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Is Intermittent Fasting Really All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

Nutrition experts used to debate whether you should eat three big meals or five little ones per day. (Okay, maybe they’re still debating it…) But another foodie fight has recently stolen the spotlight: fasting. As in eating just one meal per day on some days—if that.

Known as intermittent fasting (IF), this eating approach generally involves going anywhere from 14 to 36 hours at a time without eating. Essentially, you’re tricking your body into thinking you’re starving in an effort to slash calories and get your hormones in check.

Sound like fun? This seemingly torturous dieting style has seen serious traction—here’s what you need to know about its potential perks and whether or not it might work for you.

How It Works

Proponents of intermittent fasting believe the eating style shifts your body into ‘starvation mode,’ causing your metabolism to burn body fat for energy because energy from food is unavailable.

Related: 5 Myths About Your Metabolism—Busted

One of the most popular intermittent fasting protocols is the 5:2 Diet, which involves eating only 500 to 600 calories on two non-consecutive days per week. (You eat normally the other five.) The Eat Stop Eat method requires eating zero food (you can have calorie-free beverages) for a full 24 hours once or twice per week, and eating normally the rest of the time. Meanwhile, on the Warrior Diet, people fast every morning and afternoon and eat one large meal at night. Other methods include restricting food intake to four, six, or eight-hour windows each day.

A quick note for all of our gym-goers and exercise-lovers: On fasting or low-calorie days, workouts are off the table, as sweating it out on empty stomach can result in dizziness or fainting, not to mention poor workout quality.

The Possible Pros

The ultimate goal, for most people: weight loss. Much of the diet is centered on the all-important concept of caloric balance. Consume fewer calories than you burn, and, hypothetically, you’ll lose weight. And, for some people, it’s easier (or more appealing) to cut calories by skipping meals than by trimming calories at every meal, explains Luigi Fontana, M.D., Ph.D., a research professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

According to Fontana, intermittent fasting can reduce weekly caloric intake by 20 to 25 percent. Proponents of IF note that, in theory, even if you eat normally (or end up slightly overeating) on your regular eating days, eating minimally the rest of the time results in a caloric deficit.

Related: This Is The Best Time Of Day To Take A Protein Supplement

Weight loss aside, some experts believe IF may hold further hormonal and health benefits. For instance, in one small University of Copenhagen study, men who followed an intermittent fasting protocol improved their bodies’ glucose-uptake rates, a measure of insulin sensitivity. (A decline in insulin sensitivity is often a precursor of diabetes.)

But There’s A Catch

But even if intermittent fasting may deliver on some health fronts, is it really any better than the more conventional strategy of cutting calories on a daily basis? So far, it doesn’t seem like it. For instance, one 2014 Translational Research review concluded that IF improves visceral (belly) fat and insulin resistance similarly to a daily calorie-cutting strategy. Plus, it also found conventional dieting to support total weight loss over time better than an intermittent fasting approach.

What’s more, IF may actually contribute to muscle-wasting and lowered metabolic rates over time—both of which are counterproductive to long-term weight loss and health. For example, one Pennington Biomedical Research Center study found that when men and women fasted every other day for 22 days, their resting metabolic rates dropped five percent.

Related: 6 Ways Building Muscle Benefits Your Health and Well-Being

Is It Worth Trying?

People interested in intermittent fasting should talk to their doctor before taking up the diet, Fontana says. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and people recovering from an illness or surgery should not attempt intermittent fasting, since their bodies demand a pretty constant stream of nutrients.

Most health experts’ main concern with IF is that it can promote an unhealthy relationship with food. “Intermittent fasting does not allow a person to rely on his or her own hunger and satiety cues, but gives that ‘job’ to an artificial time clock,” says Kimberly Gomer, M.S., R.D., L.D.N. This may be especially problematic for those with a history of disordered eating. “Those with a prior history of compulsive or binge eating, as well as anorexia, can be at risk for these behaviors to be exacerbated by fasting,” explains Gomer.

Make Meal-Timing Work For You

Instead of following a strict eating protocol like intermittent fasting, experts recommend taking a more intuitive, mindful approach to eating.

Gomer suggests eating small meals throughout the day, starting when you feel slightly hungry and putting the fork down when you’re slightly satisfied. (Keep in mind it takes about 15 to 20 minutes for the body to fully register fullness.)

Another tip? To improve your ability to tap into your bod’s signals, work on nixing distracted eating. According to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, multitasking during your meals—whether it’s watching TV to walking down the street—can reduce your brain’s ability to gauge food intake and lead to overeating.

