Carbs, Weight Loss and You

Carb Coma 300x201 Carbs, Weight Loss and You

You might not handle carbs well if this is you.

Often times, after finding out I’m a personal trainer, people will ask me, “What should I eat to lose weight?”  Before I have a chance to answer, they’re usually telling me what they eat.  As I listen the inevitable question comes up, “How many carbs should I be eating?”  For some reason when they ask this question, they stop talking and wait for an answer.

This question though is not the easiest to answer because some people can handle carbs really well.  Others can’t.  This article will highlight the differences between people that can handle carbs well versus those that can’t, while giving you some strategies to find out if you handle them well.

Insulin and Your Ability to Handle Carbs

First, let’s talk about insulin.  Insulin is basically a storage hormone.  The more sensitive you are to insulin, the more you can utilize the energy from eating carbs.  Whereas if you’re insulin resistant, you have a hard time utilizing that energy.

Insulin Sensitive People handle carbs well:  When insulin sensitive people eat carbs they feel better and have more energy afterwards.  The extra carbs they eat get stored in their muscle or liver, primarily.  Eating carbs for these people can benefit them when trying to lose weight.

Insulin Resistant People don’t handle carbs well:  They get a sugar rush and then get tired or crash after they eat carbs.  These people often tend to store the extra carbs as fat.  Anyone with high Hba1c levels, high blood sugar or are Type II Diabetic are insulin resistant.  Eating carbs when trying to lose weight hurts their efforts.

So what does this have to do with you and weight loss?  Glad you asked.

Insulin Sensitivity, Carbs and Weight Loss

One research study on overweight women showed how insulin sensitivity and the amount of carbs eaten can play huge factor in weight loss (1).  There were four groups as seen in the picture below:

Weight Loss Changes Insulin Sensitivity and Carb Load small1 Carbs, Weight Loss and You

IS = Insulin Sensitive (should be good at handling carbs)
IR = Insulin Resistant (are not good at handling carbs)
HC/LF = High Carbs/Low Fat
LC/HF = Low Carbs/High Fat

As the results show, those who “matched” their carb intake to their insulin sensitivity lost much more weight than those who didn’t.

These numbers are in kilograms, so the average weight loss was between 24-25 pounds for the “matching” groups (low carbs for the insulin resistant and high carbs for the insulin sensitive).  Contrast this with just 13-15 pounds for the “non-matching” groups (high carbs and insulin resistant and low carbs and insulin sensitive).  Overall, that’s nearly double the weight loss, despite the same amount of calories being consumed.  This was done just by “matching” the amount of carbs in the diet with one’s insulin sensitivity.

Finding Your Insulin Sensitivity 

So now that you’ve seen the research, your job is to discover whether or not you’re insulin sensitive.  There are blood tests and glucose challenge tests that you can take along with at-home stuff you can try, but one of the easiest is to ask yourself 3 questions:

A – Are you relatively lean or overweight?  If you’re overweight, you’re at a much higher chance of being insulin resistant.  If you’re lean, you still might be insulin resistant, but the odds are in your favor for being insulin sensitive.

B – Do you have more consistent mental focus after a high carb meal?  If you do, then you might handle carbs well (insulin sensitive).  If on the other hand, you get a rush followed by a crash, you might not handle carbs well, even if you’re lean (insulin resistant).

C – Are your cravings decreased the rest of the day after a high carb meal?*  With me, if I eat a high carb meal for lunch by 3 o’clock I’m starving and want to eat everything in sight.  If on the other hand, you eat a lot of rice at lunch and are not hungry again til 6 or 7 without any intense cravings, you might be insulin sensitive.

Therefore, if you have more consistent energy with less cravings after a high carb meal, you are probably insulin sensitive and could probably eat more carbs.  If you’re lean along with those factors, then you can almost guarantee that you’re insulin sensitive.

On the other hand, if you have more cravings and crash after a high carb meal, you should probably avoid them for the most part.  If you’re overweight or obese and feel that crash, then you are more than likely insulin resistant.

*A quick side note:  Cravings have to do with a couple of different factors, but if you’re not eating enough protein, regardless of carbs or fat eaten, it will almost be impossible to control those cravings.  

Your Individualized Diet

If you’re insulin sensitive: Consider adding more carbs to your diet (1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight), while having a minimum amount of fat (about 35 grams per day) and eating more protein if you’re trying to lose weight.

If you’re insulin resistant:  Minimize carb intake to 100 grams a day or less, eat more protein and healthy fats (avocados, raw nuts, eggs, grass-fed butter and meats, coconut oil).

The key to both diets is to have a lot of protein, while adjusting your fat and carbs according to your insulin sensitivity.  If you eat those carbs, fat and protein from whole, natural food sources, then you will be well on your way to losing all of the weight that you want.

 Hat-Tip to Lyle McDonald: Insulin Sensitivity and Fat Loss

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