In today’s society, if things don’t fall on one end of the “Extreme” scale they don’t typically sell very well. I think the health, fitness and nutrition industry is one of the worst examples of this around. If books don’t make wild claims, or TV segments don’t have sensational titles then nobody cares. Why? For starters, consistency, hard work and patience aren’t nearly as sexy, making this approach a tough sell. We don’t want to hear that the key to losing weight and keeping it off is being consistent with diet and exercise (two of the main factors in weight loss), hard work in the gym and in the kitchen, and most importantly, we must be patient and allow our programs the time needed for them to work.
The last decade has seen many of us shift from our phobia of dietary fat to now being scared to death of eating anything that contains a carbohydrate, including fruit and tubers. The truth is, many people on low carbohydrate and low calorie (sometimes both) diets who are trying desperately to lose weight are only hurting themselves more with these restrictions, all while increasing their unwanted weight gain and causing more harm to their thyroid. In many cases, people who have been yo-yo dieting for years arrive at the low carbohydrate diet already suffering from an underactive thyroid, whether they know it or not.
The thyroid, located below the Adam’s apple, is the largest ductless endocrine gland in the body, it secretes hormones to regulate metabolism. When the thyroid gland becomes under productive due to a severe lack of calories and/or carbohydrates then metabolism slows down, constipation and poor digestion occur as well as low body temperature, cold hands and feet, depression, fatigue, forgetfulness, bloating and water retention, loss of drive and ambition, achy muscles and joints and weight gain follows.
Triiodothyronine (T3), a thyroid hormone, is very sensitive to calorie and carbohydrate intake. Low consumption of either or both can lead to reduced T3 levels. While reverse T3 (rT3), another thyroid hormone, which inhibits T3 levels will rise with the lack of calorie or carbohydrate presence. 1
Low carbohydrate diets, such as an Atkins diet or a ketogenic diet are not favourable for those dealing with hypothyroidism. These types of diets also affect adrenal function and they may spark muscle catabolism, suppress immune function, increase irritability and decrease testosterone. 1,2 In fact, research also shows that low carbohydrate diets are no better at reducing body weight than a diet containing other diets with varying ratios of carbohydrates and fat, when protein requirements are matched. 3,4
For overweight and obese individuals, a low carbohydrate diet to kickstart weight loss efforts may be beneficial to see movement on a scale but after some initial water weight reduction and the incorporation of a healthier diet and lifestyle, the benefits of the low carbohydrate diet fades. Plus, I prefer people throw away their scales anyway, body weight means very little compared to fat loss.
Those who are less active will be able to get away with consuming fewer carbohydrates but those who exercise will have higher carbohydrate needs. Fueling exercise so you can perform at your best will do more for you in the long run than trying to follow a hard core calorie restricted diet and just getting through workouts without hitting the wall. Women are especially sensitive to carbohydrates in that they often suffer from Hypothalamic amenorrhea which, you guessed it, occurs when not enough carbohydrates or calories and carbohydrates are consumed. So what is considered enough? I don’t have the exact answer for everyone as very few nutrition plans will be identical. However, a general serving of starchy carbohydrates would equate to the size of your own cupped hand. Since vegetables are also carbohydrates and I wouldn’t want those in professions that base their dietary recommendations on calories and grams to feel left out, a serving of leafy greens and vegetables would equal the size of your fist.
My best recommendation with this whole health, fitness and nutrition industry is to avoid the black and white claims and instead spend most of your time playing in the gray. It doesn’t make sense to me to blame one-third of the food supply (I don’t count cookies, crackers and other highly processed foods as “food supply”) for obesity, especially when we are fresh off of blaming dietary fat for obesity, oh yeah, and heart disease.
1. Spaulding SW, Chopra IJ, Sherwin RS, Lyall SS. Effect of caloric restriction and dietary composition of serum T3 and reverse T3 in man. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1976 Jan;42(1):197-200.
3. Soenen S, Bonomi AG, Lemmens SG, Scholte J, Thijssen MA, van Berkum F, Westerterp-Plantenga MS.Relatively high-protein or ‘low-carb’ energy-restricted diets for body weight loss and body weight maintenance? Physiol Behav. 2012 Oct 10;107(3):374-80. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2012.08.004. Epub 2012 Aug 19.
4. Johnston CS, Tjonn SL, Swan PD, White A, Hutchins H, Sears B. Ketogenic low carbohydrate diets have no metabolic advantage over non ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 May;83(5):1055-61
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