Why Low-Carb Diets Suck
**Disclaimer: I am NOT a nutritionist or registered dietician so this blog is purely informative. It’s based on my personal experience and the experiences of other women that have shared with me. This is not meant to replace any information from a doctor that has conducted tests on you, and if you’re having issues with this, please seek professional help to get tested.**
I know the title of this blog is speaking in absolutes, so I must mention that low-carb diets DO work for some people. BUT... the vast majority of WOMEN do not do well on these types of diets for the long-term. If you’ve had supervised, SUSTAINABLE results (feeling better in your body, better blood markers, better sleep, curing gut issues, etc) then this blog post might not be for you at this current time. However, our bodies don’t always need to same things for extended periods of time.
I’ve learned that you can’t be married to any specific way of eating or exercising because hormones change and our needs change as well. I'm writing this to hopefully bring awareness to this issue. Now that low-carb dieting and keto are so mainstream, it worries me that other people could share my difficult experience and jeopardize their health.
That being said, I don't regret experimenting with these types of diets because now I have the utmost empathy for any woman that’s gone down the same path with intentions of weight loss or even health cures. I know how enticing these diets can be, but in my experience, your body knows best and good intentions can backfire. I ended my extreme ways of eating soon enough so that I haven’t experienced permanent damage and I know that I'm lucky. Now, I know how important it is to eat in a balanced way that supports my unique physiology.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH LOW-CARB DIETS (let's get personal)
I’ve always been an active individual. Even before I became a coach, I was either doing Crossfit, lifting in some form, attending various group fitness classes, or running. I also have the body type that builds muscle easily and holds on to it. I wish I would’ve known how important carbohydrates were in general, but specifically for those who are maintaining an active lifestyle and wish to keep doing so.
My experience with low-carb dieting has been nothing short of a rollercoaster, much like my relationship with food. I could go into great detail but I’ll just talk about the major points. I’ve tried Paleo, Keto, low-carb high-fat, Intermittent Fasting and Whole30. All of these ways of eating worked for awhile. I felt AMAZING, had sustainable energy, my tummy probs were lessened, and I thought they were magic.
I'll say it again...All of these diets “worked” for awhile….
....until they didn’t. Then, they really, really didn’t work.
My body let me know in a harsh way, but I ignored the signs and my own intuition because they had worked soo well before! I thought... “Well, so many people advocate for this way of eating so why isn’t my body responding? I must not be cutting carbs ENOUGH!” That’s when I ventured into keto-land and I also lost my period. Woohoo.
MY "Secret" EATING DISORDER
During this time, I still had skewed body image and I was doing these diets with the disguise of it being for “health” when in reality I had hoped for weight loss. It was a secret eating disorder. I think this is a lot more common than most people think. I've dealt with disordered eating since I was 13-years-old and I thought I had "recovered" because I wasn't starving myself anymore. I "thought" I just wanted to be "healthy."
That was part of the reason I dieted even harder when my body wasn’t responding anymore. I felt an emotional connection to this way of eating and I could feel myself getting offended when people would knock on it. That's a huge red flag. I find it interesting that people often treat diets in a dogmatic way, almost like they treat religion and politics, myself included at that point in time. If people questioned me, I would just think..
"They just don't understand my body" or
"Obsessed is what the lazy call the dedicated"... EYE ROLL.
If this is resonating with you, it’s important to be honest with yourself. Are you REALLY trying to “fix” your health or are you just hoping for weight loss? is your body sending you signals that this way of eating is NOT for you? Dive deep and figure out your true intentions.
So, what happened specifically when low-carb dieting stopped working for me? How did my body let me know with biofeedback?
Trouble sleeping: Either tossing and turning or waking up for extended periods
Feeling generally sluggish no matter how much caffeine I consumed
Unexplained weight gain, even on a strict food regimen
Feeling weak in the gym and lessened desire to work out
Increased soreness that lasted longer than usual
Loss of my period for months at a time
Cold hands and feet
WOW. I've never actually written out all the ways until now and I'm even shocked. I know this is a lot, but I let it go for wayyyy too long. These didn’t all happen at once, but then it all came crashing down and I couldn’t ignore it. If you’re on a low-carb diet and you’re experiencing any of these issues, consider bumping up your carbohydrates and easing up on cardio exercise or super intense workouts. If you don’t feel better, GO GET TESTED!
WHY ADEQUATE CARB-INTAKE IS IMPORTANT (the basic sciencey stuff)
Insulin, which is a VERY important hormone, plays a role in converting thyroid hormones into their active form. So if you’ve suddenly started developing hypothyroid symptoms on your low-carb diet, that’s a good sign you should up your carbs AND get that thyroid tested. You don’t want to mess with thyroid issues. Also, thyroid hormones regulate our metabolism by controlling calorie utilization and insulin increases satiety, making you feel full. Carbs are vital for good gut health as they feed the beneficial bacteria that support optimal hormone function and energy balance. This helps you stay regular with elimination (poops!), so if you’re experiencing constipation of any sort, take that as a sign as well.
HOW STRESS HORMONES PLAY A ROLE
When you reduce carbs in your diet, your blood sugar drops. The compensate for this drop, your body produces stress hormones, including adrenaline. This is why you FEEL “amazing” when you first drop carbs, or maybe a few days in. I hear people saying the first few days of low-carb are hard, but then like day 3 or 4 comes and you just feel this BOOST of energy. No, that’s not magic...it’s your body bumping up your stress hormones. It’s not sustainable because your body can only over-produce these hormones for so long before its ability to do so is impaired. This is especially important when you’re an active individual because exercise is a stressor on the body and it needs to be able to recover from it. Additionally, our bodies need carbs to fuel our workouts. Research consistently shows that people who exercise regularly need to eat enough carbs or their testosterone will fall while their cortisol levels rise. If you’re sedentary, perhaps your carbohydrate needs are lower. You an experiment with different levels of carbs to see when you feel your best.
I know I've barely skimmed the surface, but if you’d like to dive deep into the science, check out this awesome article from Precision Nutrition.
Remember, balance is always best and we’re all SO different... so what worked for a friend might not yield the same results for you. Also, our hormones are delicate and our bodies are fantastic adapters. Your body’s main goal is to KEEP YOU ALIVE so if things are off, it’s because your body is trying to tell you something and keep your system working. If you’re doing a low-carb diet to lose weight, consider addressing your issues with body image first.
It might be hard work to change your mindset and learn body love and acceptance, but it’s a whole lot easier than going down the self-destructive path or disordered eating and perhaps jeopardizing your hormone health. Think about how incredible your body is for trying to keep you alive and realize how important it is to give it what it needs vs. trying to mold it to conform to the “ideal body.”
Have you ever tried a diet that DID not work for you? What was your experience like? Did you notice biofeedback from your body? Comment below and let's chat!