A Low Carb Diet is a Terrible Way to Lose Weight

If calorie counting is the best way to lose weight, a low-carb diet is by far the worst.

In making that determination, I didn’t include the fringe and obscure gimmicks and fad diets, only the mainstream big boys.  I also didn’t include any diets that are good for other general health reasons, like low cholesterol diets. The low carb diet and its many successful commercial programs are just designed to sell a few products.  Sure, you can lose weight by counting carbs, but unless you plan on never eating a bowl of pasta again and think you can live on the diet “forever,” then I’d consider trying something else.

Something else like eating less and moving around, known as counting calories.

The reason people can, have, and will lose weight by counting carbs and following low-carb diets is that it’s just essentially counting calories, without actually calling it that.  Your typical foods that are high in carbs (pasta, pizza, french bread, etc) are also high in calories.  So, when someone eliminates those foods from their meals, they’re also subsequently decreasing their calories.  When someone does lose weight following a low-carb diet, carbs are hailed the key to success and not calories.

I’m sure if they ate 4,000 calories a day and no carbs they’d lose weight, too — right?

I will concede that limiting your carb intake (but not to the level of a low-carb diet) is a good idea if you have 5 pounds, 10 pounds, or maybe even 15 pounds left to lose, but anything greater than that and you just need to count calories.

And actually, I lied.  Low-carb diets aren’t the worst way to lose weight (by themselves).  Low-carb is tied with The Raw Food Diet as the worst way to lose weight.  I just thought it was obvious The Raw Food Diet was a terrible idea.

23 thoughts on “A Low Carb Diet is a Terrible Way to Lose Weight”

  1. you know what the best way to lose weight is? the one that works for you. I’m glad you found yours. I also missed any scientific references to your assertion that the low-carb diet is the WORST way to lose weight. If you do some research, you will see that for losing weight and keeping it off it seems that low-carb diets actually do work and work generally better than most alternatives. If you feel like testing your beliefs against facts, give Gary Taubes new book a read. I doubt you will and frankly, why bother? You lost your weight and so far, you have kept it off for one whole year.

    Now we can go back to all of the examples of why the low-carb diet is the WORST way to lose weight. Because anecdotal examples are what really matter.

    1. My way works for everyone — eating less and exercising. It’s sad to see that advertisements and marketing have really made people doubt that that fact.

      1. Who is doubting that your method works? You are living proof that it does.

        The question was how did you come to the conclusion that Low-Carb was the WORST way to lose weight. Your success with counting calories and doing massive amounts of cardio does not really answer the question of what problems you have with low carb.

  2. The low carb diet is unhealthy and not the best way to lose weight. People need carbohydrates to burn, to get energy and fiber from. As a diabetic Type 1 I could not do the Atkins diet or I’d die; but putting your body in a ketoacidosis state is not smart.

    Counting calories is the best way to lose, eat smarter.

  3. I knew a guy who did low-carb for a while. He lost weight fast but he said he felt horrible all the time. He said he has absolutely no energy, was irritable all the time and had a general feeling of being ill all the time. He also looked bad too; you could tell that whatever he was doing, it wasn’t healthy. He was the poster-child for why not to do low-carb diets.

  4. Eh, not an impressive post. I do NOT recommend the low-carb diet, either, but your description of it is woefully ignorant. It is not a low-calorie diet in disguise, because carbs aren’t the only high-calorie food.. meat and fat are high-calorie too, and that’s precisely what low-carbers eat a ton of.

    Throwing the raw food diet in is ridiculous, too, as I’ve never heard of anyone who ate raw because they were trying to lose weight. Just people who believe it’s a healthy lifestyle and intend on maintaining it.

    1. The Raw Food Diet is marketed as a being conductive to weight loss — I saw a “salesman” trying to pitch it on the local news around Christmas.

      “Ton” = less than the calories they need everyday.

      1. Actually, after thinking about this for awhile, I think your assertion (that the reason people lose weight on low carb is that they are cutting high calorie foods) isn’t true.

        Per gram, fat has 9 kcal. Carbs have 4 kcal per gram. So fat is more calorie-dense than carbs.

