Today is my one-year anniversary of eating a low-carb, high-fat diet. I have lost 50 pounds since February 26, 2016, and let me tell you a secret: I wasn’t even very good at it for the majority of 2016.
When I first learned about LCHF, my mind was completely blown. Butter and bacon are good? Bread and pasta are bad? What fresh hell is this? But at 312 pounds, and after many diets failed me, I was willing to try anything. I had heard of low-carb before: didn’t that Atkins guy die of a heart attack? (He didn’t.) Wasn’t that diet a crazy, dangerous fad? But after reading into LCHF a little more, I felt a glimmer of hope begin to stir within me. The website where I learned about this way of eating wasn’t even trying to sell me anything. It just said, “Eat real food.” I had been eating my Standard American Diet (SAD) for so long that I actually had to read about what “real food” really was, because I honestly didn’t know exactly what it meant.
I decided that I would try LCHF on February 21st, and I spent the next 5 days getting rid of all of the carbage in my house. I promised myself that I would start on Friday, February 26th, and that’s exactly what I did. The first week, I lost 13 pounds. Water weight, yes, but every diet will come with an initial surge of water weight loss. But I was in heaven: I was full, for the very first time in my life, and I wasn’t thinking about food constantly. It was like a miracle. I couldn’t remember the last time I went a day without eating 3 meals and 3 snacks to boot. But with LCHF, I found myself satisfied with breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and not thinking about food- at all- in between.
It took me a couple of weeks to catch on to the fact that I was struggling with artificial sweeteners. Not only did they make me hungry, but my weight loss stopped (or I would gain) when I ate them. All of the pretty little fat bombs and low-carb desserts I had been making got cut. My weight loss resumed.
In the first 5 weeks, I noticed a lot of changes in my body:
- I had lost 20 pounds and I had already gone down one pant size and one shirt size.
- My skin was clearer. My body acne had completely cleared and my facial acne was, for the most part, gone.
- I was sleeping all the way through the night, which was a godsend. I used to have a lot of trouble falling asleep, and then I would wake up every morning between 4:00 and 4:30 AM. Before LCHF, I used to have to eat an early breakfast for the energy to make it through the morning, but wouldn’t you know it, that donut wasn’t very filling. I would need a mid-morning snack (and maybe another) before lunch, just to keep going.
- My back pain was gone. I had had minor back pain for a couple of years, and it was now completely gone after just over a month of LCHF eating.
- I had tons of energy. Minor chores used to completely wipe me out. A day full of errands? Fuhgettaboutit. But in my first week of LCHF eating I was bouncing off the walls with energy, and even though my initial energy spike tapered off, I still had lots of energy throughout each day, to the point where making dinner from scratch every night was no problem, even on weeknights.
- My mood was significantly more even. I realized somewhere around Week 3 that I never got “hangry” anymore. I had a lot more patience and I didn’t snap at people when I was hungry. That had been a part of my life for so long that I thought that it was normal. Turns out it wasn’t.
- I didn’t get “the shakes” when I was hungry anymore. I can recall a couple of specific instances back was I was eating SAD where I went for long enough without eating to the point where I would begin to shake, feel light-headed, and I would feel nauseous. I had to eat right away or I was convinced I was going to die- I felt that bad. And keep in mind, I wasn’t skipping breakfast or going a whole day without eating- this was like 6 hours without eating. Looking back on it, I can’t believe I didn’t realize that something was seriously wrong with me at that time.
So I had all of these great benefits eating LCHF, but you recall that I mentioned that I wasn’t very good at sticking to this way of eating for most of 2016, right? That’s because of a few things:
- I thought I could cheat. I have 14 immediate members of my family. That’s 14 birthdays per year, not to mention my husband’s and my wedding anniversary, camping trips, special dinners celebrating promotions, nights out with the girls, all of the events we go to with our friends, PLUS holidays! I thought, “It’s only a few times a year, how bad could it be?” Well, eating high carb for just one day would knock me out of ketosis, and then I’d have to spend a week or two getting back into it, and then another celebration would come along and it would start all over again. Plus some of the foods I would eat on cheat days made me hungry and stoked cravings for days afterward! And instead of getting wise and just saying “no” to cake and pizza at every party I went to, I told myself that “I would just have a little” as long as it was within my carbs. 3 slices of pizza and 1 slice of cake later, I felt like a failure that day, and what the heck, why don’t I just keep eating like this for the rest of the weekend, and I’ll be good again starting Monday? It was a vicious cycle of allowing carbage- in any amount– back into my life and disregarding the fact that they would affect my insulin levels and cravings. Everything in moderation, I have found, is just plain bad advice.
