You've likely opened up this blog thinking it can't possibly be true. For years you've been told carbohydrates are the pinnacle of nutritional evil, and eating too much of them will result in unwanted body fat. But the truth plays out much differently than that. In fact, carbohydrates play an important role in ensuring we stay on track with our diets, have enough energy, and end up losing the fat we're here to get rid of. Thanks to the findings of science, this article explains how to strategically binge on carbohydrates and still lose body fat.

Are carbohydrates bad? How to make them help you lose weight

Tell me if this sounds familiar: you "cut out carbs" because you're worried they make fat. You don't know how many calories you should eat a day, nor how many you are eating. So you just cut out carbs and cross your fingers.

Then you get invited to somewhere like a friend's birthday and are forced into eating their luscious cake. And the taste carries you away to some unfamiliar land of pleasure that has you looking for the next slice. Then the next. Then the bingeing starts.

And. You. Can't. Stop.

That's because depriving yourself of a significant amount of calories (like cutting out carbohydrates) results in a vicious energy gap that your body will fight you to make up for (1).

Of course, you can ensure you're in a 20% calorie deficit for fat loss via a ketogenic diet (only eating fat and protein and next to no carbs) but most people don't persist with a ketogenic diet because they enjoying eating carbohydrates.

Moreover, NOT eating carbohydrates doesn't make you lose more weight if you're in a healthy 20% calorie deficit.

When scientists test various subjects on different diets with higher or lower fat or carbohydrate intake, the fat loss results are the same (2). Here's exactly what I mean:

Thomas needs to eat 1700 calories to be in a 20% calorie deficit for healthy fat loss.

Thomas's daily macronutrient breakdown INCLUDING carbohydrates

Protein: 170 grams (x 4 = total calories, which is 680 calories)

Fat: 60 grams (x 9 = total calories, which is 540 calories)

Carbs: 120 grams ( x 4 = total calories, which is 480).

TOTAL = 1700 calories.

Thomas's daily Ketogenic Diet approach: 

Protein: 170 grams (x 4 = total calories, which is 680 calories)

Fat: 105 grams (x 9 = total calories, which is 945 calories)

Carbs: 18 grams ( x 4 = total calories, which is 75). 

TOTAL = 1700 calories.

Both equal 1700 calories, but one doesn't result in more fat loss than the other (2,3).

And not only do you NOT need to cut out carbohydrates for efficient weight loss but eating them to fuel your workouts provides better energy (ATP) than having a diet high in fat (4).

So now you know you can eat carbohydrates daily, guilt-free. And sometimes, you can "binge" on them guilt-free, too. Here's how:

Carbohydrates for fat loss: How a "Refeed" day helps you lose belly fat

Are carbs bad for you

When you reduce calories you'll notice after some time you start lacking energy; simply walking anywhere is a chore. This is due to a drop in your leptin levels (5,6), a protein that also acts as the body's appetite-controlling hormone (7). This hormone exists to preserve our energy; it kept cavemen alive by signalling them to stop travelling to preserve body fat for fuel when there was no food available.

So increasing leptin is the goal when we're trying to lose weight, because who wants to feel like they're starving when trying to eat less?

So, guess how we increase leptin?

By eating LOTS of carbohydrates!

Carbohydrates are the most effective in boosting leptin levels (8). Whilst leptin may only be boosted within a 5-10 hour time frame by doing this (9), this strategy also allows us to:

1. Mentally have a break from our diet and avoid a harmful binge

2. Feel fuller thus keeping our diet on track

3. Replenish stored carbohydrates in our muscles (called glycogen) to supercharge future workouts (10).

Setting up your refeed day for continual fat loss

Whilst there are no iron-clad guidelines at the time of writing, the following will help you understand how often you need a refeed day:

MEN: 10 percent body fat or more = ONE refeed day every 2 weeks

WOMEN: 20 percent body fat or more = ONE refeed day every 2 weeks.

And if you're LESS than 10 percent body fat regardless of gender, then start with one refeed day per week and adjust from there.

Remember: the above is just a guide. If you think you need more, then go ahead. But just remember to not go overboard as a calorie surplus consistently hinders your weight loss efforts.

With that being said, your dietary fat intake will need to be reduced significantly due to refeed days (as fat doesn't bolster leptin levels [11]), and your carbohydrates (again, there are no established guidelines) will be calculated as follows:

Step 1: Double your carbohydrate intake

Step 2: Set fat intake at just 30 grams per day

Step 3: Reduce protein by 30 grams

Real-world example:

Ashley eats 100 grams of carbohydrates per day on her weight loss diet.

