When it comes to weight loss, or simply getting fitter and healthier in general, there are many paths that can be taken to reach a goal. The problem is, with the information that is fed to us by the media or other questionable sources it can be easy to fall into a narrow pattern of thinking.
When you fall into the trap of thinking that one way is the only way, you’re missing the big picture. Each person is different and has their own unique puzzle of success where all the little pieces that result in healthy, sustainable weight loss come together. Some people will lose more weight on a high-carbohydrate diet. Others may do better with relatively high fat intake.
Depending on what you read and who you listen to, it can be easy to hold beliefs such as “You can’t be fit on a plant-based diet”, “You can choose just one area of your body to target for fat loss” (i.e. spot reduction), or even “Lifting heavy makes you massive”.
We’ve dispelled all of those myths and today we’re highlighting another: “You can only lose weight by cutting carbs”.
Although it’s a simplistic look at weight loss, let’s address calorie balance to highlight how weight loss is achieved, in a basic sense.
Calories in vs. calories out for weight loss
Weight loss can be achieved when a calorie deficit is created. This means that when you consume fewer calories than you expend, you will lose weight. A calorie deficit could be created by eating fewer calories than usual, or expending extra calories, or a combination of the two.
We’re not going to address the specific details of how to approach the calorie balance equation, except to mention that it should not be done in an extreme way. There is a baseline of calories that you will need to consume each day to stay healthy, and it’s dependent on factors such as your body weight and activity levels.
What we do want to highlight in the calorie balance equation is around this myth that weight loss can only be achieved by cutting carbs. There are two major components in the equation, which are nutrition and physical activity levels.
Let’s take a look at each one separately to demonstrate how weight loss can be achieved, without altering your carb intake.
Nutrition factors in the calorie balance equation
All food is made up of macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients (apart from water) are the components that supply us with calories. There are three main macronutrients that contain calories:
Each of these macronutrients contains a certain amount of calories per gram, as follows:
- Carbohydrates – 4 calories per gram
- Protein – 4 calories per gram
- Fat – 9 calories per gram
From the figures above, you can probably guess that there is more than one way to create a calorie deficit using the nutrition side of the equation. Examples include:
- Reduce fat intake
- Decrease carbohydrate intake
- Reduce protein intake
- Decrease overall calorie intake without specifically focusing on one macronutrient
Again, this is a simplistic look at weight loss via the nutrition side of the calorie balance equation. It’s important to realise that protein, carbohydrates, and fat are all important for optimal nutrition. The goal here is to highlight that you do not “have to cut carbs” to lose weight.
Nutritional considerations above and beyond carbs and calories
Before we look at the exercise side of the equation, here are some of the other nutrition factors to consider beyond the calorie aspect. When you take a broader view of nutrition strategies for weight loss it can make the journey a lot more enjoyable and sustainable.
If you only took a calorie-cutting approach you might technically be able to eat a small amount of “junk food” each day, and nothing else…and still lose weight. However, the results aren’t likely to be lasting and it’s not exactly a recipe for great health.
- The nutritional value of food is crucial for long term weight loss. When you eat a wide variety of high-quality, nutrient-dense food your body receives the nutrition it needs. You’ll experience fewer cravings and weight loss will happen more easily
- Calories from different sources shouldn’t be treated in the same way. Yes, carbohydrates will affect your body (and can even affect your metabolism) differently to protein and fat. And your body will also respond differently to different sources of carbohydrates. However, this is worthy of an entire post on its own. “Cutting carbs” rose to fame for a reason; just don’t get caught up in thinking it’s the only way weight loss can be achieved
- Different body types respond better to different levels of macronutrients and food combinations, and it’s important to find out what works for you
- No, you don’t even necessarily need to count your macros or calories
- Whatever you do, make sure that food doesn’t become an obsession and you choose an approach that you can enjoy and maintain
For further information on nutrition, check out these healthy eating tips for busy people.
Exercise factors in the calorie balance equation
You now know that you could increase your energy expenditure (i.e. move more) without cutting carbs or calories, and it would still be possible to lose weight. For an inactive person who is already eating well, this might be a good option.
However, this could be a tough approach if you’re already exercising regularly and don’t want to add to your exercise volume. If we look at exercise alone, there are different ways you could tweak your program in order to burn more calories without exercising for longer. (And again, none of them involve cutting carbs). Essentially, you just need to get a little smarter about how you exercise. Considerations include:
- Increasing the resistance training component of your exercise program to build more muscle. Muscle helps you to burn more calories overall, even at rest
- Adding more incidental exercise into your day so that you can burn additional calories without adding in extra exercise sessions
- Adjusting the types of exercise you’re doing. For example, some exercises offer a greater fat-burning potential than others
- Burning more calories in cardio training sessions by adding in short bursts of high intensity (e.g. sprints or hills).
These are just a few examples. When it comes to exercise, there are other factors you need to look at to ensure you’re losing weight. These include adequate rest and recovery, pre and post-workout nutrition, and avoiding the extremes of overtraining or under training.
Sustainable weight loss is more than cutting calories or carbs, and there are different, healthy pathways to achieve the results you’re after. Find out how other areas of your lifestyle affect weight loss in “The Whole Life Approach to Weight Loss That Works”.