The low-carb diet has received some very positive attention in recent years. With benefits ranging from increased satiety and hormonal balancing, to decreasing inflammation and chronic disease, the accolades are very well deserved.
There is not one dietary approach that can specifically target belly fat but lower carb regimes are associated with reductions in insulin levels and indirectly abdominal fat. For this reason when adhered to strictly, a lower carbohydrate way of life may support belly fat reduction by helping to reduce insulin levels but also mobilise fat stores that have been stagnant for some time.
A low-carb approach is also one of the best ways to teach your body to burn fat for fuel as it allows inulin levels to remain low; the opposite to what occurs with a high carb diet.
When it comes to achieving changes in body composition, ie specifically targeting body fat, significant change to either/ or diet or exercise is often the shift required to see results.
When transitioning to a low carb diet/way of life, there are several common mistakes that can make successful results extremely hard to achieve. These are the top five areas to fully understand and check before fully committing to the low carbohydrate way of life.
1. Fat Phobia- Our calorie counting and low-fat ways of the past still tend to trip a lot of people up. With low-carb you are now free to eat butter, avocado, olive oil and full fat foods, but may still be afraid of these foods. To assist your transition, focus on food in its natural wholefood state, as after all, nature knows best. A mantra to consider: “fat doesn’t make you fat, fat helps you burn fat”. Additionally, you cannot cut carbohydrates and fat at the same time. Low-carb should provide you with exceptional satiety, but only if you are eating an adequate volume of healthy fats. A simple barometer to use is that if you’re hungry within four hours of eating, add an additional teaspoon to tablespoon of healthy fat and watch your satiety extend.
2. Excess protein- It is important to acknowledge that a lower carbohydrate diet is also one that is higher in healthy fats and moderate in protein. It is absolutely not the Atkins Diet which gained popularity in the late 80’s and often included big slabs of meat and butter at every meal. There are many reasons why moderate protein is important, including the fact that excess protein is converted to glucose via gluconeogenesis, which interferes with blood sugar control and can promote high insulin. As we discussed, high insulin shuts off fat burning and can re-start the blood sugar rollercoaster you have worked so hard to stabilise with low-carb. For most individuals, an intake of 20 per cent protein is more than enough. In terms of grams/day, a female consuming 1700 calories/ day, would need only 85g of protein/day and a male eating 3000 calories/day would need less than 150g of protein/day.
3. Inefficient nutrient timing- Nutrient timing is the consumption of real food based carbohydrates in the post training window. This is particularly important after high intensity exercise, as muscle glycogen has been depleted. The addition of a banana to your post workout smoothie or half to one cup of sweet potato to your dinner after a big session at the gym, is an important recovery decision. By replenishing muscle glycogen, you will recover faster, perform better in subsequent sessions and continue to improve in training. Without this addition many people feel lethargic, experience increased delayed onset muscle soreness and/or lose their top end speed or strength. With a well-designed low-carbohydrate template, you can burn fat, extend your longevity and still get faster and stronger with each workout!
4. Low salt intake- The fear that all salt with give you high blood pressure is another dogma based myth of the last five decades. As you initially lower your carbohydrate intake, your salt requirements can increase dramatically, so it is important to add high quality salt (such as sea salt or pink salt) to maintain an optimum blood volume. If you have experienced poor performance or fatigue on low-carb in the past, please test a higher salt intake and your physiological response to this. A simple way to increase your salt intake is to sprinkle salt on your main meals or add a pinch to one or two water bottles you consume each day.
5. High stress- In situations of stress, our adrenal glands produce the hormone cortisol. This is part of our “flight or fight” response and is necessary to human optimal function and survival. The role of cortisol is to stimulate the liver to release glucose into the blood. Where stress is chronic and cortisol levels are consistently elevated, this excess glucose inhibits fat utilization. So, you could have the most well-designed low-carbohydrate template, but without stress management, your body will be in a fat storage mode, not a fat burning one. Just another reason to add meditation to your daily schedule, don’t you think?
Once you get the full knowledge of the concepts around lifestyle modification, then you can fully start to incorporate the low carbohydrate way of life into your lifestyle. Set a timeline, check your progress, and stick to your plans. Your vision and goals should mirror your progress.
When you look at the stubborn abdominal fat that you have never been able to change, adapting to this new way of life may be the exact trigger that starts a paradigm shift in that area plus many others.
Stick with whatever you start and reward yourself for successes! Always remember you are worthy and anything you set your mind to you can achieve!