Happy New Year! January is arguably the most popular time for weight loss attempts. From gym membership specials to Weight Watchers incentives to hundreds of books, magazine articles, and blog posts, there's no shortage of plans to help you succeed. While I don't in any way condone "fat shaming" and realize that some people have made peace with being overweight, I understand the desire to lose weight for both health and aesthetic reasons. Staying trim is important to me personally as well as professionally, and it always will be. I also recognize that achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is much harder for some people than others.
As far as how to lose weight, what if you've decided to try low carb for the first time or even the 10th time? There are some who argue that low carb is just a fad diet that can't be adhered to long term and is unbalanced from a nutritional standpoint. Having followed a carb-restricted way of eating since early 2011, I completely disagree, as I believe it can be very sustainable, satisfying, and healthy. However, for many people it's not a magic solution to the weight problem they've struggled with for years, perhaps all their lives. After working with men and women using a low-carb approach for the past year, I've learned a few things that I'd like to share with you. Read on for a few tips about how to make 2015 your year for healthy, sustainable weight loss.
1. Watch your fat intake.
I recently saw video footage of a low-carb proponent saying, "On a very-low-carb diet, the more fat you eat, the more fat you lose." If only that were true! Sadly, for many people -- particularly women of a certain age -- this isn't the case. Although a very-low-carb diet is by definition high in fat (contributing more than 50% of calories), it's the restriction of carbohydrates, reduction in overall energy intake, and low levels of insulin that promote weight loss -- not dietary fat. There's nothing wrong with eating fatty meats and other high-fat foods, but adding butter to entrees already sufficiently high in fat (i.e., ribeye steak with sautéed mushrooms) will only make weight loss more difficult.
2. Make the best choice available when dining out.
Admittedly, going out to dinner isn't as easy as fixing food at home where you have control of the ingredients. It can be particularly challenging when others in your party pick the restaurant. But over the past four years, I can honestly say that I've always been able to find an entree on the menu -- or modify one as needed -- that allows me to stay low carb. This goes for both fast food and fine dining establishments. Sometimes my clients report not seeing anything appropriate on the menu and instead just choosing something that sounds good. I actually tell them that they can call or text me if they're at a restaurant and feeling uncertain what's best to order (I do this for my husband too), but no one has taken me up on it thus far...
Here are a few things I recommend:
In restaurants, request that any sandwich be made as a salad, ask for extra vegetables in place of high-carb side dishes, and let your server know that you're avoiding sauces that contain sugar and flour (this is particularly important for Asian cuisine).
At fast food places, order a bunless burger, chicken, or other protein source with your choice of condiments and a side salad. Guacamole and sour cream are ideal toppings, but mayo is fine too.
Feel free to let me know in the comments section if there are any restaurants or types of cuisine that you find particularly problematic, and I'd be happy to make a few suggestions.
3. Plan ahead so that being sick doesn't throw you off track.
Many people tend to go off their low-carb diet when they get a cold. Chicken noodle soup, hot cereal, sorbet, and cherry cough drops top the list of comfort foods and remedies. My article Low-Carbohydrate Foods and Beverages to Consume When You're Sick provides several alternatives, but it's important to stock up on these items before you actually come down with a cold or mild flu. I'm not a big fan of flavored cough drops or throat lozenges; the regular ones are loaded with sugar, and even the sugar-free ones have up to 2 grams of carbohydrate per drop, which can add up quickly. Taking a few of these isn't a problem, but warm beverages can also soothe your throat, as well as provide needed hydration.
4. Find low-carb substitutions that work for you.
One of the most common reasons I hear for going off track is craving a favorite food, whether it's bread, cereal, pasta, pizza, or sweets. I'm not a foodie; I like just about everything and could easily eat the same three meals every day without ever getting bored. I don't crave any of the foods listed above, but if you do, there are low-carb alternatives for each of them. Do they taste exactly the same as the original version? In most cases, no. But they're still delicious and only a Google search away. Here are a few to start:
Bread: Ultimate Keto Buns (KetoDiet App)
Cereal: Cinnamon Crunch Cereal (All Day I Dream About Food)
Pasta: Chicken with Shirataki Noodles (Just a Pinch Recipes)
Pizza: Cauliflower Pizza Crust with Roasted Vegetables and Goat Cheese (Domesticate Me)
Dessert: Raspberry Cheesecake Bars (I Breathe...I'm Hungry)
There are so many great low-carb recipe sites out there that it would be impossible to list them all, and it seems like new ones are cropping up all the time. Pinterest boards are great for finding new recipes and organizing them according to type so they're easily accessible.
5. Realize that sustainable weight loss takes time.
This is really important to keep in mind. For the first few weeks of any diet, especially a carbohydrate-restricted one, weight loss is often rapid. However, it usually slows down a lot after that, and once again, women seem to experience this to a greater degree than men do. As a somewhat impatient person, I completely understand being frustrated at not seeing progress on the scale, in the mirror, or feeling as though your clothes are getting looser. But it will happen eventually, even if it's months down the road. That's just the way it is with weight loss. Even when doing everything perfectly, there are no guarantees of losing a certain amount of weight within a specific time frame.
For this reason, it's vital that you genuinely enjoy eating low carb. If you don't, it'll be all but impossible to stay motivated to stick to it for the weeks (or months) that you don't lose anything. And remember, once you're done losing, you'll be eating in a very similar way for maintenance. The statistics on people who have successfully maintained are discouraging, but it can absolutely be done. It does take discipline and perseverance, though. I say this from personal experience (although I didn't lose via low carb), as well as that of several others I know who have maintained losses far greater than mine (most of whom did lose it all with carb restriction).
I truly wish you every possible success in achieving your weight loss and health-related goals and will leave you with a great quote that I strongly agree with:
"Losing weight is hard. Maintaining weight is hard. Staying fat is hard. Choose your hard."
Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE