Low-Carb Eating Plan
For Weight Loss
and Diabetes Control
Do You Need to Buy a Book?
There are a great many low-carb diet books on the market today. The most recent popularity of the low-carb diet started with Dr. Atkins' book, Atkins' New Diet Revolution in the 1990s. A plethora of diet booksk followed, each focusing on a different aspect of low-carb eating or presenting varying theories of why the diet works. Read any or all of them if you want a fuller understanding of low-carb eating. But it isn't really necessary to buy a book. You can go to each program's Web site, but you won't get the full plan. You might get tips and you might be able to connect with the community of dieters who read the same book, but to get the full plan and explanation, you have to buy the book for that program. Here at Low-Carb Pavilion, however, you get a full diet plan that consists of the best and most meaningful parts of each of the other programs melded together in a manner that makes the most sense and is easy to follow. So buy a book if you want to. They are all here, but you don't really have to if all your want to do is lose weight or control blood sugar. Read on.
Before You Begin
| From the Experts... |
· "The theory was that a low-fat/high-carb diet would control weight and help prevent killer diseases. But most of the studies that followed actually failed to show a direct link between fat in the diet and heart disease and cancer." -Dr. Timothy Johnson, ABC Health Correspondent
· 'For a large percentage of the population, perhaps 30 to 40 percent, low-fat diets are counterproductive. They have the paradoxical effect of making people gain weight." -Dr. Eleftheria Maratos-Flier, Harvard Researcher
· "In four short months on the Atkins Diet, we were able to confirm scientifically what Dr. Atkins states he has seen in his practice over the past decades. The diet lowers cholesterol and triglycerides and raises HDL... which may represent an entirely new approach to the control and prevention of heart disease." -Dr. Eric C. Westman, Duke University Researcher
· "Ketosis is a normal physiologic state. I would argue it is the normal state of man. It's not normal to have McDonald's and a delicatessen around every corner." -Dr. Richard Veech, N.I.H. Researcher
· "Simply put, carbohydrate consumption has a direct effect on hormonal balance and, therefore, a direct effect on overall health."
-Christian Allan, PhD
In order for you to see how well a diet is working, you must have something to compare it to -- a starting point. That's easy when it comes to weight loss alone, just take your starting weight and use that as the standard by which you judge your diet's effectiveness. The same is true of clothing sizes.
However, the low-carb way of eating is so radically different from "low fat" or "low calorie" diets that most people are used to, it is important for you to realize just how good a low-carb lifestyle can be for your overall health. Therefore, it is essential that, before you actually begin your diet, you get a blood test and have your blood pressure checked.
Everyone should have a blood lipid profile done. This will check your total cholesterol, your HDL (good cholesterol), LDL (bad cholesterol), and your triglycerides. Normal values for these are as follows:
- Total Cholesterol: < 200
- HDL: > 35
- LDL: < 130
- Triglycerides: < 200
If you are a diabetic, you should also get your fasting blood glucose measured and have a hemoglobin A1c test done. A normal fasting blood glucose level is between 60 and 110. The Hgb A1c should be less than 7.
After a month or two of following a low-carb eating plan, you should find that your total cholesterol has dropped, if it was high before. More importantly, however, the ratio between your HDL and your total cholesterol will be lower. Try to maintain a TOTAL CHOLESTEROL-to-HDL ratio of less than 4.
You should also find that your triglycerides are down markedly and that your HDL cholesterol has gone up. The higher the HDL the better.
Some people are concerned that their total cholesterol does not drop as expected. It might even go up slightly. But a look at the HDL level might help to explain why. As long as your ratio is less than 4, your cholesterol profile is fine.
Type 2 diabetics should see an almost immediate improvement in their blood glucose level. Within a few days on a low-carb diet, your blood glucose level should be approaching normal.
A normal blood pressure for most adults is 120/80. If yours is running higher than 140/90, you have hypertension. After a month or so on a low-carb diet, you should see your blood pressure approaching normal.
It is important to point out that many people are able to go off their blood pressure medication or their diabetes medication (for type 2 diabetes) within a short time after starting a low-carb lifestyle. However, it is very important that you not stop or reduce any medication without first consulting your doctor. Also, if you are an insulin-dependent diabetic, you may want to closely monitor you blood glucose levels the first few days on the diet, because it could be necessary to reduce the amount of insulin you need to take. Again, check with your doctor.
Now that you have your blood work done, you will need to prepare for your new way of eating by getting rid of all those high-carb foods in your pantry and refrigerator, unless you have people in your household that won't be switching to the low-carb lifestyle. After the first week or two on a low-carb diet, you will lose most cravings for those sweet and starchy foods, anyway.
