Have you tried and failed with weight loss before? Are you just overweight and looking to approach a lower carbohydrate intake for the first time? Do you have a sugar and carb addiction that needs to be addressed before it makes you any fatter?
Low carb diets have often gotten some bad press and negative opinions. I have been one of those people to think negatively about them and still do to some extent. If however, done correctly they can be very effective at decreasing body fat, cholesterol and risk for heart disease amongst other positive benefits – when done correctly and safely.
When you increase or consume way too many carbohydrates above the levels that you need for survival or periods of intense physical activity (in other words, you just eat way too many damn carbs every day), you lose your ability to rely on fat burning mechanisms, and you experience the damaging effects of chronically elevated blood sugars, including neuropathy (nerve damage), flawed skin (like acne), eye damage, increased cardiovascular disease risk, potential for cancer progression (tumor cells feed on sugar) and bacterial or fungal infection (like urinary tract infections). We need carbs, but we need to be wise in the type we consume and when we consume them, all while keeping their intake in moderation suited to our individual needs.
8 Ways To Approach A Low Carb Diet To Lose Fat
1. Time Carbohydrates Wisely
This one is a big deal, so why don’t we start here. One of the main reasons for eating a lower carbohydrate diet is because your blood sugar levels stay far more stabilized. But there is a time that you can consume carbohydrates without causing your blood sugar levels to go on a roller coaster ride – and that time is during or after exercise.
So if you are on a low carbohydrate diet, I highly recommend carbohydrate intake for exercise sessions that are 1) intense; 2) involve weight training; 3) are longer than 2 hours in duration.
Although many people use this as an excuse to eat more carbs than they should there is certainly truth to the fact that “carbohydrates are like the furnace the body uses to burn fat”– meaning if you are constantly carb depleted due to zero calories of glucose intake, you can shut down your body’s natural fat burning capabilities such as slowing down your thyroid, etc. So if you’re planning on training hard and consistently, try to get at least 400-600 calories of carbohydrates on training days, and eat them before and after your exercise session if you want them to not affect your blood sugars levels in a potentially negative way.
Another option (and a very nice one) for many depending on their body type and program, is a ketogenic diet. This is one where fat intake goes up while carbs are taken out in order to “teach” the body to utilize fat for ketones and energy. This is another subject in itself and for another article though.
2. Don’t Eat Processed Garbage.
If your low carbohydrate diet involves boxed, wrapped and packaged food, it most likely falls into the crappy processed food category.
Get this through your head – whether a food is low carbohydrate or not, if it is something you see advertised on TV, magazines, or newspapers you probably shouldn’t eat it (little exceptions). If it’s something you can easily recognize and identify where it grew and how it got to your plate without being tampered with, it is probably is OK to eat.
This means that avocados are cool. Organic apples and blueberries are cool. Organic chicken and grass fed beef and kale, broccoli, spinach and yams are cool. I think you can get what I am saying.
When we see a laundry list of “other” ingredients as long as your forearm at the bottom of food label, you may want to reconsider. These will often look something like this:
Potassium Sorbate and Sodium Cellulose Gel, Cellulose Gum, Locust Bean Gum, Disodium Phosphate, Gum Arabic, Calcium Chloride, Citric Acid, Dextrose, aspartame, sucralose, sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, maltitol, maltitol syrup, lactitol, erythritol, isomalt and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates, Artificial Color (FD&C Blue No. 1, FD&C Red No. 40, FD&C Yellow No. 5, FD&C Yellow No. 6) and much, much more…
This crap is not cool. This is just one example, but I think it gives you a pretty good idea of what I’m getting at. Eat real food – not processed junk food.
3. Consider Your Body Fat Levels
If you’re fat, you’re going to have more fat to burn. Look down at your waistline. Do you have layers of fat that you can grab? Got a beer gut? Muffin-top? Jiggly fat on your arms? All of that is fat that can be utilized for energy if you are on a low carbohydrate diet. Keep in mind, carbs is our body’s main and preferred source of energy and fat is reserved fuel. If we bring our carb and then glycogen (stored carbs) down, then we begin to enable fat to be used as fuel.
But if your body fat is under 7-8% as a male, or in the low teens as a female, then it is highly likely that you’re going to struggle with a consistently low carbohydrate intake – specifically during exercise sessions.
So if I have a client who is 30% body fat, I have no issues with that client struggling initially at night craving carbohydrates as their body mobilizes fat tissue for energy, and I generally continue to advise them to watch their carb intake as their body will adjust. But if that person is 8% body fat, it is far more likely that they’re going to need that extra fat for insulation or essential fat stores, in which case it might be a good idea to go slam a bowl of rice.
