Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Benefits of Pairing Low-Carb Eating with Intermittent Fasting for Health and Weight Loss

fasting and low-carb benefitsMost of the low-carbers I know end up experimenting with intermittent fasting at some point in their journey, and most of the IFers I know end up drifting toward low-carb eating as time wears on.


Is it just a case of overlapping interests? Is it because when you stumble upon one big lie perpetrated by the experts—that cutting carbs will give you heart disease and leave your brain starving for energy/you must eat 6-8 small meals a day or else risk “starvation mode” and “slow metabolism”—you start questioning all the other advice they give?

It might be some of that. But a big reason why intermittent fasting and low-carb eating tend to converge is that they are synergistic. Doing one makes the other work better, and vice versa.

What are the benefits? What are the synergies?

Fasting is easier when you’re low-carb. Low-carb is easier when you fast.

Low-carb is easier when you fast.

Fasting is easier when you’re low-carb.

The two inputs support each other. Rather than a vicious cycle, it’s a virtuous one. Fasting promotes fat-adaptation by upregulating fat-burning mitochondria, spurring the creation of new mitochondria, and reducing your reliance on sugar. Fat-adaptation makes going low-carb easier, because you’re really good at burning body fat and don’t get so many sugar cravings. Going low-carb makes you even better at burning fat and builds even more mitochondria, which is a prerequisite for fasting for extended periods of time.

If low-carb is going to work, you have to do it. If fasting is going to work, you have to fast. Anything that makes those easier is going to be good for your health. That’s where it all starts.

You’ll burn more fat.

A 2013 study compared low-fat dieters on an alternate day fasting schedule with low-carb dieters on an alternate day fasting schedule. Both groups lost weight and improved metabolic health markers, but the low-carbers lost more body fat.

A more recent study putting low-carbers on a fasting schedule for six months saw their body fat drop, lean mass remain stable, and fasting insulin decrease. However, there was no control group and the low-carb diet was still 30% carbs. I think you’d see better results if you dropped those carbs down even lower.

You’ll lose less muscle.

One common criticism lobbed at intermittent fasting enthusiasts is that it has the potential to cause muscle loss. This is a valid point. If you are insufficiently fat-adapted, your glucose requirements will remain elevated when fasting, and you may break down muscle tissue for the amino acids to convert to glucose.

Luckily, ketones spare muscle tissue by reducing your need for glucose. It turns out that a fair number of tissues that would otherwise run on glucose can run on ketones. Being in a ketogenic or low-carb fat-burning state before you fast accentuates this effect. It’s no wonder that the studies mentioned in the last section found that weight loss via low-carb dieting and fasting was entirely from body fat.

Bump up the muscle-sparing effect even more by lifting heavy things (even during the fast).

You’ll forget to eat.

A major reason low-carb and keto diets work so well for weight loss is that they increase satiety and inadvertently reduce calories. Whereas your average calorie-counter is painstakingly tracking everything he or she eats and expends just to wrangle a few pounds lost, the low-carb dieter often just eats to satiety and lets the weight loss happen.

The average low-carber will fast without even thinking about it. They fast because they simply aren’t hungry and forget to eat. Someone on a higher-carb “regular” diet often must summon superhuman willpower to fast. They fast in spite of being ravenous and can think of nothing else but eating.

Forgetting to eat is a much easier way to fast than willing yourself to do it.

You’ll avoid harmful postprandial blood sugar spikes.

Eating a high-carb meal after fasting for two days will spike your postprandial blood sugar. Eating a low-carb meal after fasting for two days will likely not. Why?

Consider the problem of the long-term low-carber trying to pass a glucose tolerance test. It’s common for long-term low-carbers to “fail” glucose tolerance tests because they’re trying to handle 75 grams of pure glucose with a fat-based metabolism. The body is set up to burn fat and you suddenly introduce a bunch of glucose. It’s hard to do, and most people will fail that—even if they’re healthy.

When you’re coming off a fast, you’re burning fat. You may not have the glucose intolerance of a long-term low-carber, but you are running on fat, and that’s going to raise the chance of exaggerated postprandial blood sugar numbers.

If you do want to eat carbs after a fast, the best way to mitigate this issue is to break the fast with a hard workout and then eat the carbs. You’ll “simulate” glucose tolerance by clearing out glycogen and providing open storage depots for the incoming carbohydrates.

Or you could just be a low-carber to begin with and avoid the problem altogether.

