By Susan Bowerman, director of nutrition training at Herbalife
Cutting carbs at dinner
The idea of a carb cut-off (a strategy that refers to the ‘starchy’ carbs like rice, bread, potatoes and pasta – not the healthy carbs like fruits and veggies) works primarily because people use it like a ‘food rule’ – as in, “I only eat dessert once a week”, or “I make sure to have protein with every meal or snack”.
Carbohydrates aren’t any more fattening in the evening than they are at any other time of the day – it’s just that your evening meal probably used to include them, and now it doesn’t. Cut out a portion of rice, a baked potato or a pile of pasta at night – or any time of the day, for that matter – and you easily eliminate a few hundred calories. That’s why the carb cut-off strategy works.
It’s a bit like the old idea of food combining, which suggested that your body couldn’t digest certain types of foods when eaten together – like proteins and carbohydrates. Obviously, if you subscribed to this notion, you’d almost automatically cut calories. No more could you eat your usual eggs, toast and fruit in the morning – you were stuck with either eggs or toast and fruit, but not all three. There wasn’t anything magical about food combining. Any way you sliced it, you were simply eating less.
Why it works for some people
Part of the reason the carb cut-off may work for people is that the evening meal tends to be the largest – so not eating starches in the evening might cut out more calories than if you cut them at other (usually smaller) meals during the day. And, if you’re replacing those starchy carbs with, say, a bigger pile of veggies, that’s going to save you a bundle of calories too.
When it comes down to it, food combining or carb cut-offs are just strategies that might help you to limit your calorie intake. They’re gimmicks, but so what? If you eat less when you eat with your left hand instead of your usual right, or if you eat less when you eat only one colour of food per day (one of my patients tried this … she gave up when she got to blue), it doesn’t matter to me – as long as you’re eating a well-balanced diet and meeting your nutrient needs.
When cutting carbs doesn’t work
Just bear in mind that if you eat more than you should – at any time, carbs or no carbs – your weight isn’t going to budge. When the carb cut-off rule doesn’t work for people, it’s usually because they make up for it during the day – packing in as many carbs as they can before curfew time.
About the author: By Susan Bowerman is a registered dietitian and a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics.
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