People often ask me how to start and stay on a low-carb diet. In theory, starting a low-carb diet may be simple, just focus on eating above ground veggies, healthy proteins and healthy fats. For many, however, it isn’t easy–at least in the beginning. A keto diet, a type of low-carb diet where the body starts using fat for fuel, can be even more challenging.
To stay on a low-carb diet, start by changing your mindset
Most people start a diet by changing what they eat. While that may be the obvious way to start, it may not be the best way. Instead, find out what motivates you.
We all have things we know we need to do, and excuses about why we can’t or won’t do them today. When the reason gets strong enough, we suddenly find the time, and the motivation, to get the job done.
For example, I’m not much of a housekeeper. I would just about rather do anything other than dust, vacuum, and organize. I turn a blind eye to dust for weeks at a time, but you can be sure that when my mother is about to visit, I suddenly stop putting it off and clean the house.
A strong “why” can power us through many challenges. It makes us fight like no other motivator. Focussing on this desire will help you stay on a low-carb diet.
There is a reason you’re reading this article about how to start and stay on a low-carb diet.
Think about what made you want to read about how to stay on a low-carb diet. Maybe you’re looking for some help with an autoimmune disease. Maybe you’ve decided that you’re going to lose weight. I really want to look beyond the obvious here, however. Think about the reasons you have for wanting to lose weight.
For example you may want to:
- see your children grow up.
- decrease joint pain.
- be able to sit in a booth at a restaurant
- increase your confidence
- never again experience that feeling when you ask an airline attendant for a seatbelt extender.
- have energy to play more actively with your children
- decrease pain and muscle aches
- help stabilize your immune system
- be a good role model for your children
- fulfill a dream
- help decrease symptoms of a disease such as type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s Parkinson’s,
- establish better blood sugar control for type 1 diabetes to prevent complications such as blindness and problems with wound healing.
- fulfill a promise made to yourself or someone else.
- to be able to think more clearly.
- spend less time in a doctor’s office and more time enjoying life.
- tired of hearing about how you have a pretty face.
- afraid you’ll be a burden for your children.
- tired of being sick.
- worried about developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Remind yourself of your whys
While identifying the reasons you want to start eating healthier, you’ll want to set up a system to remind yourself why you’re eating healthier.
One idea is to create a vision board of all of your why’s and what you want for your future. For example, you might want to include photos of those you care about and want to be around for. You might add a photo of a mom bicycling with her kids if you want to be more active with your children.
Put this vision board in an obvious place where you’ll see it each day and can draw inspiration from it to power you through each change.
Start the diet slowly
One problem with most diets is that the change is abrupt. You go from eating at fast food restaurants to eating only specific foods or counting calories overnight. With an abrupt change like this, you don’t have time to figure out how to replace the foods that you’re used to eating.
When what you eat changes overnight, it isn’t just the foods that change. The habits that you’ve learned over years and years need to change. What you make for dinner changes. How your family looks at you changes. Your social interactions even change.
For example, if you used to get a snack out of the snack machine at work and eat it with a friend who did the same thing, not only will this habit have to change, but it’s likely that the change will have some effect on your relationship with this friend.
In addition, these overnight changes cause your body to change so rapidly it is uncomfortable. The bacteria and yeast in your gut are screaming at you to eat sugar. If you hold strong and don’t listen, some of the bad ones may die off rapidly causing a release of toxins into your system.
Additionally, the toxins stored in your fat find their way to your bloodstream as you burn the fat quickly. Meanwhile, your pancreas struggles to maintain a consistent blood sugar level.
In the meantime, your mother-in-law takes personal offense that you won’t eat one of her lemon bars, and your husband is asking what he can pick up at the fast food restaurant on the way home from work.
With all of this going on at once, it’s no wonder that it’s easy to give up on trying to get healthier.
Instead of making changes all at once, I suggest you make small changes that you can commit to. You get used to this change and implement it into your lifestyle. The next thing you know, it isn’t a change at all, but rather a habit. It becomes something you do without thinking.
For example, instead of starting your day with high carb cereal, you might want to switch to having a few eggs. You could also try a batch of my low-carb chocolate donuts, my keto-friendly lemon chia pudding, or my keto-friendly raspberry coffee cake. All of these can be made ahead for convenience.
Continue making small changes and as you change each habit into one that helps you, you start to eat a low carb diet. Eventually, you may even find yourself going into ketosis..
