I recently went on a low carb diet and lost 18 lbs. This was by far my biggest weight loss ever. It was pretty rapid too. I lost it in 10 weeks.
People have been asking how I did it, so I decided to write this as a reference for anyone looking for some guidance.
I’m not an expert. I’m not a doctor, scientist, or dietitian. I’m someone who did a lot of research and took advice from other people who can be considered experts. Here’s what I learned and did.
I gained weight in the winter of 2013-2014. There were a number of reasons, including:
- I was living in Chicago at the time and it was the coldest winter in 30 years (so I didn’t go out much)
- Because it was so cold I ordered take-out a lot more than I ever did before
- I joined a new team at work that catered lunch several times a week
- I stopped exercising
I gained around 15 pounds that winter. I’m really short, 4’11”, so 15 pounds is quite a bit on me. Since I wasn’t exactly lean before that, I needed to lose it.
Why low carb?
I normally do low calorie diets, but I found it wasn’t working for me this time around. Most low calorie diets say I should eat 1200 calories a day. I did that, jogged 3 miles a day every other day and did yoga on my off-jogging days. My weight didn’t budge.
Then I dropped to 1000 calories a day. I increased my exercise. My weight still didn’t budge.
I played around with calorie amounts for a month before concluding it wasn’t working for me. I figured I’d try low carb to see what would happen. If that didn’t work, that would mean something wasn’t right and I should see a doctor.
Turns out the low carb diet was very effective.
What did I eat?
I based my meals around vegetables and lean protein. I ate as much as I wanted of these. Then I’d have some dairy and fruit if I felt like it. Here’s a list of food I frequently ate to give you an idea:
- 0% plain greek yogurt w/ chopped grapes (the juice from the grapes has sugar which gets into the yogurt and sweetens it)
- 2 scrambled eggs (or egg whites) w/ whipped chive cream cheese, side of grilled vegetables
- Smoked salmon w/ side of grilled vegetables
Lunch & Dinner
- Mixed vegetable salad, including a little cheese & lean protein, like chicken, fish, or turkey, add low carb dressing like lite goddess dressing – *varying meat, cheese, vegetables, and dressing keeps this interesting*
- Turkey & cheese lettuce wraps w/ mustard, side salad
- Turkey/Fish/Chicken/Boca burger (no bread), side salad
- Tuna salad
- Baked fish w/ steamed vegetables
- Chicken or Turkey w/ steamed vegetables
- Miso soup
- Chicken soup w/ vegetables
- Cole slaw
- String cheese
- Dark chocolate
- 0% greek yogurt with lite whipped cream folded in, add berries or grapes for more sweetness
- Hot tea with milk and cinnamon
- Look at the menu and decide before eating out
- Japanese and Korean are always safe bets- avoid the rice
- If you’re not sure, get a salad
What to avoid?
- Potatoes or Corn (or products based on them, like potato or tortilla chips)
If you want something sweet, eat fruit.
Why limit fruit?
If you really want something sweet, you can have fruit. But don’t make fruit a staple.
Fruit has naturally occurring sugar. Sugar from this source is much better for you than sugar in processed food, like in candy and pastries. The difference is, fruit has fiber while processed food has little to none. The fiber will help stabilize your blood sugar, helping you to avoid spikes and drops that lead to more cravings. I’ll get into this in more detail in the next section.
That said, while dieting, only eat it if you need it. Introducing sugar can lead to cravings later. So you decide how important it is that you have it.
How to stick to it?
This was an easy diet to stick to. I rarely felt hungry or craved something I couldn’t have. A few times I wanted bread or a pastry. It always came about from the environment: someone would talk about how good the bread was somewhere, or I would be watching someone eat a piece of cake. It never came from my own need. That said, the feeling almost always passed within 30 minutes. If I still had the feeling, I’d eat a little bit of what I wanted, like half a slice of bread, a spoonful of someone else’s dessert, or one cookie. It never tasted as good as I thought it would, so it was easy to stop eating it.
