Low Carb FAQs

Answers to the Most Frequently Asked Low Carb Questions

13 Must-Read Low Carb FAQs
How can I get over plateaus or stalls?

1. You’re bound to reach a plateau.  It’s really the natural way our body handles weight loss, especially if you’re losing weight rapidly.  First weigh yourself every week vs daily.  We all realize that from day to day our weight is bound to fluctuate; water changes, exercise, stress, regularity all impact weight.  It’s best to stick with a 7 day spread or longer since your body is likely still benefiting from your food choices just not reflected on the scale each and every day.  Realize that your body can be re-proportioning body weight.  Consider taking pictures to recognize the changes instead of relying on the scale.

2. You might be one that is more carb sensitive and find reducing your carbs even further gets the scale to budge.  Experiment with 10 gram decreases until the scale moves.  This can be a temporary change to give your body the boost it needs to overcome a plateau.

3.  This is a big one.  Stress impacts our hormones.  You throw a mess of hormones into your weight loss efforts and your bound to get some interference.  Develop a tool box of ways to cope with stress early on so you don’t sabbatoge your weight loss goals.

4.  Don’t just rely on all the low-carb products that are on the market.  I know we all can benefit from those convenient items when necessary, but that is the trick…using them when needed.  Think whole nutritionally dense foods.  Just because it’s a low-carb cookie or brownie doesn’t make it a beneficial staple to your diet.  Take a look at how often you are relying on these items and replace them with protein, healthy fats, and vegetables.

5.  Too many high fat foods?  Does you lunch consist of avocados, cheese, and nuts?   Nuts and cheese can be easy to overeat, especially nuts.  Many people find themselves quickly going through a bag of nuts while they work at their desk.  They offer some protein, but are predominately fat which means they are packed full of calories.  If your weight loss has stalled, cut back on these foods or eliminate them.

6.  Sleep  impacts the same hormones as stress.  It’s well known that lack of sleep interferes with weight loss.  If your tired you’re less likely to exercise, choose the right foods because of feeling hungrier and more likely to pack on the weight.

7. Doing the same thing each week at the gym?  Your body needs variety to facilitate continued weight loss.  Mix up your routine with weight training, intervals, and endurance training.  This will keep your body guessing, help improve your metabolism, and burn calories.

8.  Eating too many artificial sweeteners is sure to impact your weight loss through triggering your appetite and tricking your body into thinking it needs to release insulin to help address an anticipated spike in blood sugars.  Use modestly or eliminate when a plateau is encountered.

9.  Other considerations; medications that can impact weight loss, allowing yourself too many ‘cheat’ days, cutting calories too drastically, etc.

When you experience a weight plateau try to look at the big picture.  As you can see it’s not just what you’re eating that can interfere with your efforts.

How can I eat Low Carb at restaurants?

You can eat out and stick with your low carb diet.  Sometimes it may not be easy, but well worth the added effort and planning to remain successful and on track.  First, if you know where you’re going in advance research the menu.  When you know what your options are and are able to anticipate your selection it will be much easier to follow through once you’re seated and ordering.  If you didn’t know where you were headed out for dinner, first sit down and ask yourself “what do I feel like…and would I eat this at home”.  Ask the waiter/waitress if they could prepare the entrée you’re thinking of.  They may be willing and certainly able to easily meet your request without you even looking at the menu!

Classic strategies also include requesting the starch be removed from the item, lettuce instead of taco shell, burger without the bun, substitute potatoes with mixed vegetables or side salad.  Avoid sugar laden sauces.

If you’re in a bind and need to run through the fast food drive-up avoid the burger and fries and go for the salad with a protein or inquire if they have a soup option.  Stop in at Panera for many of their salad options, Jimmy John’s lettuce wrapped sandwich or Subway for a salad bowl.

What are the different types of low carb diets?

