If you’re like many of our new clients, you feel that if you want to lose weight, you have to cut carbs– and you wonder if it’s truly possible to eat carbs and lose weight—and keep it off, too. After all, you cut carbs and the scale drops; you start eating them again and the weight rebounds to where you were before, or higher—and you feel like carbs must be the enemy for your waistline.
We’re here to tell you that you absolutely can eat carbs and lose weight and belly fat—and even more than that—to keep them both off, you need carbs! We’re going to show you how our clients do it to achieve long-lasting weight loss!
Can you lose weight if you eat carbs?
If you’re like many of our new clients, you wonder why other people can eat carbs and lose weight when you puff up like a blow fish when you consume them– and you’re skeptical that eating carbs will spell success for you. As dietitians who specialize in weight loss for over 15 years, we can assure that you can (and should!) eat carbs to lose belly fat and weight. We see this repeatedly with our clients and the science shows this too!
In fact, it’s safe to say that approximately ninety-nine percent of people must include carbs to STAY at their goal weight. So, even if you think you’re not one of these people who need carbs, we are certain that you are—and especially so because those who don’t need carbs likely wouldn’t be reading this…
The truth is that only a VERY small percentage of people can truly stay away from carbs for the long haul; it’s typically those people who are following an eating plan like keto in a healthy way (not eating bacon all day but measuring their ketones and eating healthy fats from salmon, avocado, etc.) and it is a natural way of living for them. They don’t wonder how people can eat carbs and lose weight because it’s natural for them not to eat them and they don’t miss them and generally could care less. What we’ve found with our clients who have come to us telling us that the only way they’ve achieved weight loss in the past is by cutting carbs, is that they also couldn’t uphold such an unrealistic lifestyle for long and when they were tired of avoiding every carb that crossed their path and went back to living a normal life, they quickly gained back any weight they lost. If you’re like them, eventually when you just wanted to have dinner out with friends, eat a piece of bread or something sweet and “caved”, gave up on the restrictive low-carb plan the weight came back on, you know it’s not realistic for you long-term.
What do carbs do to your body?
The good news is that carbs are an important piece in achieving weight loss results and they are critical for your LONG-TERM success. They are the body’s preferred fuel for your brain and muscles (as well as vital organs like the kidneys). Without them, you crave energy (think sugar or more food). In fact, research shows we need specific ones to reduce the risk for diabetes, heart disease and weight gain.
Plus, constantly giving carbs the stink eye isn’t good for your lifestyle or for long term success unless you want to live a life feeling like you’re deprived. Life is too short for that!
Get ready to say goodbye to your life of bun-less burgers, bread-less sandwiches, carb-less salads, and zucchini spaghetti! (Our clients tell us they like zucchini but that they are so happy to never have it as spaghetti again. We get it!)
Why do I gain weight when I eat carbs?
There are three major carb mistakes that most people make that cause them to gain weight, rather than to use these delicious foods to help fuel their weight loss—we mention these in our first book about metabolism. And if you’ve gained weight from carbs, one of these (or all three) of these reasons likely explain why.
Most of our new clients come to us making the same carb mistakes that most people do that get in the way of fat loss results (and typically cause weight gain) and that trick them into thinking that they can’t eat carbs and lose weight. We help them to understand these mistakes and fix them so that they not only lose weight in the short term, but achieve sustainable weight loss, while eating carbs!
Mistake #1. Your carb portions are all wrong.
In this situation, you overeat carbs—most of us fill our plate with them. While we need carbs for fuel and to prevent sugar cravings, we eat too much of them. A serving or two is all we need to fuel us—and to keep us sane without bloating us. Most people don’t realize that one portion is ½ cup cooked grain such as rice, pasta, or oatmeal. Many of us eat five times this amount, getting 500 calories from just the carb itself at one sitting, rather than 100-200 calories, and we think we just can’t eat carbs. But portion size matters.
Think of it this way—if you broke off one 30-calorie square off an entire large bar of chocolate and ate that for dessert each day, would it cause weight gain? No. A 30-calorie square of chocolate would likely keep you sane and prevent you from eating an entire bar of chocolate, but if you ate the entire large bar each day, you’d feel sick and bloated and would gain weight and think that if you want to lose weight, you can’t eat chocolate—when in fact, you just need a more modest portion.
The dose can be the poison as the calories can really add up.
Read on to learn what portion our clients eat and how they feel satisfied without eating an entire plate of carbs.
Mistake #2. Ignoring fatty carb condiments.
