(This article was first published in Chica magazine)
So you have made the decision that 2017 will be the year you finally lose the weight! But weeks in, with little to show it’s all starting to feel like it wasn’t worth it. I’ve been there too! When I decided that I was going to lose the fat, I thought it would be very simple; eat less, move more. This is the general guideline to many a weightloss plans and while this serves as a great starting point, in my experience it isn’t the full story.
It is true that you could eat a healthy balanced diet but if you consume more calories than your body requires, the excess will be stored as fat which leads to weight gain. However, in my experience trying to release this fat is not as easily done by simply eating less and moving more. When I realised that my efforts to lose weight were not gaining as much traction as I’d hoped, I joined a fitness training group and with it, gained a wealth of knowledge. One of the most important things I learned and included in my weightloss program was carb cycling.
Not all carbs are created equal
Carbohydrates form part of the three macronutrients the body requires; carbohydrates, protein and fat. And while carbohydrates provide the body with energy, the manner in which our bodies absorb this nutrient is important if one is trying to lose weight. In order to lose weight you need to do two things; burn the body fat you currently have and stop creating new body fat.
In order to achieve the latter, the amount and type of carbs we eat and when we eat them becomes essential. This is basically the heart and soul of carb cycling. Unfortunately, carbs get a real bad wrap in the weightloss world but in reality we need carbs, they provide us with much needed energy which is easy for our bodies to convert. But the issue with carbs is more to do with the hormone Insulin; without it, our bodies cannot convert glucose into fat. Simple carbs like white bread, potatoes and candy, however, quickly trigger the release of insulin which is not ideal if your goal is to lose body fat. If you are constantly consuming a high carb diet this process will create body fat and also make it difficult for you to burn the fat you already have. Carb cycling helps to circumvent this process by timing your carb intake with times when your body needs it most; after an intense workout. What this does, is ensure that the carbs go towards replenishing the glycogen levels in our liver and muscles.
Once I had made the decision to lose weight, I changed my diet to include more complex carbs: White rice was replaced by brown rice, and potatoes with sweet potatoes. When digested, complex carbs are released slowly into the body and as such, do not cause a spike in insulin which is the catalyst for fat storage. Complex carbs not only provide energy to the body, they also tend to have a high fiber content and more micronutrients. It is very important, when one is trying to lose weight to do this in a heathy manner and choosing foods complete with nutrients is a smart move. Combined with carb cycling, consuming complex carbs provides your body with a better chance to burn body fat.
Calories in, calories out
It is very important to create a calorie deficit, through exercise and consuming less calories to encourage your body to use your current fat stores as fuel. When carb cycling you consume carbs at a time that supports this goal. The best time to consume carbs is soon after a workout. At this time, your glycogen levels in your muscles have been depleted; eating carbs at this time ensures that these are used to replenish your stores and not to create fat stores. This however means that on non work out days, you do not consume any carbs. This is a huge challenge as carbs generally help us feel sated. On this day, you would increase the percentage of calories derived from healthy fats as these will help you feel fuller for longer.
What it looks like
Supposing your workout days are Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday your carb cycling schedule would look like this:
Monday evening workout – Carbs with dinner
Tuesday rest day – zero carbs
Wednesday early morning workout – Carbs with Breakfast
Thursday evening workout – Carbs with dinner
Friday rest day – Zero carbs
Saturday mid morning workout – Carbs with lunch
Sunday rest day – Low carb intake.
I typically do not work out on a Sunday but I do consume carbs on this day. I give myself a break from the schedule but ensure that I do not go beyond my daily calorie goal or maximum carb intake.
It’s a lifestyle!
My weightloss journey has transformed itself into a lifestyle change. Ultimately you want to make changes that you are able to maintain inorder to keep the weight off. Carb cycling can be a challenge on those zero carb days but I have found that going back to the reason why I was on this journey in the first place has provided me with motivation to get through the zero carb days. As part of the journey I also keep a food diary using Myfitnesspal and interesting enough I have found that I am still able to get some carb intake through vegetables. It is therefore important to avoid sweet and starchy vegetables; fruits are also off the menu on these days. It’s important to ensure that you eat enough on these days as it’s very easy to under-eat when you take out carbohydrates from your meal plan which only serves to lower your metabolism. This is where foods high in fat can be of good service as they provide a high calorie content per gram. My go-to foods on zero carb days are mushrooms, broccoli, avocados, nuts and natural Greek yoghurt.
As the saying goes, the weightloss journey is 80% diet and 20% workout; carb cycling takes this into account. This method can be tailored to meet your requirements and to suit your fitness routine. While there is no calorie restriction, if you are planning to lose some body fat, you will need to know how much calories your body needs to slowly release that body fat. There are tools available online such as Myfitnesspal to help with this. Some people do not like counting calories and choose to use portion control instead. This too, is a good method.
You can do it!
The weightloss journey can be an adventure on self discovery. It will test your mindset, it will question what really matters to you and it will encourage you to put yourself first and prioritise those things necessary for a heathy lifestyle. Working on these areas will encourage you to choose the right foods; you won’t do it all the time, but you will do it more often than before until they become the main choices.
Renewed confidence, belief in myself and an enhanced positive perspective on life have been the unexpected benefits for me. And interestingly, they reinforced my determination to keep going; a gift that keeps on giving. With the internet literally at our fingertips, healthy and most importantly, delicious meals are a search away. There are many people documenting their journeys on social media sites and they provide a great source of healthy meals you can adopt. A lot of fitness experts and nutritionists also post their meals online and these are worth adopting.
Make the decision, you’re worth it!
Red peppers stuffed with mince, topped with feta cheese; served with creamy mushroom and kale.