6 Easy Steps for Reintroducing Carbs Without Gaining Weight

Two Slices of Pizza: Bacon, Pepperoni, Olives, Mushrooms, Onions
Are you adding carbs back after a low-carb diet? 
Here are the 6 easy steps I used to not gain weight.

Have you tried a ketogenic diet and discovered it's not the right diet for you?

Me too!

Maybe, you've arrived at the Atkins pre-maintenance phase, Phase 3, and are now feeling a bit timid about returning carbs to your diet. This article will help you, too.

Either way, reintroducing carbs doesn't mean you have to settle for weight regain. While you do have to be mindful of what you're eating, and how much, here are the 6 easy steps I used to reintroduce carbs after leaving ketosis.

A traditional low-carb diet is very restrictive.

Most plans require you to lower your carbohydrates to less than 50-net carbs per day.

Some people enjoy eating mostly protein foods and vegetables, and some do not. Along with lowering those carbohydrates, most low-carb plans don't let you eat potatoes, rice, bread, or other starchy foods -- even at higher carb levels.

Many people begin missing those higher carb foods, especially if you've never adapted to burning fat for fuel or the weight isn't coming off as easily as you thought it would. While you can always adapt your low-carb meal plan to fit your preferences, most people don't know how to do that.

If you used low carb as a temporary, lose-weight-quick solution, you might have discovered that body fat doesn't go away any faster than it does on other diet plans. This can be quite frustrating!

The frustration increases even more if you don't have the genetics to easily burn fats for fuel, like I don't, or you have health conditions that interfere with fat burning.

If so, you just won't feel well eating at very low-carb levels.

No matter what your reasons are for leaving ketosis behind, you have probably found carbohydrate restriction to not be sustainable long term. While some people feel better eating at very low-carb levels, others like me, do not.

Regardless of what most low carbers believe, being overweight doesn't mean that your body doesn't handle insulin properly. Only one in three overweight people are insulin resistant.

Plus, as body fat goes down, insulin sensitivity improves. If you are insulin sensitive, you may or may not do well on low carb, which is why the Atkins Diet advises you to return carbs to your diet by the time you reach Phase 3.

Chicken with Chili Sauce, Rice, Blueberries
One-third of overweight individuals are insulin resistant.
One-third can choose low carb or moderate carbs.
One-third do better on moderate-carb diets.

Maybe, you're among the two out of three individuals that do fine on keto.

You dropped the weight and have now arrived at Phase 3, what Atkins and Keto both refer to as Pre-Maintenance. If so, you might be feeling apprehensive about returning carbs to your diet. We have plenty of tips and advice for you, too.

If you're thinking about switching from a low-carb diet to something else, or if you've considered giving up the whole diet game and want to learn how to eat mindfully, you'll need to know how to go about adding carbs back into your meals, so you don't regain what you've lost.

Going back to your old eating habits is a guarantee that the weight is going to come back.

That's the cold, hard truth about weight loss.

For something to be sustainable, dietary changes must be for life. You can't just switch from a fat-burning metabolism to a glucose-burning metabolism without experiencing a few consequences.

However, you don't have to be afraid of carbs. Those consequences don't mean that you have to put up with regaining body fat. You can minimize the side effects of leaving ketosis by using the following 6 tips and tricks for reintroducing carbs back into your diet.

All of these strategies are what I used to move into mindful eating without regaining any body fat myself.

Pinterest Image: Slice of Homemade Gluten-Free Pizza I Made

Step 1: Expect an Initial Weight Gain

Let's get the hardest step out of the way first.

When you initially go onto a low-carb diet, the lack of carbs causes the body to burn its glycogen stores for fuel. Processing that glycogen requires a lot of water, so you lose a huge amount of water weight very quickly. Some people have reported losses of 10 pounds the first week, or even more.

The average is 5 to 8 pounds of water loss, depending on how much lean body mass you have.

Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrates, which the liver trickles into your bloodstream periodically to keep your blood glucose level from dropping too low. It gauges how much glucose you need by the amount of insulin running around in your bloodstream.