Simply focusing on reducing the amount of carbs that you normally consume would be one approach.  Restricting fruits, starchy vegetables, grains, and milk would be changes involved in this type of diet.  Other popular low carb diets include:  Atkin’s, Ketogenic Diet, South Beach Diet, Sugar Busters, Paleo, The Zone, and Metifast.  Atkin’s involves several stages of restricting carbohydrate intake.  The Ketogenic Diet is very similar to initial phase of the Atkin’s diet, though instead of gradually lightening up your carb restriction dieters remain under ~20-40 g of net carbs indefinitely.  The South Beach, Zone and Paleo have a low carb nature, but not the primary focus and may be more liberal approaches to modifying carbohydrates.

How many calories should I eat?

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the amount of energy your body needs for basic functions at rest.  Daily movement, stress, exercise, eating, etc raises the energy your body uses to perform these functions.  Reducing your calorie intake below what you need for the day will, overtime, elicit weight loss.  Most are familiar with the traditional example of reducing intake by 500 calories a day, 3500 calories a week will result in one pound of weight loss.  Here is a calculator to provide you with a rough estimate of your BMR.

Counting calories for many will not be necessary.  If you feel the accountability helps you plan and stay on track it may be a good tool to consider.  Most find that by reducing carbohydrates and subsequently increasing protein and fat appetite is regulated.  When embarking on any new transition in the way you eat, those who are successful track their intake for that initial period.  Once you become in tune with your body, focus on listening to those cues and perhaps you’re ready to gravitate away from calorie counting every bite.

There are many apps that can help you start tracking your intake.  A few user friendly sites include: MyFitnessPal, LoseIt and SparkPeople.

How many grams of carbohydrates should I eat?

As you look into the many low-carbohydrate diets that are out there you’ll find a variety of recommendation for how many grams of carbs you should be consuming.  So where do you start and what level is right for you?  There really is no one level that is best for everyone.  A familiar term you will run across is “metabolic resistance” or “carbohydrate sensitivity/intolerance”, meaning different bodies have different capabilities to handling carbohydrates.  Finding a plan that emphasizes a customized approach will afford you the process of finding what level of carbs might be right for your goals.  Whether its weight loss or maintenance, finding an amount of carbohydrates you can take in that meets your weight goals and leaves you feeling satisfied is where you’ll find your balance.  Carbohydrate intake can range from an initial phase of 20-40 grams increasing to around 100-300 grams.  So as you can see there are wide ranges of what is suggested; bottom line is find a level where you are getting balance, variety, desired weight loss, and satiety.  This will be your sweet spot until you note any changes that warrant additional modifications.

Is fat bad for you?

Low fat diets have been emphasized for weight loss for quite some time.  However, fat isn’t as bad as it’s been made out to be.  Stop fearing fat and you’ll meet you weight loss goals.

The simple thought of eating starts preparing your body to process foods.  As you think of the meal, insulin is secreted, messaging fat to be stored versus utilized as energy.  As your hunger level rises and you respond by eating, insulin continues to rise to prepare to handle to increase blood sugars in your blood stream from the digested carbohydrates.  As insulin continues to take on the spike in blood sugars from carbs, fat from the meal is stored in fat cells.  Fat cells get larger contributing to weight gain.

Insulin is the primary regulator of fat metabolism, increasing lipoprotein lipase which is responsible for pulling fat into the cells.  Bottom line, carbs drive the insulin and insulin drives the fat storage.  When you limit that reliance on insulin and take that out of the equation, fat can be used for fuel instead of stored.  The outcome if overall intake is in control is weight loss.

Are Low Carb Diets just for weight loss?

No.  There can be many health benefits to limiting carbohydrate consumption.  Many carbohydrate ridden foods are heavily processed, laden with many additives, sugars, dyes, etc.  Not at all the diet our grandparents consumed.  Removing these unhealthful foods from your diet will subsequently reduce carbohydrate consumption and help you maintain a healthy weight and healthy body from the inside out.

Can I still drink alcohol and coffee?

The short answer is yes, but there are few things to keep in mind when enjoying the morning cup o’ Joe or evening cocktail.  A high percentage of folks take their “coffee” in the form of a skinny, caramel latte with whip, for example.  This now makes your two calorie cup of coffee well over 100 calories.  Instead consider adding full-fat cream, coconut or almond milk.  Desire something sweeter?  Trade in the sugar for Stevia.

