Carbs don’t make you fat

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Ryan Day Coaching

“I haven’t had carbs in a month and I’m still not losing weight.”

“I started doing keto and it worked for the first three months, but I’ve been in a plateau the last two months.”

“I stopped eating carbs because they just end up getting stored as fat.”

Do any of these sound familiar? Maybe these strike a chord with you personally, or you’ve heard one of your friends say something along these lines.

Guess what. Carbs don’t make you fat, and cutting them out of your diet doesn’t do anything more than make you miserable because carbs are incredible.

I’ll explain why cutting out carbs can initially help with weight loss later, but first, let’s talk about what carbs even are.

What are Carbs

Carbohydrates (aka Carbs) are one of the three macronutrients (along with protein and fat). Every carb contains about 4 calories per gram, with the exception of fiber (yep, fiber is a carb!) which has ~2 calories per gram.

Carbs have a few functions, but the main thing we care about today is that carbs serve as an energy source for the body. And not just energy to exercise – energy to regulate your body temperature, energy to breathe, even energy for your heart to pump blood through your body.

Now, without getting too technical, let’s talk about carbs getting “stored as fat.”

Quick Carb Science

When you eat (or drink) carbs, your body converts them to glucose. That glucose is used as an energy source to carry out the actions (and more) we just listed above.

What happens when you eat a lot of carbs at once and your body doesn’t need all the glucose it produces? The extra glucose gets converted to “glycogen” which is stored in your muscles or liver. However, your body only holds onto a certain amount of glycogen at any given time.

After those glycogen stores are filled up – something has to give. We have this extra energy waiting to get used, but our body has no use for it. This is when extra energy gets stored as fat.

HOWEVER – and this a big “however” – the carbs are not at fault for the fat storage. YOU are at fault for the fat storage because you ate more calories (read as: energy) than your body needed. And when you consume more calories than you burn (regardless of which macronutrient makes up that energy) you are going to store fat.

Moral of the story: Carbs are not the enemy. Consistently overconsuming calories is the enemy.

“But I know somebody who did a low-carb diet and lost 50 pounds.”

Let’s explore that.

Why cutting out carbs helps with weight loss…initially

Two things.

First – The three big macronutrients are carbs, fat, and protein.

Second – In order to lose weight, you HAVE to burn more calories than you consume.

Cutting carbs out helps with weight loss initially because, by making one of the three macronutrients completely off limits, you’re naturally going to eat less (aka eat in a caloric deficit).

What happens when you restrict yourself from carbs for six months to hit your weight loss goal and then finally allow yourself to start eating them again?

You go off the rails, overeat carbs because you told yourself you couldn’t for six months, and put the weight right back on. This is the rule, not the exception.

Are there people who go low-carb and never turn back? Sure, and to those people, I’m happy for you. As for me, I love carbs way too much to remove them from my life.

Why you should eat carbs

1. They taste good

Look. Carbs are amazing. Sweet potatoes, roasted potatoes, rice, blueberries, apples, beans, sourdough, honey…oreos, cake, chocolate chip cookies. They’re all awesome, and if you love them as much as me, they probably deserve a spot in your diet.

That said, don’t go crazy. Especially on the highly processed stuff (usually the things that come in a wrapper or package).

Usually, your body will give you an appropriate “I’m full” cue when you’re eating whole-food carb sources. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with processed carb sources.

There are 4 or 5 potatoes in every bag of potato chips. I can eat a bag of potato chips in one sitting no problem. I can NOT eat 4 or 5 potatoes in one sitting. The processed stuff is engineered to make you overeat and this is my favorite example of that.

Eat your carbs, but don’t eat like an asshole when it comes to the processed varieties.

2. Carbs give you energy

I said it already above, but it’s worth repeating. Carbs give you energy, and if you eat the “right” carbs, it’s a clean, even-keel energy that won’t leave you with a sugar crash an hour after eating.

What are these “right” carbs? Again, single-ingredient, whole foods like potatoes, rice, oats, vegetables, beans, and fruit.

3. Carbs have fiber, vitamins, and minerals

Speaking of fruit – nobody ever got fat eating fruit. Don’t believe the fear-mongering idiots on the internet who tell you that apples are gonna make you fat “because they’re high in sugar.”

Fruits and vegetables are loaded with fiber, water, vitamins, and minerals which make them excellent sources of nutrition.

Stop being afraid of fruit and unfollow anybody on the internet who says fruit is bad.

4. Carbs help you build muscle

If you’ve been around a while, you know I’m a huge believer that everybody needs to resistance train to get some muscle on their bones. Carbs can help you with this.

While protein is king when it comes to muscle-building, carbs are terrific for exercise performance. Remember earlier when we talked about how carbs are converted to glucose or glycogen to provide energy? Here’s where that’s important.

Your body will use up those glycogen stores during exercise to help you lift heavier or run longer. As a result, you’ll be able to increase your exercise and output and stimulate more muscle growth than you would in the absence of carbs.

On top of that, carbs are awesome for helping with recovery by stimulating muscle tissue repair and adaptation. Again – they help you build muscle.

Recommended daily carb intake

At the end of the day, I almost always go back to calories in versus calories out. While this writing has been in support of carbohydrate consumption, I don’t want to discount the value of fats, which are also critical to a healthy diet and body.

To that extent, daily carb intake recommendations will vary widely from person to person based on myriad factors. Here’s what I can recommend.

Every day, try to eat 1g of protein per pound of your ideal body weight and 14g of fiber for every 1000 calories you eat. Beyond that, try to make the bulk of your diet come from single-ingredient, whole foods, and don’t go over your calorie target (more on this in a second).

You’ll likely find that you get a nice mix of carbs and fats with this approach.

The truth is that most people don’t need to worry about the mix of carbs and fats. What they DO need to worry about is making sure that whatever carb/fat ratio they land on is sustainable, keeps them under their calorie target, and is something they can do long-term.

Back to figuring out your calorie target. To find this, eat as you normally would, and track your food for two weeks using an app like Cronometer or MyFitnessPal. If your weight stays consistent during these two weeks, you now know your caloric maintenance, which is how many calories you need to eat to stay at your current weight.

Happy with your weight? Keep eating that amount of calories. If you’re not, reach out and I’ll help you figure out where to go from here.

Closing Thoughts

There is a lot of nuance with carbs that I didn’t discuss here. There’s the glycemic index, sugars vs. added sugars, and carb timing relative to exercise, among a host of other things.

Here’s my advice: stop worrying about those things. That’s like worrying about what color the shudders will be on a house when you haven’t even determined if you can build on that lot yet.

The big takeaway: carbs are not the enemy.

Are there people out there who would do best on a low-carb, keto-style diet? Yes. With nutrition, everything is very specific to the individual.

However, for most people, the low-carb lifestyle is incredibly restricting and flat-out unsustainable over the long term.

Carbs have a lot of benefits, including just adding to life satisfaction because they taste so damn good. And lucky for us, carbs don’t make us fat, which means we can eat them and still have the body we want.

Just don’t eat a whole bag of potato chips.