Last updated on May 24th, 2017
Last updated April 2017. It seems as good a time as any to look back and figure out what has worked and what hasn’t in my low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) way of eating. I’ve been eating low-carb for four years now (since March 2011). Admittedly, I went off the reservation a bit from 2012 to 2014, and gained back about 25 hard-lost pounds. That would be the “what hasn’t worked” part.
To be clear, I never strayed much from a low-carb diet. I did not start eating loaves of bread, pots of pasta, ears of corn, or piles of potatoes. For the most part, I avoided sugary treats (cakes, pies, etc.), and I absolutely avoided sugary drinks. Probably my daily grams of net carbs fluctuated in the range of 50 to 100 — well below the average American’s. Yet probably too much for me.
I say “probably” because during my off-the-reservation period, I don’t know for sure what I ate. I wasn’t recording my daily nutritional intake. Which brings me to the first of my top 5 lessons for successful low-carb dieting and weight-loss.
Keep a food diary.
Attention must be paid. I was never a very mindful eater, and have always turned to food for reward and comfort. That may not be true of everyone with a carb-habit, but if it sounds familiar, start a food diary, on paper or in a computer. If nothing else, it will slow down your eating. What I want to know most from my records is how many net-carbs I’m eating each day, and what the ratio is of fat intake to carbs and protein intake combined. The point of record-keeping is to keep your mind on what you’re doing, what your goals are, and what progress your making in changing your eating patterns for the better. The way I see it, a record of eating is more important than a record of weight and measurements. (I’ll stop short of saying everyone needs to start a weight-loss blog! But writing is a way to focus the mind.)
Watch out for sneaky carbs.
Everyone knows that spaghetti, french fries, and burger-buns are loaded with carbohydrates. You don’t need to know the exact numbers of grams of carbs in such starchy or grain-based foods, or exactly how many grams of sugar are in a glass of Coke or orange juice. It’s a lot, and you will, as a matter of course, avoid eating or drinking those obvious carbs. But there are less obvious sources of carbohydrates in the world. Nuts are a great snack, broccoli a wonderful side-dish, and cream just the thing for your coffee. But all of those contain some amount of net-carbs. It adds up. I’m not saying to avoid nuts, green veggies, or full-fat cream, but do a little research and know what carb-counts are for various foods. A quick Google search for “nutrition in ____” will usually bring up good data sources.
Eat enough fat.
This was a big lesson for me. Looking back on what I wrote in 2011, I was almost totally focused on the net grams of carbs in my food. After all, it was a “low-carb” diet, wasn’t it? Keeping my carbs low did work. I lost over 50 pounds in a year, but there were plenty of plateaus and, to be honest, times that I felt a little deprived. Eating high-fat along with low-carb definitely is more satisfying. I can’t claim that the additional fat consumption eliminates weight-loss plateaus, but I’m not convinced those can be eliminated or that they matter a whole lot in the long run. My current diet is about 70% calories from fat, 25% calories from protein, and 5% calories from carbohydrates. (Of course, not everyone needs to eat the same percentages to lose or maintain weight and reach optimum health. Our histories and metabolisms differ. Tom Naughton wrote a great post about this.)
Practice portion control.
A handful of almonds, peanuts, or macadamias is a fine snack on a low-carb diet. A quarter-cup is the normal serving size. Measure. Count. Don’t eat the whole bag. The same thing goes for cream or salad dressing. It’s easy to go over-board. I think a lot of my weight regain could be attributed to a salted nut habit. (See “Going nuts on a low-carb diet.”) Very few foods are “free.” Lettuce, maybe, but you aren’t a rabbit.
Break attachments to high-carb comfort foods.
Nothing used to make my mouth water more than fresh-baked bread, a hot pizza, or some gooey macaroni-and-cheese. I also had a soft spot for peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches. There as a time when every night for a snack I’d have one of those sandwiches and a big glass of skimmed milk. Is it any wonder my stomach enter the room a couple of seconds before my butt did? For the most part, I haven’t tried to replace those carby comfort foods. Sure, I whip up a batch of low-carb pancakes now and then, and Anita and I love mashed cauliflower (way better than mashed potatoes), but for the most part I just try to enjoy the food I’m with and not create low-carb imitations of high-carb fare.