Can you really lose weight eating a high carb diet?
It almost feels as if low-carb, high fat or the more extreme keto diet has been commonly accepted in the online fitness and health space as the holy grail of weight loss.
If you want to lose weight you have to cut carbs!
Because they are “practically” what makes you fat and that kind of makes high carb fat loss a contradiction.
The main reasoning behind why carbs are bad seems clear and simple, actually so clear that anyone can follow along.
It usually goes something like this:
Eating carbs spikes insulin which makes your body want to store fat.
Limit carbs and you lower insulin which will make your body burn the fat rather than storing it.
In other words, enjoy a ton of egg, bacon and other fatty foods while your body becomes a fat burning machine!
But if you were to do a comparison between a low carb diet and a high one what would be the result. In other words, which one is the best – low carb diet vs high carb diet.
Low Carb And High Carb Diet
Let me just briefly emphasize that I am talking about two different diet approaches to creating a calorie deficit.
Specifically, it is about 1) greatly limiting carbs and include a big amount of fat – a low carb, high fat diet or even the keto diet, or 2) greatly limiting fats to instead include a big amount of carbs.
Protein intake is kept out of the equation.
Obviously, you want to include a good amount because having at least a moderate protein intake is essential for retaining muscle mass, which should always be a top priority when you want to lose weight.
Essentially, you want to lose fat and keep all your muscle.
The required protein intake for retaining muscle mass is often overstated, but because protein is highly filling and have a high thermogenic effect it can be a good idea to eat more than the required protein.
If you are new to weight loss and not too sure about macros, maintenance calories and a calorie deficit or surplus, you might want to check out some of my other articles first.
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Are Carbs Bad For You?
First, I want to briefly talk about two assumptions about carbs I have heard or read often.
- Eating carbs spikes your insulin which then makes you fat.
- Carbs cause inflammation which then makes you fat.
Carbs And Insulin
It is true that carbs spike insulin, but that is in many ways a good thing.
Like other things in the body, the function of insulin cannot just be described as the “fat storing hormone”, and even if that was the case the idea that spiked insulin alone leads to fat gain doesn’t make any sense.
Gaining or losing weight is about energy balance, so if you are consuming fewer calories than you burn you will lose weight no matter whether insulin is spiked or not.
After all, the energy needs to come from somewhere.
Insulin works to achieve a number of things. It actually makes you feel full and it is very anabolic which means it helps build muscle. For optimal muscle building, you need high insulin.
Carbs And Inflammation
It is also true that some carbs cause inflammation, e.g. processed corn syrup.
But that doesn’t mean all carbs cause inflammation. Grains, vegetables, fruits etc. shouldn’t cause any inflammation unless some special circumstances like an allergy.
By the way, there are also some fats that cause inflammation.
Low Carb / Keto Leads To Rapid Weight Loss
If you are transitioning to a low-carb or keto diet it will make you lose weight much faster than a high carb diet.
This initial weight loss can feel great, but it has nothing to do with fat loss.
Some of the carbs you eat are converted and stored in energy deposits primarily around muscles and in the liver.
These are called glycogen storages and an adult weighing 70 kg can roughly store about 500 grams of it, but physical condition, training and eating habits can greatly influence the amount.
When carb intake is reduced these storages are also reduced. Since 1 gram of glycogen binds about 3-4 grams of water, when the storages are reduced the excess water is flushed out resulting in a weight loss.
Simple math should help you reveal that it is a lot of weight that can be lost very quickly.
However, in my opinion, this kind of weight only serves two purposes:
- Great for marketing efforts of weight loss products
- Athletes where body weight is extremely important i.e. sports using weight classes.
You could argue that it can serve as a motivator to people who want to lose weight, but on the other hand, it could easily also negatively affect the motivation when that weight loss slows down drastically.
High Carb Fat Loss
Technically, carbs are non-essential meaning your body doesn’t need them for survival.
However, that is not an argument in itself for eating low-carb or keto because you also don’t need that much fat.
Going high carb and low fat is perfectly healthy. In fact, that is what most vegetarians and vegans do.
The problem about restricting carbs is that it does have some negative effects even though it is “non-essential”.
Put simply, in order to feel and perform the best most people need carbs.
Carbs are the optimal fuel for your muscles and therefore eating at least a moderate amount of carbs can help ensure gym performance
If you do a lot of exercise and go to the gym a high carb approach is probably better.
Doing a lot of exercise and heavily restricting carbs could ruin your mood and cause hormonal dysfunction.
On the other hand, If you live a sedentary life this does not apply to you.
If you do nothing other than “casual” weight training 2-3 times per week you could probably get away with restricting carbs without any negative effects.
For more information regarding you can check out this post called Carbohydrate Confessions. It is by Spencer Nadolsky who used to be a big proponent of the low carb diet in general. He talks about his experience with eating more carbs.
It is an interesting read and sheds more light on the point that you should eat carbs for optimal physical performance.
Low Carb Vs High Carb Diet – Which One Is Best?
Many people who lose weight eating a low carb diet / keto diet are pleased about their immediate result.
In the short term, their weight loss is superior to eating high carb.
But in the long term, this difference evens out.
Studies have shown that as long as an equal calorie deficit is maintained while including sufficient protein then the rate of fat loss stays the same when comparing a low-carb and high-fat / ketogenic diet to a high carb diet.
So from this perspective, neither approach is better.
This is of course as long as you are eating relatively healthy.
What I mean by relatively healthy is simply a diet consisting of mostly whole foods with a good amount of plant food especially vegetables.
Furthermore, a huge one-year long study has recently shown that the same improvements to metabolic health markers are produced whether you do a low-carb and high fat or high-carb and low-fat diet.
You can check out a great review of the study here.
So in term of fat loss, both diets are equally effective, but there are other things to consider.
If you are sedentary and obese there are benefits to keeping your insulin in check. Of course, if you have problems insulin sensitive issues or diabetes this is even truer.
If you are very active there are benefits to at least get a moderate amount of carbs.
Finally, as it is with all diets the most important thing is adherence. Benefits don’t matter if you can’t stick to the diet and maintain a calorie deficit.
Strategies For Weight Loss
For eating in general I like an inclusive and balanced approach and I think most people will do better with that at least in the long run.
But weight loss is a temporary thing and if there is a smart strategy that could make it easier for you to maintain a calorie deficit it is worthwhile even if it restricts the food you can eat.
Because after all, a weight loss diet will always be restrictive…
But if eating a lot of potatoes or pasta can make it easier for you to lose weight then you should do just that.
And if eating eggs and bacon make it easier for you to lose weight then do that.
You can get the same result from both strategies while staying perfectly healthy.
Just Don’t Go Look For A Magic Pill
Most people look for a “magic pill” solution to solve their health or weight loss problem.
They want to believe that this new popular diet or thing is the best and right solution.
That is rarely the case (if ever)…
Also, bear in mind that restrictive diets almost never work.
So if eating a lot of fat and little carbs is very hard for you to maintain or that it sounds super tough, then it is probably not for you.
And if eating a lot of carbs with little fat feels very tough for you or that it sounds incredibly boring then that is probably not for you.
Luckily, as long as the calorie deficit remains the same both approaches are equally effective for losing fat.