Friday, June 26, 2009

Getting Started on a Low Carb Diet

Just starting a paleo and/or low-carb diet? Having trouble getting started? I've seen many complaints that the first couple weeks are the hardest. I've gone back and forth from high-carb to low-carb a few times, and talked to friends that have made the journey as well. Here's what I suggest to get yourself started.

First let me say that my diet goal isn't just to eat few carbs; my goal is to eat nutrient-dense food, repair my digestive system, and restore myself to health. I've got symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome, and that's why I'm eating low-carb. A paleo diet isn't strictly low-carb but is compatible with it -- most paleo food is low-carb.

Plan to make small changes. You are changing the way you eat for the rest of your life. Some people can handle big, dramatic changes -- quitting cold turkey. I had trouble with that; I cheated on my diet. Daily. I know what that's like, so if you have the same trouble with going cold turkey, here are some small steps.

Step 1 - More Fat

Eat fatty foods, like cream, bacon, steaks, and cheese. You're going to need to eat more fat in your diet, especially once you start limiting carbs, so get used to eating those foods. Don't eat a ton of fat yet; if you're still eating a good bit of carbs, eating a lot of fat, too, is a great way to gain weight. You just want to start adding these things to your diet. Don't shy away from the fatty steak, for example.

Keep these foods around the house. Bacon and eggs on Sunday morning, a big fatty steak for Friday dinner, berries and cream for a treat now and then. This stuff is yummy, and once you're eating some of them, buying them will be a habit. (More on berries in a bit.)

Step 2 - Cut Sugar

Switch from sugary drinks to their low-calorie versions; whether it's soda, coffee, or tea, either add no sweetener or use the artificial stuff. Eventually you'll want to limit caffeine, but don't worry about that now. Be glad to make progress! Cutting out this sugar is one easy step.

Stay away from sugary treats, too, such as candy bars, sports drinks, deserts (including ice cream), and fruit juice. Yes, fruit juice. That stuff isn't healthy for you. Fruits are seasonal; man isn't built to consume pounds of fruit every day, year round. Modern fruits are "nature's candy bar." Natural, by itself, isn't a good reason to eat food -- there are many toxic plants, for example. Just cuz an orange won't kill you today doesn't mean it's healthy.

Berries are generally better tolerated by our digestive systems than fruits. Fruit juice, especially those big glasses of orange juice that breakfast joints like to serve, is a huge dose of fructose, which has to be processed by the liver, just like alcohol. And causes the same liver disease that alcoholics get, for the same reason -- the liver gets inundated with calories, stores its as oil, and eventually those oily deposits get so big that it ruptures liver cells, causing scars. (I talked about this subject a bit in my Big Meanies post.)

Step 3 - Cut Flour

You'll want to cut corn and wild rice, too, but start with flour. I cut out flour and found myself eating a lot of corn chips (especially with queso when I go out for fajitas). But once I was eating mostly low-carb, removing the corn chips was fairly easy. So just start with the flour. Don't touch pasta (if you're at an italian restaurant, get a sirloin or salad or fish instead), bread, or tortillas. If you go out with friends or coworkers to a sandwich shop, remove the bread. Many burger joints will serve a bunless burger wrapped in lettuce.

Be glad to make progress

Cutting out sugar is a great first step. Maybe you replace it with high-carb foods like bagels, bread, or rice -- but you've removed one bad ingredient from your diet. Focus on where you're going and don't obsess about where you are now. Once you get adjusted to low carb, you'll love it!

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