Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My Low Carb Diet in Detail

As I've mentioned, before, I came dangerously close to gaining enough weight that I'd be back where I was before my first low-carb diet (which lasted about 2 years and helped me lose about 50 pounds). I was back to 250 pounds and feeling terrible. I had to use a CPAP machine again, and that was compounding how bad I felt.

So, I gave up. Thanks to Jeff's help, I've managed to get my life back into a low-carb routine. Now, because I find most low-carb diets horrifying, I think it would be useful for me to go over my diet. It's really this simple:

  1. Avoid all sources of mass starch and sugar (pasta, potatoes, grains and rice, sugar, honey, etc.)
  2. Reduce intake of high carb veggies (sweet fruit, non-potato root veggies like carrots, tomatoes, squashes, etc.)
  3. Trim intake of medium carb veggies (beans and other legumes, etc.)
  4. Reduce milk and juice intake (substitute cream or cheese where possible for whole or skim milk)
  5. Increase fiber intake (fiber supplements, use Fiber One as a garnish, etc.)
  6. Reduce or eliminate high-surgar alcoholic drinks like wine, beer and most mixed drinks.
These are the most important rules for staying healthy while you diet:
  1. Cheat!
  2. Drink lots of water.
  3. Don't have meat with every meal.
  4. Explore flavorful foods.
  5. Get some hot sauces and try them out.
That's the whole diet, right there. If you only do the reduction step #1, you'll end up ahead of the game. If you add in step #2, you'll do even better and so on. If you don't do step #1, it won't work.

In the second list, #1 is important. First off, I recommend a full, normal, high-carb meal once every 10 pounds of weight loss. This has two beneficial effects: the first 10 pounds come off fast due to water shedding, so you get an early reward. Also, you have a sense that dieting will get you a food reward that you crave.

In addition to the reward meal, I suggest eating a high-carb item with one meal per day. Eat one of someone's french fries at lunch. If you are served a dinner with mashed potatoes or rice, have one forkful with your food. Carbs aren't evil. They're an important part of your diet, and you should consume sufficient amounts to keep your body functioning normally.

Water is a key ingredient in any diet. You must keep drinking water because it helps your body keep functioning normally, and allows it to adapt to changes brought on by diet.

What you will see:

First off, you're going to notice that you lose a lot of weight at first, and then it will seem to "stop". This is normal, and you're doing it right. Just keep up the diet. You might even gain a pound or two from time to time. That's fine. Overall, expect 1-2 pounds per week of weight loss on average. You may go 3 weeks at the same weight and then see 2 pounds drop off suddenly. Totally normal.

At first, you won't have a lot of energy. Not only are you fat (if you're like me), but you're reducing the amount of easy energy your body has access to. Accept that you're going to feel terrible for the first two weeks, going in. That's fine. You'll get better and even have a bit more energy than normal once you adapt.

If you have a high-carb snack or meal, you'll notice something strange. It can have a radical impact, making you feel "buzzed" or hyper. It might even make you feel a bit drunk. This is normal. Your body has adapted to low-carb intake, and now a simple snack bar is a bit like eating a whole cake by yourself. It's just a sugar rush. Obviously, you shouldn't be doing this very often anyway.

Other tips:

Alcohol is fine, but mixed drinks are usually full of sugar. Rum and diet coke is fine, as is any hard liquor combined with a low- or no-carb mixer. At home, I sometimes make gin and tonic with diet tonic water. This is perfectly acceptable (though, as with all alcohol intake, moderation is the rule for reasons having nothing to do with weight). If you like whiskey, tequila or other flavorful, hard liquors why not just have them neat or with a bit of ice?

I can't live without sandwiches. In order to keep eating them, I buy wraps made with flax seed. Joesph's makes a great line of such pitas and wraps that I use for this purpose.

Explore cheeses. Cheese is a wonderful way to enhance sandwiches and salads without adding a ton of carbs. Explore what's out there and find things you like. Don't be afraid to frequent a cheese shop!

Hot sauce is a vital ingredient. If you're not used to hot sauces, you might feel that you're too sensitive to them. This is not true. The active ingredient in hot sauce is capsaicin, and it has no real effect on the body except to trigger nerve endings and convince them that they are literally on fire. Interestingly, this has a complex effect on the flavor of food. Also interestingly, your tolerance for capsaicin goes up very fast when you consume it regularly. I find that on a low-carb diet, making food spicier can supplement what I used to get from making it sweeter.

A great starter hot sauce is Sriracha, which is a garlic/chili paste mix that is slightly sweet (keep in mind that it has sugar, so don't use it by the cup-full, but a little bit on a hot dog or steak is fine).


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. all good points. i'm especially fond of the second list and the prescription of piquancy. no matter what diet you choose, it's always important to enjoy what you eat, especially the parts that you need most. capsaicin is a great agent in this regard--it uniquely enhances many foods, and it provides an endorphine rush that is akin to a sprint. it's also habit forming in kind of an awesome way. more generally, spices of all sorts can be satisfying in various complex ways, satiating despite their negligible caloric content, and similarly habit-forming.

    in this spirit, i suggest a few additions.

    it's hard to go wrong by increasing your intake of high protein, high fiber foods. seeds, nuts, legumes, and whole grains are all pretty awesome in this regard. many of them are also great sources of omega-3s. i especially enjoy sprinkling generous amounts of hemp, sesame, chia, or flax seed on most of my meals. the same goes for crushed nuts of various sorts, which are also great as a base for sauces or an additive in smoothies. many other vegetables also fit into this category, including broccoli, sprouts, and leafy greens. i find that a good rule of thumb is that if it's dense, hearty, tough, and not a pulpy fruit, then it's likely in this category.

    aside from the economic and environmental benefits, eating organic, non-GMO, recently harvested, minimally processed foods also tends to be a lot more nutritious. avoiding the toxins (and their byproducts) used in non-organic farming is a no-brainer. but more to my point, the focus on fast growth, high yield, and low cost in non-organic methods and GMOs has repeatedly been shown to come at a detriment to the foods' nutritional value and flavor. in many cases, the detriment is severe. a similar tradeoff is exhibited by many forms of processing, including perhaps the most common one--cooking. finally, many nutrients break down after the food is harvested as part of its natural decay. eating locally grown, fresh foods minimizes the total shelf life they experience before reaching your stomach.

    my final point is much simpler. stock up on coconut milk and virgin coconut oil, and eat them plentifully. i won't get too much into their benefits here, but i'll list a few key ones: they are high in some very beneficial saturated fats; they are devoid of cholesterol; they have significant antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and antioxidant properties; they are very satiating; they are very delicious; and they are excellent substitutes for milk, cream, butter, and many oils. case in point: southeast Asians and Pacific islanders, whose diets typically rely heavily on coconut milk and coconut oil, tend to have exceptionally low rates of obesity and many kinds of disease.

    cheers to good health and good food!

    1. Thanks for replying Ivan. Of course, you're around me at work to see me cheat horribly ;-)