Friday, April 1, 2011

My Take on Low-Carb Diets for Fat Loss

My progress pic: Evolutionary Nutrition + low carb
While the effects of low-carb dieting on health can be impressive as well, especially for people with metabolic derangement (insulin/leptin resistance), I want to stick to low-carb for fat loss at the moment. Just to be clear, an evolutionary or paleo diet is not by nature always a low carb diet, though it can be. 

Why are low-carb diets so effective for fat burning?
Without going in to the underlying hormonal causes, the real advantage of low-carb diets is the resetting of satiation signaling pathways. 
What I mean by this is that when you eat a diet low in carbohydrates, your bodies ability to send the signals to your brain that you are full, is greatly increased.

The end result of this is that people will feel full on less food.

In fact, several clinical studies show that subjects eating a low-carb diet until they are full often eat less than people on high-carb diets that are actively restricting calories.

This makes it relatively easy to lose fat when compared to a high-carb diet, because you simply aren't as hungry. 

However, it's important to remember that even if you are eating low carb, if you constantly eat past the point of feeling full, it is still possible to gain body fat. 

The other thing I want to emphasize about low-carb diets is that the majority of the health benefits that people see from them are likely because of the things they are not eating; the grains, legumes, sugars, etc. You will get a lot of the same effects of a low-carb diet by replacing these foods with safe starches.

Weight loss on a high-carb diet is possible, although I wouldn't recommend for most people. It usually leads to feelings of constant hunger, deprivation, and possible malnutrition due to a decrease in consumption of the most nutrient dense foods (meat, eggs, animal fat), which can results in fat-soluble vitamin deficiencies.

I will examine the underlying hormonal and metabolic effects of low-carb diets, and their relationship with longevity sometime soon.


  1. Good post. It is funny that when researchers set up studies to compare low-carb vs high-carb for weight loss, they have to actually restrict the calories for the people eating high-carb in order to reach comparable results, yet usually the low-carb diet ends up improving lipids and such more and the people automatically eating less.

    What I would like to see in those studies is the level of hunger that the two groups are experiencing, I can imagine that the high-carb group would be pretty damn hungry.

  2. Kris,
    It would be really interesting to see the hunger levels for the high-carb group... less fat, less protein, less fat-soluble vitamins, etc- the high-carbers must have epic willpower.

  3. "I will examine the underlying hormonal and metabolic effects of low-carb diets, and their relationship with longevity sometime soon."

    Interest piqued.

  4. I found the study we were looking for! :)

    The low-fat group was hungrier and showed more physical symptoms of hunger too.

    A much higher percentage of the low-carb group finished the treatment as well, which kind of contradicts the claim some people make about low-carb/ketogenic diets to be too restrictive for people to stick to them.

    And the low-carb group lost a lot more weight too (without restricting calories, no surprise there).

  5. Awesome find Kris! I'll probably write a quick summary of this next week for the blog... so much good stuff here.

  6. Found your post on Monday Mania. Like what you write. Love this quote from another post where you commented, "I feel like I could write a science fiction book about a dystopian society where the people are given food that makes them sick, their taxes are used to produce the food, and pharmaceutical companies sell them drugs to "cure" them. It's a sick system." I agree. Well, except the part about the "cure." They don't cure anything...they just try to make their disease easier to deal with. Real food heals!! Shared your blog on my Being Conformed Facebook page.

  7. Karen,

    Thanks for the kind words, it really means a lot to me.

    And yes, you are right on... Drugs don't cure anything, they mask symptoms. When I referred to "cure" it was a sarcastic statement. Hard to convey that through the text though.

  8. I wished many congratulation for do this and achieve your goals. You have really got some fantastic results. I will try this method.

  9. I love the blog Tyler!

    What are your thoughts on carb cycling? I'm having excellent results from a body composition standpoint using Martin Berkhan's intermittent fasting leangains system. Training days are followed by a massive carb refeed (1+ pounds of potatoes) and lots and lots of protein. Off days are spent walking and ~100g carbs wit higher % calories from fat & protein. Strength in the big lifts keeps increasing as I'm leaning out!

    Oh and to Karen, stop with the pharmaceutical bashing mumbo-jumbo that runs rampant in the paleo community. Last week, one of the patients admitted to my hospital's ER was an 11 year old girl with congenital renal artery stenosis in a hypertensive emergency. You know what saved her life, eyesight, and organs from permanent damage? An antihypertensive drug.... I can cite many instances where your typical maintenance medications for "diseases of civilization" are quite useful at saving lives. Pretty sure grass-fed beef, spinach, and berries wouldn't have done much here!

  10. Hi Dave,

    I'm a big fan of carb cycling. In fact, I think most people should never go longer than about 8 weeks on a low-carb diet.

    Sounds like you've found something that works very well for you. With many of my clients I use carb refeeds, various carb cycling protocols, and IF. It's all based upon context and goals.

    I say context because for some people these strategies would really backfire; low-carb can be a stress on the body which might be too much if someone is already over-stressed, over-trained, under-fed, and lacking sleep.

    Keep at it!