If you are alone, or if your whole family will be starting a low-carb lifestyle, then either eat or give away all the breads, cakes, cookies, ice cream, and other high-carb foods in your kitchen. If you don't have them around, you won't be as likely to "cheat."
Now, go ahead and take your starting weight. Take it first thing in the morning, before you eat, but after you have used the bathroom. Take it before you get dressed, and use the same scales each time you measure your weight.
DO NOT use daily weight changes as any indication of how your diet is progressing! Your weight will vary. It will not drop continuously and steadily. The same is true of any diet. You may find that your weight loss slows after the first two weeks. This is totally normal. Do not get discouraged. If you weigh yourself daily, use those numbers to calculate your average weight at the end of the week by adding the daily weights together and dividing by the number of days you measured your weight.
On any diet, your weight will bounce around a little. Some days you will gain a bit, others you will lose a lot, but over the course of several weeks or months, you will definitely lose. A better measure of your progress will be how loosely your clothes start to fit.
How much should you ultimately expect to lose? That varies with the individual. It depends on your starting weight, your sex, and of course, on how committed you are at sticking with the eating plan. Males tend to lose quicker than females and heavier people will lose quicker than those who are already near their goal weight. On average, men will lose 10-15 pounds and women 8-10 pounds after the first two weeks.
How Much Protein?
Contrary to popular myth, a low-carb diet is not equivalent to a high-protein diet. Rather, it is actually an adequate protein diet. Consuming too much protein may cause weight-loss stalls. (Although increasing your intake of protein won't harm your kidneys, as you've probably been told. That's a common myth.)
On a low-carb diet, calorie counting is not usually that important, but the amount of calories you usually consume per day can help you estimate your protein needs. Most people typically consume between 1800 and 3000 calories in any given day. To figure out how much protein you should be consuming, a good rule of thumb to use in determining your protein requirement is to prepare a list of foods that you might typically eat in a day (before the low-carb diet). Add up the calories and see where your typical daily calorie level falls.
If you generally consume up to about 2100 calories per day, then you need to eat about 100 grams of protein every day on the low-carb diet. If you normally consume more than 2100 calories per day, then you will need to eat 125 grams of protein daily. It doesn't hurt to go a little above these estimates, but not significantly above them as too much protein can turn into blood sugar just as carbohydrates do.
Athletes or people who work out often can add another 25 or 50 grams of protein to the above estimates, depending on their body weight. Whatever you computed as your daily protein requirement, it pertains to all phases of the diet.
How Much Fat?
The amount of fat you can eat on a low-carb diet is not generally limited, except that you should not stuff yourself with anything, including fat. More important than the amount of fat, which should make up between 65 to 75% of your dietary calories, is the type of fat.
Partially hydrogenated trans fats should be strictly limited. Most margarines and shortenings contain a lot of these harmful fats. Most polyunsaturated vegetable oils should also be limited. These include corn oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil. They contain far too much of the omega-6 fatty acids and too little of the omega-3 fatty acids. Canola oil is probably ok, but the high-temperature manufacturing process is suspected to increase the amount of trans fats it contains.
Get your omega-3 fatty acids from fish or flax seed oils. Lard is a great supplier of both monounsaturated fats and saturated fats, both of which are needed for proper lipid balance in the body. Other good sources of fat include olive oil, peanut oil, flax oil, nuts, and butter.
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There are two distinct ways of beginning a low-carb diet. The method you choose is up to you, but here are some guidelines:
Method 1 is the slow-start method. It is not recommended if you are looking for fast weight loss from the start. However, some people claim to experience certain side-effects from beginning a low-carb diet too quickly. They may complain of everything from headaches to digestive problems. If you are sensitve to these conditions, you might want to consider this method.
Method 2 is recommended for most people. It is the fast-start approach. For the first two weeks, you will severely limit your carbohydrate intake and, most likely, enter into a state of ketosis, which is perfectly normal for this diet plan. After the first two weeks, the two approaches to the diet are the same.
Two Week Primer
If you are like most people, your typical daily intake of carbohydrates can be as high as 400 grams or more. On the slow-start method, we need to bring this down to no more than 100 grams per day for the first two weeks of your diet.
So, for the first two weeks, plan meals containing about 30-35 grams of carbs each, enough protein to add up to your estimated protein requirement, and the rest of your daily calories should come from fat sources. Eat as much as you want, until you are no longer hungry, but not stuffed. Also, drink at least 64 ounces of water every day--more if you are seriously overweight.
You may or may not lose weight during this primer period. But you should at least have started feeling better. Once the first two weeks are over, you can skip to the next two-week period as outlined below, under "The Next Two Weeks." You are now on the same diet as those who started off with Method 2.
