Do low carb diets work?

As an online weight loss and nutrition coach I often respond with ‘that depends’.

Improved health and weight loss goals are largely accomplished in the kitchen.

Depending on your current eating and lifestyle habits, and the results you are getting, you might want to consider making some food swaps surrounding carbohydrates.

Maybe your story goes a little bit like this:

You’ve been told carbs are bad, and now you believe that cutting out these ‘anti-nutrients’ in the form of sugar and refined carbohydrates is essential for initial and sustained weight loss.

So… you’ve taken action. You’ve gone ‘low carb’ and removed all carbohydrates from your life.

So what happened?

Your scale weight dropped. Whoop!

Then what?

Oh, that’s right – you fell off the wagon!

And that was not your fault by the way. If this does resonate with you, and you have found yourself in a similar position, you might also resonate with these three reasons why you fell off the wagon:

  1. The diet was too restrictive and made too many changes, too soon, and was therefore too mentally uncomfortable to maintain.
  2. The diet was too physically uncomfortable to be sustainable.
  3. The diet decreased your quality of life more than you were prepared to put up with forever.

And so, you craved the carbohydrates so bad, and in a moment of weakness – or triumph if you planned a ‘re-feed’ as many diet books recommend – you consume as many carbs as possible in one meal, day or week… or just plain give up.

The result? You feel frustrated. You blame yourself – after all there are thousands of messages from raving fans of the diet, testimonials and social proof that it must be your fault. You conclude that you are to blame and that you must have done something wrong.

And so, you pick yourself back up after regaining all the weight you lost, and try the next thing.

In fact, you’re not alone, and at any one time 20% of us are dieting. In addition to this, on average we attempt a new diet five times a year.

Let me repeat that – on average, we attempt to diet 5 times per year!

Year on year we try new things which means we are tenacious, and willing to take action towards a goal that is so important to us.

Sadly we fail.

Which is why I am so passionate about helping you get off this frustrating cycle of failing diets. Everything I do through nutrition coaching is aimed at getting you to eat consistently well, so that you can enjoy improved health, body composition (lose weight) and performance (whether that is sports performance, career focus, mental clarity or just ability to carry the shopping bags with ease – you decide).

I make the whole process so easy that you enjoy it and it becomes automatic. Oh, and because of this, the change is permanent, no diets, just consistently eating well, building a healthy relationship with food which shows in better health, performance and of course body composition – a lean and healthy you who looks and feels great.

With this in mind, does the approach to eating just described sound like it is consistent and sustainable for you?


I digress – lets get back on track here and talk carbohydrates, swaps and energy balance. Do low carb diets work?

Carbohydrates Or Energy Balance?

There are many ways to lose weight. At the end of the day whichever method you choose, you need to create a negative calorie balance. You need to expend more calories than you consume.

So, why is it then that when you ‘cut the carbs’ your scale weight plummets?

Glycogen depletion.

Water depletion.

With the reduction in carbohydrates being consumed, you will see a reduction in stored carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. And with this water is also released, and this is reflected n your reduced scale weight.

By restricting your carbohydrate consumption (which is a macronutrient) you reduce your total calorie consumption. Doing this can contribute towards creating a negative calorie balance – essential if you are to lose weight.

Other ways you may have created a calorie balance:

  • Restricted a macronutrient – in this case carbohydrate
  • Eating smaller meals
  • Skipping meals or fasting
  • Exercising or moving more

To Swap Your Carbs Or Cut Them Out?

As discussed above, restricting a macronutrient can result in a reduction of total energy consumed. If this is something that you do want to do, ask yourself ‘is this working for me?’. After all a total calorie deficit will result in weight loss, and restricting carbohydrates may help you do this, but how sustainable is the low carb life for you? If it is working for you, then that’s great.

But if you’ve been ‘low carb’ for a day, a week or maybe even longer, and you’re having a moment of weakness. You just have to have that sugar kick. Bombarded with media adverts promoting it, supermarket shelves brimming with it, and marketers telling you its ‘good for you because its fortified with iron, folic acid, calcium.’ 