        Now, if you’re comparing to a healthy version of low carb (closely resembling the early parts of South Beach) then your assertion is true. But compared to Atkins (which suggests eggs, meat, etc., regardless of fat content) then your assertion isn’t true.

        I think the fact that low carb works is much more related to the process explained in the link I posted above.

  5. How many people do you know that can stick to low-carb for over 2 years? Basically nobody does.

    Whereas at the National Weight Loss Registry, all the people who have kept off the weight count calories and almost always eat low fat.

    Just the facts.

  6. Actually, I lost over 50 pounds doing Atkins and I kept it off over 6 years. The main reason that I gained weight back is that I stopped exercising 4-5 days a week because I herniated a disc.

    It is not a bad diet. I actually felt a lot better eating that way than eating a low fat diet. And you do, in fact get a lot of energy and fiber from vegetables and fruit. You just do not eat refined carbohydrates. I do not even eat very much meat, since I only eat fish and chicken occasionally. Just as Michael Pollen states, you should “eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

    I second the recommendation to Gary Taubes new book. It is a very interesting and useful read.

      1. Thanks Tyler.
        You are right though…Counting calories and exercise is important. I always try to write down what I eat because it is a great tool to teach you what your habits are. For example, I have an extreme latte/espresso addiction. I can easily drink 3 skim lattes in a day, without thought. By tracking my meals, I became aware that those lattes were both a lot of calories and something that I did far too often. I have been trying to only have one a day and if I want something else, I just get a plain cup of coffee.

  7. Here I am with my wife and two kids, 29 years old, 315 lbs, with diabetes, hypertension, and triglycerides sky high. My doctor has me counting carbs and limits me to 60g per meal, 30g per snack, and 3 of each per day to keep sugar low and even. It isn’t easy to do that, let alone eat less calories than I need to maintain weight. One thing I have noticed is that when I do eat carb heavy foods like pizza, chips, and french fries, I get strong cravings for more right then and there. If I moderate like the doctor says, I seem to do well without. I try to fill in with a little more protein, nuts, and lots of vegetables. The diabetic plate is 1/4 protein, 1/4 carbs, and half vegetables. Carb counting plus calorie counting can be a winning combination, especially for type 2 diabetics. Perhaps one day I’ll be off the pills and fit in normal clothing again by doing this.

    1. I definitely don’t pretend to think X way is better if you have certain dietary conditions, like you do. If your doctor prescribed something, in this case counting carbs, then by all means that’s the best way for you.

      You’ll get that high blood pressure under control in no time, keep up the good work.

      1. I’m thankful for your work here Tyler. You’ve helped a lot of people with it, including me. I’m also thankful that you got your eating under control before you had diabetes. You’ve taught me that to make progress I just need to make gradual lifestyle changes that I can stick with forever. I don’t worry as much about it on the weekends and I treat each day as a new battle.

        Here’s the problem with diabetes: The more carb heavy food I eat the more it destroys my body. It isn’t just my waistline either. The sugar is actually damaging my kidneys, pancreas, etc and eventually will destroy my eyes. High blood pressure is known as the silent killer. My triglycerides are so high they can’t even test my LDL cholesterol, meaning it is through the roof and inflammation is out of control. I’m a 29 year old train wreck…

        …but I’m working on that. Since I started working on this prescribed diabetic diet I’ve discovered just how carb laden our foods are. Ignoring salads, there is really not a combo I can order at Wendy’s. The bun alone has so much that I can’t even hit the small chili (yes I know I can throw out the bread). Forget the fries. Forget McDonald’s. I can have Taco Bell crunchy tacos though. I’m working around the limitations imposed on my previous diet by bringing more lunches to work and cooking more healthy dinners like stir fry and fish. It decreases sodium, excessive carbs, and increases vitamins and fiber. 60g of carbs isn’t what I’d consider a low carb diet, but when compared to a typical fast food lunch it seems low. I consider that a good thing for my waistline. Bottom line: We should all strive to eat less crap and eat more nutritious foods.