Related: 6 Possible Reasons Why You’re Hungry All The Time

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Should You Strength Train Before or After Cardio?

Everybody has their own routine when they go to the gym. Some like to warm up by hitting their heart rate hard, breaking a sweat before making a move for the free weights. Others prefer to tackle strength first, leaving an intense cardio burner for last.

And while we’re all about you finding the gym rhythm that works best for you, it’s worth knowing that whatever activity you choose to do first can potentially impact your performance in that second activity.

According to an article published in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health and Fitness Journal, which reviewed more than 20 relevant studies, you should structure your workouts according to your priorities. If you want to improve your heart health, conditioning, or endurance, start your workout with cardio. If you want to make strength gains, start with the weights.

Related: The Best Rep Range If You’re Strength-Training For Weight Loss

Whatever you do first will make you more tired than you would’ve been for what you do second—especially your legs, which are often used heavily in both cardio and strength exercise, according Nicholas Ratamess, Ph.D., C.S.C.S.*D, one of the authors and associate professor or Health and Exercise Science at The College of New Jersey.

If you want to hit cardio before a big lift, monitor your intensity. “If your cardio is low-intensity and short in duration, it may not have as many negative effects on your strength workout, for example,” he explains.

But if you’re attacking an intense cardio workout like HIIT (high-intensity interval training) right before lifting weights, expect your performance to be diminished, according to another one of Ratamess’ studies, published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

The study had young, fit men perform intense running exercises, wait 10 minutes, and then perform a strength workout. The result: The participants who ran prior to lifting performed nine to 18 percent fewer reps than those who didn’t. Not surprisingly, the most dramatic difference was seen in leg exercises. The men also had higher heart rates, reduced power output, and higher overall ratings of fatigue.

Related: The Best Cardio Workout For Weight Loss

The good news: If your goal is to lose weight, both cardio and lifting will help you get there. “Both aerobic and resistance training increase your calorie burn,” says Ratamess. Aerobic exercise helps you burn more during exercise, while strength training will help you burn more after exercise.

Here’s how it works. Your muscles need to burn fuel to function, and part of that fuel comes in the form of oxygen. When you perform aerobic exercise, your muscles use oxygen at a rate that you can replenish with a little heavy breathing—that’s why you start to huff and puff when you jog or hit a quick round of burpees. But heavy lifting exercises (known as ‘anaerobic’) deplete your oxygen stores enough that you body has to work to replenish them long after you’re done exercising—burning extra calories the whole time.

The bottom line: Unless you’re training specifically for extreme cardiovascular performance or ultra-heavy weightlifting, how you order your workouts won’t have much impact on the benefits of breaking a sweat. However, you can still give sequential preference to one or the other if you’re training for specific goals (like wanting to become more muscular) or to improve certain weaknesses (like knee or ankle joint stability), according to Ratamess.

For most people, training both strength and cardio simultaneously can be a good long-term approach to fitness. Hence why what Ratamess calls “hybrid programs,” like CrossFit, Orangetheory, and Barry’s Bootcamp, have become so popular. In these types of fitness classes, you’ll bounce back and forth between cardio efforts like running or rowing and strength exercises like pushups or squats. The workouts require both cardiovascular capacity and strength, and create more of a hybrid athlete instead of a specialist, he says.

Related: Power up your workout with a performance supplement.

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How I Went From Eating 5,000 Calories A Day To Putting Health And Fitness First

As told by The Vitamin Shoppe Health Enthusiast Debbie Burkhart

Healthy living was never a priority for me growing up. As a teenager, I did whatever I could to get out of gym class. I would have much rather curled up with a book than spend time exercising. When I got to college, I lived on pizza and pasta, and developed a nasty addiction to soda. Breakfast often involved cheesy breadsticks and gas station candy.

When I hit 190 pounds and started having trouble tying my shoes, I knew things were bad. But it wasn’t until chest pains regularly stopped me in my tracks that I finally decided to get my health on track.

I downloaded a food-tracker app and got smacked in the face by the reality of my daily diet: I was eating somewhere around 5,000 calories a day. I traveled a lot for work and didn’t realize my fast food meals alone clocked in at over a day’s-worth of calories. I immediately ditched my morning soda and used my food app to make better choices when drive-thrus or chain restaurants were my only meal options.

When I hit 190 pounds and started having trouble tying my shoes, I knew things were bad.