When it comes to your favorite cocktail consider low sugar substitutes (Stevia) for the Margarita.  No worries if you’re a rum or scotch or even wine drinker…in terms of carbohydrates, but those are still empty calories with no nutritional value added to your day.  Think moderation!

What foods should I avoid?

Whether you’re just starting out or have been following the diet for months or years these basic food groupings should be at the forefront of your mind.

Sugar: Sodas, fruit juices, agave sweetener, any type of candy, ice cream, pudding, popsicles, honey, maple syrup.

Gluten Grains: Wheat, spelt, barley and rye.  Breads, pastas, baked goods, crackers, etc.

Trans Fats: “Hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils.  Fake butters.

High Omega-6 and Vegetable Oils: Cottonseed, soybean, sunflower, grapeseed, corn, safflower and canola oils.

Artificial Sweeteners: Aspartame, Saccharin, Sucralose, Cyclamates and Acesulfame Potassium.  Instead try Stevia or Truvia.

“Non-fat” and “Low-fat” Products: Various dairy products; milk, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt.  Crackers, cookies, protein/meal or cereal bars.

Highly Processed Foods: If it has more than five ingredients or ingredients you can’t eat or find in nature, just don’t eat it.

Do you need to exercise on a Low Carb Diet?

I guess you could say it’s not a requirement, but certainly recommended.  Exercise supports weight loss, improves metabolism (which will decrease as you lose weight), support your energy levels, improve cardiovascular health, acuity, and protect from many medical conditions.

How can I handle cravings on a Low Carb Diet?

Making a huge dietary change can lead to difficult cravings.  Some handle cravings differently than others.  Carbohydrate cravings can be significant, particularly during the early weeks, attending events or Holiday’s, etc.  Fortunately, there are a few simple tricks that will help you to defeat cravings so that you can stick with your meal plan.

First ask yourself “am I truly hungry”.  There is a difference between cravings and physiological hunger.  Feeling that deep sensation of hunger vs impulsively reaching for a bag of chips while feeling anxious are two different scenarios.  If you are fighting a craving make sure the snack is pre-portioned as you’re more likely to eat beyond feeling satisfied.  Have healthy items prepared and on hand. If it’s there and ready to grab you’re more likely to make that selection then going through the steps to prep a healthy snack as it’s much easier and may be perceived to be more satisfying to run to the vending machine.

Develop coping strategies to keep emotions and eating separate.  Feeling stressed?  Take a quick walk, perform stretches, or practice deep breathing techniques.

Give yourself some room to indulge so you don’t feel so restricted in your choices.  Maybe it’s on time per week changing up your meal guidelines, allowing for a desert of choice, etc.

Then of course, the classic suggestion of making sure you are drinking plenty of water is a daily necessity.  The cravings for food can be a mistaken sign of thirst so this is certainly an important element.

Refer to the extensive list of snack options that may satisfy your taste buds when you’re feeling that need to a sweet snack.

How can I eat Low Carb on a budget?

Making changes to your usual diet pattern often means a more expensive grocery bill, especially if you don’t usually eat whole foods.  However, by following some of these tips you can cut food costs and enjoy following you dietary changes.

Paying attention to mailers as clipping coupons is a way to trim off a few bucks on your weekly food bill.  Buying in bulk is a tried and true method to cut costs.  Make sure to freeze excess, not only is it a nice way to be able to toss in a meal and simply reheat, but your grocery bill will be reduced as well.  Always, sign up for the store discount card.  Not only are they free, but you save money on daily sales.  Follow a few different stores and make note of sales on certain items and plan your trip accordingly.  After you get into the routine it will become an easier process to implement from week to week and the rewards will be felt on your pocketbook! 

What is the premise/theory of a low carb diet?

Following a Low Carbohydrate diet draws in those who desire weight loss.  Many health conditions including heart disease and metabolic syndrome may be improved by following a low carbohydrate diet.  The premise of these types of diets is that insulin prevents the breakdown of fat by allowing sugar to be the primary source of energy.  Decreasing carbohydrates reduces insulin levels leading your body to utilize fat for fuel.  Becoming efficient at burning fat may help you shed those excess pounds and most importantly reduce your risk of health conditions.

Meet The Author

Nicole Barnick, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.

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