  8. The reason why I like these posts is because they take courage. TO say the best and worst on anything is kind of bold in the weight loss world. Being vague is much easier.
    A “low carb” diet can go either way.I think that limiting processed foods and going a little heavier on fibrous fruits and vegetables works well. I think when people say “low carb” they think Atkins, and I have met some people who have been successful on the plan.
    The raw food diet is a little rough. I did it and was unsuccessful a while ago. I made those “Green Lemonade” drinks that were gross. But, there are people who still do it to this day.
    Keep up the good work. You will have people who love how bold you are, and people not so much. But either way, it is enjoyable to read.

  9. There’s the thing called a general truism and there’s how it works for you. You’re exactly right that it’s the lifestyle change that makes the difference. A junkie doesn’t go into rehab and get his health back just so he can hit the smack again with greater vigor. Someone who does a boot camp sadism route to starve and exercise back down to fighting weight is just going to balloon back up when that enforced structure is gone. It’s something imposed on them, not something they owned as a personal conviction. The lifestyle you can’t stick with is useless for you, no matter how many others may find success with it.

    One of the “depends on the person” details is a carb addiction. My mom has this big time. If she eats the wrong processed foods, it screws with her sense of satiety. Her internal fuel gauge tells her she’s starving even if she’s eaten thanksgiving dinner. It’s impossible to feel that kind of gnawing hunger and not overeat. She eats the right foods, those symptoms go away.

    There’s also the question of how calories interact. Not every calorie is made equal though in a strictly calorie counting sense, that’s true!

    http://nutrition.about.com/b/2010/11/08/twinkie-diet.htm

    Ate only junk food, ate less than he needed for his activity level, lost weight. But I’m sure his body was sorely lacking for all the micronutrients.

    1. The Twinkie Diet! Now, we’re talking.

      Seriously, this points out that most any program or diet will help you reduce your weight in the short term and, if you stick with it, may even help you keep the weight off in the long term, as some of the commenters suggested.

      However, the real magic formula is “Eat Less and Exercise More” and you have to be able to do that over the long run. This means building habits of taking in less calories and burning more than you eat. Habits like counting calories and exercising.

      For me, that’s a hard enough plan to follow. I’m used to eating what I want, when I want. The fact that the Adkins fad has lost favor and it has become obvious that “non-fat” or “low fat” foods in the super market still pack on the weight when you eat enough of them should be evidence enough that it’s not exactly what you eat but how much that counts.

  10. To each his own-but I think your post is a little ignorant.

    You don’t even really define Low Carb-and alot of your readers look like they are assuming you mean “no carb”.

    I limit my carbs to 80-100 grams per day and it works perfectly for me. I keep it off too.

    Good luck with the rest of your journey. I will enjoy my low carb one!

  11. PS In your Jan pic at the top, arms are really filling in! That’s the same thing I’m looking for, looking fit in a short-sleeve shirt instead of podgy. Getting there!

  12. I completely agree with theantijared: it depends on your definition of a low carb diet. I eat “low carb” in that I avoid pasta/bread/potatoes/etc for the most part, and tend to eat them as a treat or the night before I run a marathon. However, I eat tons of fruits and veggies, which are also high carb and my understanding is that those are forbidden in the early stages of Atkins (arguably the most famous of the low carb diets; I’ve never actually tried it though).

    I think it does kind of work by restricting your calories… but as I’ve posted before, I also don’t think you’ll get healthy by JUST counting calories if you’re not paying attention the nutrition of what you’re eating. Sure, you could lose weight by eating just a bag of Cheetos per day, but you’d get ridiculously unhealthy. Counting calories often narrows the focus of a food to just the caloric content, which I feel strongly is NOT the way to teach people to eat healthfully. Anecdotally, I counted calories strictly for a year, and found it much easier to lose weight when I had a general idea of the calories/nutrients in the foods I was eating but didn’t actually log/count what I ate.

    If people don’t want to put the work in and are just looking for a simple rule to follow, I think going low carb is a good one, because it cuts out a lot of the junk food (meaning low nutritional value, not just candy/chips – I would include white bread/pasta/etc in this group) that people regularly eat.

  13. How do Italians handle pasta successfully? I know part of the problem is that American portions are extra huge and restaurant cooking skews towards larding on the fats and the evil. But it is possible to eat healthy pasta with smaller portions and the right ingredients on top, just like the Italians, right?

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