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Losing weight, low carb and getting lean question

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created August 16, 2012 at 8:25 PM

Hi, and thank you for taking time out and helping me with this question. Hopefully its not to confusing.

Im confused on the whole low carb and calorie thing. Is low carb more effective than counting calories. I know some people say that calories don't really matter as long as you have low carbs, but other say calories is calories and if you have more than you can burn you will gain weight. If I wanna lose some weight and get lean and tone, which is more effective. Just as an example would you lose weight and get lean if

a: had 1200 calories and 200 carbs or b: had 3000 calories and 0 carbs

I know is this an example, but one is high calories and no carbs and the other is low calories and high carbs. Any suggestions or answer will be greatly appreciated! Thanks again

C23148e16a4dd05351d1902a69097d65

(748)

on November 28, 2012
at 09:37 PM

really awesome post miked. truly truly awesome. When I lost weight first going paleo, only eating meats, veggies, eggs, and fats, I was tracking my calories and exercising. Anytime I ate too many nuts though I gained a little weight, (thinking because of the carbs now), but thought it was because of the calories. Another day I ate an ENTIRE chicken (not recommending) but spent the whole night so sad thinking I gained weight. I ate more than I did on the days of nut splurging, and DIDN'T GAIN AN OUNCE. I was SHOCKED. I guess carbs are the evil culprit, not calories.

C23148e16a4dd05351d1902a69097d65

(748)

on November 28, 2012
at 09:15 PM

really awesome post miked. truly truly awesome.

Fd70d71f4f8195c3a098eda4fc817d4f

(8014)

on August 17, 2012
at 07:07 PM

THANK YOU, miked. What a wonderful answer, especially considering the wealth of low-carb bashing that seems to to on here sometimes. Reducing carbs works wonders for many people and it's all well and good that some people here thrive on sweet potatoes and white rice, but there are some for whom upping the starch is just not a good idea. And like you said, "low carb" is relative. Could be 25g, could be 100g. People have to figure out where their own personal "sweet spot" is, and whatever it turns out to be, even if it's on the "high" end, it's likely way lower than they were consuming on SAD.

4fce8590b5453d379dddeaa649955eb9

(173)

on August 17, 2012
at 12:00 PM

Like i said: I doubt a person could eat an unlimited amount of food without gaining weight. However a small/moderate overconsumption on a low carb diet probably wouldn't cause weight gain.

F9638b939a6f85d67f60065677193cad

(4266)

on August 17, 2012
at 12:41 AM

The calories matter but with lower carb you can eat less without being so darn hungry and what you do eat doesn't make you quite as fat.

014e95abf93ea102e717f9a878e9e8e0

on August 16, 2012
at 10:51 PM

thank you for the detailed summary:)

510bdda8988ed0d4b0ec0b738b4edb73

(20898)

on August 16, 2012
at 09:54 PM

I'm 6 ft. I don't know how lean I am, but yes, I am pretty heavy on the muscle. For my size, I'm pretty strong compared to others that I know.

4fce8590b5453d379dddeaa649955eb9

(173)

on August 16, 2012
at 09:39 PM

Great post - i totallly agree. We should keep in mind that 'reasonable consumption' is relative. I'm a small guy - so i dont eat very much compared to miked (aproxximately 1900 cals i guess) miked: How tall are you? You must be a pretty heavily armored tank muscle-wise ;)

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7 Answers

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510bdda8988ed0d4b0ec0b738b4edb73

(20898)

on August 16, 2012
at 09:29 PM

The amount of calories in your body (that is energy stored in your body, most of which is stored as fat) really is the difference between the calories that went in minus the calories that went out. That is a true statement, it's physics, but it tells you nothing about weight gain and weight loss or how to control it.

What you eat has complex interactions with your hormones and that controls whether calories are burnt, turned into fat, or excreted. That is, you can control how much you put in your body (i.e., the amount you eat), but you don't have direct control on what happens to that food once it's in there, what the food is has the biggest determination of that.

The single biggest thing you can fiddle with is how much you eat in the way of carbohydrates. There's a lot of subtleties to this, but the big picture is that a high carb diet signals your body to store rather than burn calories (I.e., gain weight no matter how much you eat or how much you exercise); a low carb diet signals your body to burn rather than store calories (I.e., lose weight no matter how much you eat or how much you exercise).

Granted, you can take either extreme and over or under eat and bad things will happen. But for a reasonable intake of food, a lower carb fraction will promote more fat burning than a higher carb one. The value of reasonable is pretty large (I eat 5,000 cals a day and exercise for about 10 minutes a day and I've been at 175-185 lbs for 5 years). Also the values of low and high for low carb and high carb are dependent on each individual, you need to experiment with yourself and see what works. Don't listen to nonsense like <50g/day, or <100g/day, or <150g/day. Go with what works for you. But the trend is there: low carb is more fat burning than high carb and if you're low enough you can pretty much ignore calorie count. Your body will figure out what it needs and adjust your hunger and metabolism to match rather than you trying to outsmart it by controlling your calorie intake.

