This video provides a nice introduction to low-carb dieting, giving you the reasons for getting started plus the essential ideas behind low-carb dieting:
If you are going to get started with a low-carb diet, it is helpful to arm yourself with some additional information. This information can make the transition into low-carb dieting easier, and can also offer you many tasty, interesting food options.
Recommendation: choose an existing low-carb plan and adopt it as your own
One recommendation I would make, especially if you have never tried a low-carb diet before, is to take one of the existing (and time tested) low-carb diets and adopt it as your own. Here are five of the most popular low-carb diets, along with links for each to help you get more info:
- South Beach diet – The South Beach diet sprang onto the scene in 2003 with a popular book. It is the most relaxed plan in this list, as it does allow some carbs (those with a low glycemic index):
- Dukan diet – An extremely popular diet in Europe, which came to the United States in 2011:
- Atkins diet – Millions of people have used the Atkins diet since the book describing it was first published in 1972:
- Keto dieting – A very strict low-carb diet:
- US News – Keto diet
- Wikipedia – Ketogenic Diet
- Reddit – /r/keto/
- Google – Keto diet
- A Comprehensive Beginner’s Guide to the Ketogenic Diet
- Some forms of the Paleo diet:
These diets all vary in their specifics, but they all have one thing in common – participants stop eating high-carb foods. Participants try to keep their total carbs per day down below 50 grams, or even 20 grams a day, for a period of time. What does this mean in real terms? It means that you stop eating junk food, fast food, anything filled with sugar or starch. Stop eating:
- ice cream
- breakfast cereal
- bread, anything with flour really: cake, pancakes, cupcakes, muffins, biscuits, etc.
- sugary sweet yogurt
- sugary sweet coffee drinks
- And so on
What are you going to eat instead of carbs? Protein, fats, and healthy, non-starchy vegetables. [There are only three “macronutrients” in the human diet: Proteins, fats and carbs, and fats often come attached to proteins]. You can eat things like:
- cottage cheese
- lunch meat
- nuts, in moderation (nuts contain a lot of calories)
And green non-starchy vegies like:
- green beans
- and so on
How to get started with low-carb dieting
So let’s say you want to give low-carb dieting a try. What do you do?
- Talk to your doctor first. Make sure it is OK.
- Pick one of the plans above and buy the necessary foods
- Pick a day to start, and on that day stop eating high-carb foods. This may or may not be easy for you. I remember the first time I tried this. I had decided to try the Dukan diet, so I stopped eating carbs one morning. I lasted less than a day. My body was SCREAMING for carbs, and as soon as you stop eating you notice that carbs or reminders of carbs are EVERYWHERE. Plus I had bought not nearly enough no-carb foods. I had to retreat, and try again the next week. It gets easier, but the first time or two can be weird.
- Drink plenty of water
- Then, even though your body may be SCREAMING for carbs, you have to make it through the first week. It gets way easier after you break your carb addiction, which takes about week. If you are a carb addict, you will definitely go through withdrawal of some sort. Some people get headaches. Some people get constipated, or the opposite. Some people get irritable. Other people have no problems at all, or withdrawal symptoms end after a day or two. If you have problems, start eating carbs again.
Combine a low-carb diet with a food diary from Exercise 3, and try to run a calorie deficit of 500 or even 1,000 calories a day. Do not do this on Day 1, but as you and your body get accustomed to the low-carb approach, work on the daily calorie deficit. And then see what happens. Millions of people (me included) find that a low-carb diet makes it easier to run a calorie deficit.
Why try a low-carb diet?
Here’s what I notice. For me, in my body, when I go low-carb and keep my carbs below 50 grams a day, I get 3 huge benefits:
- All the hunger pangs, cravings, binging goes away. My appetite goes way down. I find that I can skip meals if I want to.
- Now, with all those cravings gone, I can use a food diary and it works. I can run a calorie deficit.
- And if I can run a calorie deficit, I lose weight. It is that simple.
Why these big changes in appetite, hunger pangs, etc.? It has to do with all of the glucose that quickly enters the blood stream when you eat high-carb foods, and the way that your body has to deal with all of that glucose. See this article for details.
After combining a low-carb diet with a food diary, if you are not noticing these benefits, then I would probably stop and try something else, or I would check for carb leaks. Or if a low-carb diet does not agree with you or your body, then I would definitely try something else.
Water and water weight
One thing that will happen when you start a low-carb diet, especially in week 1, is that you will lose a lot of water weight. In my case, I lost 9 pounds in week 1, and almost all of that was water weight.
Why does this happen? One way your body stores energy from carbs is called glycogen. The glycogen storage process uses a lot of water. So if you cut way back on carbs, your body burns off all of its glycogen and in the process releases all of the water that had been used for storage. Depending on how big you are when you start, and assuming no carb leaks, you may lose 5 to 10 pounds during your first week or two as this water gets excreted. Here is a nice article that goes into more detail:
Of course, the reverse of this is also true. If you have been successfully low-carbing for several weeks and then you go to a big buffet and chow down on 300 grams of carbs, your body will store a lot of those carbs as glycogen and you can gain a lot of water weight in a day or two. Once you get back on the wagon and return to a low-carb diet, this water weight from glycogen will be eliminated again.
Low-carb diets and blood sugar
One reason why low-carb diets work so well is because the elimination of high-carb foods evens out blood sugar levels throughout the day. A low-carb diet eliminates the need for your body to constantly be dealing with sugar spikes that occur when you eat/drink high-carb foods. See this article for more info.