New mums are easy prey for diet charlatans; you’re under so much societal pressure to lose your baby weight in record time, you can also lose your mind a bit in the process and end up trying dangerous, energy-sucking, fad diets. Case in point: There’s been a lot of talk of late about no-carb/low-carb diets resulting in quick, dramatic weight loss thanks to one of the most photographed women in the world, Kim Kardashian, who recently credited this eating regime for her newly svelte post-baby figure on show at her wedding to the equally vacuous Kanye West.
Of course, if we all had unlimited riches, ala Ms Kardashian, we too could hire a team of PTs, chefs and minders to yell: “Girlfriend! Put down that bread roll!” in order to assist us with our post-baby weight loss. But unfortunately, life for us mere mortals, exhausted from running around after kids, is a lot less glamorous and more difficult when it comes to managing your food intake. Here, acclaimed Sydney dietician/nutritionist and author Susie Burrell and leading Brisbane nutritionist Jessica Cox separate fact from fiction when it comes to no-carb and low-carb diets.
Q: Are no-carb diets a dangerous fad or a handy weight-loss tool?
Susie: “The funny thing is that it is virtually impossible to do a no-carb diet – even low-carb diets will have 20-50g of carbs coming from dairy or vegetables. A no or limited carb diet will give initial results as the body depletes its stores of glucose in the muscle, but this initial 1-3kg loss will slow after 5-7 days as the metabolism also slows to cope with the limited fuels the muscle is getting. This is the reason that low-carb diets work initially, but also impact the metabolism so that long term, it becomes harder and harder to lose weight.”
Jessica: “In the wrong hands, it’s certainly a dangerous fad. No-carb diets should be used only under the guidance of a practitioner, especially if they are being followed long-term. I see many clients coming into my clinic who are run down and fatigued from following no-carb diets. Eliminating carbs altogether is following a ketogenic diet. It effectively forces your body to utilise fat stores for energy. Short-term, this can facilitate weight loss, however it also quickly leads to fatigue, sugar cravings and mood swings. Often, this means it can only be followed for so long before the cravings take hold and a person will go back to their own ‘normal eating’’, seeing the weight quickly come back on. Effectively, all that has happened is the metabolism has been tricked into weight loss, so when it has its perception of normality back it will plateau out again to what it deems ‘normal’. Additionally, no-carb (diets) may work first time around, but the second time people give it a shot the body often will not respond in the same way. The body learnt the first time that this isn’t a fun ride.”
Q: A lot of personal trainers are spruiking the no-carb diet. Is this a concern?
Susie: “In general, these diets are suggested by individuals who have no formal training in biochemistry, metabolism or nutrition and hence have no accountability for the damage they indirectly cause to a person’s metabolism long term.”
Jessica: “A major concern in my books. If you are advocating a no-carb diet to your clients without the foundations of a solid nutritional background, then you are just asking for trouble. Many PTs (not all, mind you, there are some great ones I know) use low or no-carb diets with their clients for weight-loss programs. I see it in my clinic a lot with clients who initially come to me. These trainers, along with unqualified ‘healthy gurus’ are fundamentally applying a one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss, which is not realistic. They are also not gathering a solid client case history, or again understanding the biochemical and physiological effects of how these diets may affect each individual. I exercise and know my way around a weight’s room at the gym, but I would never write out an exercise program for my clients or show them how to correctly do a dead lift. Giving advice, without the knowledge to back it up when it surrounds health, is just not on.”
Q: Why do we need carbs? Why don’t fat diets work?
Susie: “Carbs are the primary fuel for the muscle and they fuel the brain, hence we feel tired and low in mental energy when we do not consume them regularly, especially when we are busy and training (at the gym). There is no doubt that many of us do need to eat fewer carbs to compensate for our relatively inactive lifestyles, but this is very different to a no or low-carb approach.”
Jessica: “Fad diets are just that: a fad. They only last a short time because they are not maintainable as a healthy, long-term lifestyle change. No fad diet will give you long-term results. You need to find what works for your body, your health and your metabolism. Long-term health and weight loss comes from consistency and educating yourself on what works for you. Many people are deterred by this unfortunately, as we are such a ‘quick fix’ culture – we want results as of yesterday.”
Q: What is your preferred weight-loss approach for a busy mum trying to lose her baby weight?
Susie: “The best way for busy mums to take control of their weight is to prioritise their food intake before the kids: grab a protein-rich breakfast first thing, before they feed the kids (or they do not have it), such as a toasted sandwich or a smoothie. They should also stop the mindless munching of kids snacks and leftovers. Again, have lunch before or with the kids. And go light at night: grills, salads and soups. All of these approaches are sustainable and fuel food-eating habits and protect metabolism long-term. When it comes to diets, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is, and if it is not sustainable, it is not a good idea.”
Jessica: “It is always individualised. What are her needs? What is her day like? How is she digesting her food and is her metabolism optimal? Aside from this, it’s looking at making sure mums are nourishing their bodies with wholefoods in a balanced manner which reduces sugar cravings and bingeing on processed, sugary foods. It’s about eating in a way that energises you and thus allowing your body to feel like it can shift the weight.”
By Nicole Carrington-Sima