Carbohydrate confessions: Stories (and data) from a low carb convert. |
I’ve been low carb for nearly three years, or as I prefer to call it, “keto”. It’s been a wild ride, full of ups and downs, highs and lows, and I’ve learned a lot. The good news is I’m still alive and well, so there’s hope for you, too.
When I was about 10 years old, I began eating a mostly vegetarian diet. It was a pretty good diet at the time: a little dairy, a little legumes, and a lot of fruits and vegetables. But I was also a bit of a picky eater, and because of this, I tended to have a lot of cravings.
I’m a versatile sort of person, and that’s just the way it’s always been. I’ve been working in the sport of competitive and recreational snowboarding for a long time, and it’s been a blast. I enjoy a good challenge and a strong sense of camaraderie with my fellow athletes, but I also love to chat, laugh, and listen. I don’t get to see many of my friends, where I live. But I’m a very social guy, so I don’t mind. I’m a fat guy, 6 feet tall, over 200 pounds, with short brown hair and a beard. I always have been; my father is a big guy, and I’m sure he was a fat. Read more about carbs or no carbs and let us know what you think.
Have you ever had to make a decision that you didn’t want to make? Even if it was about something you believed was unquestionably correct? Dr. Spencer Nadolsky experienced something similar. This high-carb experiment shook his world as a long-time low-carb advocate.
Dr. Spencer Nadolsky, like many recreational exercisers or individuals who know a bit about nutrition, was certain that his low carb diet was the key to keeping slim and healthy. Until he attempted a high-carb experiment and was astounded by the results.
We’ll go through the findings of his experiment in this post. We’ll also discuss how our assumptions may be tested when we act as our own guinea pigs and follow the evidence of our own experiences.
Self-experimentation: When the norms of nutrition are violated (maybe)
We all like being correct. When the universe has clear laws, it feels wonderful.
If you’re a casual exerciser or have a little understanding of nutrition, one of the “dietary principles” you may “know” is that a low-carb diet is “the magic key” to remaining slim and healthy. At the very least, you’ve probably heard about the many advantages of a low-carbohydrate diet.
You, like Dr. Spencer Nadolsky, may have looked into it. You may have put so much faith in that dietary advice that, like Spencer, you even suggested that everyone try it!
Spencer was once so persuaded of the benefits of low carb eating that he became a low carb advocate, appearing on podcasts and creating a popular blog to extol the virtues of the diet.
Then he started a new sport, and his coach convinced him to try a higher-carb diet.
What was the unexpected outcome? His weight and health stayed constant, but his performance and energy levels increased dramatically.
His self-experiment revealed that his assumptions were incorrect. Spencer was compelled to rethink his nutritional paradigm in the light of fresh data.
Self-experimentation, you and your truth bombs!
What is covered in this article
In this post, we’ll look at how you may use self-experimentation to test nutritional theories and dietary “rules” on yourself to see how they affect your body.
But this isn’t simply a story about one man’s journey. Or, to put it another way, what is “real.”
(That’s right: we’re not going to offer you another “nutritional rule” to replace the one Spencer just violated.)
Instead, this essay emphasizes the necessity of maintaining a critical, questioning, and inquisitive mindset. About not accepting anything at face value, even what we say. Regarding the avoidance of “one-size-fits-all” norms and absolutes. Above all, believing your own individual body’s evidence.
Who is this article intended for?
You may want to skip this post if you’re a novice learning the fundamentals of healthy eating.
This article may appeal to you if you’re a bit more experienced and have tried a variety of eating methods.
If you teach or educate others — for example, if you’re a coach or fitness professional who advises customers on how to eat — you may find this article useful.
Finally, if you’re interested in self-experimentation, you’ll want to learn more about Spencer’s exploits and maybe attempt something yourself!
Here’s Spencer’s tale, as recounted by the good doctor himself, without further ado.
From a high-carb (large) to a low-carb (small) diet (lean)
I was an Academic All-American heavyweight wrestler in college, finishing third in the country at one point. I was constantly wanting to acquire weight, unlike my smaller colleagues who were always trying to remain thin to stay in their weight class.
Bigger was better for me. And I ate a lot in order to maintain my size.
I consumed 4000-5000 calories each day at those period. Pasta, rice, and cereals provide a lot of carbohydrates.
But, after retiring from the ring in 2007, I felt it was time to slim down and become healthy.
So I did what a lot of people did at the time: I went on a low-calorie, low-carb diet.
I reduced my daily calorie intake to 2500-3000. I also eliminated any carbs that did not originate from fruits or vegetables. I thought I didn’t need those starchy carbs to sustain myself anymore since I wasn’t going to be competing or training as much.
What’s more, guess what? My approach was successful.
