Listen to the podcast episode here
Before we can even talk about carbs, we need to talk about the metabolism of the average petite who wants to lose body fat. Our natural threshold for calories is a little smaller than that of the average human of average height. Since our maintenance is slightly less than theirs, studies have shown that our metabolisms are slightly slower.
So if we require less calories that also means we require less carbs, right? But less carbs doesn’t mean we should eliminate them entirely or heavily restrict them and here’s why… Restricting carbs and being in a deficit has been proven to slow down one’s metabolism. So when a petite goes low-carb, all I can think is “omg she’s destroying her metabolism” which is not what anybody wants to do – especially a petite girl.
As a petite, you need a calorie-blasting metabolism to get the weight off because it’s more difficult for you to create a calorie deficit because your calories might already be low as it is.
So the ultimate question is… how do we keep the metabolism high?
The answer is complicated, unfortunately. You have to eat ENOUGH. Not just enough to survive, but enough to THRIVE.
Because our calorie threshold is lower, that means our margin of error is lower and therefore that sweet spot or that window of calories where you’re eating enough to keep your body from starvation mode but not eating too much to tip the scale up is pretty narrow.
But let’s say you have found your calorie threshold and you’re reaching it consistently. Great! Good job! That means your body’s functions are working properly and your metabolism is most likely in a good spot but HOW do you increase it?
Well, you could either do a reverse diet where you add calories (carbs, proteins & fats) and aim to stay at the same weight or within a few pounds above and you try to increase your performance in the gym.
OR if your goal is to lose fat rather than maintain it, you could play around with your carbs. Carbs, when used correctly, have the ability to spike insulin, and boost leptin levels aka increase your metabolism better than protein & fats do (although protein & fats will do this too but carbs are better at it because of glucose).
So when someone – petites especially- use carbs strategically, they can boost their metabolism to tap into those fat stores.
Before you can start implementing this kind of carb-cycling strategy, there’s two things you gotta do:
1. Understand Carbohydrates
Yes it’s true that they make you retain water. For every 1g of carb you hold 3g water. That’s why when people go low-carb they seem a massive reduction on the scale but that’s just water weight, it’s not fat.
You also need to know carbs lie on a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum you have simple carbs also known as simple sugar and then you have complex carbs also referred to as starch. The difference between a simple and complex carb is in how quickly it is digested and absorbed.
Most people are quick to say complex carbs are better for you but to be honest they both have their time & their place. For example, both fruit and nutritionally-stripped processed treats like cookies fall on quickly digested side while fruit is deemed healthy and cookies are not even though they are kinda in the same category. Likewise, whole grain breads fall on the complex side but if you have a gluten intolerance, that bread isn’t going to be healthy for you. So to proof my point, one is not necessarily always better than the other but you need to know when and how to use them properly in order to shed body fat and boost metabolism.
2. Consistently reach a carb goal for at least a few weeks
That level of diligence tells me that you’re ready to take sh*t to the next level. If you can’t consistently reach a carb goal yet, than that goal is either not right for you or you’ve got to try harder. (Hint: eating mostly complex carbs will keep your blood sugar levels stable AND will keep you feeling fuller for longer.)
Once you master your macros, then you can implement a carb-cycling approach where you alternate carbs in and out of your daily caloric intake in a very specific pattern, effectively.
How to use carbs as your secret weapon:
There’s a million different ways to go about carb-cycling. Some are more complicated than others and truly depend on the person.
The easiest one to start with is basically a cheat or a “refeed” meal.
If you’ve listened to episode 41 about cheat day mistakes, then you already know that I have my 1:1 clients focus on eating a controlled high-carb refeed meal every 1-2 weeks. That’s because most of the time they are eating complex carbs for long-lasting energy while in a deficit (because their goal is fat loss.)
These meals are not an all out binge where they eat until they are stuffed like a Thanksgiving Turkey… Instead, It’s a strategic and systematic approach. Ideally, I have my clients aim for a 300-600 calorie simple-carb meal.
This works so well for 2 reasons: 1. My clients feel like they are getting a treat because their carb choices are different than what they normally eat throughout the week!
2. because your body quickly digests & absorbs the controlled amount of carbs. Your body burns it off quickly and because you then will return to your normal calorie and carb targets the next day [according to my Funsized refeed strategy], your body keeps burning into stored energy aka body fat.
The key here is returning back to your normal carb and calorie intake because if you were to keep calories and carbs high eventually you’d “spill over” and your body will be forced to store it as body fat. If you were always to eat an influx of carbs you’d be the one telling their body to store it as fat because excessive insulin in the bloodstream will make your body store it as fat.
So just to recap: you’ll want a meal high in simple carbs every 1-2 weeks. Yes it can contain protein & fats but since protein & fats tend to slow down the rate of absorption, you’d ideally want most of those calories to be made up of carbs.
So let’s say you try this strategy, how do you know if it worked?
There’s 3 metrics I use.
1. Weight on the Scale – I usually don’t like to tell people to weigh themselves because I don’t want them to freak out BUT if you’re the type of person who enjoys feeling like a science experiment then you’ll absolutely love this. The day after a refeed meal you should be up 1-2 pounds on the scale. Remember, it’s not fat, it’s probably the extra water weight from the extra carbs. 1-2 days later your weight should either return to or dip below your starting weight. 2-3 days after that you should definitely be below your starting weight if you stayed diligent to your regular macros. That’s the secret weapon I was telling you about!
2. Next Day Hunger Levels – Since you spiked your leptin levels, when you return to normal calorie intake you SHOULD feel hungrier than normal. That’s another good sign your metabolism is revved up. By the second day you should feel find again. If that hunger stays high after 3-4 days you might want to consider having another mini refeed.
3. Resting Heart Rate – I’m starting to notice for me specifically that every time I have an effective refeed my RMR goes up ~2 beats per minute. Metabolism and heart rate aren’t directly correlated but they are related so that’s another good sign things are running optimally.
Remember how I said there’s a million different ways to implement carb cycling? I think that once you nail this strategy, then you are ready for some of the more complex systems so start with this let me know how it goes and then maybe later down the road we can talk about more strategies. In the meantime, if you want more about my funsized refeed strategy, check that episode 41 out if you haven’t already.
Additionally, on this topic of carbs…. Vegetables, which are also carbs, might not be the secret weapon but they are definitely a petite’s best friend for 3 reasons.
1. They add volume to your meals which keep you feeling full. The more you feel full the less likely you are to binge on those simple carbs when the timing isn’t right.
2. They keep you feeling full because they are loaded with fiber which slow digestion & minimizes the insulin response from making you hungry again. (Hint: because of this, you can skip the veg at your refeed meals!)
3. And finally, that fiber is going to also give you regularity. It’s not uncommon for petites to be a little backed up. Going #2 daily will eliminate toxins which will lead to a more efficient metabolism.