As registered dietitians and weight loss experts, we’ve helped thousands of people to eat carbs and lose weight and keep those pounds off. Now new research shows that focusing on when you eat carbs to lose belly fat, meaning the order in which you eat carbs at each meal, can help you to lose even more belly fat.
This is exciting news because beyond eating wholesome carbs in specific portions with protein and veggies, which we’ve always recommended, this is an additional piece to the belly fat puzzle—and it requires minimal effort!
We’ve suspected that the specific order in which you eat carbs at meals matters. That’s why for the past many months we’ve been testing our hypothesis on ourselves and with our clients. Now, this new research confirms fat loss and blood sugar benefits, as well as additional health improvements.
So here’s the deal: You don’t have to cut out carbs to lose weight.
Simply by eating the protein, vegetables, fats, and carbs in a specific order, you can eat carbs and lose weight—and get even better results.
Plus, you’ll not only improve blood sugar levels. You will also:
- Reduce the amount of insulin your body secretes and reduce the risk of diabetes
- Positively influence hunger and satiety hormones
- Prevent blood sugar surges and energy crashes so you can keep cravings at bay—and this all ultimately staves off weight gain in a way that benefits fat loss, especially around the belly.
So if you thought you can’t eat carbs and lose weight, this new study is just one more that shows you can eat carbs, stay healthy, lose weight, and reduce the risk of diabetes!
While this is great news for everyone, if you’re a fast eater, the order in which you eat your carbs in a meal may be especially helpful for your weight and blood sugar!
Does the speed at that you eat and when you eat carbs in meals impact weight?
In this “when to eat carbs” research, scientists tested the order and speed. They conducted a study in which healthy people without diabetes ate food and how that affected blood sugar, triglycerides, and free fatty acids.
What they found was very interesting—that if protein, carbs, fat, and veggies– which were fried fish, boiled white rice, tomato, and broccoli in their study– were eaten in a particular order, eating quickly (eating a meal within 10 minutes) did not have negative effects on blood sugar, insulin, and blood fats compared to when they ate slowly (eating the meal within 20 minutes).
However, if the order we reverse the components in the meal, the speed of the meal eaten affected these health parameters. All this ultimately will contribute to weight gain, particularly around the middle. To understand why this matters, you’d have to understand how being a fast eater impacts your health and weight.
Does Eating Fast Make You Gain Weight?
In a nutshell, yes. Research has shown that fast eaters are 115% more likely to be obese than those who eat slowly! When you eat fast, you don’t chew thoroughly. So, your body doesn’t receive the signal and cues to properly start digesting, assimilating, and absorbing nutrients. This means you don’t absorb the nutrients that you need to fuel your metabolism and keep you healthy.
You also don’t give your brain the chance to recognize that you’ve eaten, and you end up consuming extra food and calories that you likely wouldn’t have if you allowed your body more time to chew, feel satisfied, and recognize that it’s fed.
Plus, eating slowly affects your hunger hormones in positive ways that allow you to feel fuller and that research shows can affect your weight.
This research also confirms that eating quickly can negatively affect blood sugar, insulin, and blood fats, making you more likely to hold fat, particularly around your belly. Consider that if your blood sugar spikes (as it likely would if you ate quickly), it will also crash, signaling the brain that you need a quick pick-me-up, which sets you up for sugar cravings.
So, how do carbs help to lose belly fat?
Easy: WHEN CARBS ARE EATEN IN THE CORRECT ORDER AT MEALS, THEY CAN PREVENT THE SAME THING THAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU EAT QUICKLY- blood sugar dips THAT trigger the release of neurotransmitters, including cortisol, the belly fat hormone, which triggers inflammation. All of this is trouble for your weight. The more inflammation in your body, the harder it is to lose weight. And the easier it is to gain weight again.
That’s why it’s important to include vegetables, protein, and small amounts of fats with carbs at meals to help stabilize blood sugar swings that set you up for weight gain and poor blood sugar control. And including them in the right sequence at your meal will help you further—and even more so if you eat quickly!
We spend a good deal of time helping our clients to avoid eating quickly. We have always believed it’s that important– and it’s one of the reasons they achieve long-lasting weight loss results.
Now back to the order to eat carbs, protein, veggies, and fat for belly fat loss…
When should you eat vegetables to lose weight?