In this situation, you slather your carbs with fatty condiments. For instance, you eat bread and… butter, or baked potato and… sour cream, or pasta and…fettuccini alfredo sauce. Or you dip pita in hummus… and polish off the container.
In each of these examples you can easily add hundreds of calories of the sauce or condiment and falsely think the carbs causing you to gain weight! For example, if you eat a slice of bread, that’s 100 calories, but dip that in melted butter or olive oil and each tablespoon adds another 100-120 calories. Suddenly, that 100 calorie slice of bread is 400-500 calories. And then you have a second piece…
Mistake #3. Choosing carbs that spike blood sugar.
These carbs stress your body, trigger cortisol (the belly fat hormone) and increase inflammation which makes fat loss harder, and weight gain easier. And they don’t provide the nutrients to keep your metabolism running efficiently. Plus, they don’t keep you full and end up making you crave more food, ah!
One of our favorite ways to help to identify these carbs and to recognize if you’re making this mistake is to ask yourself a question that we credit our friend and fellow RD, Dave Grotto for coining…
“WTF!? Where’s the fiber!?” Fiber is the key nutrient that slows digestion, adds beneficial components to the carb, stabilizes blood sugar, reduces hunger—and is one way to help to ensure that it’s a carb with nutrients. When your carb is missing fiber you can be assured of a few things—it’s processed and the nutrients have been stripped out (think white bread, sugar, candy, cakes, baked goods). These foods don’t have fiber to slow their absorption, so they end up spiking blood sugar, creating an energy high followed by a crash since there’s no fiber to keep the energy sustained.
When the crash sets in that leads to your body craving energy—and the simplest form it can get—sugar! It starts a vicious cycle in which you eat sugar, it spikes your blood sugar, you crash and need a quick pick me up—and you crave more food and more sugar—you get an energy and blood sugar spike and crash again, the cycle repeats and leads to overeating!
If a carb has fiber does it mean it’s good for weight loss?
Not always. While having fiber is a good sign that the carb may be good for weight loss, some foods have been highly processed but have fiber added back in by a manufacturer. These carbs that have fiber added in still increase inflammation that’s linked with weight gain and they lack the nutrients that help to boost your metabolism. You do need to be careful of these—think cookies or cereal that have added fiber. They are processed and stripped of the nutrients that help the good carbs to keep your body working at its’ best and that keep your metabolism humming and they’re not good options. The best way to find these it to read the ingredient labels. With grains, make sure you see the word “whole” before the grain to make sure it has not been stripped of its nutrients and fiber.
How can you eat carbs and lose weight?
By fixing the mistakes that cause you to gain weight when you eat carbs, you can eat them and lose weight! Raise your sweet potato and let’s cheers to weight loss without depriving yourself of carbs!
Here’s how our clients do it:
They choose the right portions.
Each person has an amount of carbs that’s right for them and their body. To play it safe to promote fat loss, if you’re a woman, have one-half to a maximum of three quarters cup per meal. If you’re a male stick to three-quarters to one cup. While this may seem small, the beauty of this is the protein at the meal that extends the energy boost of the carbs and that you’ll also pack your plate with lots of veggies.
You’ll want to have at least a little carb (the lower range of the portions above) at 2 of your 3 meals. (Note that fruits count.)
They choose sauces and condiments with discretion.
Our clients know that opting for a red sauce instead of a creamy one on pasta can be the difference between gaining fat or losing it. If they choose a cream one, they use it sparingly, taking one or two tablespoons of a cream-based sauce and adding that to carbs. Sometimes they’ll add creaminess with a few tablespoons of an avocado mash and save hundreds of calories. You may enjoy Creamy Avocado Dressing,
Rather than pouring bloat-promoting salt, as well as heavy dressings and condiments, they use lighter options (or smaller portions of the ones that pack in calories and that add pounds on the body) or swap them for lemon, lime and spices on grains like barley, tabouleh, quinoa, potatoes, corn, winter squashes and pasta. They spritz oil and butter rather than slathering it on their carbs since it evenly disperses the flavor in few calories. When it comes to cheeses (and even chocolate), they use a microplane to top dishes rather than pouring it on.
They choose the best carbs for their waistline. (These are the best ones for health too!)
What is the healthiest carb?
