I left off last week mentioning that eating too low-carb for too long can cause significant disruptions to many hormones. I can go into crazy detail about each one but it would end up a book, not a quick, but informative topicJ

So instead, here’s the takeaway message to recap last week: Many people but especially women try to eat low-carb, wanting to be healthier.

Yet because low-carb diets can significantly disrupt hormone production, women with too-low carb intakes — especially active women — can face:

  • a stopped or irregular menstrual cycle;
  • lowered fertility;
  • hypoglycemia and blood sugar swings;
  • more body fat (especially around the middle);
  • loss of bone density;
  • anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues;
  • chronic inflammation and worse chronic pain;
  • chronic fatigue and disrupted sleep; and
  • a host of other chronic problems…

…ironically, this is the exact opposite of what you wanted in the first place.

Now on to another problem that occurs when you go too low carb for too long:

Muscle loss

When we think about building muscle, we usually think of protein. But research shows that lowering carb intake can affect your muscle mass even if protein remained constant.

In other words, even if you’re guzzling protein shakes or eating steak 5 times a day, you could be losing muscle if you aren’t getting enough carbs.

Again, you’d assume that protein intake would determine muscle breakdown. And you might assume — based on what you’ve heard — that having higher insulin is always “bad”.

In fact, insulin is crucial for building muscle.

When you get enough carbs to meet your needs, you replenish muscle glycogen and create an anabolic (building-up) hormonal environment. You get strong and buff. That’s a good thing

On the flip side, when you don’t eat enough carbohydrates, muscle glycogen is depleted and a catabolic (breaking-down) hormonal environment is created, which means more protein breakdown and less protein synthesis. This means slower muscle growth — or even muscle loss.

The bottom line? Not eating enough carbohydrates can contribute to muscle loss, and prevent muscle gains. In addition to ALL of the other things I’ve listed.

Even if all of this is true, aren’t low carb diets better for fat loss?

Low carbs are not better for fat loss

Yes, most people who try low-carb dieting are initially pleased by an immediate weight loss… which is mostly water and glycogen. So, in the short term, it seems like low-carb diets are superior.

But does long-term evidence support low-carb dieting?

Research says no. Over the long haul, any differences between low-carb and other diets even out.

How does Protein factor in with this?

We know that getting plenty of protein has many advantages:

  • protein has a higher thermic effect — our bodies have to “rev up” to digest it (you’ll know this if you’ve ever gotten the “meat sweats” after a big steak);
  • protein makes people feel fuller, longer; and
  • protein helps people retain lean mass.

In other words, the big “secret” part of that is more a high protein diet rather than a low carb diet. One recent study asked: Do low carb diets work because they restrict carbs or because they tend to increase protein?

So a little science for ya: Over the course of one year, the researchers compared four different conditions:

  1. normal protein, normal carbohydrate
  2. normal protein, low carbohydrate
  3. high protein, low carbohydrate
  4. high protein, normal carbohydrate.

Interestingly, the two groups eating the high protein lost the most weight. Things that make you go Hmmm?

Sometimes, we get so caught up in fad diets that we forget to look at the evidence. But fad diets are mostly bad diets.

For many years, we thought the secret to maintaining our weight was to eat lots of carbs and reduce our fat intake. Just think of the old Food Guide Pyramid with grains at the bottom and oils at the top. It was about that time that obesity came into play within the mainstream….so, I’m guessing it didn’t work.

Low-fat, high-carb didn’t work for most of us. People felt deprived and hungry; they “cheated” with “fat-free”, high-sugar treats; and they ended up eating a lot more calories than they would otherwise..

Then the pendulum swung, people hopped on the low carb, high fat bandwagon, and it was party time with almond butter, bacon, and heavy cream.

Unfortunately for most of us, low carb doesn’t work so well, either

If you know me at all, you know my thoughts on strict dieting not being the answer.

-Rachel Plumage

Rachel Plumage