I dropped approximately 25-30 pounds in the few months before starting medical school. Furthermore, my somewhat low carbohydrate eating plan made me feel great.
Spencer went from 265 pounds to 235 pounds by cutting carbohydrates.
Years of reduced carbohydrate consumption
I’d been studying nutrition for a while now. Carbohydrates are crucial, as I already understood. They are, in fact, our primary source of energy and are essential to almost every function in our body. (See All About Carbohydrates for additional information.)
Despite my knowledge and experience, I was persuaded that a low-carb diet was the best option for me.
The evidence seemed to be indisputable. Aside from weight lifting, I wasn’t getting any exercise. I was able to maintain my slim figure with ease. I seemed to be in good shape.
As a result, I decided on a low-carb diet.
I ate fewer than 150 grams of carbohydrates per day on average over the following six years, accounting for approximately 15% of my total calories.
Sure, I’d receive extra every now and again – at special occasions, meals out, and so on. But, for the most part, I kept my carbohydrates low.
I performed some sophisticated blood tests to verify my metabolic health wasn’t being hampered, since I’m a doctor who loves to nerd out on this stuff. Everything seemed to be in great shape according to those indicators.
Almost everything, in fact. I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and hypothyroidism as a result. But it didn’t appear to have anything to do with my diet.
I felt fantastic. I looked fantastic. The best part was that I got to eat some great cuisine! Overall, my low-carbohydrate diet seemed to be ideal for me.
Isn’t it true that what’s good for me is good for everyone?
It was simple to extrapolate my own ostensibly positive outcomes to others. Especially because the more I understood in my study and observed in my clinical training, the better it appeared to be to consume less carbs.
After a while, I became an enthusiastic supporter of the practice, appearing on podcasts, publishing articles, and generally doing all I could to promote low carb diets for everyone from couch potatoes to top athletes.
Low-carb diet, in my opinion, benefited everyone’s health and body composition.
So what’s stopping me from spreading the word?
The experiment of switching from a low-carb to a high-carb diet
Things might have gone on forever like this, with me eating low carb and preaching to the low carb choir.
However, my competitive urge reappeared last summer. As I began my search for my next challenge, many experienced individuals recommended that I could be a suitable candidate for a bodybuilding competition. That’s what I’m going to do next.
Now that I’m a PN adviser, I completely agree with the PN concept that mentors and coaches are beneficial to everyone. So, after deciding to train for bodybuilding, I engaged one of the finest natural bodybuilding instructors I could find right away.
You can probably predict what happens next.
I had to alter my eating habits.
My coach advised me to go from a low-carbohydrate, high-fat, moderate-protein diet to a higher-carbohydrate, low-fat, moderate-protein diet.
When my calories began to go low, he thought the additional carbohydrates would give me a boost to help me optimize my exercises.
Ooops. It’s time to shake things up.
I wasn’t really excited to get started.
Keeping tabs on things
I kept track of my calories from various macronutrients for many days to obtain a baseline of what I was consuming. Many of my calories were then shifted from fat to carbs. These modifications are shown in the graphs.
(The first graph depicts my usual low-carbohydrate diet.) The second is a representation of my new high-carbohydrate diet).
How did I go about making the changes?
I lost weight by doing the following:
- I reduced my morning egg count from four to one.
- reducing bacon consumption (*sob*)
- I’m no longer consuming daily handfuls of nuts and gobs of nut butter on a regular basis.
- red meats that are leaner (a lot of sirloin)
- I’m working on getting a handle on my dark chocolate addiction, and
- reducing the amount of blue cheese and olive oil that I used on my salads (These are still used, although in lesser amounts.)
Among my new carbohydrate sources were:
- a bowl of oats (a lot of it),
- a lot more fruit
- and even a bowl of manufactured cereal now and again – something that was strictly prohibited on my previous diet.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anything like this.
Is it true that eating more carbs puts you at a greater risk?
Of course, I had faith in my coach. But, to be honest, as a proven carbophobe, I was hesitant to make such a dramatic change to my diet.
I wasn’t increasing my calorie intake, so I knew I wouldn’t gain weight. Even yet, given my preconceptions about my prior diet’s superiority, I couldn’t help but be concerned about becoming… well… fat.
Meanwhile, I was concerned about more than just possible weight gain.
Some of my medical colleagues agreed with my assessment of the benefits of a low-carbohydrate diet. And among them, there was a myth that consuming a lot of carbs might ruin my cardio-metabolic health in a matter of days. Days, indeed!
They said that increasing my carbohydrate intake would lead my low-density lipoprotein particle counts (also known as LDL-P) to rise.
According to this hypothesis, consuming a high-carbohydrate diet increases my risk of heart disease.
It’s no surprise that some individuals (including myself) develop carbophobia.