The healthiest carb is WHOLESOME, packs in fiber and nutrients that help the body to function at its best and lowers inflammation in the body (and the weight gain associated with it)—and there are several carbs that fit this bill. Oats, sweet potatoes and potatoes (all with the skin), brown rice, 100% whole grains, and pulses like lentils and chickpeas could all arguably be the healthiest carb. Unlike the carbs that make you think you can’t eat them and lose weight, and that and that increase cortisol and inflammation, cause your blood sugar to spike resulting mood swings, energy crashes and subsequent sugar cravings, premature hunger and then overeating, the best carbs prevent hunger, stabilize blood sugar and energy levels and provide sustained energy so there is no crash. These carbs provide important nutrients to trigger enzymes that make the body work efficiently, including the metabolism.
Notice that we said the word “wholesome”. While baked potatoes with the skin on them qualify, French fries, fried hash browns, mashed potatoes don’t. They’re typically stripped of their fiber (and often other nutrients) and then dolled up with inflammation-promoting fat sources—the result is high calorie, blood-sugar and insulin-spiking foods with few, if any health benefits.
By choosing the healthiest carbs, you’ll feel more satisfied, and you’ll lose weight too!
The Bottom Line:
If you’ve gained weight in the past eating carbs, you can eat carbs and lose weight the way our clients do by checking your portions, the sauces and condiments you’re topping them with, and the kinds of carbs you’re eating. Keep your carb portions to ½- 3/4 cup for women and ¾-1 cup for men, to start for weight loss. Use the calorie saving swaps our clients do, liking opting for red sauce over cream-based ones, using a few tablespoons of mashed avocado for creamy texture or use our much lower calorie favorites to keep sauces and condiment calories in check. And choose the best carbs—those where you don’t have to say “WTF”, “where’s the fiber (and the nutrients?)”—like oats, brown rice, sweet potatoes and chickpeas and lentils. This is very freeing for our clients when they realize that they can (and should!) eat carbs to lose weight and keep it off.
Our client, Amy’s weight loss with carbs success story:
Amy came to us she was 18 pounds above her upper weight range and felt uncomfortable in her body. She confided in us that she felt totally disappointed in herself and like a failure because she was having trouble getting back on her usual go-to weight loss regimen that always worked for her in the past when she wanted to lose fat —a low-carb diet. She had a history of starting some form of a low carb diet each time she got about 15 pounds above her top weight comfort zone. Then she’d go on a low-carb diet, even cutting out oats, which she loved, and she’d take off the 15 pounds, only to gradually put it back on after eating carbs again. Even though the low-carb lifestyle wasn’t sustainable for her, it’s what she knew, so she’d go back on the diet when she needed it. But this time she said she just couldn’t do it. Each day she’d go to start it and then she’d have a family dinner or a night out with friends and it just wasn’t working for her. It wasn’t fitting in her lifestyle.
She came to us, depressed, and this time she was eighteen pounds above where she wanted to be. We started by showing her that she could eat carbs—and how do it in her lifestyle, while losing weight! As we were working to lower inflammation in her body and the weight that comes with it, and taking steps to get her body to function better, we taught her how to eat carbs at restaurants and the right portions of carbs for her body and how to enjoy them with meals in a way that she truly enjoyed and that fueled her metabolism, helping her body to work better. We showed her how to go out to eat and enjoy a meal with carbs that powered her weight loss—in the right portions and the right ones to choose and how to make condiments and sauces work for her, rather than against her. Amy lost the 18 pounds in 4 months and best of all, she’s kept it off, enjoying carbs, feeling fueled, energetic, confident, and happy! As we share this story, it’s over a year later and she’d kept the weight off!
If you’re struggling to lose weight, whether you’re following a low carb diet or anything else, if you’ve been on the weight loss roller coaster, losing weight for a period time and then feeling like when you want to go out to dinner with friends or on a date or on vacation that you can’t maintain the strict regimen you’ve been on, and you go to eat a meal with your friends then feel like you slowly slip out of that strict regimen and find yourself back where you started before you tried to lose weight– feeling bad about yourself that you couldn’t withhold the strict regimen– we are here to tell you that you 100% can lose weight and keep it off. You just haven’t been working in a way that’s best for your body, for your lifestyle, and your unique hormones. You’ve been following some sort of strict regimen that relies on you needing to have motivation to do it—and that’s not sustainable because when life happens and you just want to have fun with friends and live a normal life, or when you have a bad day, motivation goes out the window. You 100% can lose weight and you don’t you don’t have to struggle or rely on motivation. You just need a plan that works for your body and your lifestyle and that feels easy. We can promise you it’s not about cutting carbs or not eating your favorite foods. It’s about including them in ways that work for your body and your life. We’re here to help. You can do it! Set up a free call with us to see how we can help.