This is my third and final post on intelligent eating (if you missed the first two you can find them here and here). All I can say is I am happy to be done – this writing gigs a lot tougher than I thought. This series was designed to get you thinking about what you’re putting into your mouth and start to question some of the conventional ‘wisdom’ we constantly get sold. I hope I was able to whet your nutritional appetite and give you a taste of what will be on offer during the upcoming 12 Week Challenge. If you’re considering it but still in two minds, I urge you – just go for. Think of this as the fork in the road leading to a healthier, fitter and slimmer you. Nothing changes unless you first make the decision to change.
On to the show. I consider this week’s topic one of the most important in weight loss and general health. The eternal debate of carbohydrate intake. Specifically, we’ll take a look at the question of what is the healthiest, most appropriate and most beneficial amount to consume. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the numerous low-carb diets out there, you’ve probably even given one a try. Interestingly, these diets have stood the test of time (most notably Atkins) and are probably more popular now than ever. However, for every low carb proponent out there, we see just as many dismissing the idea as hogwash. Government bodies recommend against low-carb, instead suggesting we eat in moderation (whatever this means). So why is it, despite such strong opposition, have Atkins and his buddies been able to last? Well, like most things that stand the test of time, they work. Not only do they work for weight loss, they also bring with them a host of other health benefits as well.
Now I could go ahead and tell you to eat less carbs because it’s good for you – and you’d probably do it and we’d all be happy (and this blog would be considerably shorter!). Unfortunately for you though I’m big on the teaching side of things. So here goes – carbs, fat and insulin. When we eat our breakfast of O.J. and toast, the influx of carbohydrates into the bloodstream is a ready source of fuel. And with all this fuel available there’s no need for us to tap into our fat stores, any excess fuel is actually stored as more fat (hello lovehandles!). In this whole process Insulin is the messenger. It goes like this: eat carbs -> insulin goes up -> body fat is stored. What’s worse – each spike of insulin throughout the day is soon after followed by a corresponding drop. This one looks like this: carbs get used up -> insulin drops -> we get hungry. This becomes a vicious cycle of appetite stimulation and fat storage. The key to break it, cut the carbs, insulin levels out, and voila – the fat is gone (I just realised I sound like an infomercial, oh God!).
I want to make this as clear as possible so we all understand. Low carb diets are the most effective method to lose weight and keep it off. No buts. They allow fat stores to be used by keeping insulin low. They keep us full so you won’t feel like you’re starving yourself. What’s more, we actually eat less calories while doing so which further drives weight loss. Without constant fluctuations in insulin, we also avoid the constant slumps in energy. Our mood improves and mental clarity is at its best. It’s a diet unparalleled. But it doesn’t stop there, we should also consider ketosis. This is when we are burning predominately fat for energy and we start to see ketone bodies, a by-product of fat metabolism, accumulate in the blood (don’t confuse this with diabetic ketoacidosis which is a serious health concern). Benefits of regularly being in ketosis range from improvements with neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis all the way through to greater life expectancy.
All this sounds fantastic right? But before you rush out and stock the fridge with two of every animal it may be worthwhile to consider some of the downsides to this tale. I’ll first point out though, that these downsides are mainly seen with very low carbohydrate diets. Depending on who you talk to this sits somewhere below 30-70 grams of carbohydrate a day (a good place to start if you’re looking to lose weight). This would mean a diet from meat, fats and low carb veggies. With that in mind, the issues to consider are:
-insufficient energy for high intensity exercise: this is particularly important when pushing the limits in what is one of the toughest workouts going round (I’m talking about KX Pilates of course!)
-an increased potential for nutrient deficiencies: start cutting back on veggies and you risk missing the full array of goodies
-bad breath: when in ketosis, we get rid of ketone bodies via the breath – think fermented fruit (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever done Atkins)
-weight gain: this is rare but nonetheless still possible. Low carb diets tend to add extra stress to the body, which if you’re working non-stop, getting poor sleep and exercising in your down time, may be enough to ramp up your cortisol. In this high stress state we store fat around our gut and run the risk of adrenal fatigue (burnout).
As you can see what we’ve got here is a balancing act. This is why I’ve aptly labelled these blogs “Intelligent eating”. Eating smart is a skill, and harnessing the powers of carb restriction takes the most smarts of all. To do this properly here’s what you need to know:
-This is a weight loss tool (albeit a healthy one) and not what I recommend for weight maintenance. (FYI I recommend paleo style nutrition and cyclic low carb eating for those looking to maintain weight and perform at their best)
-It should go without saying, but low carb doesn’t mean low on veggies. The one caveat to that, high GI veggies such as potatoes and pumpkin should be saved for after workouts. The same goes for fruit. This is not an option – carbs must be consumed after every workout. For these purposes, walking is NOT a workout; working your butt off at KX most definitely is!
-Don’t count calories. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full. It’s funny how well this works when we start to eat the right foods! Just trust me – it works.
-Give yourself time to adapt. The body may take a few days (even up to a week) to adjust and ‘switch’ to burning fat for energy. I remember the first time I did Atkins I was exhausted and craving a sandwich on day 3. And then by day 7 I ran 12km like it was nothing and lost all interest for bread. You’ll find once our bodies adjust, we turn into fat burning machines.
Follow these guidelines and you won’t be sorry. The transformations I’ve seen in countless clients makes me sure of it. Now I could go on for days unravelling the details about low carb, but Eliza told me I need to keep a handle on it because people don’t want to read an essay haha. Very true, but this means I’ve only really skimmed the surface here. If you do have any questions or feedback please leave a comment below or come see me in the studio. And if you really want to kickstart things, sign up for the 12 week challenge and we’ll tackle this one together. With that, I’m done, pen down. Time to leave this writing biz up to the professionals. Thanks for reading!