This article has been moved and upated. Read it at DuPage Family Wellness: Are Excess Carbohydrates Keeping You From Losing Weight?
If you are like me, your whole life you thought that the secret to losing weight was burning more calories than you eat each day. It makes perfect sense on the surface, but when you dig deeper, it isn’t quite that simple.
Why weight loss isn’t as easy as burning more than you consume
The problem with this thought process is that the calories that you burn and those that you eat are not independent. Eating less and exercising more is much easier said than done. This is because our bodies specialize in something called homeostasis - basically balancing to stay regulated. What happens when you exercise and burn more calories? Your brain sends you signals to say: "Hey, you burned more calories than usual. Please eat more to replace them." On the other hand, when you restrict your calorie intake, your body subconsciously makes you more sedentary to conserve energy.
What do you do?
If your philosophy on food is to balance calories in and calories out, in all likelihood you will NOT get the results you want. One of the most important topics that most “diets” don’t delve into is how your hormones respond to the foods that you eat. There are some hormones that put your body into “storage” mode- where your body’s main goal is to store everything that you consume. There are other hormones that put your body into “burn” mode where it is releasing stored fat to use it as fuel.
All calories are not created equal
When you eat a food, the calories that you get can fall into one of 3 categories. These are protein, fat, and carbohydrate. Our bodies used these 3 macronutrients in very different ways, and they each have their own individual impact on our hormone levels. For simplicity sake, since this article is about weight loss, I am going to focus on carbohydrates- also known as sugar.
What happens when you eat Carbohydrates?
There is a certain blood sugar level that our bodies can handle. When blood sugar levels go too high or too low, it is toxic to our bodies. When we eat a significant load of carbohydrates, our blood sugar goes up. Our bodies release a substance called insulin which helps us to store this excess sugar as fat so it doesn’t create a toxic blood sugar level. In incredibly simplified terms, if you are eating foods high in carbohydrates throughout the day (bread, rice, pasta, cereal, soda, juice, other sugary beverages, chips, crackers, cookies, etc), you will constantly have to release insulin to regulate this sugar, and you will be in storage mode all day.
On the other hand, if you eat a well balanced diet of real, whole foods (vegetables, healthy fats, some fruits, and meat), you will have a natural balance of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, and you won’t need to release as much insulin to decrease your blood sugar.
Previously I mentioned that you can be in “burn” mode. This is when your body releases another hormone called glucagon to naturally increase your blood sugar by releasing stored fats for energy. If you are constantly supplying your body with carbohydrates throughout the day, you will never need to go into “burn mode” because you will have ample- even excess supplies of carbohydrates/sugar for energy. You will continue to store more fat without using current fat stores.
How many carbohydrates should I eat each day?
There is not one answer that is right for everyone, it depends on your weight, your goals, and your activity level. Below are some general guidelines for daily carbohydrate intake. The following guidelines are from Mark's Daily Apple, a very interesting website with a new and interesting approach to healthy living.
- 0-50 grams- Your body will be in “burn” mode most of the time. You should lose about 1-2 pounds of fat/week. This zone is not easily maintainable for a lifetime because it requires virtually eliminating sweets and processed carbohydrates, and drastically reducing fruits and starchy vegetables.
- 50-100 grams- If you need to lose weight and aren’t very active, this is the zone for you. You can stay in this relatively easily by eating a wide variety of vegetables and some fruit (without eating processed carbohydrates)
- 100-150 grams- This zone is ideal if you are looking to maintain your weight. Be sure to get most of your carbohydrates from real food sources (fruits and vegetables- as opposed to processed carbohydrates)
- 150-200 grams- This zone may be okay for athletes to maintain weight. The rest of us will likely begin to experience slow weight gain over time if they are consistently in this zone due to excess fat storage.
- 200+ grams- Eating this many carbohydrates will put most people in storage mode most of the day. Your body will struggle to regulate all of the sugar you are feeding it. You will most likely gain weight. If you eat 6-11 servings of whole grains, cereals, breads and pastas as the traditional food pyramid recommends (typically 30-40 grams of carbs/serving), you will be consuming 180-440 grams of carbohydrates/day. With recommendations like this, it's not a surprise that our country is becoming more and more obese!
Where do you fall on the carbohydrate curve? Look at a few nutrition labels throughout the day, and you might be suprised at how many carbohydrates (how much sugar) you are actually eating.
Did you know that Dr. Tripp teaches nutrition and cooking classes? If you have weight to lose, or are battling other medical issues, this class will teach you how to improve your health through better nutrition. We truly are what we eat, so why not make your body the best that it can be! Click here to sign up for the next session starting in April!!