I have a challenge for you to think about as we enter into the holiday season. First, why wait until New Year’s Day to watch what you eat? What if there was a way of eating that was inclusive to all foods, balanced hormone levels so you could have optimal energy and burn fat, and was totally customizable so you could enjoy your nights out eating those treats we all love? Rather than counting every morsel that goes into your mouth, or cutting out food groups and/or macronutrients, why don’t we try a little science experiment and eat the same healthy foods we love, but in a different way?
There are SO many ideas and philosophies around weight/fat loss. Carb cycling is one of those ideas, and one that I think isn’t too “out there” or impossible to do. Carbs have been the black sheep of the macronutrient family. But let’s get clear about carbs. Carbohydrates are NOT the enemy in your diet/fitness/weight loss plans. If you want to get stronger and feel energized, you need to be eating carbs! A large consumption of PROCESSED carbs (think the cookie isle at the grocery store:) will affect hormone levels, thus allowing the body to store extra fat. In order to perform at our best, and build muscle, carbs must be consumed! However, eating the right carbs at the right time is the answer in achieving long-term results you can be satisfied with.
What to eat…what to eat?!!
Carb Cycling is as easy as alternating between high carb days and low carb days. When I was at my most lean (pre-pregnancy), I was doing this and didn’t even realize it! Every other day was a big cardio day in my workout schedule, so I would be sure to start the day off with a carb heavy breakfast consisting of oatmeal, fruit, and lean protein. On the other days I would be sure to eat eggs, an omelet, or some sort of protein rich breakfast. If I planned a dinner that was mostly protein and veggie heavy, I would eat more complex carbs throughout the day knowing I had the room for them. If I was making stir-fry, or a dinner consisting of complex carbs such as brown rice, sweet potato, or pasta, I would watch my carb intake throughout the day eating more veggies, hummus, beans, nuts, or lean meat. I didn’t even realize what I was doing, but looking back I recognize that I was very thoughtful, disciplined, and prepared in my food choices, alternating high and low carbohydrate meal, and not even realizing it. And…it worked! But why does carb cycling work?
On the days you are eating a higher number or carbohydrates you are storing your calorie burning furnace so that on your lower carb days you are burning fat…lots of it! This pattern tricks your body into burning tons of calories. That’s why cheat days/meals have been proven and recommended in fat loss diets. We probably all work in a cheat meal and don’t even realize it! I know from my personal experience, the more strict I was with my diet, the harder is was to see the scale budge or the reflection in the mirror change. How frustrating! Especially when you think you are doing everything right! However, when I mindfully indulged in a date night pizza and red wine, a handful of M&Ms, or Sunday pancakes, I was looking and feeling my best! This is good news, right?!
How to get started:
Chris Powell and his wife Heidi from TV’s Extreme Weight Loss have several plans I have reviewed and feel great in recommending to you! They both are one of the many fitness pros I follow on Instagram for some #fitspo!:)
Easy Carb Cycle
Classic Carb Cycle
Turbo Carb Cycle
The Fit Cycle
Another EASY way to start this may look like:
Day 1: High Carb
Day 2: Low Carb
Day 3: High Carb
Day 4: Low Carb
Day 5: High Carb
Day 6: Low Carb
Day 7: Cheat Day
Low-75 grams or below
High Carb-150-200 grams
Be sure to take a look at each of these programs before trying one that fits you.
Carb cycling is more a hormonal stabilizing strategy than a calorie restricting one. The science of this has to do with insulin, the fat storing hormone. Insulin is released into the bloodstream and stored in the liver to be used later for fuel or for the muscles as fat storage. If we eat too many carbs we just don’t need the fuel, and the supply is stored as fat. This strategy also affects Leptin levels. Leptin (click here for a previous post on leptin), the hunger hormone, is one that science is learning more and more about these days. We can develop Leptin resistance with diets that are high in carbs and calories. If we are eating a low-carb/low-calorie diet, Leptin signals the body to be hungry, eat, slow down, and conserve. By participating in carb cycling, we are becoming Leptin sensitive rather than resistant, allowing the hormone to reset on our high and low days. Serotonin is also affected. This is our sanity hormone. Low carb diets can make you crave sugar and chocolate. (Been there!) Carb cycling regulates serotonin and helps fight cravings! Lastly, Coritsol is positively affected in this method. Excess Cortisol production and muscle catabolism is avoided. No muscle loss as which can happen in a low carb diet!
Carb cycling does require some planning, counting, and discipline. But after a while, I am sure it can become second nature in your eating style. Whether you are prepping for a special event, need to lose some lb’s, or have an itch to try something new, be sure to give this a fair shot and pay special attention to how you feel. Rate your hunger, energy, and cravings, along with weight loss and jean size changing!
I think this is a great plan of attack entering the holidays! If you know what parties and events you have coming up, you can schedule your high and low carb days accordingly!
Be sure to let me know if this is something you have tried and what you thought of it. Also, if you’d like to try it and would want me to post a sample week of what to eat, comment below and I can work on that! I also want to hear about your results once you give it a try. Who’s in for some carb cycling for the holidays?! No deprivation AND you may see some great results! Why not? Please let me know if you have specific questions regarding this challenge!