If you’ve ever tried cutting down on carbs, you already know how much they can affect your body and your energy levels. You may also have discovered the huge but subtle role carbs play in your mood, your cravings, and your relationship with food in general.
If you’re thinking about cutting down on carbs, you should know that carbs affect all of us a little differently. There’s no hard-and-fast rule about the right amount to include in your diet. Experimenting with different eating plans is a good way to identify the best ratios for your unique physiology.
But there are some things we can learn from the pasta-less experience of others about the role carbs play in health. Here are three essential things you need to know about cutting carbs—from people who have eliminated them from their diet completely.
1. Cutting carbs is personal.
If you’ve ever tried to cut out carbs, you don’t need an article to tell you that reducing or eliminating carbohydrates can be really, really difficult. And it’s not for everyone.
When Sabine, 31, took the keto diet for a spin, she found it extremely difficult to get in enough diverse veggies and fruit. She stuck with the keto diet for three months, but says she “ended up eating too much cheese and meat.” And for her goals, that defeated the purpose of the nutrition plan altogether.
Rachel, 26, did a 3-month candida diet that was essentially keto. For her the effects were emotional and physical. “For the first two weeks, I felt like I was going through sugar and carb withdrawal,” she says. “I was so cranky, tired, and lethargic,” she says. She completed the program, but went back to eating carbs in moderation.
Rufus, a 27-year-old an avid gym-goer noticed a dip in energy while in ketosis. For him, this was especially true in the beginning as his body got acclimated. This can be temporary or happen just occasionally. Or, you can feel like your body never actually adjusts to the low-carb fitness life. As Rufus explains: “My body simply performs better when it’s been fed carbs. I recover faster, require less rest time, and see more linear strength gains.”
2. Cutting carbs is a reliable way to lose weight.
While it’s always best to focus on changing your long-term habits to maintain a healthy weight, cutting carbs is effective.
“I was surprised how reliably it worked to hit an aggressive goal weight,” says Jake, a 28-year-old former college rower who needed to lose a few pounds to meet a weight qualification for a race. “If I didn’t fall off the plan, I definitely saw the results.”
He did, however, worry about maintaining the weight loss after the diet was over. And his worries aren’t unfounded; the majority of people who lose weight gain it back. There is, however, research suggesting that if you’ve already lost weight, a low-carb diet is more effective at helping you keep it off than a moderate- or high-carb diet.
3. Not all carbs are created equal.
Like protein, carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram. But our bodies metabolize the calories in carbs more rapidly than those found in fats and proteins. We transform carbs into glucose, which provides a quick hit of energy. If you’ve ever made it through the 3 p.m. slump with the help of a sugar-filled coffee drinks, you’ve seen this in action.
But a carb is not a carb is not a carb. And sure, a cupcake may sound tempting, but what you really want are complex carbs. Complex carbs also give you instant energy. But rather than following that boost up with a crash like that cupcake would, they sustain you for hours.
As Rachel explains it: “If I have some healthy carbs — like sweet potato or quinoa — in the morning and at lunch, I’m my happiest, most energized self.”