You have made the decision, taken the leap and have decided to start a low carb diet.
You have taken an important first step towards better health.
Like most dietary shifts, your biggest challenge is ensuring you are able to sustain this lifestyle long-term. Changing habits is very difficult, and many of just give up and throw in the towel after a few days or a few weeks.
There are a few common pitfalls when it comes to low carb diets.
1. Looking at this as a short-term, quick fix
In reality, this is true for any diet. The only way to experience real, long-term results is to stop the short-term thinking. I am sure you are quite familiar with the drill: you start a low-calorie diet, aiming to lose an x number of pounds. The diet is unsustainable – it is too low in calories and feels too restrictive. You manage to maintain this protocol for a few weeks, on edge and ravenous the entire time, lose some weight, then go back to your old eating habits.
Meanwhile, your metabolism has slowed down in response to the perceived starvation, and as soon as you increase your calories, you pack on the pounds.
This mindset has to shift. A low carb diet is a long-term commitment. You need to realize that this is a lifestyle change, meaning for life. A low carb diet is very healthy and very effective, but it only works as lo long as you follow it.
This is why it becomes imperative to settle on a level of carbohydrates that you are comfortable with, that and can maintain forever.
Rest assured, after a few months of eating on a low carb protocol, you will very likely fall in love with this way of eating. You will be satiated, for the first time in your life. You will have great energy. You will lose weight. And you will discover wonderful low carb recipes that are just as good, if not better than the high carb junk you used to eat.
2. Succumbing to the low carb flu
Granted, the low carb flu is very unpleasant. It is basically a result of a couple of factors:
· On a low carb diet, your body flushes out fluids much more efficiently than when carbohydrate consumption is higher. With the fluids, you lose important electrolytes including sodium and potassium. Low carb diet experts recommend supplementing with electrolytes – this means increasing your high-quality salt intake. This will become part of your low carb protocol
· Caffeine withdrawal. Some people drink so much soda, that when they stop, they suffer very unpleasant caffeine and/or artificial sweetener withdrawal symptoms such as brutal headaches, and even muscle aches. If you happen to be a heavy soda drinker, consider decreasing your soda consumption gradually, over several weeks, rather than abruptly.
3. Going too low, too fast
Dropping your carbohydrate consumption too rapidly can be as detrimental as going too low when on a calorie restricted diet. You start out with lots of enthusiasm and resolve, cutting carbs to almost zero. This could worsen the symptoms associated with low carb flu, is very difficult to sustain for the long term, and – unless indicated by a healthcare professional – is simply unnecessary.
You could try an extremely low carb induction period for 2-4 weeks followed by gradual increase in carbohydrate consumption. Personally, I’m not in favor of shocking the body this way and in my experience, people tend to be more successful in the long run if they reduce carb consumption gradually and gently. This means that if you currently eat 300 grams of carbs per day (which is pretty standard on a typical Western-style diet), consider starting with 100 grams per day. Do this for a few weeks, then assess the situation – how do you feel, and what are you results.
Do you feel good? Do you have good energy? Are you satiated? Are you losing weight?
If yes, continue with 100 grams of carbs per day. If no, try lowering your carbs to, say, 80 grams per day and give it a few weeks, then reassess again.
It is obviously a good idea to consult with a low-carb-friendly physician before changing your diet, and if you are diabetic, 100 grams may be inappropriate for you (ask your doctor). For relatively healthy people, I believe this to be a solid framework.
4. Eyeballing it
After following a low carb eating plan for a few months, you will probably have become very good at estimating and eyeballing things. When you are at the beginning of your journey, it really is good idea to log all your food intake into a tracking app or a tool to make sure that you stay below the carbohydrate limit you have decided upon.
Even after following your low carb protocol for an extended period of time, I do recommend logging your food intake every once in a while, to make sure you are staying on track and to avoid any carb creep.
5. Relying on low carb junk
Even if you eat a lot of highly processed low carb foods and lots of artificially sweetened food, I think you’ll be better off than on a very high carb diet.
Your goal should be not just eating a low carb diet but eating a healthful low carb diet and sticking with real food. Your staples should be meat, poultry, fish, eggs, aged cheeses, nuts and seeds, healthy fats (animal fats and monounsaturated fats such as olive oil), low starch vegetables and low sugar fruit such as berries.
Keep the low carb junk – frozen dinners, desserts, fat bombs and protein bars – to a minimum. This will ensure you feel good and stay nourished while losing weight on a low carb diet.
6. Eating too much
A low carb diet will likely lower your insulin and keep you more satiated than you have ever been. Nevertheless, it is still very possible to overeat on a low carb plan. Many low carb staples are very high in calories, and calories do eventually matter, even on a low carb diet.
Be mindful of your portions and your hunger signals, and if you feel that those are messed up, go b ack to using a tracking app or tool to log your food and make sure you are not wildly overeating (but I would not recommend going below 1800 calories per day to start with. You can always adjust).
7. Eating low carb AND low fat
While I do not recommend going overboard on the fat consumption, there is no need to eat low carb AND low fat, and in fact, is very challenging and often impossible. Once you cut down on carbs, and since protein consumption tends to stay the same (and needs to remain moderate), your remaining calories NEED to come from fat.
Don’t fear fat – fat is good for you, as long as it’s healthy fat – animal fats and monounsaturated fats such as olive oil. Stay away from trans fats, and from industrial seed oils (canola oil, corn oil etc.) – those are highly inflammatory.
It is important to not put too much pressure on yourself. Stress can have a very negative effect on the body and worrying each time you eat something that may not be compliant with your low carbohydrate plan undoes some of the benefits that come along with a low carb lifestyle.
Don’t think of it as a diet, instead simply try to maintain a healthy relationship with food. Overtime, your carb cravings will lessen and your body will begin instead to crave healthy, fresh foods that make you feel good.
Focus on your long-term goals. That way if you do have a slip up, you can feel positive about moving forward.