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Do Carbs Make You Gain Weight

We’ve all heard Oprah exclaim “I love bread” on our TV screen over and over. But for every Oprah there seems to be 10 fitness influencers telling you that carbs are the devil and the cause for all your weight gain.



So what’s the truth? Are carbs ok to eat or do carbs make you gain weight?


To put it simply: no carbs alone don’t make you gain weight.


The only way to gain weight is to eat more calories than your body burns throughout the day(this is known as a calorie surplus). It’s the science of energy balance & thermodynamics.


All bodies follow this. If you eat more than your body burns, you gain weight. If you eat less, you lose weight. If you eat the same you maintain weight.


Because of this, no 1 specific food or drink(or entire macro group of foods in this case) will cause you to gain weight. It’s about what you’re eating overall.


So do carbs specifically cause you to gain weight? No. But could eating too many carbs or too much food in general cause you to gain weight? Yes.


It seems “simple” but because there’s so much misinformation out there I want to take some time to dive in deeper and address some common myths as to why people think carbs make you gain weight and how accurate it is.


Why people think carbs make you gain weight

Let’s start with the most common one to myth bust…the scale.


How many times have you had a big bowl of pasta for dinner and you wake up the next morning and see a big spike in the scale.


It’s gotta be the carbs right?! All that pasta and starchy food caused you to immediately gain fat right?!


Wrong.


What those carbs actually caused your body to do was hold onto some extra water.


When you eat carbs, any that are not immediately used for energy, are stored in your body for future use as glycogen. Each gram of glycogen comes with 3g of water attached to it.


So it would make sense that if you ate more carbs the night before, your body has more carbs to store for later use so it’s storing more water as well. The scale is up from water weight, not fat gain.


It’s similar to if you stepped on the scale and it said a number and then you stepped on it again holding a big jug of water. Of course the scale will be higher the second time but it’s because of the water you’re holding…not fat gain.


Now that we’ve got the scale out of the way let’s talk about another reason people think carbs make you gain weight.

The dreaded insulin spike.


Many people point to the fact that because carbs are typically higher on the glycemic index, our blood sugar spikes after we eat them which causes our insulin to rise as well.


do carbs make you gain weight
Me waiting for the insulin spike

This insulin spike is what tells your body to either use the carbs(broken down to glucose in our body) immediately or store them for later use(as glycogen like we discussed earlier). Our bodies can only store so much glycogen though so when there’s too much, our body then stores that extra glucose as fat.


So it makes sense that people would think eat carbs → store fat.


But here’s the thing….after we finish eating our insulin levels go back to normal and our bodies return to their normal state of burning fat(as long as you’re in a calorie deficit.)


This slight spike of insulin while you’re eating isn’t enough to cause you to stop burning fat overall for the course of the day. In fact, other foods also cause a spike in insulin like protein. But I don’t hear many people telling you NOT to eat protein when you’re trying to lose fat….carbs are the same. This insulin spike alone isn’t enough of a reason for carbs to make you gain weight.


Now that you know carbs in and of themselves aren’t making you gain fat…let’s talk about why carbs could make it easier for you to gain fat.


Carbs are delicious. We all know that. Many carbs are also made with a deliciously dangerous combo of fat and sugar which makes them highly palatable…and very easy to overeat.


do carbs make you gain weight
My personal favorite carb, pizza

It’s a heck of a lot easier to eat 3 extra servings of pasta or chips than it is to eat 3 extra servings of chicken breast.


Like we talked about, to gain weight you need to be in a calorie surplus. Admittedly, it can be easier to get into a calorie surplus by eating a large amount of carbs compared to other foods. But remember…it’s not these individual foods and the carbs alone causing you to gain weight. It's because you’re eating too many of them and getting into a calorie surplus.


At this point you might be saying:

“Ok I understand the science behind all of it but my neighbor Debbie did Keto and lost 20lbs. Clearly low or no carb diets work”


I understand why it seems that way but here are the facts: Debbie didn’t lose 20lbs just because she cut out carbs….she lost 20lbs because by cutting out an entire macronutrient group she reduced her calories overall and put herself into a calorie deficit.


Again, it’s about energy balance. In my opinion though there are much more enjoyable ways to lose weight & get into a calorie deficit than by cutting out all carbs & joy in your life.


If you’re still not sold that you can eat delicious potatoes & french fries while you lose fat, let's chat about why you need carbs…

When we eat carbs they are used for immediate energy in our body. Any carbs that aren’t used for immediate energy are stored in our body as glycogen to be used for energy at a later time.


AKA carbs are our bodies preferred energy source! They fuel our brain, our daily activity, our workouts, etc. Without carbs you’ll feel sluggish, low energy and probably irritable from restricting one of life's greatest joys.



Now there are different kinds of carbs.


Complex vs Simple Carbs

Many people like to call these good vs bad carbs but that’s just not the case. They all have a purpose and give our body energy.


Complex carbs tend to be more nutrient dense, higher in fiber and take longer for our body to digest thus giving us more sustained energy throughout the day. Things like oatmeal, whole grain bread & pasta, brown rice, sweet potatoes.


Simple carbs digest quicker and are used for more immediate energy in our body. Things like chips, candy, and white breads and pastas.


If you want to feel full and satisfied most of the time you want most of your carbs coming from complex carb sources. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t eat simple carbs. Just like complex carbs won’t, simple carbs also won’t cause you to gain weight.


At this point I feel like you have not just the simple answer, but also a more in depth answer to: Do carbs make you gain weight?


There’s one more final takeaway I want to leave you with…


Don’t be afraid of carbs. I have had many new online coaching clients come to me very afraid of eating carbs.


When we start working together I work to get them more comfortable with the idea of eating carbs, they start incorporating more carbs into their diet, they feel more full, they stay in a calorie deficit and they lose fat…even while eating carbs. Suddenly carbs aren’t so scary and they’re able to see them as a positive.


So…I want you to try it. Try eating more carbs. Over the next 30 days count your calories, stay in a calorie deficit and stay 80% or more consistent. EAT carbs. Be amazed as the weight starts to come off even while eating carbs. You’ll soon get more comfortable with the idea of eating carbs and realize they’re not the devil 🙂


If you’ve got any additional questions after reading this article please shoot me an email(sweat.simple.co@gmail.com) or a DM! I’m always here to help. If you try the 30 day carb experiment please let me know how it goes.


As always thanks for being here and reading my content! I appreciate it more than you know :)


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