If there isn't enough glycogen stored to do that, the liver can make glycogen out of several substances. It can even recycle a few things, like lactate and some amino acids, which is why carbohydrates are not essential to life. This is also why those on low-carb diets are chronically dehydrated.

Due to that dehydration state, when you return carbohydrates to the diet, the body will refill its glycogen stores along with enough water to process the glycogen. The liver will also stop flushing sodium out of the body, which means you won't lose as much water on a daily basis, either.

Storing glycogen is going to cause you to gain a little weight, along with the body's need to balance the sodium it retains, but that weight gain won't be body fat, so it isn't anything to worry about. If you are completely leaving ketosis, expect a 5 to 8 pound water gain -- at most.

3 Glasses of Water with Colorful Peppers: Red, Green, and Yellow
The small water weight gain you'll see when you first
reintroduce carbs is not body fat. It's your body
re-balancing your electrolytes, which is essential to life.

How much weight you initially gain will depend on:
  • how much weight you lost the first week of the diet
  • how long you have been doing low carb
  • what you were eating on your low-carb diet
  • how empty the glycogen stores actually were
The body won't allow your glycogen stores to stay half empty forever. Eventually, even under conditions of carbohydrate restriction, the liver will adapt to the state of ketosis and figure out a way to get those storage depots filled up again.

This is a safety mechanism, so your blood glucose doesn't go too low, and there is plenty of food for the brain.

If you have been low in carbs for a very long time, like I was, your glycogen stores might already be full, especially if you were using low-carb products, alternative flours, and sugar substitutes like sugar alcohols.

I wasn't using any of those things by the time I left ketosis. Plus, I was keeping a close eye on my calories and already knew how many I needed to keep my weight stable. I did gain back 8 pounds of water, though.

If your glycogen stores are full, you won't gain back much weight, it will be less than 5 pounds, because it's not carbs that causes weight gain. It's water, undigested food, calories, and dietary fat.

Carbohydrate is the body's preferred fuel, so carbs are the very first thing your body uses when they're available. This is why you don't have to be afraid of carbs. The body stores the fat you eat for use later on. If it does store carbs, it will use them to replenish your glycogen stores.

The body rarely turns carbs into body fat unless you're overeating.

Step 2: Adopt a Maintenance Mindset

The best way to add carbs back into your meals is to think in terms of a maintenance diet.

A low-carb diet doesn't permanently alter your metabolism, but it does correct any hormonal imbalances you might have had before restricting carbohydrates. Low carb lowers your basic insulin level, which in turn will stabilize your blood glucose.

If you are insulin resistant and just add carbohydrates back into your diet in a haphazard fashion, your hormonal state could become unbalanced again and any metabolic damage you have could get worse.

For that reason, carbs need to be introduced in exactly the same way as you would introduce them if you were ready to enter into the pre-maintenance phase of Atkins.

When insulin resistant, going off a low-carb diet isn't as simple as just going back to the way you were eating before. If you're insulin sensitive, you can do that within a few days, after ramping up the enzyme production needed to digest carbs, but if you're even mildly insulin resistant, it's better to take it slow.

If you aren't meticulous about the number of calories you're eating on a daily basis, and especially the amount of dietary fat, you're likely to regain all of the body fat you lost, plus more. Most of the horror stories you'll hear about returning carbs to the diet come from people who went back to how they ate before going low carb.

Once you leave the state of ketosis, the body processes food differently. You won't be using the famine pathway anymore, so the body will be primed to store dietary fats (it will store them more easily) and any excess carbs that won't fit into your temporary glycogen stores.

Liver glycogen holds about 80 carbohydrates. Your muscles can hold quite a bit more, about 200 to 400 carbs, depending on how much muscle mass you have and how active you are.

While ordinarily, the body doesn't store carbs as body fat, due to its need for glycogen, some people really pig out on the carbs when leaving ketosis. They don't just return to a "normal" diet. They go overboard.