Why take it slow
While going on a low-carb or ketogenic diet all at once may seem like a good idea, making a sudden change like this can actually backfire. Taking it slowly can make it easier on you both physically and emotionally. Going on this diet slowly is not only easier and safer for your body, but also can help you stay on a low-carb diet.
Making all of the changes at once is likely to seem overwhelming. Not only do you need to give up the food you love, but also, figure out what to replace it with instead. Making a big lifestyle change like this is like trying to climb Mount Everest with no preparation. Instead, it is better to start with walking around the block, then some short hikes.
Sometimes the hardest part of doing something is getting started. It’s sort of like pushing a car. It takes a lot of effort to get the car to move, but once you get started, it’s easier. The size of the car matters— it’s easier to push a Volkswagen Bug than a tractor trailer. It’s like this with dietary changes as well. Breaking it down into small chunks allows you to get started without making it something that you dread.
Instead of making several huge changes overnight, by making many small changes you can commit to, you make each change a habit. Choosing a glass of water over a soda will become a as natural as choosing to tie your shoes in the morning.
Starting a low-carb or keto diet a little at a time will help you stay on a low-carb diet.
Easier to keep up with medicine changes
When you start eating healthier, your body goes through many changes. Your blood pressure may go down naturally. Your need for insulin may decrease. You may experience a decrease in your pain level and need few pain medications. In fact, as you become healthier, your need for any medications or supplements your physician has prescribed may decrease. By taking it slowly and working with your doctor, it’s possible to adjust your medications and the likelihood of experiencing a crisis situation goes down.
Fewer gallbladder flare-ups
Your gallbladder is a hollow organ that sits just below your liver. Its job is to hold the bile made by the liver. This bile is used to help your body digest fats. When you eat a meal that contains fat, the gallbladder squirts this bile out into the small intestine to help break down the fat.
Sometimes people have a gallbladder problem, but don’t even know it. The problem with this is that when they start to lose weight quickly, the liver sends extra cholesterol into the gallbladder, thickening the bile and making it more likely that the tiny tube that the bile squirts out of gets blocked.
Fast weight loss can bring the unhappy gallbladder to the last straw and cause it to fire up so much that it may result in a trip to the emergency room.
Often, these trips to the emergency room result in the removal of the offending organ. Sure, you can live without a gallbladder. You can even eat keto without a gall bladder as long as you use some supplements to help break down fats.
This doesn’t mean that the gallbladder doesn’t serve a purpose. One of my goals with a slow transition is to keep your gallbladder (if you still have one) happy and healthy.
A more comfortable physical transition.
Even though you’re moving toward a healthier you, it may not be an easy transition at first. It is likely that you experience a healing crisis—especially if you make the changes too quickly.
As you decrease the amount of sugar and starches that you eat, it is likely that the population of bacteria and yeast that live in your gut go through some changes.
Many people experience things like their hair falling out when they make a major change in their diet. The abrupt change may cause uncontrollable diarrhea, or bad constipation. Skin may break out.
Taking things slowly allows you to not only keep the side effects at bay, but also allows you to develop habits that will benefit you when you start to burn fats if your end goal is ketosis.
For example, simply starting with good hydration will help prevent constipation, and it will help wash out toxins released from any bad bacteria dying.
By the time you get to the final steps, when your body requires even more hydration as it moves into ketosis, staying hydrated will be something you do, like putting on deodorant in the morning. Because of this, you’ll have fewer side effects due to dehydration and poor electrolyte balance.
Slower weight loss that results in fewer toxin problems.
While you may want to see immediate results when you first start a diet, losing too much fat at once can have some negative results. One of these problems comes with the release of toxins when the fat is burned.
Most people don’t realize that losing fat deep cleans your body of toxins. Toxins you’ve gathered for years hang out deep inside of fat cells and come out as the fat in the cell is burned. While it’s beneficial to get the toxins out of the body, they can do damage as they leave—especially if more toxins are released than the body can handle at once. By losing fat slowly, you don’t overwhelm your system and you allow your body to neutralize and dispose of the toxins more effectively.
Where do toxins come from?
