Weight Loss

Are Carbs the Reason Behind Weight Gain?

The poor carbohydrate, it gets such a bad rap!  Now, before you roll your eyes, or remind me of all the stories about people losing weight by cutting out carbs, hear me out on the subject…

Can drastically cutting carbohydrates help to lose weight?  Sure, just like other diets, cutting out a bigger source of calories than you take in can mean successfully losing weight.  But are carbs the reason behind weight gain as so many have implied?  Not really, and here is why.

Wait…first I want to digress and take a look at the carbohydrate and why it is so important to our diet.  (For more on this, read our ebook on the 7 Myths About Weight Loss and the Top Proven Strategies to Overcome Them.)

The Mighty Carb

Put simply, when we consume carbohydrates our bodies break them down into glucose.   Glucose really has one major role and that is to supply energy for our body.  It is the body’s primary fuel for most of its cells.  It is highly important to the brain, red blood cells, nervous system, and for those pregnant – the fetus and placenta.  In fact, virtually the only fuel used by your brain is glucose! 

To be quite succinct, without enough carbs to make enough glucose, our energy levels wane, brain function slows, and our nervous system and ability to fight disease gets impaired.

But you’d rather burn more fat than carbs you say! 

Well, the fact is that when fat is burned for a source of energy, it needs a small amount of glucose to break it down.  So, you need carbs to make glucose to burn fat. 

There is a ton of misinformation out there that fat and protein can easily be used as a source of energy – directly, they cannot.  The ultimate fuel source is glucose (more specifically glycogen).  The process of converting fat and protein to glycogen is a costly process for your body, and degrades muscle in the process.  Finally, muscles are made of protein, but built by carbs (and resistance!)

Okay back to carbs being the cause of weight gain

Let’s be honest, carbs are not the bad ones here.  Good sources of carbs provide excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and dietary fiber that our body needs to stay healthy and lower the risk of disease.  High nutrient foods with carbs include:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole Grains
  • Legumes

Even the bad carbs in small amounts aren’t necessarily the culprits of weight gain, though certainly they need to be limited.  You know what they are…candy, sugary desserts, sodas, etc.

Barring a medical problem, weight gain is an accumulation, over time, of eating too much…period.  The “wrong foods” make this worse as they are usually higher calorie.  Couple that with a sedentary lifestyle — not getting enough exercise/movement — and of course any food can cause issues.  So, let’s stop blaming carbs and be sure we are eating a healthy balanced diet and getting an adequate amount of exercise. 

All this said, carbohydrates should make up 45 to 65 percent of the total amount of calories you eat each day. These are essential to your diet!

Understanding the Keto Diet

One of the more recent popular diets has been the Keto (Ketogenic) diet.  As with any diet, it could help people successfully lose weight.  But before jumping on the train headed to Weightlossville, it’s important to understand what the diet is, the foods it includes, the foods it avoids, the benefits and risks or concerns of the diet.

It’s even more important to determine if this diet is right for you by speaking with your doctor and a registered dietitian, as opposed to those without any formal nutrition science and medical training.

What is the Keto Diet?

It may surprise you, but the keto diet is actually over 80 years old.  It has been used in clinical settings for the treatment of epilepsy in children.  It has gained popularity in the general population of people trying to lose weight.  

The keto diet is a high-fat diet that severely reduces carbohydrate intake.  (Sound familiar to Atkins!?  It is different, but…)  This allows the liver to produce ketone bodies, which then are used as the main fuel source of burning energy in the body over glucose.  This puts the body into a state called ketosis.  It’s important to note that a ketogenic diet does not necessarily result in more fat loss over a non-ketogenic diet.1

Problem #1 – while your body will use ketone bodies as fuel regardless of how it happened, the process by burning anything other than glucose is extremely inefficient.  In most cases, the extra work is actually damaging as it first burns muscle, not fat.  This later will result in you burning less calories at rest – making weight loss harder.

About 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbohydrate make up the keto diet.  The diet provides enough protein for growth.  However, the amount of carbohydrates is inadequate for the body’s metabolic needs.  And fat is relatively inefficient to burn (and very calorie dense!)