After six months or so, I’d lost 40 pounds by cracking down on my nutrition. I had always laughed at people who worked out, but I wanted to keep seeing changes in my body and feel healthier, so I knew I had to add exercise into the equation. I started doing tae-bo workout videos at home, and asked the trainers at my local gym about strength training and cardio workouts.

Once I started lifting weights, I was hooked. I tried yoga and pilates classes, too, and despite cardio always being a struggle for me, I even incorporated treadmill interval workouts into my routine.

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photo credit: Debbie Burkhart

After a few years of consistently hitting the gym and keeping my portions and calories under control, I took things a little too far. Exercise became my coping mechanism for stress, and I spent more and more time at the gym, until I was spending hours there every single day. My weight dropped down to 116 pounds (I’m 5’5”). I pumped the breaks and cut back on my workout time, and my weight bounced back up to 135, where I’ve hovered ever since.

After six months or so, I’d lost 40 pounds by cracking down on my nutrition. I had always laughed at people who worked out, but I wanted to keep seeing changes in my body and feel healthier

Now my routine feels much more balanced. I split my time among lifting weights, yoga, and a little bit of cardio. I even started teaching mat pilates at my local gym twice a week and set up an aerial yoga rig in my home. I still feel like my 190-pound self sometimes—neither strong nor graceful—and that’s okay. I cried after teaching my first pilates class because I couldn’t believe how far I’d come.

These days, I eat a bagel with light cream cheese for breakfast pretty much every day. (Cheers to flexible eating!) I make foods like chicken, rice, and broccoli or green beans for lunch, and snack on almonds or protein bars throughout the day. I haven’t touched soda, but still crave that giant ice-filled cup from the gas station, so I buy myself a cup of ice and water and mix in a couple scoops of Optimum Nutrition’s grape-flavored Amino Energy, instead.

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photo credit: Debbie Burkhart

Some days I’m exhausted or feel tempted to use food as a crutch for stress—but then I think of the 70-year-olds who make it to every single pilates class I teach, rain or shine. They remind me of the way I want to live my life: They get out there, take care of themselves, and thrive no matter what.

I cried after teaching my first pilates class because I couldn’t believe how far I’d come.

Biggest Advice

I think sometimes we are so ashamed that we’ve let ourselves go that we don’t do what we need to do to turn things around. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; don’t be ashamed to start. Having cracks doesn’t mean you’re broken—you can do it. You just have to take that first step.

Deb’s Go-To Picks From The Vitamin Shoppe

Of course, I love my grape Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy. I sip on that stuff all day. I have a sensitive stomach, so I love D’s Naturals No Cow protein bars, especially the lemon meringue or chocolate banana bread flavors.

 

 

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So You’ve Hit A Weight-Loss Plateau—Now What?

Let’s get one thing out there right away: Plateaus are a totally normal part of any weight-loss journey. They happen to even the most arduous and motivated health warriors. So don’t beat yourself up if the scale is no longer budging, ya hear? You’re not doomed!

In order to turn things around, your weight-loss strategy most likely needs a few tweaks. Read on to find out the most common exercise and diet traps, and what you can do to bust out of them.

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photo credit: iStock

Exercise Culprits

On the fitness side of the equation, there are two main reasons your results may be tapering off. The first: You’re doing the same thing day after day. The second: You’re doing too many different things each week, according to Craig Ballantyne, C.S.C.S., professional trainer, and author of The Great Cardio Myth.

Here’s the issue with too much consistency: “If you do the same exercise program over and over again without increasing your weight, reps, or intensity, you’re no longer stimulating your body to adapt and change,” he says.

On the other hand, if you’re doing too many different types of workouts—for example, lifting weights on Monday, going to spin class on Tuesday, taking a bootcamp class on Wednesday, running intervals on Thursday, and then hitting up CrossFit on Friday, your body can’t make sense of everything that’s happening, says Ballantyne. “You need to give your body time to recover and adapt to what you’re doing,” he says. “It’s not about doing more, more, more; it’s about doing the right things and then letting your body recover.”

To avoid both of these potential pitfalls, Ballantyne recommends picking a lane and making it your primary focus. Since building muscle is the best way to ramp up your fat burn, lifting weights is your most advantageous option, he says.

If you’re going to make strength-training your go-to grind, it should make up the majority of your week’s workouts. But that doesn’t mean you’re bound for boredom. You can switch up what you’re doing by adding days of muscle-building-friendly activities like bootcamp classes between straight lifting days, Ballantyne suggests.

