Are You Carbohydrate Sensitive?

There is an array of diets out there and just looking at the promises they make can make your head spin. Many diets have come to focus on the amount of carbohydrate in the diet. There are high, moderate carb and low carbohydrate diets all promising different things. The truth is, there is no one diet that will yield successful weight loss for all.

An important reason why we respond differently to different diets is the level of carbohydrate that we are able to tolerate. There is no one carbohydrate level that will be best for everyone, because different bodies have different abilities to handle carbohydrate. Some people are able to handle high levels of carbohydrate without any problems. However, that same high level of carbohydrate (esp. if refined carbs and sugars) can tip a carbohydrate sensitive person over into insulin resistance or diabetes in the long-term (see diagram below). Those who are carb-sensitve will struggle to lose or maintain weight on a high-carb calorie-controlled diet. Therefore, the key to weight loss is to figure out what is best for your body.


To help you determine which diet is best for you, you need to find the highest level of carbs that:

  1. Will induce and maintain weight loss
  2. You can tolerate without suffering cravings and cause binge eating

This level of carbs gives you maximum reward with the least discomfort. The Akins Diet calls this level the “Critical Carbohydrate Level for Losing” (“CCLL”), which is essentially the point at which you can eat as much carbs as possible while still losing weight. The South Beach Diet addressed this carb level in phase two of the diet, during which dieters are advised to steadily raise their carb level until they experience cravings and then lower it a little.

Carb sensitive individuals are on a continuum. Some will benefit from a small decrease in carb, while others need a larger reduction to experience the benefits. If you are carb sensitive and cut your carbs back you will find that after a short while your carb cravings lessen and eventually pass completely. You will find that customizing your diet to suit your carb will not only help speed up your weight loss, but also increase your energy levels and mental processes.

carbohydrate sensitivity weight loss
Going Against the Grain, Melissa Diane Smith


There are two ways of finding out what level of carbohydrate works best for you:

  • You can start with a high level of carbs (as is found in a “normal” diet) and gradually decrease your carb intake until you start seeing some concrete weight loss of 1 – 2lbs per week.
  • You start low and work your way up until you are able to maintain your weight loss, but no are longer suffer with food cravings.

Most low-carb books recommend starting low. The Atkins Diet and the South Beach Diet recommend this tactic. However, their initial carbohydrate starting point is very low, which can lead to an unbalanced diet. It has also been deemed by many health professionals as too low. That said, your intention isn’t to stay at that level but to work your way up until you find the right level of carbohydrate for you.

If you are very carb sensitive, it makes sense to start low. To help you to determine whether to start with a high or low level of carbs:

  • Decide how quickly you want to experience weight loss. If you start on a low carb diet, you will see instant results, while if you start higher you have to keep decreasing carb levels until you experience weight loss.
  • How overweight are you? The more weight you have to lose the more likely you may be sensitive to carbohydrates, especially if you have been gaining weight disproportionately compared to your calorie intake.
  • What’s your body type? Endomorphic individuals are thought to be most carb sensitive, while ectomorphs have a very good carb tolerance.
  • How old are you? With age our ability to tolerate carbohydrate decreases. Therefore, the older you are the more carb sensitive you are likely to be.

If you are unable to decide, you can start somewhere in the middle and hope you haven’t missed the right level of carbs for you. Carbohydrate Sensitive


The various low-carb diets start with different amounts of carbohydrate:

  • The Atkins Diet starts at 20 grams of daily carbohydrate
  • Protein Power starts at 30 grams
  • Dr Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution starts at 30 grams
  • The Schwarzbein Principle starts with at least 60 grams
  • Life without Bread at 72 grams
  • The Zone Diet starts at 100 to 150 grams
  • Sugar Busters starts around 140 to 200 grams.

Nonetheless, all of these starting points are below “normal” carbohydrate levels, which are approximately between 140 and 200 grams. If you decide to start low and work your way up, a starting point of 40 grams of carbohydrate is probably best. You can still follow the advice of the Atkins Diet or the South Beach Diet. This level is still low, but allows you to eat a more nutritionally balanced meal that includes fruit and vegetables.

The level of carbohydrate at which you should be able to maintain your weight also needs to be a level that you can live with. Determining you carbohydrate level is not just for the duration of weight loss, but should become part of your lifelong eating habits.

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