7 Nasty Effects of Low Carb Diets

Low carb diets seem to be the go-to tactic for weight loss. Like a computer virus, this thought is engrained so deeply and subconsciously in most peoples’ brains that the thought of eating carbs while trying to diet seems to be a pipe dream. Weight loss warriors associate carbs with gaining fat and diabetics associate carbs with bad blood sugars. But for athletes— low carbs diets just aren’t optimal!


You can wipe your butt with sandpaper or toilet paper— both work—but one works best.


Instead of asking what works, start asking what works best. Low carb diets— less than 30% of total caloric intake from carbs—can be great for sedentary people or diabetics (even though being sedentary is terrible for everyone) who don’t require a lot of energy which carbs mainly provide. Athletes on the other hand need that energy! Here are some nasty effects of low carb diets that might make you think twice:


 1. Increased hunger: Have you ever been on a diet? You know, not devouring every single food item you can stuff in your mouth and being sure to actually be burning more calories than you are consuming? Honestly, diets suck. Especially for people like me who hate limits. But they serve a purpose. Whether you want to get to a lower body fat or make weight for a competition, caloric-deficit diets are necessary to achieve the goal. But they still suck. So why make diets any harder than they need to be? Low carb diets have shown to increase the hunger hormone, leptin, which increases appetite. That means while you are already in a calorie deficit, lower carb diets make it more miserable. Dieting is already hard for most people. Increasing their hunger just makes it that much harder. Adherence is the hardest part of dieting.

2. Decreased performance: Plain and simple, carbs provide energy to do stuff. They play an active role in hormonal balance as well, stimulating different metabolic pathways. Low carb diets increase the risk of “low T3 syndrome”, where T3, a thyroid hormone, controls metabolic rate, energy, and weight control. Low T3 caused from low carb and/or sever calorie restriction can cause fat gain and chronic fatigue. Low carb diets have shown to drop T3 almost as fast as starvation as well as reducing testosterone, increasing cortisol (stress hormone associated with weight gain), and causing amennoreah — all leading to reduced performance.Low carb T3


3. No added benefit: Studies have shown that low carb high fat (LCHF) diets have no significant benefit over a moderate carb moderate fat diet as the main factor in weight loss is being in a calorie deficit (See HERE and HERE). Surwit and colleagues compared the 6-week effects of 2 hypocaloric diets – one with 43% of the total calories as sucrose (table sugar), and one with 4% of the total calories as sucrose [15]. No significant differences were seen in the loss of bodyweight or bodyfat between the high and low-sucrose groups. Strengthening these results was the use of dual X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) to measure body composition. Furthermore, no differences in blood lipids or metabolism were seen between the groups. Seems like a more sugary intake still cannot override a calorie deficit. Now, while I can see the slight benefit in easier blood sugar control on a low carb diet (what diabetic wouldn’t want that) I cannot see sacrificing performance, energy, and mental ease that moderate carb diets bring. Why remove a nutrient that doesn’t need to be removed?

4. Less adherence: Paired with increased hunger, low carb diets restrict choices more so than the balance macronutrient diet, making it harder to go out with friends and eat as well as just enjoy life. Being worried about your carb intake is annoying (ask any diabetic). You are far more likely to cheat and not adhere to the protocol of a low carb diet. Long term adherence with low carb diets is also reduced compared to a moderate carbohydrate diet and are associated with several adverse metabolic and emotional effects. As far as diabetics on low carb diets— come on. You know you have those low blood sugar attacks and in 10 minutes turn your low carb diet into a high carb diet, raiding the kitchen like there is buried treasure (aka cookies). Having little play room with carbs is rough for anyone— especially diabetics.


5. Muscle loss: Low carb diets are often associated with muscle loss. Building muscle, which is the entire reason we go to the gym, helps increase your metabolism, improves your health, and increases strength. Losing muscle mass can lower your metabolism and actually cause you to gain more fat. Carbs have a protein sparring effect and reduce muscle catabolism or breakdown (along with resistance training and a few other factors). A Netherlands study measured 3 types of diets: 1) high carb 2) moderate carb 3) low carb. 1) and 2) experienced no t3 decrease Reverse t3 increase but 3) did. 3) also tested positive for an increase in urinary nitrogen showing protein breakdown aka muscle degradation aka losing gains. Decreasing muscle mass can increase your body fat!


6. Often uncontrolled: Let’s be honest— most people aren’t aware of how many calories they need to consume optimally based on their goal and activity level. When people choose a low carb diets it is usually because they think it is the magic diet that will fix being overweight quickly. Being unaware of what you personally need to consume based on your basal metabolic rate and non exercise thermogenesis (NEAT) means your diet is a shot-in-the-dark guessing game. Relying only on consuming very little carbs can cause severe under or overeating, keeping you from reaching your goals. I don’t know about you but I hate guessing, and while we can’t know our exact metabolic rate, we can use the tools backed by science to get pretty damn close, yielding consistent, controlled results.


7. False positive: The low carb false-positive gets people hooked. Within the first week of low carb diets, people lose 3-5lbs and rejoice like they’ve won the lottery. Whenever there is a significant carbohydrate consumption change, i.e. increasing or decreasing carbs, there will be a weight change— a water weight change. Body fat did not decrease. There was no upset in science. Just a water weight change. As I write about in my ebook “The Art of Losing Body Fat: Starving Yourself Fat” people generally don’t want to lose weight they want to lose body fat. Seeing the scale say 97lbs but you still aren’t happy with your body is not the goal.


As with any diet, given a  moderate approach to a calorie deficit with balanced macronutrients— I’m all for it. But the second performance is lost or you struggle enjoying life day to day because of the diet, there’s a problem.


Since the mid 1900’s, hundreds of studies have shown that low carb diets are no more effective then other macronutrient balanced diets. A 2014 meta analysis showed “There is probably little or no difference in weight loss and changes in cardiovascular risk factors up to two years of follow-up when overweight and obese adults, with or without type 2 diabetes, are randomized to low CHO (low-carb) diets and Isoenergetic balance (higher carb diets that are equal in calories).” (SOURCE: HERE )


In regards to health: “little or no difference was detected at 3–6 months and 1–2 years for blood pressure, LDL, HDL and total cholesterol, triglycerides and fasting blood glucose (>914 participants). In diabetic participants, findings showed a similar pattern.


Low carbs diets can and do work for some people. Plenty of epileptics are put on ketogenic or low carb diets as well as extremely sedentary people with great success. I am not married to one specific modality but I do hate the stigma attached to certain programs as an end all, be all solution. I would say for the most part, most people will benefit from a balanced diet that is not too restrictive. This may not apply for the 37 year old ultra marathon runner or the 50 year old couch potato with 40% body fat but keep in mind, dieting takes time.


Weight loss is science, not magic. The best diet is simply the one you can stick to and reach your goal.
Weight loss


Don’t be afraid to go against the grain. Because most people are so anti-carb, this message won’t sit well with some. Just consider all the people you know who preach low carb anytime they go on a diet. What are their results? How long do they stick to their diet? Did they reach their goal? Were they miserable in the process? Arm yourself with knowledge and be aware that many roads lead to Rome— I just want to take the optimal one.



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