizzle of honey (you can take the boy out of the sweet tooth, but you can’t take the sweet tooth out of the boy).
Following my workout, it’s all about loading up on protein, so this will typically involve eggs and lots of them. I will usually have 3 whole eggs and 3 egg whites mixed into an omelette with plenty of veg thrown in. I am partial to a bit of bacon with this, and a slice or two of wholemeal toast.
I have now changed to have what used to be my evening meal to lunch at around 2pm.
This will include a big slab of protein, usually fish, poultry, or red meat, along with some rice or a baked potato, and again plenty of veg.
I’ll be honest here about my veg intake. I was your typical child who turned their nose up at the very sight of anything green, although I did have a penchant for peas (and I still do).
This continued well into adulthood, until I discovered frozen veg packets – I’m not going to get into an argument with a health-conscious/nut foodie who will start lecturing me about lost vitamins and minerals. I’m eating veg, just be happy.
I particularly like the assortment of stir-fry veg and Mediterranean chargrilled veg.
I will fry these in almond oil (so some good fat) and I will admit that each packet is supposed to contain 8 portions, but I usually devour them in about 3 hits.
The one control/restriction I have placed on myself is to have a lot less carbs at night.
I still have my protein and (frozen) veg, but I’ll limit my protein to half a portion of rice or pasta, or half a baked potato/sweet potato.
It works for me.
I will add that I consume a protein and a separate protein/carb mix shake in the morning and afternoon as well, but I wouldn’t expect most “normal” people to eat like me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the biggest guy in the world, but I have a huge appetite due to the amount of exercise I do, and an amazing metabolism (again, don’t hate me).
I will have days when I enjoy takeout food. I love a burger, and I’ll chow down on the occasional pizza, I do LOVE a dessert (cream especially), but for at least 5 days a week I will maintain my eating habits as I have described above.
I’m eating carbs, I’m enjoying some of my favourite foods, I don’t feel as though I’m restricting myself, and I’m still maintaining my ideal body weight.
Am I out training a bad diet?
Sometimes. So, it is possible, but once again, it isn’t something you can sustain forever.
So, there you have it – How to lose weight and still eat carbs.
I think the main take-away point from all of this is that carbs aren’t really the issue.
More so, it is the type of carbs that many of us choose to eat (and yes, I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else).
I am a great believer of “everything in moderation”, so I don’t choose to try to restrict myself with too many rules.
If I want to eat something (that perhaps I shouldn’t) every once in a while, then I will, I just won’t make a regular habit of it.
I’m also aware that my metabolism is higher during the day than it is in the evening, so I’ll eat more carbs in the morning and afternoon.
However, I also know how important carbs are for serotonin and melatonin production in order to get a good night’s sleep, so I won’t completely cut out carbs in the evening, but simply have less of them.
Additionally, I’m very active, and so I need carbs for energy, and cutting them down would have a dramatic effect on how I choose to live my life.
Finally, we are now aware through various studies the impact that too many or too little carbs can have on our mortality rate.
Therefore, the best piece of advice I can offer – yes, eat your carbs, even if you want to lose weight, but just be sensible about it.