The first day will be the toughest, but if you get through it, you shouldn't have any problem sticking with a low-carb way of eating.
The first two weeks of the diet is your break-in period. It is the time that your body is adjusting to living on fewer carbohydrates. It is also the time when your body converts from being primarily a sugar-burning engine to a fat-burning engine.
What should you eat on the first day of the low-carb diet?
Simply put, stay totally away from all foods that contain carbohydrates! That means definitely NO sugar products, no flour products, no starch products, no fruits, no vegetables, no grains, no pasta, and no prepared luncheon meats that contain carbohydrates.
So what can you eat, and how much?
The FIRST DAY, you should eat only foods that are rich in fats and oils, moderate in protein, and deficient in carbohydrates. You may eat bacon, sausage, beef, pork chops, pork rinds, cream cheese, and macadamia nuts. Also, on the first day, do not eat much cheese or eggs, as these do contain some carbohydrates.
Also, although the low-carbohydrate diet does not restrict calories as a method of reducing weight, it is a good idea to not go above 1200 to 1500 calories on your first day of the break-in period.
Here is a sample menu for DAY 1:
- 4 strips of bacon
- 2 eggs fried in butter
- Black decaf coffee
- 4 oz lean meat, fish, or chicken (no breading)
- 1 oz cheese
- 1 oz of macadamia nuts or pecans or an ounce of pork rinds
- 6 oz steak or a pork chop (not breaded)
- One boiled egg
- 1 oz macadamia nuts or pecans
Drink at least 80 ounces of plain water the first day.
The Next Two Weeks
During this period, you must restrict your carbohydrates to no more than about 30 grams per day.
You may eat anything listed on the "Allowed Foods" list in the Food Guidelines section of The Low-Carb Pavilion. Stay away from all foods in the "What's Generally Not Allowed" and "What's Never Allowed" sections.
It will be very helpful to purchase one of the carbohydrate gram counters. These are small booklets that have an extensive listing of foods and their carbohydrate content.
During this period, it is also important to begin a daily regimen of taking vitamin and mineral supplements. It is also advisable to take a daily supplement of fiber.
You can purchase a good brand of multiple vitamins that have greater than 100% USDA recommended dosages. Make sure they contain relatively high dosages of the minerals chromium and selenium, too.
Get your fiber from psyllium husks. These can be purchased at a health food store or online. You may use sugar-free Metamucil, or other similar brands, but even the sugar-free variety contains some carbs in the form of maltodextrin. (See Hidden Carbs section.)
Here is a sample menu for any day during this two-week period:
- 3 eggs, fried in butter
- 4 or 5 strips of bacon or a couple of sausage patties
- black decaffeinated coffee
- 6 oz sugar-free Tang
- grilled chicken or a cheeseburger without the bun (no ketchup), or tuna salad made with mayo and no added sugar
- small tossed salad with ranch or blue cheese dressing
- water or diet beverage
- a large chef salad with ranch or blue cheese dressing
- 1 oz pork rinds or macadamia nuts
- Large steak and/or broiled fish fillets
- Eggs over easy, fried in butter or olive oil
- Green vegetable or salad
- large water or diet beverage
- 1 oz pork rinds spread with cream cheese
The above is just a sample. You may substitute any allowed meat for the entrées in the sample. You may substitute ½ cup of an allowed green vegetable for the salad.
It is extremely important to drink plenty of water. The general guideline is to drink 64 ounces of water a day PLUS 8 ounces additional for every 25 pounds you need to lose. Although some people disagree, it is generally acceptable to substitute caffeine-free diet beverages for water. Keep in mind, though, that for some people, aspartame or citric acid, which are found in many diet beverages, may cause slowed weight loss. When in doubt, just drink water.
Notice that there is no mention of how many calories you should consume. Although it is true that reducing calories in addition to carbohydrates may result in faster weight loss for some, be careful of restricting calories too much. If you deprive yourself of food by restricting calories, your body may go into a low-metabolic starvation mode, thereby hampering weight loss. It is important, in fact, that you maintain a reasonably-high intake of fat calories. Do not avoid fats on this diet. You may trim excess fat from red meat, but it is important to make use of desirable fats, such as olive oil, flax seed oil, canola oil, and butter when cooking. Do not use margarine or shortening, as these fats contain artificially-produced trans- fatty acids that have been linked to heart disease.
Once you've started the diet, how should you feel?
