The Truth About Eating Carbs

Carbs: the good, the bad and the truth about slimming down for your gown.
by Amy Levin-Epstein
Bread at wedding reception
photo by Birds of a Feather

A Case For Carbs

Popular diets have given carbs an undeserved bad rap. The right kinds of carbs are actually a critical part of any weight-loss plan.

Carb-Free Diets Cause Cravings

Yes, you'll drop pounds fast on low-carb diets. But chances are, you'll gain them back just as quickly. “It's not sustainable for a long time, and when you inevitably reintroduce carbs, it will have a rebound effect on your weight," explains Chris Powell, author of Choose to Lose and host of Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition. What's more, cutting out carbs can trigger cravings, says Heather Bauer, RD, CDN, author of Bread Is the Devil.

Cutting Carbs Cuts Your Calorie Burn

If you're planning to rev up your workout routine before the wedding, you need carbs more than ever. Not only does your body count on glucose from carbs for energy to power through a workout, it needs them to maintain and strengthen your muscles too. “When you're doing heavy cardio and lifting weights without sufficient carbs to draw on, you see a rapid breakdown of your muscle," says Powell. “Depleting your muscles so fast cannibalizes your metabolism." In other words, you'll get less out of your workouts and burn fewer calories! And if you keep it up, cutting carbs can reduce your calorie-burning potential even more. “When you eliminate carbs, your body starts pulling fatty acids into the bloodstream, which, in turn, causes your thyroid to slowly depress your metabolic rate," Powell explains.

Carbs Give You Mental Clarity

Then there's the mental workout that you need to think about -- the brainpower required to weed through all the options and decide every detail of your day. “It's never good when you're eliminating an entire category of nutrients," says Marissa Lippert, MS, RD, author of The Cheater's Diet. Kicking carbs out completely makes it hard to get all the recommended nutrients, which can leave you groggy and negatively affect cognitive functioning.

Why A White Out?

Yes, carbs are essential to any weight-loss plan. But -- and this is a big but -- that doesn't mean a steady diet of bagels and penne alla vodka is the answer. The secret to looking and feeling amazing when you walk down the aisle isn't cutting out carbs completely, but steering clear of the wrong kinds of carbs (think: white) and fueling up with the right ones (think: brown). First, the white carbs you should avoid -- and why:

Processed Carbs

Refined carbs like white bread, pasta, cookies and pastries cause blood glucose levels to spike and then drop, so you feel sluggish and hungry soon after eating them. “They tend to be digested more quickly, so you don't feel as full and wind up eating more," Lippert explains.


Added sugars add calories. Sweets like candy and ice cream are obvious culprits, but added sugars also lurk in unexpected places like fruit juice, frozen yogurt and even fat-free or low-fat foods, says Lippert. Your best bet: Eat the real deal -- in moderation (stick to six teaspoons or less of added sugar a day).


The other kind of white stuff, salt, has a similar effect. “Sodium is an appetite stimulant and leads to sugar cravings," Bauer says. “Two hours later, you may be looking for ice cream." Like sugar, salt is added to most foods we buy, so always check the label and aim to consume less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day.

Carbs To Say "I Do" To

So which carbs should you be eating? Stick to unrefined carbs like couscous, brown rice, quinoa, whole oats and barley, which will satisfy cravings and fill you up. Look for labels that say “100 percent whole grain" and that have minimal additional ingredients, says Lippert. “Complex, fiber-rich carbs keep your energy level stable, your blood sugar steady and fill you up faster on fewer calories," she explains. Research shows that eating carbs that are high in fiber but low in calories promotes weight loss. Adds Powell, “When you eat the right carbs, you rev up your metabolism and build your muscle, so you keep that shape you've been working so hard for."


This may come as a surprise, but all veggies (and fruits!) are technically carbs. Some are starchier than others (like corn and potatoes), but as long as you eat them in their natural state, plant-based carbs are packed with energy-boosting nutrients and rank high on the satiety index (read: they'll fill you up) without maxing out your calorie count for the day. Even potatoes (try sweet potatoes or russet potatoes) get the green light from Powell. Just skip the deep fryer, oils and excess butter.


Another smart option: beans, lentils and peas. Legumes offer many of the same benefits as veggies and are also an excellent source of fiber that will keep you full for hours.


Chock-full of vitamins and minerals and a good source of natural sugars, fruit also does a bride's body good! Just don't gorge yourself on grapes. Fruits higher in sugar content are higher in calories. “Aim for three servings of fruit a day and stick to fruits that fit in your hand if you tend to be a mindless muncher," said Bauer.

Thinking about going on a diet? Join The Knot's Wedding Day Shape-Up Challenge with Diet Bet! You'll earn money for your success, plus reap the healthy rewards of a balanced diet combined with exercise.

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