6 Essential Tips for Reintroducing Carbs Without Gaining Weight

Two Slices of Pizza: Bacon, Pepperoni, Olives, Mushrooms, Onions
Are You Adding Carbs  After a Low-Carb Diet? 
Here are 6 Tips to Get You Started!

A traditional low-carb diet is very restrictive.

Along with lowering carbohydrates, most low-carb plans don't let you eat potatoes, rice, bread or other starchy foods even at higher carb levels. If you used low carb as a temporary, lose-weight-quick solution, you might have found out it's not sustainable.

It's also not sustainable if you are insulin sensitive, rather than insulin resistant. Being overweight does not mean that your body doesn't handle insulin properly.

So, 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 to eat more normally, you'll need to know how to go about adding carbs back into your meals.

If you simply go back to your old eating habits, the weight is going to come back.

You can't switch from a fat-burning metabolism to a glucose-burning metabolism without experiencing a few consequences. 

However, those consequences do not 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 into your diet.

1. Expect an Initial Weight Gain

When you first 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 chunk of water weight very quickly.

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. 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, which is why carbohydrates are not essential to life.

However, when you return carbohydrates to the diet, the body will refill those glycogen stores along with enough water to process the glycogen. Storing glycogen is going to cause you to gain a little weight, but that weight won't be body fat, so it isn't anything to worry about. 

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.

If you have been low in carbs for a long time, your glycogen stores might already be filled, especially if you were using low-carb products and flours. In that situation, you won't gain back any weight. Moving to a more moderate carbohydrate intake will be simple and easier.

Once glycogen stores are full, the amount of calories you eat becomes very important.

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 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.

Chicken Leg Quarters, Potatoes, Tomatoes, and Onions in a Baking Dish
Adding carbs back mindlessly, will cause you
to regain some or all of your weight back.

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.

Going off a low-carb diet isn't as simple as just going back to the way you were eating before.

Although you can certainly do it that way, if you aren't meticulous about the number of calories you're eating on a daily basis, and especially the amount of fat, you're likely to regain all of the body fat you lost, plus more.

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 and any excess carbs that won't fit into your temporary glycogen stores.

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. Higher basal insulin levels coupled with higher triglycerides might make you quite hungry.

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 dietary fat. The more carbohydrates in your diet, the lower your dietary fats must be to prevent the pounds coming back.

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.

The recommendation for women 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
  • 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, 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, that's 70 to 75 grams of protein per day. 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.

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, and 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 so.

How many carbs you can eat 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.

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.

Initially, you won't know how many carbs you can burn in a day, nor how those carbs are going to make you feel, so slower is better.

If you're sick and tired of counting carbohydrates, 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 resistance, 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 a low-carb diet, the enzymes needed to digest sugars and starches won't be created because you don'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, so you don't want to gorge or it could make you very sick.

5. Reverse Your Mindset About Dietary 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 dietary fat.

In the presence of insulin, cortisol, or alcohol, dietary fats are 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 store them. Fat doesn't need insulin because it's already in a storable form.

One of insulin's roles is to get amino acids and glucose into body cells where it can fuel metabolic processes. To do that, fat is temporarily stored. It 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 fats.

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, it's easy to continue that habit after going off a low-carb diet.

That's 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.

6. Watch for Food Sensitivities

Slice of Bread with a Heart Shape Cut Out
Watch for Wheat or Gluten Sensitivity
When Returning 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.

Since those of us 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.

Since the typical low-carb diet is mostly protein foods and vegetables, when you return wheat-based foods or foods with gluten, such as bread or pasta, it can cause a severe reaction you didn't have before going low carb. 

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
  • 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.

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 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
  • and add the carbs back in slowly
How slowly, will be different for everyone, so don't fall into the trap of generalities or following others. 

Don't do what I did. 

Keep these 6 tips 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.