Friday, April 16, 2010

Why Low Carb?

One of the things that I’ve noticed as I’ve begun to lose weight is that as soon as someone I haven’t seen for awhile sees me they remark “You look great! Are you losing weight? What have you been doing?” My standard reply is “Thanks! I’ve been trying to slim down this year. I’m following a low carb diet.”

This simple statement usually elicits an “oh” and the subject is abruptly dropped. I know what’s going through their minds. I heard that wasn’t healthy. I could never give up pasta and sweets. I know someone that did that and they gained it all back once they went off the diet.

The thing is that, when done correctly, low carb diets ARE healthy. You don’t really miss the bread and pasta and sweets after the first couple of weeks. And the biggest myth, about gaining it all back and then some? Well that’s true of any diet if you go back to unhealthy eating habits as soon as you meet your goals, it’s certainly not exclusive to the low carb club.

Since I’ve run into so many questions about how this diet works, I’ve decided to devote the next couple of posts to explaining it a little. I think this might be helpful to me to reinforce what I already know, so please don’t think I’m getting preachy or pushing my eating plan on you, this exercise is as much for me as anyone.

The first thing I want to talk about is what exactly is a carbohydrate? Food is broken into 3 things; Protein, Fat, and Carbohydrate. Fiber, sugar and starch are all lumped into the same category as far as food labels go. For diet purposes though, you are only concerned about effective carbohydrates. These are carbs that affect your blood sugar levels. Fiber does not. So when calculating the number of carbohydrates in an item, you need to subtract the fiber from the total carb count. For example in my jar of natural peanut butter, 2 table spoons have 6 grams of total Carbohydrates and 2 grams of fiber for a total of 4 net carbohydrates.

The average American consumes about 300 grams of total carbohydrate a day and around 14 grams of fiber. This means that the average person eats about 286 effective carbs a day. Most low carb diets give you numbers to shoot for. For example Atkins starts you out at 20 carbs a day and you slowly increase them by 5 until you achieve slow steady weight loss of 1-2 pounds a week. Yes you can lose a ton of weight really fast by doing this, but this is where a lot of the criticism comes from that it’s not healthy and you can’t sustain it for long, etc. If you have a wedding coming up in 3 weeks and you want to drop an extra 10-15 pounds then this is the way to go. If you’re like me and you have 40+ pounds to lose, you want to be more practical. I don’t actually count the carbs I consume each day and I don’t have a limit. What I do is make sure that I am eating mostly meat and vegetables, with small amounts of fruit. I have omitted potatoes, rice and pasta from diet. I only eat the low carb bread when I’m dying for it and try to eat fiber at every meal. I would guess that I’m probably eating somewhere between 30-45 net carbs a day.

Typical day

Breakfast- Fiber one original cereal w/ unsweetened Almond Breeze Milk = 13 Net carbs

Mid morning- Coffee or tea with half and half and Splenda = 3 Net carbs

Lunch- Big salad with grilled chicken breast and blue cheese dressing = 9 net carbs (approximate)

Snack – Beef jerky and diet coke = 5 net carbs

Dinner – Chicken with Broccoli and Cauliflower = 5 net carbs

Evening treat- either a Jell-O Temptations mouse cup or a light beer, but only if I really want it. = 5 net carbs

Total=35-40 net carbs on average.

I really don’t feel deprived at all. The first couple of weeks are the hardest, because your body is adjusting to the change, but once your body makes that adjustment, you feel so much better. Your energy increases, you don’t have that sluggish feeling mid afternoon. In fact, when I do make an exception and eat some sugar or flour I actually feel a little lightheaded or high now.

There are a lot of health benefits to eating low carb, and I’ll get into all of those in my next post. The single biggest advantage though (for me) is that I’m not hungry anymore. Can you imagine that? You can lose weight without being hungry. It’s amazing to me. The protein and fat that you eat is so satisfying that once your body switches from sugar burning mode to fat burning mode, you will find yourself eating less naturally without wanting more. Really, that is the key to long term weight loss, isn't it?

My next post I’m going to talk some about Insulin and how your body’s metabolism works. This is what I mean when you've heard me say that the science behind this way of eating makes sense. I'm going to try to break it down in a way that is easy to understand, because this is where a lot of people are misinformed and get the impression that eating fewer carbs isn't healthy.


  1. I think so long as you take a healthy mindset towards it, it really can be effective. My big fear when trying it way back was not getting enough calcium since osteoporosis run in my family.. I am sure there are plenty of ways to break through that barrier though.

  2. Great post.

    I use the Lean For Life program which was my first exposure to low carb. Much of the time I use the knowledge I've gained to simply eat better.

    Like you it's not a big deal to cut out the cake, bread, pasta, etc. Well it is a big deal if you're as addicted to bread as I am! Atkin's is given a bad name by some who don't fully understand it or take advantage of it to eat high fat ... I don't see fat as a bad thing but something to eat in moderation. I don't follow Atkins or South Beach or Dr. Phil's diet for those with insulin resistance. They all looked too complicated.

    I will be so glad when every-day science, mindset, official thinking etc. catches up with the knowledge that we can live increasingly healthy lives on lower carbs than are currently recommended.

    What can be healthier than diet rich in natural and whole foods, protein, veggies and fruit? Interestingly there are some elite sports people who follow lower carb diets because they have found the high carb diets generally recommended for very active people slow them down.

    I think the emphasis should always be on healthier foods and a low carbohydrate diet is just another way of expressing this.

    Wishing you a good week and I look forward to your next post.

  3. True dat. I love the Low-Carb lifestyle. I've taken a bit of time off of it for the Eat.Stop.Eat program, but I sort of miss low carb. And I can really FEEL the impact carbs/sugar have on my body. I'm slowly working it out. :)

    Good for you, figuring out a program that you enjoy! :)