Edited to add: to answer your question. If you ate 1,200 calories with 200g of carbs, what would likely happen is that the high carb intake will spike your blood sugar which will spike your insulin and drive sugar into your fat cells. That is, you will store the energy. If you are not insulin resistant, you insulin will come back down later and later you'll be able to burn the fuel as it comes out of your fat cells. However, if you are insulin resistant (and not fat-adapted - like most non-paleo people), you insulin will not come down to levels that allow the energy to come out of your fat. So even at 1200 cals which is likely a deficit to what you need, you'll be storing energy rather than burning it. Since the energy will be trapped, your metabolism will slow and you'll feel tired. So you'll be eating a small amount of food, that food will be stored as fat, you'll gain weight, and you'll feel tired and cold. For your other example, if you ate 3,000 cals with no carbs, then there's nothing to turn on the insulin (yes, protein can do it, but it's a small effect), so you won't be able to store any of that. Since you'll have extra fuel around that you cannot store, your body will have to figure out what to do with it. Your metabolism will ramp up and you'll just burn more fuel at idle (get warm), but you'll also feel like doing stuff. Your body will tell you to get up and do something rather than just sit down and watch tv. This points to one of my favorite quotes from Gary Taubes: "You're not fat because you're lazy. You're lazy because you're fat". That is, when you're signalling storage of fuel, you necessarily have to find ways to save energy since you cannot burn it. Conversely, when you're not storing it, you have to find activities to burn it.

4fce8590b5453d379dddeaa649955eb9

(173)

on August 16, 2012
at 09:39 PM

Great post - i totallly agree. We should keep in mind that 'reasonable consumption' is relative. I'm a small guy - so i dont eat very much compared to miked (aproxximately 1900 cals i guess) miked: How tall are you? You must be a pretty heavily armored tank muscle-wise ;)

Fd70d71f4f8195c3a098eda4fc817d4f

(8014)

on August 17, 2012
at 07:07 PM

THANK YOU, miked. What a wonderful answer, especially considering the wealth of low-carb bashing that seems to to on here sometimes. Reducing carbs works wonders for many people and it's all well and good that some people here thrive on sweet potatoes and white rice, but there are some for whom upping the starch is just not a good idea. And like you said, "low carb" is relative. Could be 25g, could be 100g. People have to figure out where their own personal "sweet spot" is, and whatever it turns out to be, even if it's on the "high" end, it's likely way lower than they were consuming on SAD.

510bdda8988ed0d4b0ec0b738b4edb73

(20898)

on August 16, 2012
at 09:54 PM

I'm 6 ft. I don't know how lean I am, but yes, I am pretty heavy on the muscle. For my size, I'm pretty strong compared to others that I know.

C23148e16a4dd05351d1902a69097d65

(748)

on November 28, 2012
at 09:15 PM

really awesome post miked. truly truly awesome.

C23148e16a4dd05351d1902a69097d65

(748)

on November 28, 2012
at 09:37 PM

really awesome post miked. truly truly awesome. When I lost weight first going paleo, only eating meats, veggies, eggs, and fats, I was tracking my calories and exercising. Anytime I ate too many nuts though I gained a little weight, (thinking because of the carbs now), but thought it was because of the calories. Another day I ate an ENTIRE chicken (not recommending) but spent the whole night so sad thinking I gained weight. I ate more than I did on the days of nut splurging, and DIDN'T GAIN AN OUNCE. I was SHOCKED. I guess carbs are the evil culprit, not calories.

3
490f349c9fd1e6d8914e9d75e1f4dc2b

on August 16, 2012
at 08:43 PM

Not a simple explanation at all, but I'll summarize it for you.

We eat food for fuel. This fuel is measured in calories. The basic rule is that you take the calories in and subtract it by the calories burnt, then if you have a surplus you gain weight and if you have a deficit you loose weight. However, the science isn't that simple. Not all calories are necessarily equal. Fat has 2x as many calories and a carb or protein equivalent. I think this is the first BIG indication that we should be using fat for our primary fuel and not carbs.

While this simple calories in, calories out principle has merit, we need to understand how the body treats nutrients. First off, fat does not just get stored as fat. Basically carbs get stored as fat. When you eat carbs you product insulin which then take the carbs and stores them as fat. Oversimplifying, but it's excess carbs that lead to weight gain. Restrict the calories, chances are you are restricting the carbs.

Basic rule, eat good food, nothing processed or treated with hormones or antibiotics, stay under 150g carbs a day, and don't eat too much and you'll have no problem loosing weight and looking great.

014e95abf93ea102e717f9a878e9e8e0

on August 16, 2012
at 10:51 PM

thank you for the detailed summary:)

1
4fce8590b5453d379dddeaa649955eb9

on August 16, 2012
at 09:27 PM

I find fatburners post very accurate.