- I thought I wouldn’t get bored. We found a few recipes that we really liked and stuck with them. We bought bento boxes and made ourselves bento box lunches every single day for work, with the same stuff in them all the time. I had eggs, butter, and coffee with heavy whipping cream every single morning for breakfast. After a few weeks, that got b-o-r-i-n-g. Instead of using my zucchini noodle and looking on Pinterest for recipes, I started rationalizing eating higher-carb food to myself. “We could add potatoes to this meal”, “Regular peanut butter is fine, it’s high-protein, right?” and “I can drink low-carb Monster energy drinks, they’re low carb, duh.” It was a slippery slope, and in the back of my mind I had the constant insistent thought that I wasn’t being honest with myself. I was right. (Plus, again, I am sensitive to artificial sweeteners, and those low-carb energy drinks made me ravenous.)
- I still made every event about food. Hubs and I are very social people. If we’re not hanging out with family or friends, we’re going out on date nights together. What’s a movie without a jumbo-sized popcorn and a big ‘ol soda to wash it down with? What’s a dinner at a Mexican food restaurant without beans and rice? What’s Christmas without cookies, candy, and pie, what’s Thanksgiving without stuffing, what’s Easter without chocolate, what’s a board game night without chips and crackers, what’s a family gathering without sweets? Those thoughts invaded my mind during every social event, and during the social event I would be absolutely fixated on the food- even when I was eating LCHF and not cheating. This happened because that’s how I had always thought of social events and I didn’t even realize it: what are we eating? What should I bring? When is dinner served? Is Aunt Margaret’s peach cobbler going to be there? I had to actively change my mindset to focus on the celebration itself, the people, in order to stop this habit. I now eat at home before I go anywhere social, unless it’s to a restaurant and I know exactly what I’m getting. With every passing event, it gets easier and easier to say no to sweets that make me feel sick and take me further away from my goal.
I gained and lost the same few pounds, over and over. Still, I continued to gravitate back to eating low-carb. I started having trouble sleeping again, so I ate low-carb and I would start to feel awesome again in a matter of days (until my next cheat… notice a pattern here?) Just before Christmas 2016, I knew I would have my one last hoo-rah between Christmas and New Year and then I would get serious, and I mean serious, starting January 1, 2017. Soon after the first of the year, I read a success story on the Diet Doctor website and I was inspired to implement an element into my life that I had never used before: no cheats. None. Nada, zip, zilch, no matter the reason. Holidays, family events, “Just because it’s Friday”, nothing. I had to get my insulin and cravings under control and I had to drive my weight down. I was sick of this high-carb life. The idea of not cheating at all was daunting, but after a couple of weeks of No Cheats I realized that it actually made eating low carb really, really easy. I can either have it or I can’t, the end, period.
But what does “no cheats” really mean? It’s different for everyone. For me, I have my “Can Have” list and my “Can’t have” list, and that’s it. Things like refined carbs, cakes, candy, soda, artificial sweeteners, vegetable oils, and grains are on my “Can’t have” list (there are more, but these are just some examples.) Things like meat, nuts, cheese, good fats, cruciferous vegetables, 90% cacao chocolate, wine, and natural peanut butter are on my “Can Have list” (again, there are more items on this list.) And there are some days where I overeat, but I don’t have anything on my “Can’t Have” list, and the next day I’m just fine. No carb cravings, no sluggishness, no Keto flu, because I know what my body can and can’t handle.
In addition, I started naturally intermittent fasting. Eating LCHF all the time really does keep you full, so before long I was skipping breakfast. Then I was pushing off lunch because I didn’t feel like eating. Now I regularly do 24-hour fasts during the weekdays (see Dr. Jason Fung’s awesome website or read his Complete Guide to Fasting for more information.)
What I learned:
I really can do this. Once I focused on permanently changing habits, such as ditching the idea that breakfast is “required”, focusing on people rather than food at social events, and committing to NO CHEATS, this way of eating became easy. I learned that I need to try new recipes and not find myself stuck in a rut. And I am so thrilled to see what this next year will bring me, since I was so successful in the last 365 days and I wasn’t even really committed for most of it. I find myself imagining what the next year will bring for me living this low-carb no-cheat life, and it’s a bright future.