When people go on a low carb diet like the Atkins or South Beach diet, they will likely lose a lot of weight within the first two weeks. This is one of the main reasons people who seek quick weight loss – jump on these types of programs. But, how do low carb diets work? The reason is not magic. But it is the “dirty little secret” that most diet book “experts” don't want you to know about.
Typically, low carb diets (Atkins, etc.) stipulate that people drastically reduce their carbohydrate intake for one to two weeks. After this, carbs are gradually re-introduced into the diet. During this carb-restricted period, the body compensates for the lack of carbs by tapping into its carbohydrate reserves – glycogen – in order to keep our blood sugar from going to low and helping maintain our energy levels.
As glycogen is used for energy, water is released in the process. In fact, for every pound of glycogen that is broken down, about 3 pounds of water is liberated.
Have you noticed going to the bathroom more frequently after starting low carb diets? This is the reason!
So, most of the weight we lose on low carb diets is in the form of water for the first few weeks.
While this is the trick behind low carb diets, that's not always a bad thing. Some research shows that people may be more likely to stick to a diet if it shows them a quick, noticeable drop in weight.
Other research finds that when people reduce their calories (but not carbs), that low carbohydrate diets may actually be a little better at reducing weight for the first 6 months.
This effect may have to do with the reduced variety of foods the person can choose from.
Research shows that the more variety we have, the more food (and calories) we eat. However, this is also the big criticism of low carb diets.
Too little variety means the diet becomes boring, which, in the end, means the person is more likely to go back to old (and unhealthy) ways of eating.
Returning to original eating patterns is also a criticism of most diets.
Are low carb diets safe?
If you're healthy (always get the OK from your doctor), research shows that low carb diets are safe and may promote more weight loss than higher carb diets -at least for up to a year. Beyond a year, there is not much known about the long term health effects of low carb diets especially in those who have medical issues.
One problem is that eating fewer carbs can reduce our ability to exercise. The less we exercise,the less calories we use during exercise. This may lead to a less healthy weight loss.
What's the best way to lose weight?
Honestly there is no “best” way that works for everybody. This means that people will have to find a way that works for them. For some, that might mean a low carb diet. Whatever the diet, it's important to exercise too.
I can't stress the part about exercise more. Research shows if you only go on a diet, that about 50% of the weight loss is from fat. The other 50% is water and muscle tissue (muscle fibers don't return after they are lost). In those who exercise and diet, about 90% of the weight loss is from fat. Remember, we want to lose fat, not just “weight”.
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