Low carbohydrate diets have been recommended for weight loss all the way back since the 1860s. There continues to be huge debates as to whether they can be the ‘best’ way for our clients to lose weight, with diets such as the Atkins and the Ketogenic being very popular around the world.
As it suggests, low-carbohydrate diets work by restricting the consumption of foods containing carbohydrates. Currently there aren't any strict guidelines that define what constitutes a low-carbohydrate diet, but Oh et. al (2020) have provided the following definitions:
Do Low-Carb Diets work for weight loss?
It can be hard to argue that low-carbohydrate diets do not work, as we can see in the research that individuals who follow a low-carbohydrate diet can indeed see rapid weight loss in their first 6-12 months of such a diet.
The speed of the weight loss can appear fast from the very beginning of a low-carbohydrate diet. When carbohydrates are stored in the body, it results in the retention of water (2-3g of water per 1g of carbohydrate stored). When you deplete the body of its carbohydrate stores (i.e. through a low-carbohydrate diet) you’ll often see large drops in body weight on the scales, and this can be attributed to the losses of water.
These early losses in weight can be great for your clients to see, boosting their motivations to continue working hard towards their goals, increasing their chances of longer-term weight loss success.
This all sounds great, but what we have seen in the research is that individuals who follow a low-carbohydrate diet do not lose significantly more body fat than those following a diet higher in carbohydrate. Across 12 months the difference in these diets can 1-2 kg, which initially may sound big, but in reality, it’s not. During studies over 6-12 months in length, some research shown total body fat weight losses of ~7kg after 6 months irrespective of whether the diet was low-carbohydrate or low-fat.
When it comes to working with your clients, their preferences are going to be key to their success. These results showing no greater differences between low-carb and other dietary tactics begs the question, is it worth being restrictive of a food group?
The complete restriction of one food group may be frustrating for your client as it may mean that they’re now beginning to restrict themselves and not “allow” themselves to consume the foods they love. You may well have seen clients or people in the past who have decided to completely abstain from eating their favorite foods. After a short length of time they end up gorging on copious amounts of the stuff because they just couldn’t handle the restrictive nature.
Adherence will be one of the key factors contributing to whether a weight-loss phase is successful or not. As a coach, this will require you to work with your client to figure out their nutritional preferences. If your client is someone who enjoys foods higher in fat and shows little preference for carbohydrate-based foods, then a low-carbohydrate based diet could work well for them. On the flip side, if your client is one that prefers consuming carbohydrate-based foods, then a low-carbohydrate diet may not be the best tactic for them in their weight loss endeavors.
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