The key: “Don’t let more than three weeks go by without ramping up your intensity,” he says. Whether that means picking up more weight, adding more reps, or performing exercises faster for a bigger heart-rate boost, you have to keep challenging yourself. “As soon as your workout starts to feel easy, make a change,” he says.

Related: The Best Rep Range If You’re Strength Training For Fat Loss

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photo credit: iStock

Diet Culprits

If you’re watching what you eat to lose weight, you’ll have to adjust your approach as your body adapts over time, especially when it comes to cutting calories, says Mike Israetel, Ph.D., sports physiologist and co-founder of Renaissance Periodization.

You want to aim to lose around one percent of your bodyweight per week (three pounds for someone who weighs 300 pounds, and a pound and a half for someone who weighs 150 pounds), so the number of calories you may need to cut varies depending on your starting point.  In that first month of dieting, a smaller person (say somewhere around 150 pounds) should start by reducing their caloric intake by 250 calories. A larger person (say somewhere around 300 pounds) should start by cutting 500.

You’ll notice that after a few months, though, this approach will stop working. “As you diet successfully, your body starts to shrink in size,” explains Israetel. “And because fewer calories are required to maintain a lower body weight, your metabolism slows down.” After you make that initial progress, your body needs fewer calories than it did when you started, so your initial nutrition plan becomes less effective.

Related: 6 Possible Reasons Why You’re Still Not Seeing Results From Working Out

Why does this happen? Since our more primitive ancestors’ primary struggle was finding food, not over-consuming it, we’re wired with natural coping mechanisms that kick in when our bodies think food is scarce (a.k.a. when we’re cutting calories).

You may start to feel fatigued as your body starts to subconsciously conserve energy, burn fewer calories at the gym and throughout the day, and even start to feel hungrier, says Israetel. So unfortunately, your success has brought about the exact one-two punch that will push you straight onto a plateau.

“No amount of willpower and motivation will help you overcome this,” says Israetel. It’s just not realistic. Your body is physically reacting to what you’re doing, so you have to treat the problem physically. And in order to do this, you need to shift your diet into a ‘maintenance phase.’

Related: Check out an assortment of supplements to support your weight-management efforts.

During a ‘maintenance phase,’ you gradually increase your caloric intake to reengage your metabolism, explains Israetel. Here’s what you do: Add back either the 250 or 500 calories you cut from your diet slowly over the course of about two months. As long as you’re diligent and patient, this should help your metabolism speed back up without you gaining much weight back, says Israetel. If you gain more than a few pounds in that window, you’re adding too many calories too quickly.

Israetel recommends reevaluating after a few months of this approach. If you’re still feeling fatigued or super-hungry, you’re best off continuing to slowly add calories to your daily intake. Otherwise, you may be ready to switch back into that ‘cutting’ phase.

“Everyone thinks they’re the exception to the rule,” Israetel says. Pacing yourself and finding your rhythm between about two months of maintenance for every three months of calorie-cutting should help ward off that dreaded plateau.

Related: Exactly What To Eat To Build Muscle

 

Pin this graphic and keep those results going strong!

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How I Changed My Relationship With Food And Lost Nearly 300 Pounds

As told by Sean Baltz

As a kid, I played basketball and never thought twice about the foods I ate. I was active and rail-thin. That changed, though, after decades at a desk job, a marriage, and later, a divorce.

At 30 years old, I was incredibly depressed. I worked and ate—and not much else. After surpassing 350 pounds, I tried to lose the weight, but couldn’t clean up my diet and fell deeper and deeper into unhealthy patterns of emotional eating, so I ended up just gaining more and more. Eventually, at 50 years old, I found myself at 510 pounds.

I was poisoning myself with food instead of dealing with the sadness I felt. I drank two liters of soda a day, and finished off a quart of rocky road ice cream only to reach for another.

My feet became so swollen that I couldn’t get my shoes on. I couldn’t get into my car or even walk to the end of my driveway to get the mail. If I dropped something on the floor at home, I left it there because I couldn’t pick it up.

I was poisoning myself with food instead of dealing with the sadness I felt.

Everything changed on December 18, 2015. I’ll never forget that date. After having some bloodwork done, the doctor called to inform me that I had developed type 2 diabetes. I was filled with fear. My A1C, a measure of average blood sugar, came in at 9.1 percent that day. (Editor’s note: According to the National Institutes of Health, you’re considered diabetic at 6.5 percent.) Diabetes, in combination with my obesity, put me at risk for losing a limb—maybe even my life.

