Want to Eat Carbs and Still Lose Weight? Here’s How to Carb Responsibly

Losing weight right now seems to only be focused around one thing: cutting carbs. But for a lot of people (and especially women), eliminating carbohydrates so drastically from their overall diet can actually make weight loss more difficult, and cause other uncomfortable side effects like headaches and hormone imbalance. 

From keto to carnivore, carbs seem to earn a bad reputation, but the research actually says that using carbohydrates in the right way can help you lose more weight and keep it off, especially if you’ve struggled to maintain weight loss in the past. Carbs are an important macronutrient, so here’s how to use them wisely to increase weight loss.

The Good Carbs vs. The Bad Carbs for Weight Loss

You can lose weight while still eating carbohydrates. It’s true that processed foods like french fries and pizza are high in carbohydrates, and these foods can definitely set you back on your weight loss journey if you eat them too often. But other kinds of carbohydrates like minimally processed grains, vegetables, and fruits provide nutrient-dense energy, plus vitamins, and phytonutrients that can actually help you lose weight.

While most of us know someone who’s had success with low-carb weight loss, for a lot of us it’s not a sustainable option in the long term.

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The Right Carbs Can Actually Help You Lose Weight (and Live Longer!)

So what happens when you eat carbohydrates? Real-world experience and a lot of research suggests that you’d lose weight easier (and be able to keep it off), have more energy, happier hormones, and mental clarity. Sounds like a win-win situation for your body and your taste buds. 

In fact, in one large-scale study from Harvard School of Public Health, researchers tracked 15,000 Americans and found that people eating a moderate amount of carbs had a lower risk of dying over a 25-year period. This is compared to people who ate either low-carb diets, or high-carb diets (1). 

Clearly, way too much, or way too few carbohydrates can both be harmful, but one co-author states that the quality of carbs, fats, and proteins matters the most. Another study backs this up as well when they found that overweight people who increased their carb and fiber intake–with vegetables and fruits–lose weight and improved blood sugar balance (2). 

Keeping blood sugar levels balanced is important to maintain healthy insulin levels–a key hormone involved in weight loss especially for those with PCOS. 

In any case, you don’t have to completely cut out carbs to lose weight, and here’s what works to help most women lose weight. 

Eat protein and fat with carbohydrates

This does two things: it satisfies your appetite so you’ll be likely to eat less, and keeps insulin levels lower–and studies suggest this could help you lose weight a lot easier (3). 

Adding protein and healthy fats to carbohydrate foods like brown rice or beans reduces its glycemic index. The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly blood sugar levels rise after eating a food. Generally, the starchier the food, the faster blood sugar levels rise, which can make it harder to lose weight. 

One study published in Nutrition Journal found that participants who ate half an avocado with lunch reported a 40% decrease in desire to eat for 4 hours afterwards. They also reported feeling more satisfied for 3 hours following the meal (4).

Complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, quinoa, or steel-cut oats tend to score lower on the glycemic index scale, but you can lower this even more by rounding out your meal with protein and fat. 

RELATED: 6 Easy PCOS Diet Recipes

Choose fiber-rich carbs

Fiber found in whole-food sources of carbohydrates, like beans, legumes, or sweet potatoes helps you feel full faster, and may make it easier to lose weight. Research suggests that adding fiber to a well-rounded diet can help slow digestion and reduce insulin spikes (5). This keeps you in fat-burning mode longer, and satisfies your appetite quicker. 

Women need about 25 grams of fiber per day (and men 38 grams), but most people don’t eat even half of their daily fiber recommendation. One reason is that even though we eat plenty of carbs, most of them aren’t from whole-food sources like vegetables, fruits, or minimally processed grains.

Vegetables and low-sugar fruits are the best sources of fiber. They’re also packed with anti-inflammatory compounds and micronutrients. Some of the higher-fiber fruits and veggies include:

  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Avocado
  • Greens like kale, chard, and spinach
  • Fennel
  • Zucchini
  • Cabbage, red and green
  • Peppers
  • Raspberries
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Strawberries

In addition to adding more fiber, a scoop of Belly Fix in your morning smoothie can help support digestion and weight loss goals.