If the body can't use the carbs you eat, it has to store them. This is why mindfulness is so important when moving from a low-carb diet to something more moderate.

And this isn't peculiar to a low-carb diet.

All diets put you into a famine state, but after a low-carb diet, the urge to refill your fat stores will be stronger. This is because your mind believes you have been starving for the duration of your weight-loss diet.

Higher basal insulin levels coupled with higher triglycerides might make you quite hungry, which is another reason why taking it slow is the best way to go. It's also why I recommend a moderate-carb diet, rather than a very high one.

It's easy to eat more than you should.

Most low-carb dieters never pay attention to the number of calories they eat and get used to eating large portions and tons of dietary fat. If you take those low-carb habits with you back into a moderate-carb diet, you'll run into trouble really quickly.

The more carbohydrates in your diet, the lower your dietary fats must be to prevent the pounds coming back. This is one of the consequences for giving up low carb.

Step 3: Don't Skimp on Protein

Paper Plate Stacked with Barbecued Pork Chops
Eating plenty of protein helps to keep you
feeling full and satisfied.

Protein is an important nutrient.

Although it is plentiful here in the U.S. and protein sources are easy to get, a lot of nutritional advice you receive about the amount of protein you need to be healthy isn't accurate.

Recommended daily nutritional requirements are based on the amount of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals it takes to keep symptoms of nutritional deficiency away.

These recommendations are not based on optimal health. Nor do they consider the benefit of a higher protein diet for weight management.

The recommendation for women on moderate-to-high carb diets is 46 grams of protein.

For men, it's 56.

But these super-low levels are based on the average woman only weighing 125 to 130 pounds.

These protein recommendations are the bare minimum that will keep a thin body from stripping its muscle to get the amino acids it needs for body repair, hormone synthesis, and other processes.

Any activity performed throughout the day will raise the protein requirement above the minimum. And so will:
  • emotional or physical stress
  • increased wear and tear on the body
  • moderate to heavy exercise
  • health issues that affect nutritional status
  • and even weighing more
Low-carb dieters are used to eating large servings of protein. On a moderate-carb or high-carb diet, you won't need as much as you would on low carb, giving you room in your maintenance calories for a few carbs, but getting an adequate supply of amino acids is still essential for good health.

If you don't eat enough protein foods, you will age faster and your hunger level will be higher, so don't skimp on the protein.

The old Weight Watcher's Exchange Plan required you to eat 9 ounces of meat, eggs, or cheese per day plus 2 cups of milk. On the average, this comes to 70 to 75 grams of protein per day. I eat between 72 and 90, so aim for 72 to 84 grams, and if you're active or still have plenty of excess pounds to get rid of, it's better to eat a little more than not enough.

Scientific research is pointing toward higher protein diets being better at taking off the pounds. Plus, if you don't eat enough protein, you'll retain even more water.

Step 4: Add Carbohydrates Back in Slowly

Adding carbs after a low-carb diet needs to be done in a systemic fashion. Everyone has a sensitivity level for the amount of carbs you can eat, depending on how normal your insulin response to foods is, so you need to find out what that level of sensitivity is.

Some people can return to eating 300 to 400 grams of carbs per day without gaining weight, provided they stay within their maintenance level of calories. Others find they have to adopt a moderate eating style instead, something closer to 150 grams, or less.

In 1972, when the original Atkins book came out, the average carbohydrate intake in the U.S. was only 200 grams a day. Those 200 grams come to 800 calories, a little less than 50 percent of the average diet for females. This left plenty of room in the diet for protein foods, produce, and a little healthy fat.

Today, it's not unheard of for those addicted to processed foods to be eating 500 or even 600 carbs a day. At 4 calories per gram, 600 carbs comes to 2,400 calories, far more calories that I can eat in an entire day at maintenance.

This is the real reason why carbs have gotten a bad rap.