That fear rocketed me toward making a radical change. I knew I had to take control of my health, so I set the goal of losing 250 pounds by September 2017. I cold-turkey quit all of the soda, junk, and processed food that had filled my diet for so long, and stocked my fridge with produce. I started tracking my calories to make sure I didn’t eat more than 2,000 calories per day, and stopped snacking in the middle of the night. The more progress I made, the more the fear that initially propelled me transformed into self-respect.

I realized I had to look at my food as medicine, as something that served my body—not just as instant gratification for my taste buds. At breakfast, I loaded up on fresh fruit and a few tablespoons of nuts or seeds, plus an occasional protein shake. I ate a light midday snack of almonds and an apple, and went vegetable-crazy at dinner, filling my crock-pot with broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots. I got my protein from beans or a small portion of lean meat. Throughout the day, I drank tons of water: ten 16-ounce bottles every day.

I knew I had to take control of my health, so I set the goal of losing 250 pounds by September 2017.

After months and months of eating only the freshest foods I could get my hands on, I’d dropped 200 pounds. I meant business! I wanted to exercise, but I could still only power-walk for about five minutes at a time. So I started there, power-walking for five minutes, and adding a minute every day until I could walk for a half-hour straight. Then I added two minutes a day until I could walk for an hour.

I reached my goal of losing 250 pounds in September 2016—a year early. By the end of the year I weighed 215 pounds and I’d lost almost 300 pounds. Now I’m incorporating strength training into my routine and I celebrate every bit of nourishing food I put into my mouth. My A1C level is under control at 4.9.

Related: 6 Ways Building Muscle Benefits Your Health And Wellness

I used to see myself as a loser, and I conquered that. My health transformation has been about so much more than the pounds lost and bloodwork numbers. As I told myself over and over that I deserved health and that my life was worth fixing my toxic relationship with food, the temptation of ice cream and my other old vices went out the window. I transformed my outlook on life, and that enabled me to be positive and make change happen. Now I plan to write a book about my experiences.

Advice For Others

You have to change the way you talk to yourself about food. Redefine what you call a ‘comfort food.’ Who says an apple can’t be as comforting as a candy bar? If having the junk food around blazes an inner battle in you, clear it out of the house. Create an environment at home that’s conducive to health.

Sean’s Go-To Picks From The Vitamin Shoppe

I’ve tried a lot of supplements on my path to health. CoQ10, apple cider vinegar tablets, and omega-3 fish oil have been a part of my regimen since the get-go.

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How To Eat Carbs And Still Lose Weight

The fat fear of decades past has given way to a new anti-carb movement. With trendy eating styles like Paleo, the Whole30 diet, and the ketogenic diet as popular as ever, it seems like everyone is ditching bread (and maybe even oatmeal!) these days. But what’s a life without carbs? Besides sluggish, crabby, and riddled with brain fog, that is.

After all, when most people cut carbohydrates, they are forgetting (though maybe they never knew in the first place) the fact that carbs are a macronutrient, meaning that people need to consume them in large quantities for optimal health, explains registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator Vandana Sheth, R.D.N., C.D.E, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“Carbs are one of the best sources of energy,” Sheth says. “When we drastically cut all carbs from our diet, we are making our bodies work less efficiently.” Like protein and fat (the other two macronutrients), carbs can be broken down in the body to yield ATP, a.k.a. cellular energy.

That’s especially important when it comes to exercise. When performing high-intensity workouts like strength training or max effort running or cycling, the vast majority of your energy comes from a combination of glucose (the sugar you break carbs down into) in your bloodstream and glycogen (carbs stored in your liver and muscles). If you don’t have enough carbs in the tank, your workout performance—and thus the amount of calories you burn and muscle you build—suffers, Sheth says.

What’s more, carbs are crucial to your body’s ability to recover after every workout, explains Georgie Fear, R.D., C.S.S.D., author of Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss. So without them, your workouts become a greater and greater stress on your body, breaking you down rather than building you up. “Athletes with inadequate carb intake place themselves at increased risk for overtraining syndrome, immune system impairment, and thyroid and sex hormone abnormalities,” she says.

Related: 4 Possible Reasons Why You Still Feel Wrecked Days After A Workout

Plus, all macronutrients aside, it’s important to remember that carbs don’t end up on your plate in isolation. Many carb-containing foods (we will get to exactly what those are later) are rich in nutrients like folic acid, magnesium, iron, B vitamins, and fiber—all of which are necessary for adequate health, and that includes a healthy bodyweight. By drastically cutting carbs, you may be risking nutritional deficiencies that put your general health at risk, while potentially also spurring weight gain.

