Carbs are to dieters as tarantulas are to, well, pretty much everyone. Both are unrightfully vilified and give their haters the heebie-jeebies.
In reality, though, eating carbs won’t make you fat, and a tarantula bite is no more serious than a bee sting. But of course, not all carbs are created equal. Those that come from refined sugars and flours can spike blood-sugar levels and stall weight loss. However, complex carbs from whole grains and veggies are necessary for good health and a flat belly. What’s more, when you don’t eat enough carbs (about 225 grams a day), you’re apt to feel plain awful.
Instead of counting every gram you eat to see if you hit the mark, just look out for these telltale signs that you need to up your intake. (And when you do, be sure to include these 9 Best Carbs for Weight Loss.)
You Get Bad Headaches
“Carbs don’t require any additional processing to make glucose,so they keep blood sugar levels steady quite effectively,” says registered dietitian Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN. “However, when you don’t eat enough carbs (or food in general), blood sugar levels can dip and cause headaches.” While getting headaches from time to time is normal, having them every day after embarking on a low-carb weight loss plan is a sign you may have taken things too far. Incorporate some carb-rich produce like apples (one of the Best Fruits for Weight Loss), pears, and carrots to keep the pounds coming off while keeping the head-pounding pain at bay.
You Can’t Stop Shivering
Despite the fact that your thermostat reads 70°F, your teeth are chattering. Unless you have a fever, it’s likely a sign that something is off. “Low-carb dieters are at risk of developing a low thyroid function, which can make it difficult to regular internal body temperature,” says Cassie Bjork, RD, LD of Healthy Simple Life. Don’t just ignore your cold fingers and throw on a sweater—head to the kitchen and make yourself one of these Healthy Homemade Pizza Recipes. After you’ve added more carbs back to your diet, the constant chill should subside.
Your Breath is Rank
After embarking on a low-carb diet, the body turns to stored fat for energy. Although this may help your abs start to shine through (at first, at least), it can also make your breath reek. “When you don’t eat enough carbs, the body burns fat and protein for fuel. It does so by a process called ketosis. Unfortunately, using protein and fat for fuel can cause smelly breath,” says Smith. Though adding more carbs to your diet can help, so can doubling the amount of water your drink. Experts say this simple trick is an immediate cure.
And for more fat-blasting hacks check out these 10 Daily Habits That Blast Belly Fat.
When you cut back on pasta, bread and other whole grains, you’re often cutting out fiber as well, which can be a problem if you don’t get the nutrient from other foods like fruits and veggies. This can lead to gastrointestinal troubles, including a bloated belly and constipation. To get back on track, Bjork suggests consuming 25 grams of fiber per day from non-starchy, low-carb vegetables like broccoli, kale, spinach and asparagus.
Your Workouts Are Dragging
“Carbs are the first line of use for energy for the body, so when muscle stores of carbohydrates are low, it can make some people feel lethargic and less able to sustain a high-intensity workout,” says Smith. Dial up your carb count before your workout to ensure you have enough energy to blast away fat. And afterward, do the same. This will ensure you’re replenishing lost energy stores so you can hit the gym again tomorrow. And if you typically grab a bite at a restaurant after your workout, be sure you’re ordering one of these 10 Best Restaurant Meals to Eat After a Workout. They all pack the right combination of nutrients to keep your body looking great.
Your Progress Has Stalled
At first the flab was flying off—but you had to know that wouldn’t last, right? “A low-carb diet can stall weight loss because if you suddenly eat fewer carbs, the liver tries to make up for it by producing sugar,” says Bjork. “When blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas secretes insulin, your fat-storing hormone, so you store fat instead of shedding it.” So basically the exact opposite of what you want. Bjork says that the best way to overcome this is by carbohydrate cycling. “One day each week, add in more carbohydrates than you normally would,” says Bjork. Don’t down an entire loaf of bread, though. An extra sweet potato should do the trick!
You’re Hungry All the Time
Most healthy carbs are often rich in belly-filling fiber, so if you don’t compensate for that with other filling nutrients, you might find that your tummy is constantly rumbling. “People on a low-carb plan are often hungry because they simply omit carbohydrates, instead of replacing them with healthy fats, which is the key!” warns Bjork. “A low-carb, low-fat eating regimen is a recipe for disaster.” Avocados are a low-carb healthy source of fat, as are these 8 Best Fats for Weight Loss. Add them to your diet to keep your hunger in check.
You’re Feeling Foggy
Just like your body, your brain also uses carbs for energy. When the brain doesn't get the fuel it needs, it might leave you feeling a little bit off your game, explains Smith. One small study found that women on a low-carb diet scored worse on memory tests than their counterparts who followed a low-cal, nutrient-balanced plan. However, when the low-carb group started eating carbs again their brains quickly returned to normal. If you feel like you can’t quite get with the program, add some of these Best Complex Carbs for Weight Loss to your diet. They will all fuel your brain—and your better-body goals, too.
You're Moody & Irritable
No one knows the meaning of “hangry” quite like a low-carb dieter. “When people cut down carbs—especially at first—it can make them really crabby. Mostly because they aren't taking in as many calories and their blood sugar levels are low,” explains Smith. Starchy foods like cookies and mac and cheese are also comfort foods for many so when they can longer turn to them for, well, comfort, it can leave them feeling moody and irritable. Another reason for the low-carb blues? Carbohydrates are essential to the body's production of serotonin, a feel-good chemical that’s produced in the brain. Fewer carbs = fewer smiles. Adding more carbs to your plate should lift your spirit, as should eating these 11 Foods That End Bad Moods— and don’t worry, most of them can fit right into a low-carb diet plan.