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Can an occasional high carb day help weight loss on a low carb diet?

Published on July 31, 2012,

Mark Sisson discusses the idea of occasional (e.g. once a week) high carbohydrate eating when otherwise on a low carb diet to help the body avoid fighting against continued weight loss. This seems to be especially relevant for those who have already experienced an amount of weight loss through low carb but are starting to plateau.

Sometimes, weight loss slows. Sometimes, what worked amazingly well before, stops working quite the same. Although this can be scary, frustrating, annoying, or all of the above when progress slows, stops, or requires new input to continue like it was is ultimately okay, because we are an adaptive species. We can change things up, shift stuff around. Physiological processes (among which weight loss and metabolism can certainly be counted) are never linear – that’s partly what makes all this stuff so endlessly engaging.

Today, I revisit a strategy for overcoming these lulls in weight loss induced by low carb: carb (re)feeds. They seem counterintuitive, sort of, especially if you’ve had success restricting carbs, but hold you opinions until you read on. I think you’ll find it enlightening.

“Dear Mark: Your blog is a treasure trove of valuable information. Thank you for keeping this resource available to us!

This is a question that I think many of your readers would appreciate seeing addressed in a post. [Background: I've been studying (and trying, periodically) various low carb regimens for many years, with varying degrees of success. I'm looking to metabolize off about 30-40 pounds of excess fat, build lean muscle and optimize my health and fitness.]

My question is, what do you think of the increasingly common recommendation (from various diet and fitness gurus) to “spike” calories and carbs one day per week, in order to keep the body from down-regulating certain mechanisms too much due to continued low carbohydrate intake? The theory is that a once-per-week carb/calorie spike gives the metabolism a boost, and keeps weight loss going at a better rate than simply sticking to the low carb regimen seven days per week.

I’m wondering if this recommendation for one “free day” per week is helpful or harmful to the objective of significantly reducing excess body fat over a period of a few months, and staying lean for life. I don’t mean a “be a fool and eat garbage” day, but an honest “spike the carbs and calories with healthy foods” day. What do you think: Would this be a weight loss booster overall, or just a setback on the road to burning excess fat and getting to an optimally lean body composition?

Thanks, Mark! I (and I’m sure your other readers) will value your opinion on this.

Dee”

I’m happy to help. Thanks for the kind words.

Short answer: Yes, I think there is something to the lowish-carber’s occasional carb and calorie fest. Its relevance to a given individual depends on that person’s metabolic situation, of course, but I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. Check out my previous posts on leptin and carb refeeds and weight loss to get an idea.

Longer answer: If you’re eating low-carb and low-calorie (which low-carb tends to promote on account of its inherent satiety) and the weight has stopped dropping, you may be low in leptin. Why does leptin matter, and what do calories and carbs have to do with it?

More at: Dear Mark: Should I Increase Carb Intake for Weight Loss?

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