Confused about the role of carbs in weight loss? I don’t blame ya!
What if I could clear that up for you in 5 minutes in the clearest way possible and make it an enjoyable read?
Give me 5 minutes and see if I live up to the promise.
Carbs & Weight Loss
There are a lot of people who just don’t have any carb-sensitivity. That’s why you’ll always know that person who can eat a lot of carbohydrate and remain lean.
However, some people just aren’t that lucky.
We need to look at what regulates our fat tissue. This is primarily the role of insulin. And what is determining the levels of insulin in the body? Predominantly it’s the carbohydrate in our diets.
If you have higher insulin levels than normal, it has the following 2 undesirable consequences:
(1) It stores MORE of your incoming calories AS FAT instead of supplying energy to your body’s cells
(2) It doesn’t let that fat back out again very easily i.e. it’s more likely to STAY stored.
Remember that our fat cells are like balloons. As they ‘inflate’ you get fatter. You aren’t actually creating new fat cells, just making your existing ones bigger.
If carb-sensitive person A and non-carb-sensitive person B both eat 2500 calories, person A will get fatter than person B because more of that energy went to storage. Also, person A won’t have as much energy as person B because person B’s cells had access to all of that energy, whereas person A didn’t.
I was trying to think of a way to explain this in a diagram to make it as easy as possible to understand. I thought of the analogy of a water butt that people use for irrigation in their garden. Check it out…
The above non-carb-sensitive person’s weight remains roughly the same over time as calories in = calories out. Now let’s look at the other side of the coin…
More of what is coming in is going into storage for this person. If this storage tank could expand, as our fat cells can, then slowly over time it would get bigger and bigger.
In humans, however, it’s worse – we get hungry! Since all the energy taken in isn’t reaching our cells to be metabolized (it’s shunted into storage) the body perceives less food and a hunger signal is sent out earlier than it would be for a regular, non carb-sensitive person.
There’s only so long a person can feel hungry before they have to eat again. Such a person can have a positive energy balance (calories in > calories out) even when they’re eating what is supposedly maintenance calories. But such a person is also more likely to overconsume to compensate for their higher hunger levels. It becomes a vicious cycle.
If you’ve ever wondered, “How can that big person be so hungry all the time?” – now you know. You can also see why they tend to yo-yo diet with low-calorie, high carb plans like weight watchers. These type of plans are doomed to failure for this type of person.
So it matters very much what HAPPENS to the calories we eat, not just the AMOUNT of calories we eat. The metabolic pathway our calories actually takes depends on where those calories come from. Each macronutrient has different effects on the body. The caloric or energy value itself doesn’t tell you much. Protein and carbohydrate both have 4 Calories per gram, but have different effects on the body. Alcohol has 7 Calories per gram, but we wouldn’t say it’s healthier than fat because fat contains 9 Calories per gram.
This is all summed up quite nicely in the FatHead movie. Here’s a clip…
“The end user of the food that we eat is our individual cells. It doesn’t matter if it goes in our mouth. If it doesn’t get to those cells, we starve at the cellular level.”
So what happens? You get hungry again sooner than a regular person would. You then eat more, and more often.
So what does this mean for weight loss? Such people do extremely well on lower-carb diets. The first thing that happens is that their hunger normalizes – they just don’t get hungry as often as they used to because the food they eat reaches the intended target.
As appetite normalizes, fat from the fat cells is also more free to come out to be used for energy. Remember that this is a food source too; an additional source of calories for the body. The need therefore for food intake reduces accordingly. The cells of the body are getting all the energy they need from the combined sources of food and stored body fat.
This produces the result of weight loss that actually feels quite effortless. For the first time they are losing weight with less hunger and have more energy. This might seem miraculous, but there’s really no magic involved here. Just biology.
If you are naturally thin – good. But just note that this might not always be the case. An overconsumption of carbohydrate may produce an environment where the cells become insulin resistant. My personal opinion is that sugar is specifically the main culprit here. For naturally thin people, starches and grains are probably going to be fine. But do watch your sugar consumption.
So…how did I do?
Did I live up to the promise? Does this explain the role of carbohydrate in weight loss and weight gain? Was it easy to understand? I hope so. Let me know below….
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