It’s no secret that I advocate a low-carb approach to dieting. I’ve written about it many, many, many times. I personally consume no more than about 50 grams of carbohydrates per day during the spring and summer months (basically following my old Nutritional Habits post). It works for getting lean, no doubt about it. Some people, however, don’t like it. Starchy and sugary carbohydrates (rice, bread, pasta, desserts) have become an integral part of the Western diet, and lots of people have trouble giving them up.
So there’s a big question here.
Can you get lean without eating “low carb”?
Well, yes. But you’re going to have to count calories.
I hate counting calories.
By eating “low carb,” I don’t have to count anything. I eat meat, eggs, and veggies (a little fruit) to my heart’s content. I’m never hungry, and I can see most of my abs. This is a win-win for me, and for most people who try this style of eating. By being willing to give up grain products and sugar, one avoids the trouble of counting calories and the struggle of hunger that usually comes with caloric restriction.
You could choose to restrict calories instead
It is certainly possible to lose fat and still eat pasta and bread. You just have to keep your calories below “maintenance”. That means counting the calories of everything you eat, often by weighing everything with a food scale and tracking it in something like DailyBurn.
Downsides to choosing more carbs and calorie restriction
- You’re going to be hungry. One benefit of eating “low carb” is that you can basically eat to satisfaction and not risk fat gain. Higher carb diets promote hormone changes in the body that result in up-regulation of the body’s preferred fat levels. You must counteract this by restricting your consumption of calories manually.
- It’s a pain. Logging calories is a huge hassle. You have to weigh everything you buy fresh to get accurate numbers. Restaurants are almost impossible to get accurate numbers on. It takes a lot of time to log everything.
- Protein and fat have plus sides. Carbs don’t. Protein and fat both have benefits besides just filling you up. Protein is the building block for muscle. Fats have a ton of health benefits. Carbs are just food, without the auxilliary benefits. By eating relatively more carbs, you’re losing out on the benefits of fat and protein. More info here.
- Carbs (especially sugars) have a high “reward value”. They taste really good, which makes you want more. It’s basically an addiction mechanism.
- Less starchy carbohydrate means more nutrient density. On the whole, replacing bread and pasta with lean meat and veggies increases the concentration of healthy micro-nutrients in the diet.
- Gluten problems are minimized on a low carb diet. Most people (whether they know it or not) have some kind of gluten problem. Grains just don’t agree with most people.
I’m not telling you the specifics of calorie restriction
One, because I don’t know them all. I don’t eat in this way, and I don’t recommend it to others. Not to mention it would be outside the scope of this post.
For more info on the specifics, check out any of these resources:
- More on the macronutrients: fat, protein, and carbohydrates
- More on “fat storage” hormones
- Even more on “fat storage” hormones, and why calories “don’t matter” if you eat right
- More on the body actively regulating fat levels with hormones (external link)
- More on the food “reward factor” (external link)