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I'm using DailyBurn.com as my guide/tracking system for losing weight and I always seem to hit my recommended carb limit for the day really easily. I really like eating rice, pasta and bread.

To put this into perspective, I'm hitting my carb limit whilst still at half of the limit for calories, fat, etc. I don't really want to give up eating things I like that aren't at all unhealthy (like rice and pasta) in order to lose weight. Am I going to have problems losing weight if I carry on eating like this? i.e. eating low calorie, low fat food that is high in carbs.

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This question is off topic now, regarding the FAQ. –  Baarn Sep 12 '12 at 18:29
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5 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Short answer

It is NOT necessary to eat less carbs to lose weight.

Scientific answer

Weight loss occurs when you burn more calories than you take in. The body can take calories from the following food sources:

  • Fat: 1 gram = 9 calories
  • Protein: 1 gram = 4 calories
  • Carbohydrates: 1 gram = 4 calories
  • Alcohol: 1 gram = 7 calories

It can also break down body fat and muscle when there's no more food in your gastrointestinal tract. The rate at which this occurs is not as simple as counting grams of food, so I won't go there.

The body uses those calories for maintaining these functions:

  • 5% - building muscle
  • 20% - exercise
  • 25% - brain
  • 50% - basal metabolism

As long as the sum of all the grams of food you eat multiplied by their respective caloric value is less than the calories you expend, weight loss will occur. Take this oversimplified example of a typical day: I eat 50g of carbs and 10g of fat. And lets say I sat in some scientific chamber to measure heat generated by calorie usage and determined that I expended 300 calories.

CaloriesIn = 50 * 4 + 10 * 9 = 290
CaloriesExpended = 300
Net = 290 - 300 = -10

Where can the body get this 10 calories it needs to survive? My food has been depleted, so I'll go into my blubber to burn those 10 calories. And there you have it: body fat is lost.

Now let's say you wanted to go on a low carb diet. Since I'm not eating my pasta and bread, I'm going to satiate my stomach with extra fat. In this example, I will eat 30g of fat and 5g of carbs. I will also carry out my day as usual by expending 300 calories.

CaloriesIn = 5 * 4 + 30 * 9 = 290
CaloresExpended = 300
Net = 290 - 300 = -10

I still have a negative net value, meaning I will lose weight. You see, no matter if it's a low or high carb diet, it is still possible to lose weight.

Practical answer

Why do we hear about these low carb diets like the Atkins diet? It's just a matter of preference. People on low carb diets may not like eating bread, pasta, and rice. They much rather eat fats like cake, fatty meats, and ice-cream. All they've done is shifted the caloric intake from carbs to fats. There's no magic here.

Another reason for sticking to low carb diets is because fat is very hard to burn. If fat from your food is not burned, it will be deposited as body fat. During cardiovascular exercise, the body more readily burns carbs. It burns very little food fat. As the cardio progresses, the ratio energy consumption shifts towards fat. After an hour of steady cardio, the ratio of carb to fat usage can be as much as 50:50. Thus, people who don't have time to do hours of cardio should eat less carbs. Well, you should eat less of everything in general, but the proportion of carbs should be lower. This way, the body will be forced to burn the food fat as soon as whatever little amount of carbs you have is depleted.

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Sorry, this is simply wrong. Human metabolism is too complex for the nutritional value of food to be reduced to a simple linear scale like calories. This is strictly anecdotal, but I personally lost more weight on a higher calorie low-carb diet in a couple of months than I did on a lower calorie high-carb diet for over a year. –  codebolt Apr 6 '11 at 7:41
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cake and icecream are not low carb foods - at all. –  Stefan Ernst Apr 6 '11 at 8:36
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The difference is that if you go over your calories on a low-carb diet, you won't store it as fat, you'll just process and flush the excess, since storage of fat requires insulin, which your body won't have sufficient quantities of if you're not eating carbohydrates. And @StefanErnst is correct, cake and ice-cream come right off the menu when you start low-carb. –  Nathan Wheeler Apr 7 '11 at 2:54
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I'm torn here. The answer "no you don't need to eat low-carb to lose weight" is correct, but take issue with some of the explanation. For example, "fat from your food" is not necessarily converted directly to body fat; the vector from starch or sugar to body fat is much more direct. –  Greg Apr 7 '11 at 3:36
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The problem with the simple linear scale like this is where the energy comes from. The body will rob your muscles and organs at the same time it robs the fat. Since muscle tissue only contains 600 Calories worth of energy per pound, they deplete faster than fat tissue which contains 3500 Calories worth of energy per pound. Assuming protein is sufficient to protect the muscle content, your equations will work. The body is equally happy using fat or carbs for energy. All too often, simple calorie deficit diets cut protein sources first. Big mistake. –  Berin Loritsch Aug 30 '11 at 3:01
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Keep in mind that appetite matters, especially when trying to lose weight. In my experience, carb heavy foods are very bad at appetite suppression. Case in point the "hungry an hour later" effect of Chinese food. That is one of the chief reasons that low carb diets work. I could easily eat 800 calories of bread and still be a a little hungry. 800 calories of chicken? Forget it, I want nothing to do with food for a while.

