If there’s one topic that many people get confused about, it’s nutrition. And it’s not surprising given the non-stop avalanche of diet books and the how the media scream about a new “superfood” one day, only to brand it a “killer” the next.
Having performed almost 3,000 body composition scans, I can vouch for good improvements from almost every type of popular diet. Whether low carb, carb cycling, intermittent fasting, ketogenic or the 5:2, I’ve seen excellent results from them all.
I’ve seen very bad results too.
Most people who are unsuccessful in their fat-loss efforts are relying on enduring misconceptions about food and nutrition. Here are some surrounding carbohydrates (carbs).
1. Many people follow a low carb diet because they believe “carbs make you fat”. In reality, no food or macronutrient makes you fat (or thin).
Body fat is simply stored energy. To gain body fat, you need to be putting in more energy (calories from food) than you expend throughout the day. A “calorie controlled” diet works by restricting calorie intake. The fasting protocols do so by limiting the time period in which you can eat which leads, ultimately, to less food (fewer calories) being consumed. Other diets that restrict food groups, eg, no sugar or low-carb, stop you from eating a number of foods, especially foods you might over-eat which, again, leads to a lower calorie intake.
2. Calories (energy) from food can come from three main types: Protein, Carbohydrates and Fats. There’s also alcohol but let’s just focus on food for now. Protein and carbohydrates contain four calories per gram and fats contain nine calories per gram. Unlike carbohydrates and fats, almost 30% of the calories from protein get burnt off during the digestion process, known as the thermic effect of food. Protein is also more likely to be used in the body for repairing cells and growth of muscle mass plus it’s highly satiating making it almost impossible to over eat protein to the point it prevents fat loss.
The problem with many people who follow low-carb diets is that the calories they don’t consume from carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice) they simply end up consuming from fats (nuts, oils, salad dressings). As a coach, I have seen hundreds of individual food logs and, of the three macronutrients (protein, carbs and fats), it is fats that make up the highest proportion of the diet’s calorie intake, on average.
In order for us to reduce body fat, we need to consume fewer calories than we expend each day (an energy imbalance). For example, if we burn 2000 calories per day but only consume 1500 calories, the body needs to find 500 calories internally to fuel the day’s activities. Although the body does have some fuel in the shape of muscle (protein and stored glycogen) this is a very small amount compared to that of body fat, so as long as you are doing some resistance training to stimulate your muscle mass, the body will be using mostly fat for the extra calories needed.
Here is a common example of how people go wrong when making food choices.
A chicken salad in Pret contains 636 calories compared to their chicken sandwich which only has 389 calories. Many people on a low-carb diet would opt for the salad in order to lose more body fat because the bread in the sandwich is a carb source. Everyone knows that a salad is healthier and will be better for fat loss, right?
As already stated, to lose body fat you simply need to be in a calorie deficit. Therefore, opting for the higher calorie salad means it’s going to be easier for you to over consume calories and end up not eating any less than you burned for the day. If you burn 2000 calories and consume 2000 calories, whether those calories are from salad or bread, your levels of stored energy in the body (fat levels) will not change. Science clearly states that energy can’t be created nor destroyed.
Most individuals are very sedentary which makes fat loss even harder as their calorie burn per day is going to be lower than an active individual. Many desk-bound Bodyscan clients say how they sit at their desk and snack on a small bag of “healthy” nuts.
That small (100gram) bag of nuts will contain about 600 calories!
An average sedentary woman will struggle to burn more than 1500 calories a day and would need to consume less than this (maybe 1200 calories) to see fat loss. So you can see immediately that the small bag of “healthy” nuts is HALF her daily calorie intake right there!
Asked to choose between the small bag of nuts and eight slices of bread, anyone on a low-carb diet would choose the nuts. But the calorie count in each is the same!
This post isn’t suggesting low carb diets are bad. In fact, people following low-carb diets have seen great results in the clinic when done correctly and followed consistently.
But reducing your carbohydrate intake and subsequently increasing your fat intake to the point where the calorie intake is exactly the same means you won’t lose any fat at all.
It doesn’t matter HOW you reduce calories (through reducing carbs, fats, other foods/food groups or the time window in which you eat) you still need to achieve an overall calorie deficit to see fat loss.
An important note: You should almost never cut calories by reducing protein intake, as protein is needed to prevent muscle loss and to aid muscle recovery.
Reduce protein and you will end up losing more muscle mass than you need to, which in turn leads to slower fat loss because your body will be using muscle instead of fat for fuel.
And with less muscle mass, your body is burning fewer calories throughout the day, which again makes it harder to lose body fat long term.