Foods of the Keto Diet

  • Meat (red meat, bacon, sausage, ham, turkey, chicken)
  • Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, trout, anchovies, sardines, mackerel)
  • Full-fat dairy foods (eggs, butter, cream, unprocessed cheese)
  • Low carb vegetables (such as leafy greens, peppers, celery, asparagus, cucumbers)
  • Avocados
  • Healthy oils (olive, coconut, avocado)
  • Nuts (walnuts, almonds, etc.)
  • Seeds (flax, chia, pumpkin, etc.)

Foods not included in the Keto Diet

  • Fruits
  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Grains
  • Alcohol
  • Sugar (including sugary foods and drinks)
  • Milk

Let’s repeat one thing again – FRUITS are excluded.  These are very vitamin and mineral rich, and while yes they have natural sugars and need moderation, they are part of any well balanced diet.

Potential Benefits of a Keto Diet

  • Fast weight loss
  • Lower blood glucose levels
  • May decrease inflammation
  • May benefit patients with type 2 diabetes

Potential Risks/Concerns of staying on a Keto Diet for long periods

  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies 
  • Constipation
  • Lack of healthy gut flora (the ‘good bacteria’)
  • Electrolyte abnormalities
  • Loss of lean body mass
  • Increase in LDL cholesterol
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Lack of energy

What’s The bottom line?

A well-formulated keto diet may be beneficial for weight loss in the short term, and may be safe assuming it includes whole foods and provides adequate amounts of fiber, vitamins and minerals.  However, the lack of several key foods and the loss of a major nutrient group (carbohydrates) can be dangerous and does not add enough benefit for many to offset the risk.  Always seek the advice of a doctor and registered dietitian to determine if a keto diet is good for you.

In the long term, having a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, lean meats, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and unprocessed foods, is not only easier to maintain, but also provides more needed nutrients for optimal health.

1Johnston C., Tjonn S., Swan P., White A., Hutchins H., Sears B. (2006). Ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets have no metabolic advantage over nonketogenic low-carbohydrate diets, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 83, Issue 5, 1 May 2006, Pages 1055-1061.

Exercise and Fat Burning – Demystified (Part 2)

Exercise and Fat Burning – Demystified (Part 2)

In Part 1, we took a look at how much exercise is enough.  Take a moment to read “Exercise and Fat Burning – Demystified (Part 1)“, if you haven’t already.

Now let’s look at the last two questions, how hard do I have to work out to burn fat, and do I even have to exercise to lose weight.

How hard do I have to work out to burn fat? 

Just because you work out hard doesn’t mean you burn more fat.  And, just because you workout at a lower intensity, doesn’t mean you don’t burn fat.  In fact, have you heard you can work out at a lower intensity and burn more fat?  Confusing?  Let’s explain.

If you exercise at a low intensity level, a higher percentage of the energy expended in your body actually does comes from fat.  But, the total energy expended is low, therefore, you don’t burn that much fat.

On the flip side, if you exercise at higher intensity levels, a lower percentage of energy expended in your body comes from fat.  The higher percentage comes from carbs.  But, the total energy expended in your body is higher, therefore, combined, you burn both more fat and carbs.

So, to answer the question, you are better off working at higher intensities because your total energy expended, while low from fat, is higher from a combination of fat and carbs.

Do I even have to exercise to lose weight?

The truth is, you don’t have to exercise to lose weight.  In fact, what and how much you eat has more to do with it than exercise.  However, there is a real downside to leaving off exercise.

When weight is lost without exercise, it’s usually muscle that is lost.  And, should you gain back this weight, you’ve gained back fat.  Have you ever known someone who lost a lot of weight quickly and their skin looks saggy or they have a “sunken” look?  This is not unusual if a person loses weight quickly without exercising.  Building muscle through exercise, while dieting, decreases the potential of looking like that.

The Bottom Line…

That is, exercise will build stronger muscles, which burn more calories, even at rest.  And, you can lose weight faster by combining exercise and eating less calories, creating a bigger deficit between the calories consumed and the calories burned.

Take some action now – you’ll find more of the common myths on weight loss, and facts behind them, in our complimentary ebook “7 Myths About Weight Loss, and the Top Proven Strategies to Overcome Them!

