Which Is Better: Reduce Carbs Gradually or All at Once?

Photo © Karen Struthers

Are you better off reducing carbs gradually or cutting carbs drastically at one time? It's a common question and there are two approaches you can take. The important part is that you find the right amount of carbohydrates for your body. Since everyone's a little different, let's take a look at your options.

The Benefits of Reducing Carbs Slowly

There are two main approaches to reducing carbs: gradual reduction or "start low and add." Many people (including the American Diabetes Association) prefer the "one-step-at-a-time" gradual reduction approach.

There is a fairly good reason for this: it may help you stick with your new diet.

It has been shown that people are more able to make permanent changes if those changes are small. Then, when the new habit has been formed, another small step can be taken.

Another reason to avoid eliminating too much carbohydrate at once is that some unpleasant symptoms can occur in the first few days. It will take your body some time to adjust to using fat for energy rather than carbohydrate and the first week can be the biggest challenge

For these reasons, you could very well cut your carbs in steps. This approach begins with the biggest culprits like empty calories in sugary drinks and moves on to controlling fats, protein, and making other changes.

The Benefits of the All-At-Once Approach

On the other hand, many of the popular diet books favor the other approach. Those like the Atkins and South Beach diets significantly reduce carbohydrate in the beginning, then gradually raise the amount of carb until negative effects occur.

These may be when weight loss slows, blood glucose control lessens, blood pressure rises, or cravings return.

The primary drawback of this is that you need to get used to an immediate and big change in your eating habits. But to my mind, the following positive factors can outweigh the negatives:

1. The positive benefits of low-carb eating are experienced in fairly short order and usually by the end of the first week.

This not only provides you with motivation to continue but also gives you clear markers to know when things are slipping.

The information you get from home monitoring (blood glucose, blood pressure, weight) can be heartening during such a sudden lifestyle change. Also, you can become motivated by seeing the most commonly reported benefits like improvements in energy levels, mental focus, and reduction in food cravings.

2. To many people, it's demoralizing to find out that they didn't cut enough carb to get the benefits they were looking for and that yet more "deprivation" is called for. When you do it the "start low" way, you get to add food options as time goes on, which may be a much more welcome change.

Either Way, It's Worth It

Whichever way you choose to approach a low-carb diet, there will be adjustments needed to find the right amount of carbohydrate for you. When you find it, though, the rewards can be life-altering.

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