How Low is Too Low Carb?

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Written By

Lauryn

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Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

How low is too low carb?

So you decided to give this whole “real food” thing a try.

You cut out the grains. The dairy. The sugar. The alcohol.

And you were left with a lot of simple foods:

Meat. Veggies. Oils. Avocados. Nuts. Seeds.

And you felt so much better…at least initially.

You decreased your inflammation. Gas and bloating symptoms seemed to subside. The extra pounds were falling off. And everyone told you your skin was glowing.

However, a few months in to your new protocol…You hit a wall.

As if from out of nowhere, all of a sudden your workouts seemed a lot harder to get through, you found yourself wanting to nap in the middle of the day, your weight and metabolism seemed to hit a plateau, and all that energy you had at the beginning? Zapped.

What gives?! You cry.

After all, nothing different changed from when you felt amazing.

One word: Carbs.

A common “road block” people run into when they adopt a real-food, or “paleo” template is going too low carb.

You don’t mean to go too low carb or neglect carbs, but when you cut out all the sugars and the grains in the beginning, you simply didn’t replace them.

Couple this with the highly-touted ketogenic, GAPS, AIP and other therapeutic diets that tout a lower carb intake, and it’s easy to think that carbs may not be so necessary after all.

In fact, it’s important to note that while diets like “keto” and GAPS seemingly claim that carbs are not necessary—this is all within context. Often times such dietary approaches are intended to help people heal from a sickness or imbalance—like SIBO, a gut-brain imbalance or high-insulin—but are not necessarily intended “forever” as we may believe or adopt them.

While some people DO do great on a really low-carb diet, many others crash and burn.

They walk into our sessions—fatigued, frustrated and speculating they have adrenal fatigue, only to reveal their food log and a simple lifestyle fact-of-the-matter:

They are not eating enough.

CARBS DO A BODY GOOD

Carbs are not the devil.

In fact, contrary to popular belief that carbs make you gain weight, store fat or turn you into a “sugar burner,” carbs are one of the three major “macro-nutrients” that provide your body with a unique set of micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals), digestive support (hello, fiber), muscle-leaning (and toning) support, and energy that protein and fats do not.

In fact, too low-carb intake can lead to stalled weight loss plus poor health outcomes like thyroid dysfunction, HPA axis dysregulation, hormonal imbalances, sleep disturbances, etc.

IS IT ADRENAL FATIGUE OR…TOO LOW CARB?

Nikki, a 28-year-old go-getter, came to me with complaints of fatigue, some bloating after meals, and about a 5-10 lb. unintentional weight gain—feeling the effects of inflammation. Her periods had been irregular for the past year and she reported a low appetite most days. She wanted help shedding the excess weight she had regained—despite eating a clean diet—and wondered if she could be a candidate for a sluggish thyroid, slow metabolism or adrenal fatigue.

Her Initial Intake revealed she’d been following a low-carb paleo-based diet for the past 6-months, and CrossFitting three to four times a week. She ate one serving, at most, of starchy vegetables, fruits, or grains in a given day and ate high levels of protein as well as some fat in each meal. She told me, at first, this routine worked well for her, she shed some excess weight, leaned out and felt more confident in her own skin, but now she felt more self-conscious and couldn’t understand why her efforts weren’t working any more.

One look at her 3-day food log told me enough to get started.

With her carbohydrate intake less than 50 grams most days, and overall calorie intake about 1500 to 1600 calories, Nikki was significantly under-eating (even without trying).

I told her, “You’re not eating enough.”

To which she replied, “But I eat throughout the day, I eat lots of fats., and I rarely feel super hungry.”

After explaining to her how the body can suppress hunger signals when we consistently don’t feed it enough, plus the importance of balance—carbs included—in our diets for overall energy balance and basic body function, Nikki agreed to start adding in a starchy carb, fruit or properly prepared grain source (like pre-soaked Jasmine white rice or steel cut gluten free oats) a few times a day to see if that made any difference.

I told her to come back in two weeks to check in, and low and behold, on our net appointment, Nikki was a completely new (or renewed) person.

Over the next couple months, I worked with her to support her efforts in adding in some more energy—despite her hesitation that it would make her gain weight.

And low and behold, the initial reasons she’d come to me in the first place had disappeared—the weight she was holding onto? Subsided. Her energy levels came back. And she found herself crushing her workouts again.

ADD EM IN

I am not big on counting, but if you are moderately active or finding yourself feeling run down, fatigued or wondering if you have a “slow metabolism,” look no further than your carb intake to see where you’re at.

A “moderate amount” of carbs for a female is anywhere between 75-100 grams—and these can be from a variety of sources. Check out my carb cheat sheet to pick and choose the tons of tubers, fruits, veggies and even some grains to adorn your plate and…Make peace with carbs.

They don’t make you weaker. They can make you stronger.

And while therapeutic diets and fad diets may claim that you don’t need ‘em, no study ever showed that a “balanced” diet—inclusive of proteins, fats and carbs—did a body good for general health.

Carb Cheat Sheet (Download)

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