Although many people have lost weight by following a low carb diet (such as the Atkins and Zone diets), there are many potential health risks associated with following a low carb diet long term. Many people who have lost weight on these diets have had difficulty maintaining the weight loss or have regained the weight back. Below are some things to watch out for if you’re considering following a low carb diet to lose weight.
1. Initial Weight Loss is Mainly Water
Many people who follow low carb diets will initially lose weight at a rapid pace. However, the weight loss is mainly water and is quickly regained when a person eats normally again. Carbohydrate stored in your body (glycogen) holds water, and when you deplete your body’s glycogen stores, you lose water as well. Much of the weight lost on a low carb diet is not from fat, as is desired by most people who are dieting.
2. Difficult to Maintain Diet Long Term
Many people who have had success with a low carb diet end up going back to their old eating habits, since the diet is extremely hard to follow long term. Many of our favorite foods contain carbohydrate (bread, pasta, rice, and fruit). When your body is deficient in a nutrient, it tends to crave that nutrient, making it harder to resist those favorite high carbohydrate foods. When normal amounts of carbohydrates are consumed again, the lost weight is quickly regained.
3. Unpleasant Side Effects
Because your body requires carbohydrates to function properly, there are a number of unpleasant side effects associated with low carb diets. These may include dizziness, nausea, headaches, bad breath, problems sleeping and lack of energy. Since exercise is a key ingredient to maintaining a healthy weight long term, lack of energy and muscle glycogen make it extremely difficult adhere to an exercise program.
4. Potential Long Term Health Problems
Low carb diets are high in protein and fat, which could lead to health problems. Since your kidneys have to work hard extra hard to excrete excess protein consumed, there is an increased risk for kidney problems. Eating a diet that is high in fat could cause problems for your heart if you’re eating large amounts of saturated fat.
5. Other Diets Are More Successful
The reason that people lose weight on low carb diets is they end up eating fewer calories due to lack of variety of food choices the diet offers. Healthier diets are available (such as the DASH diet) that have been successful with weight loss and keeping the weight off long term. A healthy diet consists of daily calories coming from 55-60% carbohydrate, 25-30% fat and 15-20% protein. The bottom line is that if you eat fewer calories, you will lose weight. If those calories come from a variety of healthy foods, you can lose weight, stay healthy and feel good. Weight loss and maintenance are a result of lifestyle changes, so pick a weight management program you can stick to for a life time.