Need help in achieving your weight loss goals?  Checkout our 21-Day Fierce & Fit Formula Program.

Exercise and Fat Burning – Demystified (Part 1)

Exercise and Fat Burning – Demystified (Part 1)

In this two part series, we’ll cover the facts behind exercise and weight loss.  We expand on these basics in our popular ebook “7 Myths About Weight Loss, and the Top Proven Strategies to Overcome Them!

How much exercise is enough?  How hard do I have to work out to burn fat?  Do I even have to exercise to lose weight? 

These are a few of the most common questions that often get asked about exercise and weight loss.  While the answers can be unique to each individual, there are enough commonalities that can get you started in the right direction if you are trying to lose weight and get in shape.  Let’s take a look.

How much exercise is enough?

This depends upon one’s particular health and fitness goals.  The amount of exercise an athlete needs to train for a particular sport or competition is going to be different than a mom with two kids trying to lose 20 pounds.  Here, we’ll address the non-athlete.

Generally speaking, to get healthier, more fit or lose weight, following the U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines of “between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity per week,” is going to best answer the question.  Since this is surely one of the areas where more is better, the range of physical activity recommended, indicates that more health-related benefits are realized by increasing the amount of cardiovascular activity.  This increase should be done gradually by increasing the time, frequency, intensity, and type (variety) as one’s body adapts to the exercise.

Moderate-intensity physical activity is an activity that increases a person’s heart rate and breathing to some extent.  Brisk walking, swimming, dancing, or bicycling on a level terrain are examples.  Vigorous-intensity physical activity is an activity that greatly increases a person’s heart rate and breathing.  Jogging, swimming continuous laps, or bicycling uphill are examples.  These are aerobic activity examples.  Further down we’ll look at resistance training.

It doesn’t matter how you split the time up during the week to get in the recommended number of exercise minutes.  For example, this can be met through:

  • 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity 5 days per week or,
  • 20-60 minutes of vigorous-intensity 3 days per week.

And, on a given day, it can be done in one continuous session or multiple shorter sessions (of at least 10 minutes).

If all this seems a little much, consider this:

  • 3 to 4 sessions per week will still get you gains in cardiovascular capacity, and
  • A minimum of 2 days per week is needed to maintain a level of cardiovascular health.

Just as cardiovascular exercise is good for heart health, so is resistance exercise good for bone and muscle health.  (It has also shown to provide some indirect benefit to the cardiovascular system.)  As we age, it becomes even more important to maintain strength and mobility vital to performing daily functions and enjoying a quality life.

The goal of resistance exercise is to train each major muscle group 2-3 days per week, using a variety of exercises and equipment.  This can be done in the following manner:

  • 2 to 4 sets of each exercise will improve strength and power,
  • 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise will improve strength and power, while
  • 15 to 20 repetitions of each will improve muscular endurance.

For each muscle group worked, it’s important that there be at least 48 hours between resistance exercise sessions to allow your body to repair itself to prevent injury from overuse.

Much like resistance training, flexibility exercise is also important to maintaining mobility by improving the range of motion your muscles move.  To achieve this, stretching and flexibility exercises should be done 2-3 days per week.  Even doing this just a few minutes can greatly help.

Neuromotor exercise is just a fancy name for improving one’s motor skills, especially balance, agility, and coordination.  While this can be done a number of ways, some of the more popular forms are through yoga and tai chi.  This type of exercise should also be done 2-3 times per week.  Another alternative, for balance, in particular, is to do some resistance training on one leg.  This saves time, advances the exercise and combines two tasks at once.  Just make sure to start slowly.

Breaking all this down, an optimal exercise program might look like this:

  • Cardiovascular exercise 3-4 times per week; alternating days with
  • Resistance exercise 2-3 times per week; adding
  • Flexibility and neuromotor exercises 2-3 times per week into the days you do your cardio or resistance training.

When starting an exercise routine, try just 1 day of each and increase as you adapt, and most importantly, remain committed!

In Part 2, we dive into burning fat, weight loss, and some common myths around that.
Check out our 7 Myths About Weight Loss and the Top Proven Strategies to Overcome Themif you haven’t already.  To read Part 2 now, click here.