For as long as we can remember, we’ve recommended starting all meals with non-starchy veggies. We’ve had our clients eat them before heading to cocktail parties and restaurants. It works wonders for long-lasting weight loss.
There are several reasons why you’d want to start your meal with non-starchy veggies. And while research suggests that veggies can be swapped (and eaten first or second in the meal order) there are several reasons we suggest starting meals with non-starchy veggies.
We often talk about the cool research showing that if you start your meal with a green salad or a veggie soup, you’ll eat fewer calories at that meal. Plus, the fiber in the non-starchy veggies and the vegetables in the soup help to keep you full, so that helps with weight loss. Not surprisingly, research has shown that people who eat a green salad before a pasta meal eat less pasta.
Research shows eating veggies and carbs helps to lose belly fat
This research credits the fiber in the veggies for helping you to feel fuller, while also showing how veggies help you to eat carbs and lose weight. The fiber in the veggies helps you to control the portion of the carbs you eat, and since the fiber can’t be digested, veggies slow the speed at which your carbs are converted into sugar. (This is one reason to eat veggies before carbs! To help them from quickly becoming sugar and spiking your blood sugar).
Plus, we find that if you start your meal with non-starchy veggies, you’re more likely to fill up on these low-calorie, nutrient-packed, anti-inflammatory superstars and you have less room for the heavy stuff like carbs and fatty foods.
As you know, we’re always promoting bitter greens like dandelion, turnip greens, watercress, etc. at the beginning of the meal to stimulate digestion and help you to better absorb nutrients. So this veggie-first food sequencing aligns perfectly with it!
Start your meal with non-starchy veggies! But what about protein?
Is it best to eat protein first or last at meals?
Although protein is very satisfying and promotes fullness, we find it beneficial to start meals with non-starchy veggies. We’ll get back to the reason to eat protein after non-starchy veggies, but first, it’s important to understand that we digest protein gradually, and that’s a reason it comes early in the food order sequence for belly fat loss.
Protein takes longer to digest (4-6 hours) compared to carbs (1-4 hours). So protein stays in your stomach longer and keeps you feeling satisfied longer. Starting the meal with fiber and water-rich veggies helps to fill you up while then adding the slower digesting protein is very helpful for stabilizing blood sugar.
Choose the best protein sources like chicken, fish, eggs, tofu, meat, beans, edamame, etc., that will work for your lean body.
Carbs to Lose Belly Fat
Over time, we have tested eating protein before veggies as research has also shown that having protein first and then veggies can be equally as helpful for weight loss, blood sugar, belly fat, and satiety. The reason we suggest going for the veggies first, as this new research did, is because most people just don’t get enough veggies, and veggies are truly the ultimate belly fat (and body fat) secret weapon.
Filling up with non-starchy vegetables at the start of your meal ensures you eat them without any negative consequences for the waistline and only benefits for your health. But if you start with protein, some people dip out on the veggies as they head to the other food in the sequence and it ends up backfiring. So start with the veggies!
So, to lose belly fat, start your meal with non-starchy veggies, then eat protein. However, if you’re wondering why eating protein before fat, given that fat is satisfying, let’s take a look at fat. THIS IS AN IMPORTANT PIECE AS TO HOW AND WHEN TO EAT CARBS TO LOSE BELLY FAT.
Why do you eat protein before fat?
Both protein and fat slow the rate of digestion and increase the secretion of satiety hormones that signal the brain that it’s full.
Research has shown that eating protein or fat before carbs triggers the secretion of the hormone GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1) from the gut, which slows down the emptying of the stomach to suppress appetite.
And interestingly, Ozempic, the weight loss drug that many diabetics take to control their blood sugar also helps to activate this GLP-1 receptor. This is the reason why people on the medication feel full much sooner and longer and their body works better as they lose weight! So being mindful of the order of eating carbs, veggies, protein, and fat in each meal can help to shortcut having to take those drugs –and without the possible side effects!
Slowing down digestion with fat and carbs
Fat, like protein, slows digestion, and while protein takes 4-6 hours to digest, fat may take as many as 6-8 hours to digest, so it slows how quickly the stomach is emptying food into the small intestine for absorption. This is great for prolonging fullness; but does this mean you should eat fat before protein? Nope.
