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5 Dangerous Mistakes You're Making on a Low-Carb Diet

Many people ditch carbs in an effort to lose weight. But cutting back on this important macronutrient group could actually backfire.

If you've ever tried to lose weight, odds are you've probably tried one of the most popular diet trends over the last couple of decades: going low carb. Carbohydrates have long been vilified as the dietary culprit making you fat, so people assume reducing them drastically will keep the scale tipping down and banish belly bloat for good.

Unfortunately, it's not so easy. For starters, carbohydrates are your body's number one fuel source, so you need them for optimal energy and function. And not all carbs are created equal; while ditching refined carbohydrates like sugars and white flour is good for weight loss, eating more fiber-rich complex carbs like fruit and whole grains can actually help you lose weight, too.

If you've cut back on this important macronutrient and the scale still isn't budging, watch out for these dangerous mistakes that may stifle your weight loss progress or even your long-term overall health. And while you're at it, be sure to read up on these 30 Hidden Reasons Why You Can't Lose Weight.

You're not eating enough calories


"Although cutting calories will help you lose weight, it's important to stay within your daily target to fuel your metabolism. When people cut back on carbs, they make the mistake of cutting their calories too drastically," says registered dietitian Jim White, RD, ACSM, and owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios.

"A lot of people drop their carbs but also drop other macronutrients such as protein and fat," he explains. "This can cause many deficiencies, slow down the metabolism and decrease energy levels impacting overall health."

Talk to a doctor or RD about your daily caloric needs — depending on activity level, that's usually between 1,200 and 1,800 calories for weight-loss — and stick to your target.

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You're depriving yourself


Ditching refined carbohydrates like sugars and white flours is a great way to boost weight loss. After all, these simple carbs will spike your blood sugar and prompt your body to store excess glucose as fat. But depriving yourself of certain treats and your favorite foods entirely is a recipe for disaster.

"When people eliminate them from their diets, they tend to crave them more over time," White says. "This leads people to go back to eating them and failing their low carb diet attempts."

This leads to a destructive cycle of deprivation, cravings, binging, feeling guilty, then depriving yourself again. Instead of forbidding yourself from eating your favorite carb-rich foods entirely, White suggests giving yourself 150 calories at the end of the day to eat whatever you want. This could be a small chocolate chip cookie or an ounce of potato chips — whatever curbs your carby cravings.

You're too low carb


Some people go to extremes by cutting out carbohydrates entirely or eating fewer than 20 grams of carbs a day—both techniques are used when following the keto diet. Since the FDA recommends people eat 300 grams of carbs on a 2,000 calorie diet, that's way beyond a typical low-carb diet.

"A low carbohydrate diet is less than 125 grams a day," White explains. "Some people go more extreme in cutting and others are more liberal. In my opinion, if you are going to cut carbs, keep vegetables, fruits, and low-fat dairy into your diet."

By cutting down so drastically on carbs, you're also missing essential antioxidants and B vitamins found in many complex carbohydrates that will help fight off inflammation. In fact, whole grains and raw oats are some of our 30 Best Anti-Inflammatory Foods.

Whole grains are also an excellent source of fiber, which can boost weight loss. Fiber keeps you feeling fuller longer, which will help keep midday grazing at bay. By skipping out on complex carbs, you're missing this essential nutrient.

You're not listening to your body


One of the benefits to losing weight is gaining more energy. Unless you're cutting out carbs entirely. Since carbohydrates are our body's number one source of fuel, leaving them out of your diet will totally drain your energy reserves.

"Carbs are important for fuel," White explains. "In fact, a large part of the brain's fuel comes from glucose. Without carbs, people can feel low [on] energy, dizzy, confused and irritable."

If you start to feel fatigued or particularly hangry after cutting out carbs, it's important to listen to your body. In fact, feeling moody In fact is one of our 9 Signs You Should Be Eating More Carbs. Incorporate more fiber-rich, low-glycemic complex carbs for all day energy such as sweet potatoes, quinoa, or steel-cut oatmeal.

You're super active

Woman looking at fitness watch on a run

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, carbs are necessary for energy, especially for people who live active lifestyles. Athletes and big-time gym rats will need a good amount of carbs to power their workouts and keep their energy steady.

"I would not recommend athletes or anyone who is exercising with high intensity to go on a low carb diet," White explains. "This may include those who are competing in events, marathons, biking distances or swimming should keep carbohydrates in their diet." You can add "avoiding carbs when exercising" to the list of 8 Exercise Mistakes That Are Making You Gain Weight.

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