4. Take Advantage of Nutritional Supplements
When you begin a low carbohydrate diet, you’re almost guaranteed to experience intense carbohydrate cravings. There are supplements that may help curb cravings, including chromium, Cinnamon, L-tryptophan or 5-HTP (if the issue is a serotonin deficiency).
For exercise sessions, Utilize a good BCAA (branched chain amino acids) powder that has a ratio in favor of L-Luecine. Most of my clients know that I am advocate of using BCAAs to prevent muscle breakdown and support muscle recovery. This is a good tool to support your muscles (which burn calories) during reduced caloric times or during strenuous training sessions that may be a little long. They are also great to use first thing in the morning when waking to go do fasted cardio. I suggest SizeSlim’s Intra Post BCAA product, your’s truly designed it and it is second to none! You can see me explain this BCAA product here:
Insure you body with a good quality multi vitamin. Most of us spend $3-$8 a day insuring our cars, so spend the .25-.30 cents a day to insure your health and make sure you are getting in all your micro nutrients such as antioxidants, minerals and B-vitamins. You can read more here on this: My Blog on Vitamins
If you’re a guy and have a high level of body fat, there is a decent chance you may have high estrogen levels too. I would suggest trying to get that under control as it has a negative impact on your testosterone levels. Low testosterone levels are associated with lower muscle and higher body fat and all the health issues that come with that.
5. Be in it to win it like Yzerman
When you first start a low carbohydrate diet, the scale numbers will fall as your body eats at stored glycogen and all the water that the stored carbohydrates suck up like a sponge. So if your goal is weight loss, life is good for the first couple weeks as you shed anywhere from 3-20 pounds, depending on your starting weight.
And then the weight loss comes to a hault. In most cases, this is the point where people throw up their hands in despair, think that the plan isn’t working, quit the low carbohydrate diet and then go in search of the nearest donut shop.
But if you stick with a low carbohydrate diet, the weight loss will gradually and consistently continue, especially if you include strategically implemented times where you allow your body’s storage of carbohydrate levels to be re-filled.
6. Low Carb Can Be A little Painful, At First
During the first 7-14 days that you go low carbing it, you’re going to find that your energy levels plummet, you get pissy, feel lethargic, and your body simply does not move or perform the way you would like it to. This is because you starting to transition into burning fatty acids as a fuel. If you have been a carb addict with a sugar tooth for years, you are also going to go through a “withdraw” from the sugar and reward centers it has triggered in the brain for so long.
So a strict low carbohydrate diet can be uncomfortable, and you need to be mentally prepared for that. Implementing the carbohydrate craving tips I just gave will help, but ultimately, you will find that you feel the same way as a marathoner does when they “bonk”, which is what happens during a run when your body runs out of stored carbohydrates and needs to begin burning fat as a fuel. This is aka “hitting the wall”.
If the discomfort does not subside, then I recommend you identify nutritional deficiencies (hence taking a multi vitamin) and also make sure you’re incorporating carbohydrate re-feed days if you’re a physically active person, which I hope you are 😉
7. Stay Regular With Fiber
When you switch to a low carbohydrate diet, the drop in fruits, certain starchy vegetables, legume and grain consumption may decrease fiber intake and result in an inadequate intake. This may also “back up” the colon and delay bowel movements. There is absolutely no reason that you can’t eat liberal amounts of dark leafy greens and other non-starchy vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower on a low-carbohydrate diet. Just be careful with your total daily intake and timing of starchy vegetables, such as carrots, beets, sweet potatoes or beans. Utilizing a fiber powder supplement here may be helpful. Eat greens!
8. Drink Water
An adequate water intake will help to reduce the carbohydrate cravings you may experience early in the diet. It will also enable and support the kidneys and our elimination systems as well.
I personally drink and recommend just plain water the bulk of the time. I also drink a lot of La Croix flavored waters, BCAA mixes, and teas. What I don’t drink is anything with added sugars. So check your nutrition labels if you’re drinking fluid from packages or bottles, but stay well hydrated when you’re on a diet like this.
As always, consult with your doctor before beginning this or any training or diet/supplement program.
Hopefully these few tips will help ensure a successful approach in starting your new journey with a low carb diet should you be considering one.
To a healthier you,
Roger Bowman, CPT
DISCLAIMER: Roger Bowman is not a doctor or registered dietitian. Any contents of this website coming directly from Roger Bowman and not being communicated from a medical doctor or registered dietitian should not be taken as medical advice and only used for entertainment purposes only. Any direct input from Roger Bowman is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any health problem – nor is it intended to replace the advice of a physician.