If you're looking for a diet that is easy and works, I'd suggest the Ketogenic diet. It's easy to stick with and does the job. Very healthy too.

Also, regarding rice and pasta not being unhealthy, I think you should re-think that. A study recently found that potatoes are the most fattening food: http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/WBL02253/Potatoes-The-Most-Fattening-Food.html (I think he links the study in that article). In terms of Glycemic Index, rice and pasta are right next to potatoes.

You should learn more about Glycemic Index and leptin levels, that will help you lose weight.

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If you are doing a low-carb diet to lose weight you must eat a sufficient quantity of dietary fat and protein. If you don't your body will not burn fat and you will get nowhere. Most of your calories should be from fat and protein. Low-fat food is a no-no if you are on a low-carb diet. You need to decide what type of diet you want: low-fat or low-carb? You can't do both.

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How do you know you're eating enough protein? I've seen recommendations of eating 70%-100% of your Lean Body Mass of protein (in grams), but I get the impression that's for weightlifting. –  Paperjam Dec 16 '11 at 19:16
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How many grams of carbs does this diet suggest you take in?

You do not have to have a low carb diet to lose weight, but you do have to have low calories.

The reason so many diets do not suggest breads and pastas is because they are very calorie dense. You're probably going to have to cut back your portions or increase your activity level.

Don't expect to be able to take in more than 30 to 50 grams of carbs per meal unless you're involved in an endurance sport.

Update:

So, if you're eating 200g carbs/day, that's about 800 calories, so over half of your calories are from carbs That's okay as long as you're continuing to lose weight. You're calories are not overly restrictive, but they are low. You might reach a plateau on such low calories, and when you do, you will have 2 choices.

First, you can continue to cut your calories lower which I would not suggest. You will probably reach a plateau because of slowed metabolism over time. Cutting your calories lower still may allow you to lose more weight immediately, but it will contribute further to a slowed metabolism.

The second option would be to change the distribution of your calories. This is what I would suggest. What you aren't going to like, is that you might have to severely restrict your carbs for a few weeks in order to trick your body into starting to drop weight again. Hopefully, you would be able to keep your calories the same and continue to lose weight this way. Then, you can switch back to the higher carb diet once the ball gets rolling again.

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It's recommending between 130-203g of carbs per day, 39-67g of fat, 88-150g of protein (yeah the ranges are pretty wide). I'm well below my calorie limit every day (I'm eating roughly 1500 calories a day, and burning like 500-600 at the gym) so I definitely have a deficit. –  victoriah Apr 6 '11 at 8:48
    
@victoriah 150-102g isn't really a low-carb diet. Low-er carb diets tend to keep you below 100g per day, and a true ketogenic diet (e.g. Atkins) will have you below 50g. –  Greg Apr 7 '11 at 3:29
    
@victoriah Also, keep in mind that those gym calories aren't as high as the readout on the treadmill makes it look. That 500-600 was the total calories you burned there, yes, but that doesn't take into account that you likely would have burned 400 (not an exact number) of those calories just laying on the couch. Machine readouts are total calories, not a delta... Point being that DB will double-count that because you have your base calories already in the system and now that e.g. 400 calories is doubly counted when you enter your exercise. –  Greg Apr 7 '11 at 3:31
    
@Natalie Barnett I think that your other comment-turned-answer is best posted as an update to this answer. Have done so for you, and deleted the other answer. You can edit this answer further if you'd like to tweak the merge. –  Greg Apr 7 '11 at 3:40
    
@greg: I'm not sure I understand (not saying you're wrong). I use the DB calculators to estimate my calories burned. Pages like this dummies.com/how-to/content/… seem to indicate the difference between sitting and running is pretty big. I work out for 1.5 hours a day and since I'm pretty overweight (and thus probably burn more calories whilst running etc) it doesn't seem all that unlikely to me that I could be burning an extra 5-600 calories or so during a workout. But perhaps I'm wrong? The whole calorie counting business seems vague. –  victoriah Apr 7 '11 at 10:48
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As said above by many if you cut carbs and eat primal you tend to lose weight, feel happier and eat more nutrients. Why if a calorie is a calorie? Because good fat and protein are what we are designed to eat and they fill us up and do not spike blood sugar in the way carbs do. For those of us who have also been sugar addicts be careful of fruit too. Whilst it is heaps better for you than sweets and junk food you can over eat it to get the blood sugar hit adn it has a lot of carb so keep it for the occasions as our ancestors would have done when they came across it in season in a forest rather than having it many times a day.

There is so much that is good for you in fresh fish and meat and eggs than you find in rice or bread.

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I'm all in favour of primal/paleo diets but the Q&A really needs to be focused around the documented, scientifically-proven effects of lower CHO or lower GI/GL, and not this mystical nonsense of being "ancestral" or "feeling happier" or that bread somehow lacks nutritional value. There are enough tangible, practical benefits to these diets that they really don't need the rumours and innuendo and emotionally-charged praise to make them attractive. –  Aaronaught Feb 18 '13 at 20:03
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