Low-carb diets can be very effective for short periods of time to improve things like blood sugar regulation, gut healing (i.e SIBO, GAPS or candida protocol) and even accelerate weight loss.
Emphasis on short periods of time.
Our bodies NEED carbohydrates, despite the fact they are often vilified in mainstream nutrition.
Gut healing protocols for issues like SIBO or Candida remove certain carbohydrates from the diet for a short period of time in order to “starve” the bad gut bacteria that may be causing things like bloating, fatigue, and abdominal pain.
In terms of weight management, most people see quick weight loss pretty immediately when beginning to eat low carb. This is usually for a couple reasons:
- They are inadvertently eating less calories overall by removing carbohydrates and restricting a wide variety of foods
- Carbohydrates in the diet encourage your body to retain water - a reduction in carbohydrates will cause a quick loss of (water) weight.
However, after the initial weight has come off, most low-carb eaters notice a plateau, and from there find it quite difficult to move the scale. A common mistake I often see is trying to “low-carb harder” in order to see more weight loss. Eventually, people are left solely eating meat and green vegetables, yet aren’t seeing any weight loss, not recovering from workouts, and feeling lethargic.
Why does this happen?
1. The thyroid becomes sluggish - The thyroid gland relies on carbohydrates to convert T4 (the unusable form of thyroid hormone) to T3 (the active form of thyroid hormone). Without adequate glucose (derived from carbohydrates) this conversion slows down, causing T3 levels to plummet. Think of T3 as the master hormone regulating everything from body temperature to metabolism. Low levels of T3 result in symptoms like fatigue, mood problems, dry skin, inability to lose weight, and even high cholesterol.
2. Carbs are essential for energy production - Carbs provide quick energy and begin metabolizing almost immediately after ingesting them. If you are unable to recover from your workouts, can’t muster the energy to work out in the first place, or regularly feel fatigued, taking a closer look at carbohydrate intake is vital.
3. Low carbohydrate intake is stressful on the adrenal glands - A large majority of clients that I see with adrenal fatigue have previously been eating a low-carb diet, working out too much, and/or have large amounts of stress. Carbohydrates are essential to healthy adrenal function, and going too low-carb can actually increase cortisol production. High cortisol can lead to a cascade of problems relating to weight management; most notably low T3(as mentioned in #1), thyroid metabolism defects, and decreased metabolic rate.
4. If the body senses high levels of stress from being too low-carb, any glucose it receives will be shuttled to the area of priority: the adrenals. This is actually a safety mechanism to provide safety if danger were to occur. In other words, your body will prioritize your “fight or flight” response as protection, rather than your ability to produce healthy and adequate hormones. Adequate hormones (like T3, progesterone, testosterone, and estrogen) are essential for energy production and maintaining a healthy weight. Symptoms like irregular menstrual cycles can be a huge indicator of being too low-carb.
5. Cravings - Feelings of restriction towards any food will ultimately cause cravings for that food. In terms of low-carb diets specifically, I notice that many people have intense cravings for sugar and carbohydrates. This is your body’s way of screaming for glucose! Eating intuitively allows you to satisfy your bodies cravings for carbohydrates in a way that will help you maintain a healthful way of eating, as well as your sanity.
So, to recap - How do you know if you’re too low carb?
- Frequent fatigue
- Inability to lose weight/ plateauing
- Cravings for sugar and carbohydrates
- Inability to recover from workouts/ workouts suffering
- Irregular menstrual cycles
How low is too low?
Obviously, the amount of carbohydrates that are ideal for one person to eat daily will differ quite a bit based on sex, activity level, health concerns, etc. However as a baseline, I recommend that most people never dip below 100 grams per day.
Where should I get my carbs on a real-food diet?
Best sources of carbs:
- Potatoes (sweet, purple, russet)
- Starchy veggies (carrots, beets, squash)
Other sources of carbs:
- Gluten free grains (millet, oats, amaranth)
Tell me: what has been your experience with eating low-carb?