Happy New Year!
This is a shout-out to all of you who are here because of your resolutions to lose weight and improve your health in 2023. Some of you are newbies, and others have tried low-carb but fallen by the wayside. Consider this your welcome!
Some Basic Low-Carb Advice
Don’t try too hard to make this way of eating look like your old way of eating, whether that was the Standard American Diet, with the all-too-appropriate acronym SAD, or, like me, a traditional “health food” diet, low-fat and full of “healthy whole grains.” (I whole-grain-and-beaned my way up to a size 20 at 5’2”. Not a good look.)
We have been conditioned to be constantly eating, what with three meals a day plus a few snacks. This has been driven by the food industry and by the endless hunger-and-fatigue cycle caused by a diet based on carbs. Now that you’re low carb, pay attention to your hunger instead of to external cues to eat – “Oh, it’s lunchtime!” or “I’m watching a movie, so I need munchies” or the like.
Are You Taking Any Blood Sugar or Blood Pressure Medications?First, if you are on blood sugar medication, especially insulin, you must be under a doctor’s supervision. Your dosages are predicated on the expectation that you will eat a certain number of carbs per meal. Cutting carbs is a great idea, but from the very first day your dosages of hypoglycemic medications will need to be cut, and you will need to monitor your blood sugar closely. It is not uncommon for people to wind up needing no diabetes medication at all, but this is very serious stuff. Do not fly blind.
Similarly, since dropping insulin levels cause your body to eliminate a lot of excess water, blood pressure can drop rapidly. You may well need a medication adjustment there, as well.
Now that I’ve scared you, on to the really good stuff!
The First Couple of Weeks
In the first week or two there is a tendency to “Atkins flu” or “keto flu” – feeling wrung out and achy. Some people are sure they’ve made a terrible mistake. They haven’t. Your body is just shifting gears and it takes some time. If like most Americans, you’ve been giving your body a little carbohydrate every few hours, your body may well have down-regulated its production of the enzymes you need to burn fat for fuel. It will take your body a few days to figure it out and up-regulate the enzymes you need. Too, the drop in insulin levels improves your kidneys’ ability to eliminate sodium, which is why you pee a lot the first few days. Sodium deficiency will make you tired, weak, achy – especially with headaches – even dizzy. Eat salt! A cup of heavily salted broth is a great idea. Or you can just pour half a teaspoon of salt into your palm, lick it, and rinse it down with water.
Be Wary of Bridge Foods
Do not trust “keto” or “low-carb” on the label, much less “made with cauliflower,” or “almond crackers.” Read the ingredients and the carb count. If you’re still unsure, a glucometer (blood sugar meter, available at any drug store) will tell you how any given food is affecting you – take your blood sugar before eating that food, eat a portion (and nothing else at the time), then test your blood sugar again one hour and two hours later. I’m unhappy with anything higher than 120 at one hour, and that should be for a meal, not just a few crackers or the like.
Should you count total carbs or net carbs?
Depends on your body. I do well with net carbs when I count, but after twenty-seven years of eating this way, I rarely do. One advantage to net carbs is that fiber feeds your gut microbiome.
But do not trust the net carb counts on package labels! The original concept, pioneered by Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades, was to subtract fiber and only fiber from the total carb count because humans cannot digest nor absorb fiber. But you know how the food industry is. They decided we could subtract everything from maltitol to resistant starch. The only things I subtract are fiber and erythritol (because erythritol is the only sugar alcohol that passes through the body unchanged.) I subtract half of any other sugar alcohols because that’s roughly what we absorb of them.
Beware the “Special Occasion”
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard from people who were doing great – they’d lost weight, their energy was through the roof, their hunger was practically non-existent, and their blood work was dropping their doctors’ jaws. And then came the Special Occasion – the vacation, the anniversary, the birthday, any reason that seemed compelling enough to make the low carber say, “Ah, what the heck, I’m on vacation! I can have a treat” or the like. I hear from them eight months and forty pounds later. Some people can do this and get right back on the wagon, some cannot. Just as a sober alcoholic cannot have a glass or two of wine because “It’s my birthday!” the serious carb addict does well to not fool themself this way.
Which leads to the concept of the Reward
My mother once asked me how I ever got anything done without giving myself a reward. She said that when she had a disagreeable chore to do, she would reward herself afterward with “a little something good.” Please note that Mom was not a carb addict nor overweight, so no harm, no foul – except that her thinking that way led to two of her three children having food addiction issues. You do need rewards, but rewards that don’t have a nasty backlash – a hot bath, a sugar-free flavored coffee with heavy cream, a new shade of lipstick, an hour watching whatever you like to watch, anything you will enjoy that won’t jack up your blood sugar and insulin levels.
You can also make yourself treats, of course, which leads to a piece of advice that may sound self-serving: look up low-carb recipes. Obviously, I’d love it if you bought my books, but there are tons of free low-carb recipes right here at CarbSmart and plenty more online (and other low-carb cookbooks, of course). Trying a new low-carb recipe once or twice a week will quickly reward you with a catalog of new favorites, from breakfast to an after-dinner drink.
What About Exercise?
I’m for it, from walking to yoga to weight-lifting. Is one kind best? There was a time when I would have asserted that resistance exercise — weights — was most important. That was before a series of injuries and a newly developed bad back made weight-lifting problematic for me. I miss it, but I need to see a physical therapist to lay out a path to return to it safely.
In the long run, the best exercises are the ones you will do. If you love a brisk walk, go walk! If you love to dance — well, all you need to do is look at Dick van Dyke to realize the anti-aging effects of dancing. Enjoy yoga? Great stuff. Just find something you like to do and move.
But keep this in mind: you cannot out-exercise a lousy diet. It cannot be done. Figure about eighty percent of your weight loss and health benefits will come from eating right — and that eating right will give you the energy to do the exercise that will get you the other twenty percent.
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And with that, I’d best go see to supper. Here’s to a great 2023!
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