How many carbs you can eat per day will depend on:
  • your metabolic peculiarities
  • how active you are
  • and genetics
If you don't burn enough glucose so your glycogen stores empty throughout the day, at least partially, your glycogen stores won't need to be refilled. The more glycogen you have stored, the fewer carbohydrates you need to maintain your weight, so add carbohydrates back in slowly until you discover the correct level for you.

For Phase 3, the Atkins Diet recommends adding back 10 grams of carbohydrates per day for the first week or two, and then evaluate:
  • what your weight is doing
  • how hungry you are
  • and how you're generally feeling
Keep in mind, that's an average figure. Some people will only be able to add in 5 grams per day, and others might be able to get away with 15. It is always better to go too slow than it is to go too quickly. 

If you are doing okay after a week or two, add another 10 grams. Keep adding carbs back slowly until you find your maintenance level for carbohydrates.

Since carbs are burned first, this is just a clever way to up your calories to maintenance.

Initially, you won't know how many carbs you can burn through in a day, nor how those extra carbs are going to make you feel, so going slow is best. You'll also be less likely to go over in calories if you stay mindful of what you're eating.

If you're sick and tired of counting carbohydrates, which many people are, you could try returning carbs in the way that the South Beach Diet suggests. The South Beach Diet has you keep track of servings of carbohydrates instead of grams.

You return one serving to your diet for a week, and then evaluate what happens. The Sugarbusters Diet did it that way too.

For example, you might have a piece of fruit (10 to 15 carbs), a slice of whole-grain bread (12 carbs), or 1/4 cup brown rice (10 carbs) per day and see how you do.

It's best to not mix food groups, as the body will handle fruit differently than it handles rice or potatoes. Some people tend to be more sensitive to sugars and others more sensitive to starches. You want to be able to stay on top of how your body is dealing with particular carbs.

If you are insulin sensitive, rather than insulin resistant, adding back carbs won't have any effect. In that case, you'll be able to move more quickly, provided you don't overeat.

Adding carbohydrates back slowly will give the body time to up-regulate the enzymes needed to digest carbs. On your low-carb diet, the enzymes needed to digest sugars and starches were not created because you didn't need them.

When you return carbohydrates to your diet, the body will have to start making those enzymes again. This will only take 2 to 3 days, but you don't want to gorge during that time or it could make you very sick.

However, also keep in mind that when you return carbs to the diet, you're also upping your calories. If the goal is to continue losing weight, you'll have to cut down on fats to make up for those extra carbs.

Step 5: Reverse Your Mindset About Dietary Fat

Double Cheeseburger on a Bun with a Pile of French Fries
Most people who gain weight when returning carbs
to the diet are eating too much fat.

From my own experience, the number one reason why low-carb dieters regain the weight after returning carbs to the diet isn't the increased carbohydrates. It's due to eating too much fat.

In the presence of insulin, cortisol, or alcohol, dietary fats are quickly converted into triglyceride and stored for later use.

This happens no matter what type of diet you're following, even low carb. Dietary fats are not immediately used for fuel. Incoming dietary fat is always stored since all foods -- including meats, eggs, and dairy products -- trigger an insulin response to get their nutrients into your body's cells.

The only exception to this would be if you were one of those people who were eating coconut oil off a spoon. Fat doesn't need insulin because it's already in an easily storeable form.

One of insulin's roles is to get amino acids and glucose into body cells faster where they can fuel metabolic processes. This also helps to bring the blood glucose level back down into a normal range. To do this, dietary fat is temporarily stored.

Triglyceride is then drawn upon later as it is needed for caloric energy throughout the day.

On a low-carb diet, a large quantity of fatty acids are used to fuel the body. On a balanced, moderate-carb or high-carb diet, they are not. Since there is more glucose available on higher-carb diets, most body processes are fueled by glucose instead of dietary fat.

When fats are not predominantly used for energy, the more carbohydrates you eat, the less dietary fat you need to make up the difference.

Low carbers get used to eating a lot of fat. Since the mantra within low-carb circles is to stop fearing fat and eat it freely, because it's so healthy, it's easy to continue that habit after going off a low-carb diet.