Again, it varies with the individual. Some people feel nothing special the first week. Others have bouts of constipation or diarrhea. Still others complain of a slight headache for a day or two. If you experience constipation, fatigue, heart palpitations, or other symptoms, you might wish to back up and start the diet again using Method 1, described above. Many people say they feel more energetic, even euphoric after a few days on the diet. Most likely, you won't notice much in the way you feel the first week.
After the first two weeks, most people definitely feel like they have more energy. Those who are prone to anxiety probably feel less anxious. If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, your symptoms may gradually ease.
Probably the most important "feeling" and the one most significant to remaining on this diet is that you will begin to lose all your craving for high-carbohydrate foods -- unless you cheat. Even a small cheat may trigger cravings. But if you stick with the plan, you will find that cravings for bread, potatoes, pasta, and sweets will disappear.
At the end of your 14-day break-in period, you should have lost anywhere between 8 and 20 pounds. Frankly, most of this weight is water loss. That is because water is necessary in order for your body to maintain and use carbohydrates. As your body changes to a fat-burning engine, it no longer needs all the water reserves.
From this point on, your weight loss may slow somewhat. However, most of the remaining weight loss will be from body fat!
Continuing Weight Loss
If you have not already achieved your goal weight during the first 14 days, you will of course want to continue the diet. You will feel confident that this will be highly possible to do, because you have not deprived yourself of food during the two week break-in. On this diet, you can eat until you're full, so you should never go hungry. Just be sure to eat allowed foods and avoid those that are not allowed - the carbohydrate-rich foods.
At this point, you may start adding a few complex carbs back into your diet. Choose foods that have a glycemic index of 50 or less and that have a glycemic load of less than 10. For the first two weeks of the diet, most people will have gone into a state of ketosis. Ketosis is the production of ketone bodies from the metabolism of fat molecules. These ketone bodies may be used as energy, or they may be eliminated in the urine. Test strips can be purchased at your local pharmacy to measure the urine for ketone bodies.
If you are significantly overweight, you may wish to maintain ketosis, because it is the most efficient method of losing weight. In this case, keep your level of carbs to fewer than 30 grams per day. However, many people find they can continue to lose weight on 40, 50, or even 70 grams of carbs per day. You will need to determine for yourself the optimum level of carbohydrate consumption for your own body.
One important point to make is that when adding carbs back into your diet, do not add "empty carbs." Eat only complex carbohydrates contained in vegetables, a limited quantity of berries, and perhaps some whole grain foods, as long as your weight continues to come off. Do not add carbs in the form of the foods that are on the "not allowed" list.
See the Mix-n-Match Menu Table for a concise meal plan for every meal of the day.
What if I Get Stalled?
First, don't expect to lose weight consistently all the time. You will go through periods of time when your weight loss will slow down, stop, or even reverse. These are generally temporary situations. Just be patient!
It is also a fact that tobacco can cause a problem with your weight loss efforts. Tobacco increases insulin resistance and also increases the likelihood of yeast growth, which can stall your diet.
If your weight loss stalls out for more than four weeks, you are on a legitimate plateau. But, don't worry, there are things you can do to jump start your weight loss again. For a more in-depth look at some of these alternatives, go to the topic Resistance to Weight Loss
Many people set a goal weight based upon the generic "height-weight charts" that are endorsed by the insurance companies. And that's fine. But you should keep in mind that your body has its own goal weight in mind, too. If you continue to eat a low-carbohydrate diet, you will continue to lose weight until it approaches what your body wants its weight to be. Then weight loss will slow and finally halt. If your body's "set point" for weight is higher than your personally chosen goal weight, you may want to consider giving in to your body's natural instincts and allowing your weight to be determined by your body. You know you're eating healthy, and as long as you are no longer obese, why worry?
However, if you really do need to lose more weight, then you must do one of two things: Either start restricting your daily calorie intake, or reduce the carbs even further. If your body's set-point weight really is too high, you might want to have your thyroid checked.
It is unlikely that your body's weight will drop too low. However, if you reach your desired weight and continue to lose, you can add a few additional carbohydrates until weight loss stops. For most people, the equilibrium point will be anywhere between 40 and 75 grams of carbohydrates per day. For some, it may be only 20 or 30 grams. Just remember to eat only the kind of carbs that have not been ultra-processed. You can add a small amount of bread back into your diet, as long as it is full-grain bread. You may add in a few fruits, but not watermelon or bananas, as these are high-sugar fruits with a high glycemic index.
Regardless of which phase of the diet your are on, always remember to drink plenty of water. And, although it has not been mentioned previously, it is also advisable to get 30 minutes of exercise at least three times per week. This will keep your metabolism up, so that you will lose weight faster. The best exercise for the overweight is walking, or other low-impact aerobic exercise.