Whole vs. Refined: What’s It All Mean?

‘Whole, refined, complex, simple’… these carb-related terms get thrown around a lot, especially when it comes to weight loss. After all, some are far better at promoting healthy weights than are others, which is why it’s so important to understand what they really mean.

Most simply put, whole carbs are carb-containing foods that come pretty much straight from nature, with tons of fiber and vitamins and minerals. Examples include fruit, veggies, legumes, potatoes, dairy, quinoa, oatmeal, and even whole-wheat bread and pasta. Refined carbs, however, have been significantly altered through processing. During this processing, sugars are often added and fiber and other nutrients are stripped away. Common examples of refined carbs include white bread and pasta, desserts, candy, and soda. It’s pretty obvious which foods are going to support your weight-loss efforts, right?

Aside from the differences between nature-made and factory-produced carbs, it’s also important to know the differences between complex and simple carbs. Complex carbs have molecular structures that are long and branched, meaning that they take longer for your body to digest, make you feel fuller, and also feed the good bacteria in your gut. Complex carbs also contain fiber, and one study published in Annals of Internal Medicine found that increasing fiber intake may be as equally effective a weight-loss strategy as going on a full-fledged ‘diet.’ Examples of complex carbs include whole grains, legumes, potatoes, and other starchy vegetables.

Simple carbs, however, are easier for the body to break down and digest—and tend to be somewhat synonymous with refined carbs like sugar. But, there are a couple of important exceptions: fruits and dairy. While fruit and dairy contain simple carbohydrates, those carbohydrates can provide a great, quick energy boost during an afternoon slump or before a workout, and are also jam-packed with other nutrients like fiber and antioxidants (in the case of fruit) and protein, healthy fats, calcium, and vitamin D (in the case of dairy).

Your move: Focus on swapping out refined carbs for whole ones whenever possible, and while it’s good to make sure that the bulk come from complex sources, it’s still important to include some healthy simple carbs like apples and Greek yogurt.

Still, that doesn’t mean that you have to cut out refined carbs entirely. Added sugars and white bread won’t derail your health in a single portion. There’s room for the occasional low-nutrition treat in an overall healthy diet, plus they can be a big relief mentally, says Fear.

“I teach my clients to build daily meals with whole food carbohydrates, such as beans, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, and fruit, in proportion to their activity needs, and to choose only their absolute favorites when it comes to working in low-nutrition starches and sugars,” Fear says.

How Many Carbs Should You Eat to Lose Weight?

No matter what carbs you are eating, it’s important to remember that getting too many calories from any macro (carbs, included) can lead to weight gain. So, yeah, you need to keep your portions in check.

“I encourage my clients to practice skills that help them avoid excess portions of carbs, like having something sweet only after a healthy meal, eating mindfully, and, if needed, developing strategies for squashing the temporary urge to go for seconds,” says Fear. Try grabbing a glass of water (thirst loves to masquerade as hunger!) and ask yourself, “Am I really hungry, or do I just want to eat?”

Related: How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

Currently, the National Academy of Medicine recommends that the average person eat at least 130 grams of carbs per day (you’ll get that amount from 10 slices of whole-wheat bread) for proper brain function, but the exact amount you need varies depending on your weight and activity levels.

So, as a general rule of thumb, anyone who is working out regularly and wants to lose weight should shoot for consuming about three grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of bodyweight (one kilogram equals 2.2 pounds) each day, Fear says. So, for instance, a 200-pound (91 kg) man would need to get roughly 273 grams each day.

Ideally, those carbs would be spaced out relatively evenly over the course of the day through both meals and snacks so that your body stays continually fueled. What’s more, when you stockpile your carbs into any one meal, you risk consuming more energy than you need at that moment to keep your glycogen levels topped off. When this happens, any extra energy tends to be stored as fat, Fear says.

Another way to think about it if you’d rather eyeball your portion sizes than track your macros, is eating one to two servings of carb-rich foods at every meal, Sheth says. What’s a serving? Some examples include ½ cup of lentils, a slice of whole-wheat bread, ½ cup vegetables, a piece of fruit, or ½ cup whole-wheat pasta or grains.

 

Pin this handy infographic for an easy-to-reference guide to dropping pounds without sacrificing carby goodness: 

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