And it’s no surprise that I chose to keep doing my advanced blood tests while on this increased carbohydrate diet. I wasn’t going to take any risks.
LDL-Cholesterol (LDL-Cholesterol) is a kind of cholesterol that
The cholesterol mass inside LDL particles is measured by LDL-C, or low density lipoprotein cholesterol. LDL-C has long been the marker of choice for determining a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease.
However, LDL-C is just a proxy for low-density lipoprotein levels. According to studies, the number of LDL particles (LDL-P) is more strongly linked to the risk of atherosclerosis than the total quantity of cholesterol inside the particles. As a result, a high LDL-P level may be hazardous.
See All About Cholesterol for additional information on cholesterol and why it’s essential for your health.]
Changes that were unanticipated
In some ways, my medical colleagues were correct. Because after a week, I started to see some differences.
It’s simply that the adjustments weren’t what they had anticipated.
The first and most noticeable were the “pumps” I began to receive at the gym. This came as no surprise to me; most fitness aficionados are aware that carbohydrate feeding may improve performance.
My newfound capacity to do an additional set or two of the same exercise at the same intensity/weight was a bit more unexpected, but still within my expectations.
I’d been struggling to get beyond the eighth rep for a long time. I could usually go for four or five repetitions before having to stop or cut down. So this was a first for me.
Meanwhile, there were a few unexpected outcomes in addition to these rather anticipated alterations.
First, instead of rapidly gaining weight, I dropped approximately a pound and a half. Not only that, but I was appearing slimmer and more vascular even with that modest weight reduction.
Second, my advanced metabolic indicators, such as glucose and lipid/lipoprotein metabolism labs, improved. What a startling revelation!
When evidence clashes with ideology, a discussion ensues.
I shared my first weight reduction results on Facebook after moving to a higher carb eating plan.
That’s when the good times started.
Remember, I was well-known as a proponent of low-carbohydrate diets at the time. And I’d gone on record defending their advantages on many occasions.
As a result, both low-carb and high-carb fans started to hypothesize about what had occurred within an hour.
Low-carb proponents claimed that I had lost muscular mass. After all, I couldn’t have lost weight if I had consumed more carbs! Especially because most individuals who increase their carbohydrates acquire water weight as their glycogen levels rise. It was impossible to lose weight! (With the exception that it wasn’t.) (Not based on the measurements.)
Those in support of higher carb diets, on the other hand, claimed that my previous low carb diet must have resulted in some subclinical hypothyroidism. My thyroid was finally getting into gear after switching to a higher carb diet. That, they reasoned, was why I’d been able to shed pounds.
Ironically, as I previously said, I do have hypothyroidism as a result of an autoimmune illness. But I keep a careful eye on my symptoms and test results, which haven’t changed. So it wasn’t a newly active thyroid that was to blame.
The distinction is made through mindfulness.
I haven’t spoken much about it until now, but I have my own hypothesis about why I lost weight while increasing carbs.
Remember how I started this shift by tracking my meals for a few days and then switching my calories from fat to carbohydrates?
On the first few days, I think I unconsciously reduced my calorie intake. Simply put, I was more conscious of what I was consuming.
I wasn’t attempting to eat in a different way than normal. I, on the other hand, attempted to eat like I would on any other day. When you write down what you’re eating, though, you become more conscious of what you’re consuming.
In the end, I believe my baseline (about 2,700 calories per day) was below what was considered typical for me (between 2,500 and 3,500 calories per day). So it didn’t matter if I switched those calories from fats and protein to carbohydrates; as long as I kept my activity levels up, I was still going to lose weight.
This would also account for the changes in my metabolic indicators, since a hypocaloric (low-calorie) diet is known to improve them.
Putting it to the test
Over the following several months, I continued to track my development to confirm my theory.
I intended to acquire some weight at this time before starting the lengthy weight reduction phase that comes before a bodybuilding competition.
Every day, I weighed myself and kept note of everything I ate. I gradually raised my carbohydrate consumption to approximately 400 grams each day. My weight gradually increased over the following four months.
I ended up at the same body weight after a few months on my high carb diet, as you can see in the chart below. However, I was leaner and had less body fat.
|Measures to begin
|Following a weight increase
|About halfway through your weight-loss journey
I had another round of sophisticated blood testing just before starting the weight-loss phase.
What’s more, guess what? The findings were quite comparable to my low carb baseline measurements, as I had anticipated.
|After a week of low-fat, high-carbohydrate eating,
|Following a phase of weight gain
|LDL Particle Count
|1574 nanomoles per liter
|889 nanomoles per liter
|1421 nanomoles per liter
(Visit my blog to view all the statistics and follow along with my contest preparation.)
What have I discovered?