Step 1: 100 grams of carbohydrates x 2 = 200 grams of carbohydrates.

Step 2: Ashley eats only 30 grams of fat.

Step 3: Normally eating 160 grams of protein, Ashley will eat 130 grams.

So Ashley's macronutrient intake on a refeed day would be:

Protein = 130 grams

Fat = 30 grams

Carbohydrates = 200 grams

The key is to remember to keep your dietary fat intake low. So you'll need carbohydrate sources high in carbohydrates and low in fat. These include:

- Pikelets

- Maple syrup

- Potatoes

- Rice

- Bread

- Low-fat pastas

This information is why scientists and experts laugh when people try and blame carbohydrates for weight gain, and paint them to be the big evil of our diets.

So now that you know the truth, enjoy your carbohydrates, and your ongoing fat loss results! 

References

(1) Maclean PS, Bergouignan A, Cornier MA, Jackman MR. Biology's response to dieting: the impetus for weight regain. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2011 Sep;301(3):R581-600. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00755.2010. Epub 2011 Jun 15. PMID: 21677272; PMCID: PMC3174765.
(2) Sacks FM, Bray GA, Carey VJ, Smith SR, Ryan DH, Anton SD, McManus K, Champagne CM, Bishio LM, Laranjo N, Leboff MS, Roos JC, de Jonge L, Greenway FL, Loria CM, Obarzanek E, Williamson DA. Comparison of weight-loss diets with different compositions of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. N Eng J Med. 2009 Feb 26;360(9): 859-73. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa0804748.
(3) Yang MU, Van Itallie TB. Composition of weight lost during short-term weight reduction. Metabolic responses of obese subjects to starvation and low-calorie ketogenic and nonketogenic diets. J Clin Invest. 1976;58(3):722-730. doi:10.1172/JCI108519
(4) Brosnan JT. Comments on metabolic needs for glucose and the role of gluconeogenesis. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1999 Apr;53 Suppl 1:S107-11. doi: 10.1038/sj.ejcn.1600748. PMID: 10365987.
(5) Arne Astrup, Peter C Gøtzsche, Karen van de Werken, Claudia Ranneries, Søren Toubro, Anne Raben, Benjamin Buemann, Meta-analysis of resting metabolic rate in formerly obese subjects, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 69, Issue 6, June 1999, Pages 1117–1122, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/69.6.1117
(6) Morton GJ, Cummings DE, Baskin DG, Barsh GS, Schwartz MW. Central nervous system control of food intake and body weight. Nature. 2006 Sep 21;443(7109):289-95. doi: 10.1038/nature05026. PMID: 16988703.

(7) Eriksson J, Valle T, Lindström J, Haffner S, Louheranta A, Uusitupa M, Tuomilehto J. Leptin concentrations and their relation to body fat distribution and weight loss--a prospective study in individuals with impaired glucose tolerance. DPS-study group. Horm Metab Res. 1999 Nov;31(11):616-9. doi: 10.1055/s-2007-978807. PMID: 10598830.

(8) Dirlewanger M, di Vetta V, Guenat E, Battilana P, Seematter G, Schneiter P, Jéquier E, Tappy L. Effects of short-term carbohydrate or fat overfeeding on energy expenditure and plasma leptin concentrations in healthy female subjects. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2000 Nov;24(11):1413-8. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0801395. PMID: 11126336.

(9) Kolaczynski JW, Ohannesian JP, Considine RV, Marco CC, Caro JF. Response of leptin to short-term and prolonged overfeeding in humans. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1996 Nov;81(11):4162-5. doi: 10.1210/jcem.81.11.8923877. PMID: 8923877.

(10) Brooks GA, Mercier J. Balance of carbohydrate and lipid utilization during exercise: the "crossover" concept. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1994 Jun;76(6):2253-61. doi: 10.1152/jappl.1994.76.6.2253. PMID: 7928844.

(11) Dirlewanger M, di Vetta V, Guenat E, Battilana P, Seematter G, Schneiter P, Jéquier E, Tappy L. Effects of short-term carbohydrate or fat overfeeding on energy expenditure and plasma leptin concentrations in healthy female subjects. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2000 Nov;24(11):1413-8. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0801395. PMID: 11126336.