My friend Mary Weaver has a great way of explaining why cutting carbs gives you quick “weight loss”. The devil however is always in the details. When I heard her talk about this topic I knew immediately that I wanted her to share it with you! Please enjoy this guest post.
Because I’m a health, fitness, and weight-loss coach, my friends are always happily sharing their diet success stories with me:
“Hey, Mary—I’ve lost seven pounds since last weekend!”
“I took off 10 pounds in a couple of weeks on Atkins!”
“That Paleo diet is really working for me—I’m five pounds down on the scale in just seven days!”
Because these people are friends, not clients, I hesitate to rain on their parade. But I’d really like them to understand that those apparently fabulous losses really don’t mean much.
Here’s the deal. When you start a food plan that greatly restricts carbohydrates or slashes calories to the bone (which also has the effect of cutting carbs), the almost immediate weight loss you get is caused by the loss of water, not fat.
Let me explain why.
Your elegantly designed body runs on a combination of carbohydrate and fat at all times. Depending on what you’re doing—sleeping, sitting in a chair, performing light housework, or running a marathon—the mix shifts to make sure you get the fuel you need.
When you need energy immediately, blood sugar (glucose) moves into the starring role. For lower-level tasks of long duration, fat is preferred.
Most of us do a good job—too good, perhaps—of storing all the fat we could ever need. But glucose can’t be stored.
Instead, we store a carbohydrate called glycogen in the liver and muscles. As the body needs more sugar, glycogen is converted into glucose so your body processes can continue normally.
Now you know the vital role that glucose and glycogen play. The upshot is that when you slash most or all of the carbohydrates from your diet, your brain, muscles, and other tissues still need that sugar.
Not to worry. Clever you will immediately compensate by consuming the glycogen your body has squirreled away in your liver and muscles.
But guess what? Each gram of glycogen in your body is accompanied by four to five grams of water.
When one gram of glycogen is broken down, four to five grams of water are shed.
Burn up one pound of stored glycogen to provide glucose to your sugar-starved body, and you dump four to five pounds of water.
So let’s say that during your first week on a low-carb (or very low calorie) diet you manage to lose six or seven pounds. “Wow,” you think. “This is great!”
Well, don’t get too excited.
That weight loss might include a pound or two of fat, depending on how big you were to begin with, a pound of glycogen, and four to five pounds of water. (If you were starving yourself, it could also include muscle, but that’s a topic for another day.)
Now the “loss” doesn’t look so dramatic, does it?
Because as soon as you begin eating carbohydrates at a normal level—and eventually you’ll have to—your body will begin to store glycogen and water again.
In other words, most of your weight loss was temporary and did nothing to reduce your level of body fat.
So now you know that the immediate weight loss caused by low-carb dieting is an illusion . . . and now you have to decide whether to burst a friend’s bubble the next time you hear, “I’ve lost seven pounds just since last weekend!”
Mary is a body-transformation coach and an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. Her passion is helping women over 40 lose fat, turbocharge their metabolism, and take years off their body. Check out her free teleseminar, “The 7 Weight-Loss Secrets Women Over 40 Must Know.” Get body-transformation tips on her blog, Prime Fitness for Women.