Are You a Low-Carb Diet Dropout?

Make the change to a healthier lifestyle

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Tired of living in a low-carb world? Low-carb diet dropouts regularly light up our community message boards, with comments ranging from how afraid they are of adding carbs back to their diets to how fatigued they felt on carb-cutting regimens.

If you're one of these diet defectors, thank goodness you've found the Weight Loss Clinic! We don't push butter, bacon, or other foods high in saturated fat -- just plenty of smart carbs, lean protein, and healthy fats.

Our program is not just another fad diet that recommends you eat strange combinations of foods or give up perfectly healthy foods. In fact, it's not a diet at all, but a way to help you change unhealthy habits -- a solution for life.

Fear of Carbs

For centuries, different cultures around the globe have lived primarily on carbs, in the form of grains. You've heard it before: you could live on a diet of bread (carbs) and water; and bread is "the staff of life." And it's true; your body operates much more efficiently when roughly half of your daily calories come from carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates are your body's preferred form of fuel. They're easily broken down into glucose, which circulates throughout the blood and is used to fuel your bodily processes. Your brain uses glucose to help it think, and your muscles prefer glucose to help them function normally.

Other nutrients, such as protein, can be converted into glucose. But this process is far more complicated, and your kidneys must work harder to get rid of the byproducts.

'Smart' Carbs

Before Atkins and South Beach, most people paid very little attention to how many or type of carbohydrates they ate. I do credit the high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets for enlightening consumers about "smart carbohydrates."

"Smart carbs" are carbohydrates in the form of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which are loaded with disease-fighting nutrients and are chock-full of fiber. The fiber content, along with the complex nature of these foods, means that your body absorbs them slowly and that you really feel full after you eat them. So not only are they good for you, they help keep you from overeating between meals.

As you make the transition from a low-carb diet to your individualized Weight Loss Clinic eating plan, keep in mind that we advocate a diet that meets the standards of the National Institutes of Health. We follow the NIH guideline that carbohydrates make up 45%-65% of your total calories.

Your best bet is to go slowly. And when you choose carbohydrate foods, go for the "smart carbs" -- like whole fruits instead of fruit juice, brown rice instead of white. Your fears will soon be put to rest. And better yet, you will feel great and have more energy.

Diets Don't Work

All diets work, and no diet works. What this means is that any diet -- from low-carb to cabbage soup -- can help you lose weight. But usually, the extra pounds quickly return.

Fad diets take off weight because they dramatically lower your calorie intake. However, most are hard to stick to because they are unrealistic. They may forbid normal, healthy foods; ask you to eat certain foods in quantities that are impractical; or leave you so hungry that you end up bingeing. Many fad dieters say that the worst part is the strong craving for "forbidden" foods -- especially when they're foods usually classified as healthy.

The diet mentality implies that there is a beginning and an end to the weight loss journey. But unless you change your habits, when you go "off" the diet, you go right back to the same behaviors that caused you to gain weight in the first place. And your lost pounds get a return ticket.

How Atkins Measures Up

A study published last year in The New England Journal of Medicine evaluated the effectiveness of the Atkins diet, compared to a traditional low-calorie, low-fat diet. Study participants who followed the Atkins diet had lost more weight than those on the low-cal diet after three months and six months. But after a year, there was no difference between the two groups.

Sustaining weight loss is not a problem unique to the Atkins diet or other low-carb diets. The reason most diets eventually fail is that they don't tackle the eating habits that led to the weight gain.

Read the success stories on the Weight Loss Clinic home page and you'll have to agree: what works is a program like ours.

Weight Loss That Lasts

People who have succeeded in losing weight for the long term have taught us not only what it takes to get the weight off, but also how to maintain the loss.

According to the experts, a successful weight loss program is usually one that includes:

  • An eating plan based on normal, healthy foods that you like.
  • Self-monitoring of eating behaviors, using a journal or some other way to track what you eat each day.
  • Daily physical activity.
  • Support from family or friends (such as the ones you'll find on our message boards). This is critical for overcoming the inevitable obstacles.
  • Changes in your eating style, from cooking up lighter versions of favorite family recipes to eating out less often.
  • Modifying your lifestyle. This means making small changes that you're able to continue as a part of your daily routine.

Losing weight requires vigilance about your food choices and a commitment to physical activity. But before long, it feels less like a conscious decision than a way of life.

So forget about any fad diets you may have fallen for in the past. Instead, focus on getting healthier -- with a healthy, sustainable eating plan and lifestyle changes that will last forever.

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