One of the first things people tend to do when starting a new diet is cut carbs or fats. While this method can work for some, it’s not necessary to lose weight. In fact, manipulating your carb and fat intake instead of getting rid of it all together may be better for your health. It’s also important to keep in mind that the time of day you decide to eat these foods can be an influential factor. When you take a closer look at how carbs and fats work in your body, you’ll see that these macronutrients can only help you reach your goals.

Let’s start with carbs. Carbs are a macronutrient made up of sugar, starches and fiber. Healthy carbs come from plant sources like fruit, grains and vegetables. You can also get them from more processed sources and sweet treats, so long as you keep your sugar intake under control. No matter the kind of carb, your body breaks it down the same way. Fibers go through your body undigested, mostly helping to rid your organs of toxins and keep digestion flowing.

Sugars and starches become simple sugars, and are absorbed into the bloodstream as blood glucose, according to the Mayo Clinic. Glucose is then stored in your cells with the help of insulin and released when you need energy. Whatever isn’t used up for energy is stored as fat. 

As the glucose funnels into your cells and more insulin is needed to break down your food, obviously your insulin levels are going to rise. A common misconception is that this increase in insulin will lead to fat gain after you eat. Turns out, insulin is actually a satiety hormone and makes you feel fuller longer. Carbs are only stored as fat when your body gets too much glucose all at once, which can easily be managed with a balanced diet. Insulin supplementation in diabetes patients is what has been connected to temporary weight gain as their bodies learn to process blood sugar. Researchers at Cornell University have also found that eating plenty of protein and fiber-rich vegetables with your carbs can keep insulin spikes under control.

One way to regulate glucose levels in your blood is to make sure you are burning up energy through exercise. Carbs are your body’s main fuel source so it would make sense to digest them around your workouts. There are two types of carbs you can choose from: simple and complex. Simple carbs are digested quickly and provide a quick burst of energy because of their low fiber content. Complex carbs are chalk full of healthy fiber and take more time to digest. Simple carbs come in handy on the drive to the gym, just minutes before your workout or even during your workout if you get burned out. Complex carbs are better if you have 1-4 hours to digest. If you nail down your timing of these carbs, you can make sure your getting the energy at the exact time that you need it and that there’s nothing left over to store as fat. Simple carbs include white bread, white rice, rice cakes, or sugary treats. Good complex carbs are oatmeal, brown rice and whole grains. 

Because you use up so many carbs exercising, it’s important to fill back up afterwards. Your glycogen stores get depleted, leaving you feeling the pain. Fueling up on simple carbohydrates right after your workout can make sure you are recovering properly and your muscles are soaking up everything they need to perform. 

Another alternative to cutting carbs completely, carb depletion or carb cycling. This method relies on an alternating pattern of carb intake, utilizing both high and low carb days. This strategy allows you to keep your body guessing so that you never hit a plateau in your weight loss. Oftentimes when you restrict calories for a long period of time, your body starts to hold on to everything you eat and the scale gets stuck. You’re doing all the same things you did before to drop the pounds, but all of a sudden your progress comes to a screeching halt. Carb cycling tells your body that there’s more food coming and keeps you from getting stuck in a rut. Carb cycling has been shown to help your metabolism and teach your body to continue burning fat even in a caloric deficit. 

It may come as a surprise that the recommended amount of carbs for a healthy, active person is between 225 and 325 grams. That’s over half of your daily calories and they’re part of a balanced diet for a reason. Instead of cutting out carbs completely, experts recommend sticking to plant-based carb sources that are rich in fiber and low in added sugars. 

No-carb diets wouldn’t be a trend if they didn’t work for some people, clearly they can show results, but it should only be a temporary method. Long term carb deprivation has shown negative health effects like a slower metabolism, increase in stress hormones and inability to build muscle, according to Precision Nutrition. 

Fat is also an energy source for your body, but it plays other vital roles as well. Fats help our bodies absorb vitamins and keep our hair, and skin healthy. When your doctor recommends taking a certain pill with a meal, that’s because you need fat to digest it properly. Fats should be 25-35% of your daily food intake, no matter your weight loss goals. Fats do take longer to digest so they aren’t suggested as a pre-workout snack, but that doesn’t mean they don’t serve a purpose. 

It all depends on the type of fat you’re eating. Saturated and trans fats can rev up your cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease. Unsaturated, natural fats like omega 3’s are the ones you want to prioritize. “Diet” or low-fat foods aren’t always your best bet. When fat is removed, it’s usually replaced with artificial sugars and other processed ingredients for taste.

The most consistent, scientifically proven way to lose weight is a caloric deficit. Simply eating less than your body needs to maintain itself. The way that you achieve that caloric deficit is up to you. While low-carb diets may help you drop a few pounds, you may hinder your body’s other vital processes and restrict your ability to build any muscle. It may seem simpler to just cut out carbs or fats altogether, but if you’ll just take the time to break down the nutrients of each food, you’re options will expand drastically. You don’t have to get the keto flu to slim down. As long as you track your food and time your meals for success, carbs and fats can help you pave the way to your weight loss goal. 

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Take it from me

I love my carbs. I couldn’t get through my day or my workouts without them. I plan out all my meals the night before, scheduling my carbs around the gym. I make room for all my favorites: jasmine rice, oatmeal, fruit, cereal, rice cakes, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, waffles, you name it. It’s so much easier for me to stick to a clean diet when I’m excited about my food and I get excited about carbs. Carbs are the fuel in my tank for some of my toughest workouts and help me push my limits. Low-carb diets just didn’t work for me, so I found my own method that kept me mentally and physically balanced. 

I don’t really worry about the timing of my fats throughout the day because I never eat that much at once. A few slices of avocado, a tablespoon of peanut butter or a couple ounces of cheese here and there. I also love throwing sauces or dressings on top of meals to add some taste. With the help of plenty of both carbs and fats, I’ve watched my body change for the better month after month.