Doing this is dietary suicide.

The pounds will pile on quickly when adding carbs after a low-carb diet if the diet also contains a high proportion of fat calories.

On a moderate-carb or high-carb diet, the amount of good fats a person needs to maintain health is quite small because the body will use carbohydrates for energy instead of fat.

Step 6: Watch for Food Sensitivities

Slice of Bread with a Heart Shape Cut Out
Watch for wheat or gluten sensitivity symptoms
when you return carbs to your diet!

Calories are considered the gold standard when it comes to weight management.

However, there are many things that affect the rate at which calories are burned for fuel. In a normal metabolism, the metabolic rate will speed up to deal with an excess of calories. It slows back down when calories are too few.

In my own experience, maintenance calories are a range. For me, maintaining 160 to 165 pounds takes 1800 to 2100 calories. I can eat anywhere within that range and be fine.

Since those who struggle with weight management issues do not have normal metabolisms, avoiding weight gain after a low-carb diet isn't as simple as just counting calories. Food sensitivities and gluten intolerance play a large role in how the body metabolizes food after leaving a low-carb diet.

You can also have a violent reaction to what appears to be carbs.

The typical low-carb diet mostly consists of protein foods and vegetables, so when you return wheat-based foods or foods with gluten to your diet (like bread or pasta), it can cause a severe gluten reaction that you didn't have before going low carb.

Many dieters who have no idea they have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) have reported suffering with diarrhea, cramping, bloating, and other problems from returning carbs to their diet.

Inflammation can manifest in a variety of ways. Watch for:
  • deep sadness
  • depression
  • moodiness
  • headaches
  • food cravings
  • excessive fatigue
  • heart burn
  • joint pain
  • bloating
  • excessive gas
  • constapation
  • diarrhea
  • runny nose
  • chest congestion
The immune system, detox system, hormones, and digestive system are all interconnected.
  • inflammation
  • gut imbalances
  • digestive irritations
  • and leaky gut syndrome
can all cause you to gain weight, so be watchful of how the body reacts to the individual foods you return to your diet.

This tip is particularly important if you were one of those who noticed these symptoms during times when you cheated on your low-carb diet. The:
  • bloating
  • gas
  • moodiness
  • headaches
  • diarrhea or constipation
  • and congestion
that low-carbers experience from eating carbs isn't about the carbs. These are signs of food intolerance, most likely to wheat, gluten, dairy, or soy. They are also symptoms of celiac disease.

Life After Low Carb Doesn't Have to Include Weight Gain

Weight gain is a common occurrence when people leave a low-carb diet, but it doesn't have to be that way.

Returning carbs to the diet after Atkins and other low-carb diets just has to be done in a slow, mindful way. After a low-carb diet, the body will be primed to re-fill its fat stores because it believes that being fat is your normal state.

Now that the famine is over, it will be eager to return you to that former fed state, in preparation for the next famine event.

You can stay in control of the process, but you will have to:
  • watch for food sensitivities
  • get an adequate amount of protein
  • watch your fat intake
  • add the carbs back in slowly
  • and don't go over your maintenance calories
How slowly you have to go, will be different for everyone, so don't fall into the trap of generalities or following others. 

Keep these 6 easy steps for adding carbs after a low-carb diet constantly in your mind, and you'll have a good chance of making the switch without gaining weight.


  1. Replies
    1. You're welcome. Thanks for your input. I greatly appreciate it.

  2. Great article!! I'm very concerned about regaining the weight since it also helped my high BP to lose it. I'm gonna save this page and refer to it later.
    Thank you!!

    1. Thank you. Keep an eye on what your blood pressure is doing when you add back the carbs. Insulin resistance never goes away, but most people can eat a lot more carbs at maintenance than they could when losing the weight.

  3. Thank you so much for the great post. I really like your blog and enjoy reading it. I almost like all of your tips and i am going to implement it on myself sooner or later as i am very much concerned about my weight. keep sharing good work with us.

    Keto Diet Meal Plan

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