Similar to many, I carry extra weight in my midsection. Despite my Herculean efforts to crunch, plank, and cardio-blast away my excess abdominal fat, my belly remains. I like to refer to it as carrying a little extra love, at least on the days when I’m not being too hard on myself. Because let’s be real: Even when we do our best to love every curve and imperfection—they are great, and they do make us unique—some days those wobbly spots can feel like a real drag.
Everyone has a trouble section, and my stomach is mine. It’s something I’ve been insecure about since my childhood, and I’m still haunted by memories of sporting an oversize t-shirt at the beach when I wasn’t feeling brave enough to rock a bikini—which was always. That feeling has persisted, and even at 30 years old, an age I've dedicated to acceptance and self-love, I still have moments when I dread donning anything snug in the waist, let alone a bikini.
A Little Diet-Obsessed
It should come as no surprise that I’ve tried every trick in the book when it comes to whittling my middle and finding those flat abs. From rigorous workout regimens to all kinds of cleanses to pretty much every diet I’ve heard of… you name it, I’ve dabbled in it. These fat-burning tactics ranged from unsustainable and unsupported to simple and healthy(ish), but one trend lingered: eating low-carb.
A low-carb diet has many science-supported benefits and is often touted as one of most effective ways to minimize abdominal fat. Time and again, as I eagerly flipped through magazine pages and succumbed to ab-tastic clickbait—"You’ll never believe what this celebrity cut out for her best body EVER!"—I came to the same conclusion: Low-carb was the answer.
Like many failed dieters, I’ve started more diets than I can count. Atkins, Paleo, Whole30… While none are completely carb free, they do eliminate grains and legumes, two major—and arguably healthy—sources of carbohydrates. The Atkins diet even regulates servings of fruits and vegetables (also healthy carbs), as do some Paleo philosophies.
I was intrigued, intoxicated even, by the success stories about changing to a low-carb diet. It’s no wonder that even after multiple failures, I always went back for more. What’s not to love about the prospect of higher energy, greater mental clarity, and more confidence (which for me, would undoubtedly come from shedding a few pounds—preferably in my midsection)?
But there comes a time when you have to stop beating your head against a wall and admit defeat. In this case, that meant giving up on everything I believed about carbs.
For the Love of Carbs
Though I can definitely vouch for the fact that eating a low-carb diet encourages healthier eating habits—like snacking on veggies instead of reaching for processed, sugar-packed snacks—it has downsides too.
While eating high-fat, which often coincides with eating low-carb, works wonders for some, without the help of whole grains, my digestive system goes haywire. So much for less bloating! To take it a step further, and perhaps into TMI territory, when I drastically reduce carbohydrates, I also eliminate my body’s ability to eliminate (if you catch my drift). Cue excessive bloating, bouts of gas, and generally feeling like I belong in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade—though mentally, I feel even bigger than those floating monstrosities. And that backlog (sorry) ends up sapping my energy, spinning my mood into a downward tizzy, and, perhaps worst of all, makes me gain weight—a lot of it.
I’m also sick of being told that carbohydrates are the devil and that all bodily woes are cured by eating low-carb.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking: I’m just not doing it right. Perhaps that’s true, and perhaps there’s yet another way I could play with a low-carb diet to find just the right combination of fats, proteins, and produce. But quite frankly, I’m sick of trying and sick of not feeling good. I’m also sick of being told that carbohydrates are the devil and that all bodily woes are cured by eating low-carb.
Why Carbs Actually Rock
Let's focus on the positives here. According to science, we got this going for us if we eat carbs:
- They help us fall asleep and stay asleep.
- They fuel us through busy days and heart-pumping workouts.
- They make us feel satiated and even alert. (Hello, power breakfast.)
- Complex carbohydrates, which are comprised of starches and dietary fibers, help keep the digestive track movin’ and groovin’.
- The body needs them—hence why they’re one of three macronutrients.
We hear it time and again, but the most important thing to remember when it comes to nutrition is that every body is different. While you may feel kickass riding the low-carb train, I don’t—which is why I will never cut them from my diet again.
That said, I am a big believer in moderation. And while I’m pro-eating that serving of grains, I’m not starting my day with a bagel, digging into pasta for lunch, and topping things off with pizza for dinner. Quality is incredibly important, as is making sure I’m eating a balanced diet, i.e. getting those greens and that protein too.
It’s easy to overdo it and overthink it—especially if you love eating like I do.
How I Make Carbs Work for Me
- Switch grain intake from the morning to the evening.
I’m a big fan of low-carb breakfasts and high-protein dinners with a serving of quinoa, farro, or brown rice. It helps me sleep like a baby, and when I wake up, my stomach is ready to go. We may be snoozing, but our bodies work incredibly hard overnight.
- Try to stick to the good stuff.
This means focusing on whole grains, like oats, brown rice, and quinoa. While I love bread, I know that gluten is difficult for me to digest, so I limit it much as I can. Another gluten-free favorite: sweet potato.
- Go lighter on low-activity days and heavier on the days you need some serious fuel.
On the days I don’t work out and am glued to my computer, I limit myself to one serving of fruit and 1/2 cup of grains (or a half of a sweet potato). On days where I’m running around town or powering through an actual run, I have a 1/2 cup of grains or sweet potato (or both) at lunch and dinner—and sometimes even breakfast! I feel better eating grains at night, but sometimes, I just can’t resist oatmeal.
I hate to be a broken record, but it’s all about finding out what works for you. If that’s eating low-carb, great! If that’s embracing the oat, great! Do you. Just make sure what you’re doing is actually you, and making you feel good.
And don’t believe everything you read. I continue to learn (the hard way) that what works for celebrities and the individuals writing their success stories doesn’t work for me. While it’s fun to try new things, ease into changes instead of going cold turkey on entire food groups. It’s easier to learn from trial and error when you’re taking baby steps as opposed to leaps of faith.