You’re less likely to overdo the re-feeds.

Fasting is a great way to induce caloric deficits and thus lose weight. That’s pretty much why it works so well, as an artificial boundary to control our eating and snacking habits. However, people can tend to go a little wild on the re-feeds. They haven’t eaten all day, so of course they’re going to pig out when they break the fast and eat all sorts of foods they wouldn’t otherwise eat—and eat way more calories than they would have, thereby counteracting all the good they did not eating.

If you’re sticking to low-carb or keto principles, the re-feed is safer. You’re less likely to overeat, because low-carb is so satiating. You’re less likely to eat junk, because the “rules” of the diet eliminate most of the offending foods like chips, sweets, and fried carbohydrates.

Your insulin will normalize.

When insulin is elevated, fat is locked away in our adipose tissue, making it very difficult to burn fat. Hyperinsulinemia, or chronically elevated insulin, also increases the risk of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, and elevated insulin levels are linked to atherosclerosis.

Intermittent fasting is a potent antidote to hyperinsulinemia. This recent study found that, despite causing similar reductions in body weight, alternate day fasting led to greater improvements in insulin and insulin resistance than regular caloric restriction.

Low-carb eating is also a potent antidote to hyperinsulinemia. As it turns out, avoiding carbohydrates reduces one’s insulin load.

I’m no enemy of insulin. It serves many valuable purposes, and we wouldn’t be alive without it. But too much insulin at the wrong time causes undeniable problems—and combining IF with low-carb can normalize it.

So, should you avoid fasting if you’re not low-carb?

Not necessarily.

Fasting while low-carb isn’t the only way to do it. Many people have great success combining high-carb dieting with fasting, provided they also lift weights. One popular (and effective) method is to go high-carb, low-fat on training days, with the workout coming at the tail end of the fast and the first meal coming after the workout. Then on rest days, you break the fast with low-carb, high-fat meals. The training stimulus increases insulin sensitivity and gives all those carbs a place to go (your muscle glycogen stores).

But combining low-carb and intermittent fasting really does increase and accentuate the benefits of both practices.

Thanks for reading, everyone. I’d love to hear about your experiences with intermittent fasting and low-carb eating. Do you find that the two go hand in hand, or have you also had success fasting with a higher-carb diet?


Klempel MC, Kroeger CM, Varady KA. Alternate day fasting (ADF) with a high-fat diet produces similar weight loss and cardio-protection as ADF with a low-fat diet. Metab Clin Exp. 2013;62(1):137-43.

Kalam F, Gabel K, Cienfuegos S, et al. Alternate day fasting combined with a low-carbohydrate diet for weight loss, weight maintenance, and metabolic disease risk reduction. Obes Sci Pract. 2019;5(6):531-539.

Mujaj B, Bos D, Kavousi M, et al. Serum insulin levels are associated with vulnerable plaque components in the carotid artery: the Rotterdam Study. Eur J Endocrinol. 2020;

Gabel K, Kroeger CM, Trepanowski JF, et al. Differential Effects of Alternate-Day Fasting Versus Daily Calorie Restriction on Insulin Resistance. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2019;27(9):1443-1450.


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3 Ways I Cut Back On Sugar

I decided to cut back on sugar after realizing that I was having dessert twice a day. Here are three tricks that helped me kick the sugar habit.

kath younger's kitchen with kale on a cutting board

Our Daily Habits Matter Most

If you have followed me for a hot second you know that I don’t believe in deprivation or creating strict food rules. But I do believe that our health is built with our daily habits. If you create a checklist of everything you do on a daily basis, you ultimately want every habit on the list to be contributing to good health. Once a week or once a month habits can be evaluated through a different lens. I might argue that I think everyone should have a huge piece of cake at least once a month. Remember almost a year ago when I wrote about changing my daily wine habit? I realized that I was having something sweet after both lunch and dinner on a daily basis. Again, I have nothing against a little sugar, but this was a major habit that I knew I should probably kick.

Sugar Everyday, Twice A Day

My dessert consumption wasn’t huge nor was it fueled by deep cravings. What I did realize was that my mouth craved a change of palate after meals. The more savory my meal, the more I need a change of palate after eating. To cancel out whatever flavors were lingering, I’d have a small cookie or piece of dark chocolate. (Especially if the meal involved garlic!)

