Sometimes the claims made in advertisements don’t quite pan out. For instance, a few years ago, an advert for Kellogg’s cereal stated that “Eating a bowl of Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal for breakfast is clinically shown to improve attentiveness by nearly 20%.” This was so wrong, that the brand had to pay out around $4m in reimbursements to misled customers. Sometimes, though, the claims made by marketers are so crafty that they actually seem legit.
Take low-carb diets for example. Fad diet marketers often claim that people will lose 8 pounds or more in the first week, which seems far fetched, to say the least. Except once someone vastly reduces carbs, it actually often happens. In fact, how many times has a friend talked about how they’ve dropped half a stone or more in the first week after cutting out sugar? I’ll wager you’ve heard it more than once. So what then? Are low carb diets the miracle fat loss tool they’re made out to be, or is something else going on?
If you’ve weighed yourself for any period of time while dieting, you’ll know that your weight doesn’t just drop in a linear fashion. Sometimes it goes down in one big go, sometimes it stays put for days, and sometimes it even creeps up. These changes might seem random, but to me, they’re quite predictable, and almost always caused by water.
Stress, lack of sleep, salty food, and your menstrual cycle can all make water retention likely. Despite sometimes freaking people out, it’s all completely normal. One further way to make drastic changes in water weight is through carbs.
When you eat any kind of carb, two different things usually happen to them; they can be burned as fuel, or they can be stored for later. When they are stored, in your liver and muscles, water is stored with them. In fact, an almost three to one ratio of water to carbs gets hoarded, meaning that for every one gram of carbs that end up being squirrelled away, three grams of water follow. This, as you might guess can make a huge difference in how much you weigh.
When you ditch carbs from your diet, your body taps into the sugar that you’ve got stored, and as it’s depleted, all the water is lost with it. If you’ve ever been sick for a couple of days and hardly eaten, this is why your mum says you’re wasting away. It’s not that you’re losing a ton of fat, it’s just water. The bigger you are, and the more muscle you carry, the greater the drop will be.
This is where the low-carb diet gurus come in. Any weight loss plan that promises a huge drop in the first week is going to be a winner. The problem is, you can lose pounds and pounds of water weight without losing fat at all. It’s perfectly feasible to reduce carbs to nothing and compensate for the missing calories by eating more fat and protein. The result will be no net change in what you really want to lose, but people still feel like they’re nailing it. What’s worse is what happens when you add the carbs back.
Long term, no one in their right mind is sticking to an ultra low-carb diet. At some point, you’re going to give it up and go and eat something you actually like. This is another way the low-carb guru wins. If you’ve added carbs back to your diet and got on the scale the next day, you’ll know that you can be in for a shock. All that weight you dropped in the first week can come right back on overnight. While the ups and downs of water are perfectly normal, the low-carb peddlers make people think they’re gaining back fat. For a lot of people, this just ends up as a vicious cycle of restriction, loss, and regain. In reality, dieting doesn’t have to be like this.
The truth about fat loss is that to lose fat you have to consume fewer calories than you burn. This is how it always works. It doesn’t matter if it’s keto, vegan, meal replacement shakes, or detoxes. It doesn’t matter what the secret mechanism or “one weird trick” that the marketers bang on about is; all that matters is that you’re in a calorie deficit. Water weight, on the other hand, can come and go as it pleases, and lowering carbs is just one of the ways to change your body’s natural balance.
The sudden weight loss you experience when you stop eating carbs doesn’t come from fat, and neither does all the weight you gain back overnight when you introduce them again. Don’t let low-carb marketers fool you into thinking that normal shifts in water weight are anything they’re not.
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