Having protein before fat helps to ensure that you’re absorbing protein well, which is important since it’s needed to synthesize metabolism-building muscle. Without adequate protein for hormones, and chemical reactions and to build calorie-burning muscle, you might as well forget about your waistline—or your long-term health for that matter! It’s that important for every system in the body– so you need to prioritize digesting, assimilating, and absorbing it.
If your body is working on digesting fat first, protein’s arrival into the small intestine where it will be absorbed to start working its magic will be postponed and then when it gets there it will be harder to get the valuable assets you need to absorb it—and in an efficient manner as that the body still works to digest fat.
Is eating carbs with protein the secret?
Yes, but there is a rule: You should eat carbs in a meal with protein (or fat) to slow your digestion and prevent blood sugar and insulin spike. However, when it comes to the order in which you eat carbs at meals to lose belly fat if you’re a carb lover, you’ll want to belt out Whitney Houston’s song—‘Saved the Best for Last!’ And why?
We digest carbs most quickly—especially simple carbohydrates like sugary foods and refined white, doughy carbs. Complex carbohydrates must be broken down and are slower to digest than simple carbs. However, if you start your meal with any carbohydrate, it will be digested quickly and have the chance to spike your blood sugar.
Remember, you’re trying to prevent a blood sugar spike, that’s what causes damage. By simply reversing the sequence in which you eat these foods in the meal, you’ll already have the slower-digesting foods–veggies, protein, and fat– in your system. So, the body’s hormones will already be set up to help to create a safe situation for carbs to enter the bloodstream; and allow carbohydrates to provide a more gradual boost rather than a spike!
Eating carbs to lose belly fat:
We like to think of eating carbs last in our meal, the same way that would drink alcohol after having something in our stomach to blunt the effect. In the case of carbs, it’s eating slowly digested fiber and protein to stabilize blood sugar and then having the effect of the carbs be minimal.
Eating protein and fiber after carbs do keep you feeling full, but your blood sugar and blood fats do not reap the same benefits, particularly hours after the meal, that they would if you paid attention to the food order.
Keep in mind, when it comes to carbs, it’s still important to choose whole-grain, fiber-rich carbs, like sweet potatoes, butternut squash, oatmeal, quinoa and whole grains, and other wholesome carbs that we help our clients to consume more often, but if you occasionally choose a more refined carb, this order of eating carbs is likely even more important.
How our client Liana lost her belly fat by changing the order she ate her carbs
We want to share how our client Liana used this way of eating to help her to lose belly fat. She came to us, a healthy, non-diabetic who was 30 pounds above where she was comfortable. She said she had lost her mojo and felt like in many ways, she was still the sexy girl she used to be. But when she looked in the mirror she felt that the fun, young, vivacious girl was screaming to get out of the body that she now called “frumpy”.
As with all our clients, we initially helped her to eat carbs (she especially loved sweet potatoes and oats)- in specific portions and with protein and veggies at her meals. She was enjoying carbs when dining out, and she was over the moon that she was down 25 pounds and it felt easy for her. She was thrilled that she was maintaining weight loss for a year while enjoying mac and cheese and a few of her favorite restaurant meals.
Liana’s ally to lose belly fat: Carbs
But about 3 months ago, her weight didn’t budge for the 2nd month in a row. She wanted to still lose a little bit more. And we asked her if she’d like to try testing our food order hypothesis. We helped her to do it and within the first 2 weeks, the scale dropped another two pounds!
But even more shockingly, her waist at that time dropped an inch! She was thrilled!
It was just the little tweak she needed to move the needle.
If you’re struggling to eat carbs and lose weight. You don’t have to struggle! Life is too short to spend one more minute of your precious headspace wondering how to eat them without sabotaging your waistline or feeling guilty! You can eat carbs, get healthier and lose more weight—and especially around your stomach!
We’d love to work with YOUR UNIQUE BODY, your individual lifestyle, hormones, blood chemistry, food preferences, etc., to help you to discover a way of eating that you love, that feels natural and easy and that helps you to achieve and sustain the new body you adore looking at in the mirror!
If you’re looking for more support, we would love for you to apply to our Transformation Jumpstart program! It is a super easy process to ensure that we can support you to the best of our abilities. You can apply here.