Eat more antioxidants

Another way you can lose weight while still eating carbohydrates is to eat more antioxidant foods. The main antioxidant found in green tea and matcha, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), has been shown in animal studies to regulate hunger and fullness hormones, in addition to blunting sharp blood sugar spikes (6). This makes it less likely you’ll store body fat, and could help with weight loss. 

Antioxidant polyphenols in berries are also a great way to eat more of these inflammation and insulin-balancing nutrients. The Journal of Nutrition found eating about a cup of strawberries alongside a slice of white bread decreased the insulin response 36% compared with those who didn’t eat berries with their bread (7). 

Foods with high antioxidant contents:

  • Green tea, or matcha tea
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Dark chocolate
  • Artichoke
  • Goji berries
  • Broccoli, lightly steamed

If you’re working out, don’t undereat

The biggest mistake women often make when starting an exercise routine to lose weight is undereating foods–carbohydrates included! If you’re working out, your body needs a certain amount of protein and calories in order to regulate weight.

Here’s how it works: If you’re undereating, your body tries to conserve energy and will direct what calories it has toward necessary functions for survival.

You’ll burn fewer calories (even if you’re exercising), and you’ll hold on to more body fat despite eating a low-calorie diet. Plus, when you don’t eat enough, your body reduces thyroid hormones, shuts down sex hormone production, and pumps out stress hormones like cortisol (8,9).

The bottom line: If you’re not losing weight while working out, you might need to eat more–especially proteins and healthy carbohydrates.

Do light cardio before breakfast

Getting in a cardio workout before your first meal of the day might be a great way to help you lose weight faster. How does this happen? Light exercise in a fasted state (i.e. before breakfast) burns almost 20% more fat compared to working out after you’ve eaten (10). 

Why? Carbohydrates are stored in your muscles as glycogen, and are the primary source of fuel for most exercise. But overnight, muscle glycogen stores become depleted, so your body will default to breaking down more fat for fuel before you break your fast. But if you eat before you exercise, your workout routine will focus primarily on burning up the stored glycogen, which suppresses fat metabolism by up to 22% (11). 

Do I have to cut out carbs to lose belly fat?

If you’re having a hard time losing weight–especially belly fat, there may be a few underlying causes. 

Insulin resistance – Insulin is a fat storage hormone. When it’s high, you’re more likely to store body fat, contributing to weight gain. Insulin resistance can happen as a result of inflammation or a poor diet. It’s important to work with a qualified provider and improve your diet if you suspect insulin dysregulation.

Digestive imbalance – Bacterial imbalances, such as SIBO or Candida overgrowth can cause inflammation and insulin dysregulation. They can also worsen symptoms like bloating and gas.

Hormone imbalancepolycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), perimenopause, or other hormone shifts can affect your body’s ability to lose or gain weight. Losing weight if you have PCOS can be challenging, but it is possible. If you suspect a thyroid issue, it’s important you get checked out by your doctor to address anything more serious.

Losing Weight with Carbohydrates

Going low-carb helps some people lose weight, but it’s not always the right choice for everyone.  If you want to eat carbs and still lose weight, it’s important to choose the right kind of carbohydrate. This helps many women lose weight on moderate carb diets.  

The best carbohydrates for weight loss are nutrient-dense, fiber-rich foods like vegetables, legumes, and natural grains that can help you lose more weight, and keep it off. Healthy carbs work to stabilize hunger and fullness hormones, satisfy your appetite, and keep you in fat-burning mode longer. 

When you’re ready to lose weight, focus on a whole-foods diet with healthy fats and proteins, and rich in vegetables and healthy carbs. 

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  1. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/eat-moderate-amount-of-carbs-for-health/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6165066
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1490021/
  4. https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-12-155 
  5. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/148/1/7/4823705 
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3948786/ 
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23365108/ 
  8. https://academic.oup.com/humrep/article/25/9/2328/2915610
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3014770/
  10. British Journal of Nutrition, Volume 110, Issue 4, 28 August 2013, pp. 721 – 732. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114512005582 
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10329975/