Low carb diets have been well described since the 1800’s. William Banting promoted the most popularized version at that time. In fact, his last name went on the become a verb, “banting,” as a shorthand way to say “dieting” to lose weight.
There are now innumerable books, websites, and versions of this diet. What they have in common is the concept of lowering carbohydrates to lower blood sugar levels and lose weight. The good news is that many of them work, so it’s not complicated to pick or choose one. The more difficult process is finding a version that works over the long-run. It’s all too easy for people to lose weight for a few months by restricting their eating in some way. (Well… maybe not easy for some people!) But then they go back to the same bad dietary habits that got them there in the first place, and regain all of the weight.
The metabolic challenge of weight loss – Evolutionary advantage
One big challenge is that our bodies work against us when we lose weight. Our metabolism actually slows. This is our body’s way of trying to get us to regain the weight, or at least slow our weight loss considerably. In the old days, when people actually went for long periods of time without food, this was essential to our survival. It allowed us to get by on a lot less food without wasting away.
Metabolism – Modern day challenge
Unfortunately, nowadays, with our abundance of food, obesity, not famine, is our enemy. As a result, in the modern day this adaptation in metabolism now works against us. As a result, this is one of the challenges of losing weight, and keeping it off. Interestingly, research over the past 15 years has shown that the types of food we eat impact this slowing of metabolism.1, 2
Reducing carbs and or increasing protein
Eating fewer carbohydrates and/or more protein seems to slow metabolism the least. Eating more protein has also been associated with having greater muscle mass, which also helps to rev up metabolism. (It also helps you look and function much better!) These two principles (lower carbs and higher protein) are consistent with many low-carb diets. Now we have science showing why they work, and confirming what many low-carb dieters have already known from their own personal experience.
If you are are otherwise healthy and simply trying to lose some weight, you can probably just try a version of a low-carb or ketogenic diet on your own. Luckily, today there are many books, websites, and other resources out there which explain the diet well.
Work with a knowledgeable healthcare team
However, if you take prescription medications for diabetes or high blood pressure, it’s important to work with a knowledgeable healthcare professional when starting a low-carbohydrate or ketogenic diet. For example, blood sugars and blood pressure can drop rapidly. In response, medications often need to be adjusted rapidly and safety requires close monitoring. People frequently experience weakness, dizziness, lightheadedness, and other worrisome symptoms while adjusting to a ketogenic diet (“keto-adaptation”). These same symptoms can also be seen with hypoglycemia (very low blood sugar) or low blood pressure, both of which can be dangerous and require medical intervention. It is hard for a lay person to decide which symptoms need medical attention and which do fine with DIY remedies. Therefore it is essential to implement this diet with a knowledgeable healthcare provider if you have a medical condition.
- Thearle MS, Pannacciulli N, Bonfiglio S, Pacak K, Krakoff J. Extent and Determinants of Thermogenic Responses to 24 Hours of Fasting, Energy Balance, and Five Different Overfeeding Diets in Humans. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.2013;98(7):2791-2799. doi:10.1210/jc.2013-1289. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
- Ebbeling CB, Swain JF, Feldman HA, Wong WW, Hachey DL, Garcia-Lago E, Ludwig DS. Effects of Dietary Composition on Energy Expenditure During Weight-Loss Maintenance. JAMA.2012;307(24):2627–2634. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.6607 [PubMed] [Google Scholar]