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Weight Loss and Carbs: Can They Work Together?

Carbohydrates have long been viewed as the enemy of dieters, with many of us growing up alongside popular low-carb, high-protein diets such as the Atkins and South Beach diets, which have been marketed as the ticket to success when it comes to weight loss. I’m here to explain the truth around carbs and why including them in your diet is fundamental to approaching weight loss in a healthy and sustainable way.

The important difference between whole and refined carbs

Before we move on to all of the good things that carbs do for us, it is important to remember that not all carbs are made equal, and we need to make a clear distinction between the two types: whole (unprocessed) and refined (processed).

Whole carbs such as brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, fruit and veggies are unprocessed and what we should be eating more of as they retain their fibre and nutrients (more on this later).

Refined carbs such as white bread and sugary breakfast cereals are stripped of their fibre and nutrients, so function as fast releasing glucose which results in blood sugar spikes. This can lead to cravings throughout the day, which are not ideal if you are trying to lose weight!

Carbs provide energy so you can get a much better workout

When doing pilates classes, your body is taking part in short duration, high intensity exercise which results in anaerobic respiration (i.e. where your muscles are working without oxygen). This kind of exercise utilises fast-burning energy, which is obtained from carbohydrates[1].

If you don’t have any available carbs because you’ve cut these out of your diet, your body will have to use other sources of fuel such as fat, which are more slowly released and will result in you feeling sluggish and tired. Consequently, you won’t be able to smash your workout and will burn less calories overall than if you had been able to burn carbs for energy and have a really satisfying class.

Carbs contain fibre which is great for your gut health

You may already know that keeping your gut happy is important for all aspects of our health, but did you know that a healthy gut has a direct link with weight loss? Your gut bacteria can influence how different foods are digested and absorbed, they can produce hormones that affect your appetite, and they can help prevent inflammation – all of which can contribute to weight gain if they are out of balance[2].

What is interesting is that we can’t actually digest fibre ourselves. This is what our gut bacteria do, so eating high fibre foods such as carbohydrates provides a food source for the good bacteria to digest and do their job properly.

Carbs keep you feeling fuller so reduce snacking

Complex carbohydrates (like wholegrains) are a great source of slow release energy. Their chemical structure is quite complicated, so they take a while for your body to digest. What this means is that they sit in your stomach and release energy over a longer period of time, which results in feeling fuller and more energised throughout the day. Having porridge for breakfast is a great option to keep you going until lunchtime without having any sugar cravings.

Carbs help to promote a happy mood

Our brains thrive on glucose for fuel, and glucose is of course a carbohydrate in its most simple form. If you’ve ever cut carbs from your diet, you may have felt tired, irritable and headachy as your body tries to adapt. Carbs are also responsible for helping to transport tryptophan into our brains which is required to make serotonin, our happy hormone, so carbs really do make you feel better and less stressed[3]!

Lastly…cutting carbs out is not sustainable

You may have cut carbs from your diet and experienced rapid weight loss. Unfortunately, this is not likely to just be fat loss, as every gram of carbohydrate holds on to about 4g of water. So after the initial water ‘weight loss’, things can plateau quite quickly. The sad truth is that 80-95%[4] of dieters actually put all the weight they have lost back on because of these unsustainable approaches.

The bottom line

The best way to lose weight and sustain this is to level up your lifestyle and nutrition. This means including quality, unprocessed carbohydrates as part of a balanced diet alongside your regular pilates exercise classes to keep your body moving.

If you can work on your sleep routine and practice relaxation techniques to help de-stress in addition to the above, then you’re on the right track to long-term weight loss and feeling great at the same time.



[1] The Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition (Complete Guides): 8th edition Paperback – Illustrated, 7 Sept. 2017. Anita Bean

[2] Seganfredo FB, Blume CA, Moehlecke M, Giongo A, Casagrande DS, Spolidoro JVN, Padoin AV, Schaan BD, Mottin CC. Weight-loss interventions and gut microbiota changes in overweight and obese patients: a systematic review. Obes Rev. 2017 Aug;18(8):832-851. doi: 10.1111/obr.12541. Epub 2017 May 19. PMID: 28524627.

[3] Markus CR. Effects of carbohydrates on brain tryptophan availability and stress performance. Biol Psychol. 2007 Sep;76(1-2):83-90. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2007.06.003. Epub 2007 Jun 30. PMID: 17689173.

[4] Rena R Wing, Suzanne Phelan, Long-term weight loss maintenance, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 82, Issue 1, July 2005, Pages 222S–225S,

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