As he/she says - it is sort of complicated. What you're basically doing is putting the Insulin hypothesis up against the calorie-is-a-calorie hypothesis. I really cant be brief about this without sacrificing logical coherency. I'll try nontheless: According to Taubes' insulin hypothesis carbohydrate is directly fattening because fat is stored through insulin. Carbohydrate triggers insulin. Fat doesnt. Thus carbs makes you fat. Does this mean that you can eat an unlimited amount of high fat no-carb foods and not gain weight? Even though the theory would suggest it - i dont think so and neither does Taubes. Taubes has however proposed a weightloss experiment in which one would feed overweight people 120% of their daily caloric expenditure as high fat-low carb. Its theoretical since no one has done the experiment - but he believes overweight people would lose weight despite eating more than they burn and im inclined to believe him.

So in short: your 3000 calorie example guy would probably gain weight unless he was very big/physically active. But i do think it is impossible to become obese on a zero/low carb diet. A recent study (the name of which i cant remember unfortunatly) gave to randomized groups the same amount of calories - one low carb, the other high carb. The low carb people were shown to burn, averagely, 300 calories more per day than the high carb crowd. If this study is correct it would suggest a metabolic advantage to low carb eating.

F9638b939a6f85d67f60065677193cad

(4266)

on August 17, 2012
at 12:41 AM

The calories matter but with lower carb you can eat less without being so darn hungry and what you do eat doesn't make you quite as fat.

4fce8590b5453d379dddeaa649955eb9

(173)

on August 17, 2012
at 12:00 PM

Like i said: I doubt a person could eat an unlimited amount of food without gaining weight. However a small/moderate overconsumption on a low carb diet probably wouldn't cause weight gain.

1
7bf306ada57db47547e9da39a415edf6

(11214)

on August 16, 2012
at 08:44 PM

If I ate 1200 calories and 200 carbs, it would require an incredible act of will, and I would just keep being hungry until I finally broke down and ate like a madman. If I ate 3000 calories and no carbs, I would very quickly stop being hungry. So, I would very quickly be able to eat 1200 calories, because with no carbs I am much less hungry. Over a period of time, low carb helps you count calories.
Of course, you don' t have to be totally zero carb. You'd probably have much of the same effects eating around 50g, and many paleo eaters just end up naturally around 100g- this is very dependent on how metabolically deranged you are.

0
E6fb1d6762263b076d335f044bc8013f

on November 04, 2012
at 05:14 AM

Here is what I have found with my own personal experience, which seems to support the 1st response to your question. When I eat very low carbs but eat as many calories as I want there is no way I can gain weight. It seems the excess just leaves the body unused. When I eat moderate carbs (for me anything above 75) I will gain weight if I am not careful and go over 1500 calories a day. To lose weight I need to be very low carb and somewhere in the range of 1200 to 1500 calories a day depending on activity level. These past few months I have been lifting weights and this seems to be changing the above numbers. Meaning now i can get away with a few more carbs and a few more calories and am still losing body fat. It has been a slow process but after a year of low carb and lifting here and there I am getting leaner and finally seeing changes in stubborn areas! Keep at it.

0
193f00d53ebcb13940c7a55afc78ad17

on August 16, 2012
at 09:31 PM

Basically, it is true that losing weight means burning more calories than you take in. It is also true that limiting carbs can greatly help in weight loss. But they work in totally different ways.

Caloric surpluses work by causing your body to digest stored energy for fuel. Sometimes it's muscle, sometimes it's fat (depending on conditions/needs in your body at the time). Low carb works by limiting insulin levels, and thus fat storage. The idea there is that high insulin levels (caused by eating carbs and a having a deficient metabolism) will signal your body to store fat, even if it needs more energy (you'll just still feel hungry and keep eating).

Limiting carbs to a very low level (sub 100 grams or so) will put you into ketosis, where your body begins to rapidly metabolize fat. In that case, you will lose weight rapidly, but you can also expect to regain some mass once carbs are reintroduced (due to increased insulin sensitivity and other metabolic magic). Ketosis is not the same as starvation, but they operate similarly in some respects.

To address your examples, a person could lose or gain weight in either case, depending on what is going on (caloric needs, metabolic state, etc). The human body is very complex, and diet advice is also based upon a very watered-down and over simplified (but marketable!) version of things.

0
3846a3b61bc9051e4baebdef62e58c52

(18635)

on August 16, 2012
at 09:12 PM

You can lose weight counting calories or restricting carbs. Studies tend to show that those that restrict carbs only don't have to count calories. The natural satiety mechanisms seem to kick in and do the reducing for them. Caloric restriction works too, but you may be a bit more burdensome in terms of tracking.

If you eat 3000 calories with no carbs vs. eating 1200 with carbs you will weigh more with the 3000 calorie diet.

If you eat till satiety while limiting carbs vs high carb and limiting calories....now we're talking.

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