The diet is easy from the perspective of biology: how your body processes food. The diet is hard from the perspective of peer pressure and the food environment. I’ll explain.
I’ll try to keep this simple and brief so anyone can understand it. We all know about insulin. Our bodies produce it to keep our blood sugar stable. The more sugar- including carbs- we have in our diet, the more our body needs to produce insulin to get the sugar in our blood to our cells so they can use it as energy. This means if you eat cake your blood sugar will go up so you’ll initially have a surge of insulin to deal with it, then later the insulin will crash. The crash will make you hungry and you’ll crave more sugar. It’s a vicious cycle.
This clip from the documentary Fed Up explains it well:
If you don’t eat sugar- or many carbs, your blood sugar and insulin levels will stay pretty stable. They won’t have high highs and low lows. This means you won’t feel too hungry too often, and when you do feel hungry, you’ll be satisfied with food that keeps everything stable, i.e, you won’t crave high carb food.
Here’s another 1 minute clip from Fed Up to help explain.
So, the more you eat high carb food, especially sugary food, the more you want it and crave it. The less you eat of it, the less you want it and crave it. When that happens, you’ll find that you stop thinking about it.
The Food Environment & Peer Pressure
The reality is, the food environment in the United States makes it very easy to eat lots of high carb, high sugar food. If you pay attention to food labels, you’ll see a lot of this in much of what we eat. It wasn’t always like this and it doesn’t need to be there. Food manufacturers know, for example, that sugar makes food more appetizing to the American palette, so that keeps us buying, which makes them more money. It’s not healthy, but they’re not in the business of keeping us healthy. They’re in the business of making money.
Additionally, your friends, family, and colleagues will most likely not be doing this diet with you. They’ll be eating all the stuff you used to eat. It can be really hard to say no and feel you’re still part of the group. A lot of social activity centers around food, so you may feel left out, or like you’re being antisocial by not doing what everyone else is doing.
This means that we have to be very focused on our goals. When it’s so easy to make bad choices, the real work is in your head. The good thing is that focus is a muscle you can build. The more you work at it, the easier it’ll be to make the right choices and avoid the wrong ones- and to feel okay about making the right choices.
Should I track my food intake?
This is up to you. Lots of people don’t with low carb diets because 1) it’s a lot less work, and 2) they know if they’re eating the right foods they’ll be fine.
I did track my eating, mainly because I’m detail-oriented and like to analyze trends. I also found that when I didn’t track I’d get lazy and start eating Doritos, or something. No one will know…
I tracked everything through an app called My Fitness Pal. It’s free, but there are upgraded versions for a small fee. They have a low carb setting for a small cost, but I didn’t bother with it. If you track your food you can see your carb intake for the day.
How many carbs can I eat?
Again, this is up to you. Your height and current weight, along with how your body works, will inform what is best for you.
I know people who are very strict with low carb diets and eat only 20 carbs a day. That was too strict for me. I know I’d give up on it fast with so little flexibility. So I aimed for 50 carbs a day. If I just had lean protein, veggies, and some dairy, I’d end up around 30 carbs. This gave me an extra 20 to play around with, which means I could have some fruit or a cookie, if I really wanted it. Some days I went over and had 70 or 80 carbs. But overall it averaged out to 50 a day.
If you’re like me, you will start to see results quickly. Even if people are giving you shit about your diet- and they probably will- within a month or two they’ll notice a difference. They’ll start complimenting you, telling you how great you look, want to know what you are doing, how to do it themselves, and who knows- they may become converts.
You’ll also notice a difference in your own mindset- that you don’t need all this food that you once thought was so near and dear to your eating life.
Do you have before and after pics?
No, but I do have this.
Will it stay off?
I don’t know. I just did this thing. From what I read, you need to be careful when you finish. What I will say is that I was bad for a couple of weeks and gained a couple pounds, but then I got back on track and lost it.
At this point I figure I can’t go back to what I was doing before, so this will have to be a lifestyle change, as they say. So maintenance will probably end up being 100-150 carbs/day. That seems more than do-able.
So that’s it. If you have any questions, hit me up.