I’m now on my lengthy journey to become “shredded” (or extremely thin) in preparation for my next bodybuilding competition. While steadily losing weight, I am maintaining a high carbohydrate (over 300 grams per day), low fat (75 grams per day), and moderate protein (225 grams per day) diet. My workouts are still going well.
The distinction is made through mindful eating.
But it’s important to note that I’ve been weighing everything and keeping track of it in my notebook throughout this experiment. And I believe that weighing and monitoring are crucial.
In the past, I had experimented with liberally adding carbs to my diet. Surprisingly, this led in rapid fat accumulation. Exactly what a carbophobe dreads!
But, if you think about it for a second, it’s clear why I gained weight. I was just increasing calories by adding carbohydrates, without considering the rest of my diet! I would have done much better if I had kept track of what I was consuming.
Many individuals who attempt and fail with a higher carb diet, I believe, are making the same error I did in the past.
And, while monitoring is beneficial, measuring is just as essential. If you’re anything like me, guesstimating an acceptable serving size of apples or bananas is a lot simpler than guesstimating one of rice, pasta, or cereal — and rice, pasta, and cereals are also a lot easier to overeat.
The same is true for low-carbohydrate eaters. Bacon, avocado, almonds, and butter are all delectable ingredients. And it’s simple to consume too much of it.
That’s why, no matter what diet you select, I highly advise you to measure and monitor your meals for a time if you’re attempting to make any sort of physical change.
Don’t get too carried away with it. However, become more conscious of your surroundings.
You may estimate using the PN technique later, after you have a pretty clear notion of what a section looks like.
What’s best for you: a high-carb or low-carb diet?
Is my success with a higher-carbohydrate diet a sign that I’ve given up on low-carbohydrate diets? No.
Does this imply that you should dive headfirst into a bowl of oatmeal? Certainly not.
In reality, the low carb prescription is still given to the majority of my new patients. Why? Because a reduced carb diet makes it much simpler to manage blood sugar and blood pressure if you’re sedentary and overweight.
Patients naturally consume less calories and more protein when I suggest a reduced carb diet and encourage them to concentrate on lean meats, vegetables, and fruits. This makes people feel fuller for longer, which aids in weight loss. They obtain more phytonutrients by eating more veggies. They are consuming less processed foods.
Overall, this diet assists patients in overcoming the diabetes or hypertension that brought them to me in the first place.
However, although low-carb diets have their place, I no longer believe they are the best or only option for everyone. In reality, many of us might benefit from increasing our intake of nutritious carbohydrates. (For additional information, see Carb Controversy: Why Low Carb Diets Are Wrong.)
Restriction, on the other hand, virtually never works in the long run. And most of us feel, look, and perform better when we eat a well-balanced diet rich in lean protein, healthy fats, and good carbohydrates.
How do you know what may work for you?
Your specific carb needs are determined by:
- objectives (fat loss, muscle gain, maintenance)
- the science of genetics (different body types, medical conditions)
- carbohydrate source (refined versus minimally processed)
- degree of activity (sedentary, weight-training, endurance athlete).
Also, don’t make assumptions about what you may need. Try it out for yourself. Obtain some proof.
Track and quantify your consumption; monitor your exercise performance and general energy levels; and, if you’re prepared to put your money where your quinoa-eating mouth is, have some bloodwork done.
Amass information about yourself. Consider it as though you were creating your own Owner’s Manual.
What am I supposed to do with all of this?
If you’re a healthy exerciser with normal blood sugar levels who’s been on a low-carb diet for a time, I suggest switching to a higher-carb diet. You may be shocked by the outcome.
Also, keep these basic principles in mind:
- Don’t limit yourself excessively; don’t overthink it; and don’t spend time with complicated “carb calculations.”
- Take advantage of a broad range of minimally processed, unprocessed, and fresh foods.
- Take note of how you seem, feel, and perform.
- Make decisions based on the information you gather about yourself, not on what you believe you “should” do.
- Your body and your experience are the only “rules” that apply. Don’t follow a diet plan designed for someone else’s physique.
Above all, carbohydrates are your buddy for most busy individuals.
Dr. Spencer Nadolsky, the director of Examine.com, is a Virginia-based physician. DrSpencer.com is his personal website.
Better eating, moving, and living.
The realm of health and fitness may be perplexing at times. It doesn’t have to be that way, however.
It will teach you the optimal diet, exercise, and lifestyle methods that are specific to you.
I used to be a self-professed “carb snob.” I thought all low-carb diets were “low-fat,” and that it was unhealthy to eat anything but low-fat foods. I read a ton of low-carb blogs and listened to every podcast I could find on the topic, and I was convinced that low-carb was the way to go.. Read more about moderate low-carb diet and let us know what you think.