In the 1990s low-fat was all the rage. Food conglomerates put all their marketing towards this trend and created an entirely new category of food products where everything was non-fat this or fat-free that. Then in the early 2000s it changed gears and the focus was low-carb everything. Suddenly Atkins, Zone and more recently Paleo style diets were the in thing to do, where high protein and fat were praised and whole grains and sugar were shunned. The question is: which one is better and more effective for fat loss? Although many still believe that low-carb is the way to go, there are a few major things to consider first.
The low-fat craze of yesteryear paved the way for excess sugar/carb consumption which ultimately started many on the path towards obesity. This is mostly what led many to find that carbs are the devil years later. But…when you really look at the low-fat diet you may notice that there is a very specific reason why it didn’t work. At the time, people weren’t eating diets loaded with vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains, instead it was a diet based on junk food. Anything that was marketed as low-fat, non-fat or fat-free was eaten in bulk whether it was cookies, granola bars, chips, cakes, breads, yogurts, etc. Do you see the pattern? The focus wasn’t on nutrition, the focus was on eliminating an entire macronutrient while still being able to eat “off-limit” foods. As we all now know, when the fat is removed something needs to be added in to give off some flavour and that’s where excess sugar came in full force and sugar is super addictive. The low-fat diet was essentially a junk-food diet. That was the start of us all being overfed and undernourished.
Then came low-carb. I remember this well, it was right around the time that I was started college and had started working out and losing weight after gaining the freshman 15. The idea behind this diet concept is that carbs get broken down into glucose, fructose(from fruits) and galactose(from dairy) and that it is the primary source as fuel for the body. That’s why so many of us “carb-up” pre-workout; we can push harder with the extra fuel without losing muscle. Any glucose that isn’t immediately used up gets stored in the body as glycogen for later use. This led to the belief that if you’re glycogen stores are minimized or depleted that your body will instead have no choice but to turn to its excess stores of bodyfat as fuel. Suddenly, fat was back and loads of protein was the key to weight loss. Everyone was praising Dr. Atkins saying that carbs were so bad for you and was the cause of the obesity epidemic. It was effective, in fact, many people saw results and still do. This diet is still super popular and even as a bodybuilder, cutting carbs is a big part of contest prep. Why was this really so effective? Well if you look at it closely you’ll notice that it ultimately forced people into eliminating a couple of very specific things namely flour and sugar, which led most to cut out junk food. At the time there were no low-carb chips and cakes and cookies (although now we have protein pancakes and baked kale chips). The reason why people were losing so much weight was because they started eating more veg, less junk food and an overall reduction in calories. Many of us, myself included, skipped the bread basket or ate burgers without the bun or ordered a side salad instead of fries. So not only were we swapping out junk food and consuming more produce, but we also started cutting back on the excess calories too.
Right now you might be thinking “Great, so low carb is definitely the way to go then”, but consider this: if it is so effective why is it that people who lost the weight gained it all back and why are obesity rates still rising? Low-carb like all diet fads are very short-lived and unsustainable, it is something that you just can’t do long-term. Carbohydrates from plant sources are the only way for your body to get fiber and without it you will get some massive health issues. That’s not the only thing though. Think back to when you may have gone low-carb, how did you feel? I felt like crap. Not only was I exhausted all the time, but I was never satisfied. If you try to lose weight and put yourself on a calorie deficit while going low-carb, you are going to be SUPER hungry mostly because you’ll be taking in less volume with your food. Even with an increase in dietary fat, the volume goes way down since fat is very calorie dense compared to carbs and protein. It may not happen right away, but as we all know when you go too extreme with low calories and low carbs you will hit a roadblock. By roadblock I don’t mean plateau, what I mean here is that if you’ve ever struggled with overeating or binge eating, going low-carb will put you back into that danger zone. If you feel hungry or have cravings, your body will override any sort of willpower and logic that you have and signal your brain to go for the foods that will bring your body weight back up. This isn’t because your body is trying to fight you, it’s actually trying to protect you from starvation because it doesn’t tell the difference between trying to drop some weight on purpose or food scarcity. That’s why we rebound, that’s why we gain weight back.
You might be wondering how much carbs you should be eating in a day and it really depends on your goals, but even then it should always make up the bulk of your diet. Obviously you want to load up on veg with lots of grains and beans with some fruit, even if you’re trying to lose weight. If you’re still skeptical then look at this:
On the right is me on show day after going low-carb (less than 50g per day) and higher fat (50g per day) and cutting out weekly treat meals. As you can see, I look pretty flat and kinda puny and even though I’m lean I there’s not that much definition going on. On the left is me on another show day after following a prep that was lower-fat (30g per day) and higher carb (100g per day) with weekly refeed meals. I look fuller and more firm with more curve and I’m still lean. Each week I was setting new PRs in the gym whenever I hit the weight room. No carb cutting, no lethargy and no crazy cravings. Post-contest the thing that always makes me gain back body fat is fat. As soon as I include even a small amount of nuts to my diet, the weight just packs back on. When I increased carbs instead by the same amount and dropped my added fat intake, the weight gain would stop. It’s pretty obvious what works best.
So let’s not shun any particular macronutrient anymore and let’s just focus on eating real and legitimately healthy foods. No more relying on convenience snack foods that are marketed as natural, healthy or even “real food” when in truth they are just prepackaged bombs of sugar and fat that will no lead to satiety. FYI one particularly popular granola bar that is marketed to women as being real, hardy and nourishing is 100 calories, has 7 grams of sugar and 58 ingredients of which 20 are variations of sugar. Don’t be fooled people, it’s all crap! This is not to turn you into a skeptic, if anything it’s all to help you open your eyes to what food is meant to be and how it is here to fuel you and help you be awesome all the time. Don’t fear carbs, don’t fear fat, instead choose to eat up and eat well each day. Remember that there is no one thing that’s causing obesity, it’s a lot of different things so keep your food real and in turn, keep the weight of for good.
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