Saturday, May 28, 2011

Considering a Low Carb Diet? What Not to Do

I think there are some new readers of this blog who may be considering a low carb diet, so I wanted to post a caution about following the diet.

First off, you really need to be committed to it.  About the worst thing you could do is add a lot of fat to an already high carb diet. It won't work if you don't also cut carbs.  According to the Weight Loss Sweet Spot, you need to be consuming 100 or fewer carbs per day to lose weight, and really, to get into the fat-burning ketosis, you need to be below 50 carbs per day.  I would recommend fewer than 30 carbs, at least for a month or two, to see some dramatic results. If you consume 150 or fewer carbs per day, you can enjoy almost effortless weight maintenance.

Second, cheating is immediately punished in a rather shocking way.  If you cut out the carbs, you lose water weight quickly at first, perhaps 6 to 12 pounds in a week.  But if you cheat for a day and binge on carbs, it can all come back quickly, too.  But it is just water. Remember that if you binge on carbs one day and gain 10 pounds the next day. Your initial weight loss is water (the fat will come off later) and if you cheat, your weight gain is all just water, too. Get up, dust yourself off, and get back into the saddle and try again.

Third, do NOT try a low-fat, high protein version of the low carb diet (like the old Weight Watchers Core program). If you truly cut out your carbs, but eat a lot of lean protein (like skinless chicken breasts) and very little fat, you may actually get sick. If you are going to try a low carb diet, you must get over your lipophobia (fear of fat) and eat animal fats. They will not clog your arteries and they won't cause a heart attack. For a very detailed explanation of this, read Good Calories Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. Warning: this is a dense book, but it outlines the history of the saturated-fats-cause-heart-disease hypothesis, including a very thorough debunking of this hypothesis. Or just watch this video instead, which essentially says the same thing Taubes said, but without dozens of pages of scientific citations.

Fourth, realize this is a lifestyle, not a diet you can step off once you get to your weight loss goal and then resume eating like you used to eat. If you do that, you will just gain back all the weight you lost.

Finally, if you do a low carb diet, and cut out most of the carbs you have been eating, you will experience carb withdrawals to one degree or another. But this is temporary, and the healthy aspects of the low carb lifestyle will quickly outweigh the withdrawal symptoms. Michael R. Eades, M.D. has a two part series on starting (or restarting) a low carb diet, including tips for getting over carb withdrawal.  Part I is here, part II is forthcoming.

Now for the good news: you will not be hungry, you will lose weight safely, you will have more energy, your lipid profile will improve, and you will be very healthy. Here are some very useful suggestions for following a low carb diet.

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