Carbs 101 – Part 2: Why Low-Carb Diets Fail


- 24 September

Can you lose weight quickly with a low-carb or keto diet? Absolutely. There are some very scientifically sound reasons why low-carb diets work when done correctly.

Many people, myself included, have found success implementing low-carb strategies. Anytime you want to shed fat fast, one of the most effective strategies is managing your carb intake.

But here’s the rub: Rapid weight loss with low-carb dieting, including keto, requires extreme carbohydrate restriction (50 grams of carbs or less per day). There’s a few problems with this:

  1. It’s not sustainable for an extended period of time and often leads to a high-carb rebound effect and weight gain.
  2. It’s not healthy, partly because many people replace the carbs with excess amounts of unhealthy fats (high saturated fat foods), which can lead to many inflammatory diseases as well as a dysbiosis with your microbiome (gut bacteria).

Low-Carb Diets Statistically Don’t Work Long-Term

Why don’t we see more long-term success? The answer has nothing to do with whether low-carb or keto is an effective strategy or not. It has to do with sustainability.

Studies have been conducted comparing the results of low-carb diets versus low-fat diets, and interestingly enough, the results between the two were nearly identical. The majority of subjects failed to lose weight and keep it off. The reason: They weren’t able (or willing) to stick to the diet, whether it was low-carb or low-fat.

It doesn’t matter how good the “science” behind a diet is if you can’t follow it long-term. Consistency is the single most important factor to any nutrition or workout program.

If being able to stick to a plan is the key to getting results, then how do we set ourselves up to be more consistent? We can’t always blame a person’s motivation or resolve. Much of it is the nature of the diet strategies themselves.

Get Lasting Weight Loss Results

The key to consistency is finding a more sustainable strategy. Making radical changes, like eliminating a single macronutrient (carbs) or making drastic reductions in calories, are extreme approaches. Anything extreme is never sustainable.

Inevitably, there’s a backlash as the pendulum swings from one extreme to the other. That swing usually ends up coming in the form of the person following the diet growing tired of the regimen and restrictions, falling off the wagon, and inevitably putting all that lost weight right back on – and then some.

The opposite of an extreme approach is a balanced strategy. Although keto and low-carb diets can work, by their very nature they’re not balanced and are difficult for most people to follow long enough to get the results they want, let alone keep those results.

Not Everything With Keto Is Golden

Why do trendy keto and low-carb diets so often end up being unhealthy in the long run? Here’s one reason: The general belief in a keto diet is that as long as a food has no carbs, it’s fair game, and it’s incorrectly believed that portions and calories don’t matter. Consequently, keto dieters have a tendency to eat large quantities of animal based fats on a daily basis. When you’re consuming large amounts of foods high in saturated fat, you can expect your cholesterol and triglyceride levels to rise.

There’s also the misconception that because you’re burning fat on a keto diet, you can eat as much as you want without getting fat. False! You can be in ketosis and still gain fat! How so? This is where “calories in, calories out” comes in. You hear arguments downplaying the age-old calorie formula – the thermic effect of food, effects on hormones, how different nutrients are metabolized…blah blah blah. Leave that stuff for the PhDs writing peer-reviewed studies. For the rest of us, if you’re eating significantly more calories than you’re burning, the “extra energy” will be stored for later in the form of fat. YES…even in ketosis!

Add to that the fact that there are numerous unwanted health and weight loss consequences due to a lack of adequate dietary fiber. Remember, our natural sources of fiber come from carbohydrates. This can lead to all sorts of health problems, most of it starting with inflammation in our digestive system. Our enteric nervous system (ENS) is tied to the rest of our nervous system, and what happens in the gut can affect everything else in our body. This is why many call the gut our “second brain.” (We’ll get more into fiber intake and gut health in Carbs 101 Parts 5 and 6, respectively.)

Plant-Based Diets

Another current trend, albeit a much healthier (and sustainable) one, is a plant-based diet. When you’re eating more plant food sources, saturated fat intake typically decreases and intake of healthy phytonutrients and fiber increases.

And guess what? On a plant-based diet, you’re eating carbohydrates while still being able to lose weight! Low-carb and keto diets are centered around satiating foods (high protein, high fat). Believe or not, plant-based diets can be equally satiating, as many foods you’re eating are very nutrient dense, high in fiber, and high in protein.

Being more plant-based doesn’t mean you can never eat meat or animal products again; it just means that you at least substitute certain unhealthy animal foods with equally satisfying, yet healthier, plant-based ones. With so many delicious high-protein plant-based options now available, “going keto” doesn’t make sense from either a health or weight-loss perspective.

Not everything with low-carb and keto diets are bad, however. There are a number of positive things about these diets. In Part 3 of our Carbs 101 series, we take a deeper dive into the keto diet and discuss the good, bad, and ugly….as well as the single biggest takeaway from keto that can help you reach your weight loss goals in a healthy and more sustainable way.


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