My Cravings Come From My Mouth

I’ve learned the craving is really all about my mouth and chewing. My stomach and body rarely care about sugar, especially if they have just finished a meal. There are really only two things that work for me: sweets or mints.  (I’m actually writing this post after enjoying a kale salad with a peanut-sesame dressing made with garlic and would love a piece of gum right now!) I was chatting with my mom on the phone about sugar (she is also working on consuming less) and she said her sugar cravings occur in her upper body! So interesting.

kath younger, RD

How I Cut Back On Sugar

1. I put an extra toothbrush and mouthwash on my main floor

I used to have one there, but I think a child threw it in the bathtub or I ran out of toothpaste and never replenished. So I put a fresh toothbrush in the main floor bathroom to make it very easy and convenient for me to freshen my mouth after lunch. Mouthwash is an even quicker solution. Bonus: my dentist would probably like this setup!

2. I asked Thomas to relocate the sweets

I have long been an “out of sight out of mind” kind of girl. I am usually on the ball at the grocery store, and I rarely put sweets into my cart. Thomas, on the other hand, love his sweets. Every week there might be something new in the pantry or he might bake some fresh cookies! These are harder for me to ignore than the store-bought variety. While again, I don’t believe in deprivation, I noticed that if Thomas stores his sweets in the cabinet above the fridge, I never see them and am too lazy to get a stool to see what is even up there.

3. I get ready for bed right after dinner

If the toothbrush in the bathroom helped me with post-lunch cravings, this helped tremendously with dinner. Right after dinner, before we even put the boys to bed, I’ve been going to change into cozy clothes, washing my face (and putting on my skincare!), and sometimes going ahead and brushing and flossing. This signals to my brain that the kitchen is closed, and I am so much less likely to go hunting for a dessert.

Three simple changes have made it much easier to cut back on sugar. Without me even noticing too much too! Just like reserving wine for the weekends, I want the sugar I do consume to be inside a dessert that can be savored and devoured with enthusiasm at a party or restaurant.

Like wedding cake!

kath and thomas eat wedding cake

Do you have sugar (or mouth change) cravings and how do you handle them?

Photos by Cramer Photo

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from Kath Eats Real Food

What I Ate Yesterday

I’m always a little hesitant to share a day of eating – only because I don’t want you to think you should be eating the exact same way. That’s not the point.

In fact, one of the reasons I Iove macros so much is because they help you figure out how to eat in way that looks and feels “balanced” for you – based on things like your schedule, workout routine, taste preferences, psychological considerations, and more.

Buuuut I do think sharing a day of my meals and snacks can sometimes give permission to those who might be too rigid with their eating habits and help them add more variety to their meals and not make it all so complicated/strict.

So I wanted to share with you how I ate yesterday (and why).


I wanted to tell you that I’m announcing something really great on Friday. It’s something I’ve never done before, but I have a feeling you are going to LOVE it. Let’s just say it’s an affordable way to start tracking macros. Be sure to check your email on Friday morning!

Okay, so here’s what yesterday looked like:

  • Wake up at 6:25 am: Drink my usual Teechino with collagen, Ashwaganda, and oat milk

  • 8:15am: Leftover roasted sweet potatoes mixed with peanut butter, jelly, and ground flaxseed

  • 11:30am: 2 protein peanut butter cookies (testing for macro cookbook)
  • 1:30pm: Spaghetti squash with leftover chili on top
  • 4:00pm: Roasted broccoli dipped into peanut sauce

  • 6:00pm: Ground turkey with pizza seasoning, spinach, spaghetti squash, all covered in marinara sauce with Parmesan cheese on top

  • 8pm: A piece of dark chocolate dipped in almond butter

So, there you go – a full day of eats. This day is semi-typical of how I normally eat, but, of course, this is one day of many.

I’m showing you what I ate not to make you feel any kind of way (bad about how you ate, or good that you weren’t as “bad” as me… obviously, I have no say over how you receiving this), but to show you a simple example of what I consider balanced eating with the help of macros.

I’m far from “perfect” and definitely could have made healthier choices (and, of course, could have made unhealthier choices), but I’m also not willing to sacrifice satisfaction, deliciousness, or my sanity to be more strict or “have more willpower” with my diet.

My eating is the culmination of years and years of practice, using macros as a guide, in what foods fill me up and give me energy without making me feel gross or weighing me down.

I hope you enjoyed this recap of what I ate in a day. Please keep sharing your meals on Instagram. I love seeing your tasty creations and already have so many news ones that I want to try myself!


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