You may be wondering where all of those toxins come from. You may even think you don’t have any. Well, the truth is that you don’t need to grow up next to a toxic waste dump to be toxic. Toxins are found in the homes we live in, the air we breathe, the foods we eat, and even the mattresses we sleep on. Many people pour enormous quantities of toxins on their yard to keep it up to par for the neighbors. If you breathe air, it is next to impossible to avoid being toxic.
How does the body store toxins?
The body stores toxins such as persistent organic pollutants, or POPs, in fat. These toxins are lipophilic (meaning fat-loving, or they dissolve in fat), so this make sense. Sequestering the toxins in an area away from other cells and organs, helps to decrease the amount of bodily harm done. While the body has done its best to protect itself from these toxins, they still negatively affect the body on a low-level, chronic basis. They are the skeleton in the closet—We’ve done our best to hide it, but it still affects us.
What problems do stored toxins have?
One negative effect these toxins have is hormone disruption. Some of these hormone disruptors act as obesogens. The word “obesogen” means to generate obesity and this is exactly what it does. An obesogen interferes with lipid metabolism, that not only increases the number of fat cells, but makes each cell able to store more fat. In addition, obesogens can modify the regulation of appetite to promote obesity. If you’re obese, this may be part of the problem. These types of toxins make it difficult to lose weight no matter what kind of diet you’re eating.
In addition to adding to weight gain, toxins stored in fat have also been shown to aggravate the inflammatory response. In doing so, they can increase blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels and increase the risk of hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease.
What happens when the toxins are released?
As you burn fat and empty out your fat cells, you also release these stored toxins. These toxins then go into the blood stream. Studies show that weight loss increases blood concentration of toxic pollutants. As the concentration of these toxins increases, their effects become magnified. They can cause reproductive, developmental, behavioral, neurologic, endocrine, and immunologic health effects. In fact, some of the benefits of weight loss such as an improved blood lipid and liver toxicity markers may be delayed due to these high levels of toxins.
If you are burning a lot of fat quickly, you will release a lot of toxins at the same time. You may develop a headache, experience digestive issues, brain fog, anger, irritability. Women may find that they have menstruation changes. Allergies and sensitivities may become worse, creating skin problems, sinus and respiratory symptoms and headaches. I suspect that some “keto flu” symptoms may be partly due to this process—especially if these symptoms go on after you have been in ketosis for a few weeks. The problems caused by these released toxins can be so bad that one quits the diet altogether.
Losing fat at a slower rate prevents large amounts of toxins from overwhelming your system and allows you to feel better throughout the process.
Decreasing symptoms of the “keto flu”
If you choose to decrease your carbs enough to start burning fat, making a slow transition may help decrease the symptoms of the “keto flu”.
As people transition into the ability to burn fat efficiently, they frequently go through a period of discomfort. They may experience symptoms such as digestive upset, headache, foggy brain, muscle and joint aches and pains and a general feeling of malaise. This discomfort is typically referred to as the “keto flu”.
While the cause of these symptoms is frequently chocked up to the loss of electrolytes that come with using up stores of glucose in the form of glycogen, I suspect that many of the symptoms are due to the die off of yeast and bad bacteria due to the quick change in diet as well as the toxins released from quick weight loss.
Small changes are easier to make than large changes.
Probably the most important reason to go slow when getting into ketosis is that making a series of small changes is easier and longer lasting than changing everything you eat all at once.
Changing one thing at a time allows you to find alternatives that work for you. Instead of changing your lifestyle overnight, you make small changes that you can stick to.
Because you can stick to these small changes, you will make each one a longer-term part of your lifestyle. Ultimately, it will help you stay on a low-carb diet.
What if you mess up?
What do you do if you do mess up? Forget about it and keep going. Don’t throw in the towel. Sometimes I screw up on my daily habits as well.
Sometimes I realize I’ve gone through half the day with my zipper down. That doesn’t mean that because I did it once, I’m going to run around every day with my zipper down.
I may even forget to put on my deodorant every once in a while, but I would become very unpopular if I stopped wearing deodorant because I screwed up once.
It should be the same with dietary habits. If something doesn’t go as planned, just get back on track right away. This will help you stay on a low-carb diet.
I hope these suggestions help you start and stay on a low-carb diet. Of course, please work with your doctor before starting any diet. No diet is right for every person. Also, if you have an active problem, you may need to make changes much faster than I suggest in this post.
Remember, though, that small changes that become everyday habit will have more long term positive impact than going keto overnight and giving up after a week.
To your health!