You give in. Sugar’s got us in its grip, and, for now at least it isn’t letting go. Its everywhere and hard to avoid. It sneaks up on you in the least likely places, and makes relapse from your ideal nutrition of high nutrient density foods inevitable.

Low Carb Or Slow Carb?

The truth is that eating carbohydrates isn’t the end of the world. And while you’re eating them you can make some pretty smart choices surrounding them.

Rather than low-carb, think smart carb. Aiming for low glycemic index (GI) foods will keep the hormone response from insulin low. This in itself will keep your energy levels steady and topped up (so you function and perform well) and it will help in fat loss, since insulin is involved in fat storage if released at the wrong times, such as when you eat sweets during your sedentary day.

Manipulation of your carbohydrate sources, going for whole and unprocessed foods could be a good strategy that may work well for you, rather than a diet eliminating carbohydrates all together.

Carbohydrates To Minimise

Have you ever wandered down the cereal isle to the ‘healthy cereals’ section?

Loudly presenting themselves as healthy because they are ‘fortified with iron’, ‘contain calcium’ or ‘contain folic acid’.

They must be your weight loss and health friend because the boxes have a slim, healthy and happy looking people on them. Plus they are all ‘natural’ ingredients.

Sorry folks, most cereals are essentially sugar. The fact that labels claim to be ‘fortified with vitamins, iron, calcium’ is because during manufacture they have been processed, pummelled, bashed and shaped with such vigour that they no longer possess any nutritional value except empty, high GI, high insulin and fattening calories. To the point that manufacturers have to add some sort of nourishment artificially.

Carbs to keep to a minimum and around exercise times:

  • Most breakfast cereals
  • Highly processed breads and pastries
  • Sweets
  • Processed foods
  • Soft drinks
  • Juices

So What Carbohydrates Should I Aim For?

Low carbohydrate diets tend to have 0-2%carbohydrates, 15-20%protein and 40+% fat.

Furthermore they don’t consider the quality of the fats and proteins, being largely made up of poor quality and processed foods.

In contrast what I recommend is more moderate low GI carbohydrate content of up to 30% (try different amounts to see what works for you), much higher protein at 30% or more, and significant but lower percentage of fats, focusing on increasing omega 3, and reducing omega 6 fats.

Aim to consume your carbohydrates from lower GI sources such as fruit and non-starchy vegetables. If you have a craving for carbs, do your body a favour and grab one of the list below, and avoid the above.

Aim For These Carbohydrates Instead:

  • Fruits and berries
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Non-starchy, low GI carbs like sweet potato
  • Quinoa
  • Beans and pulses in moderation
  • Whole and minimally processed grains such as wholegrain bread

Eating these foods, especially if combined with protein and fats, will provide carbohydrates to the body, and important nutrients, fibre, vitamins, minerals, as well as having an alkalising effect in the case of fruits and greens.

If you swap the sugars for the above list you will lower your insulin levels, you will increase your insulin sensitivity, and you will lose weight and improve your health.

Insulin Resistance Puts You At Risk

So who cares about insulin levels and insulin resistance anyway?

Well I suggest we all should, especially of you want to lose weight, avoid cancer, avoid diabetes, avoid atherosclerosis and dysfunctional cholesterol.

High insulin foods, and the resulting insulin resistance can be held accountable for so many of the western world’s weight gain and sickness.

Do Low Carb Diets Work For You? Your Next Step

  1. Do low carb diets work for you? To take the first steps in eating consistently well, improving your health and body composition so that you look, feel and perform well, take a look at this nutrition article. The article takes you through five lessons that will be sure to set you on the right path, avoiding fads and pit falls found in the diet industry. You can subscribe here or in the side bar of this article.
  2. If you feel you want supportive exercise plans or you think that further weight loss coaching support may help, or to learn more about the One Habit Coaching course, please get in touch and request a free nutritional strategy session, and I’ll gladly answer any of the questions you may have, and help you towards your goal.
  3. Not quite ready to get in touch? No problem – a great start that will help you to build the foundations of good nutrition is the weight loss cheat sheet which you can access below this article.

I hope you found this useful. Let me know your thoughts and personal experience – do low carb diets work for you? And of course if you think a friend will find this useful, please do share the article with them.

Have a great day!


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