When you’re doing one of my diets, you’ll keep your carb intake to a minimum. That’s because all carbs are basically sugar to your body, and to melt off belly fat fast, you need to turn off the sugar faucet and switch your body to burning fat.
Before long, however, you’ll lose all of your extra pounds. At that point, you may wonder: Can I let carbs back into my life and still stay slim and healthy?
The answer, I’m happy to say, is YES! The trick is to be smart about how you do it—so today, I want to share five simple strategies for making carbs your friends, not your enemies.
Strategy #1: Make carbs the accent for a meal, not the main event.
Most of us grew up eating a diet based on the original food pyramid, which told us to center every meal around carbs. That’s why so many of us are now battling belly fat, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes.
These days, we know that while a small dose of carbs is fine, a big dose means trouble. So enjoy your carbs, but limit them. For instance:
Rather than eating a humongous pile of pasta for dinner, have a small side of pasta and make a protein the star of your plate.
Add one serving of fruit not the entire fruit bowl—to your morning smoothie. One serving of fruit is about a half cup of chopped fruit, a medium apple or pear, or a small banana (or half of a large banana).
Eat half a baked potato, not a whole one, as a side.
Also, sync your carb intake to your energy requirements. On days when you do intense workouts, add some extra carb fuel to your meals. On low-activity days, on the other hand, go easy on high-carb sides or avoid them altogether.
Strategy #2: Focus on nutrient-dense carbs.
Not all carbs are equal. Sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, butternut squash, and fruits are high-quality carbs because they contain lots of nutrients and a good dose of fiber. Bread and pasta have very few nutrients, while junk foods like doughnuts and cake have almost none.
Because of this, you’ll want to choose starchy veggies over grains as often as possible. Also, make high-carb junk food a rare treat—not part of your daily diet.
BTW, if you do add grains back into your diet, I recommend sticking to organic, non-GMO grains and—when possible—choosing grains that are ancient, sprouted, and/or fermented.
Strategy #3: Know your own body.
No two people are alike, and what works for someone else may not work for you—especially when it comes to food. That’s why I want you to play detective as you let carbs back into your life, and explore questions like these:
Does gluten cause problems for you? When you eat gluten-containing grains, do you experience bloating, brain fog, or other problems? If not, you can introduce small amounts of them back into your diet. Otherwise, give this category of grains a pass and opt for gluten-free breads and pasta.
Is your gut healthy? If you’re pretty much free from GI problems such as diarrhea, constipation, and bloating, that’s a good sign that your gut bugs are in good shape and can handle small doses of carbs with ease. If not, go very easy on high-carb foods—and limit or avoid sugar and grains in particular.
Do you have any blood sugar problems? If so—even if you’re not diabetic—you need to watch your carbs very, very carefully. Take your blood sugar measurements on a regular basis and find out how many carbs (and which types of carbs) your body can tolerate well.
Strategy #4: Go slowly.
One big secret to eating carbs without gaining weight is to know how your body reacts to them. And this, again, takes a little detective work.
To determine the right “carb dose” for your body, ease carbs back into your diet gradually. At first, calculate your daily carb intake by reading labels and using carb-counting apps. Later on, you’ll be able to “guesstimate” your carb count easily.
Start by eating about 50 carbs a day for one week; then bump that number up to 60 to 75 carbs per day for another week. Keep adding a few carbs each week until you’re satisfied with your carb intake and you’re not gaining weight. (For most people, a daily intake of about 100 carbs does the trick.) If the number on the scale starts going up, cut back to the amount of carbs you ate the week before.
Strategy #5: Avoid using carbs as a “happy pill.”
People often turn to high-carb comfort foods as a way of dealing with stress or unhappiness. I totally understand this, because carbs release feel-good chemicals that can temporarily chase the blues away. (And yes… I myself have occasionally been known to OD on gelato after a really rough day.)
However, if you continually turn to carbs as a crutch to get through tough times, you’re going to put those extra pounds back on—and that, in turn, will make you even more stressed-out and unhappy. It’s a vicious cycle.
To avoid this trap, make stress-reducing techniques part of your daily life. Great approaches include meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, and journaling.
Also, treat yourself to non-food rewards when you need a “happy fix.” For instance, buy a new novel, take a bubble bath, or get a manicure. Or, if you can afford it, buy yourself a brand-new outfit—because you have a beautiful new body as a result of your diet, and what better way is there to boost your mood than by showing that slim body off to the world?
The story in short: Make carbs your friends, but not your BFFs
Once you’ve lost your extra weight, carbs can be a healthy and fun part of your diet. Follow my five strategies, and you can enjoy them fearlessly.
Just remember: Keep those carbs in their proper place. Forget what the old food pyramid told you, and treat them not as your BFFs, but as casual friends. Love them too much, and they’ll treat you badly in return… but enjoy them occasionally, and you’ll be just fine!
Keep thinking big and living BOLD!