Correctly Starting Low Carb
What IS Low Carb Eating?
Before I begin, I want to let it be known that I am not an authority on nutrition or a doctor; I am simply providing information that helped me lose over 200 pounds, and is safely helping others get control of their weight problems, too. You should always consult a doctor before you start any drastic diet or exercise change.
Low carbohydrate intake is a way of modifying your dietary intake such that you drastically restrict carbs, compared to the standard American/Western diet. Ok, that's fine, but what does it MEAN, and why would you eat like this?
Well, there is a lot of research that indicates that constantly high blood sugar is the primary cause of a host of diseases, from heart disease to type 2 diabetes. This is caused, in short, by eating a steady stream of highly processed sugar and starch.
There are two metabolic states that provide energy to your body: Glycolysis and ketosis. Glycolysis is the primary metabolic state that most people are in all the time, that is, using glucose for energy. This glucose is basically sugar and it comes from carbs. Is there anything inherently wrong with carbs? No, not at all, in their primary state - fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes can be healthy. Grains in general are a different matter, but there's no really good reason to eat grain - it spikes blood sugar, can cause inflammation, and there are people out there who are actually intolerant of gluten, the main protein in wheat. The problem with glycolysis is when the foods we're eating are highly processed and loaded with sugar, the way most convenient foods are made nowadays. Sugar is added to everything, contributing to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and rampant inflammation and mood swings from the ups and downs of blood sugar spikes.
Ketosis, on the other hand, is the state of metabolism in which your body breaks down fat into ketones, which you use for fuel. This occurs when your dietary intake of sugar is sufficiently low (strictly speaking, under 100g of carbs a day), and your stores of glycogen (converted glucose that is stored in the liver and muscles) is empty.Even though any diet under 100g of carbs a day will produce ketones, this isn't really sufficient to be considered "in ketosis" and you won't reap the biggest weight loss and blood sugar stabilization benefits as you would if you were restricting your carbs below 30g a day. This is what I'd like to address: the benefits of ketosis, and how to enter it correctly.
Ketosis is great for a handful of reasons to a person who wants to lose weight, the chiefest being that is causes your body to rely on both stored and dietary fat for energy production. Because of this, when you've gone without eating, or are exercising, or simply under your target amount of "maintenance calories" (the amount of calories needed to maintain your current weight), your body will break down and burn fat. Beyond that, in glycolysis, your body will break down muscle in addition to fat in a ratio of 40:60 or worse. You don't want to lose weight, you want to lose fat, and considering your body burns around 50 calories a day per pound of lean muscle you have, losing muscle is very bad. In addition, contrary to the unfounded nutritional information that's been the go-to for years, the low-fat, high-carb diet doesn't work for most people. Fat is what satiates you, and a diet without it will make you ravenous, overeating constantly, or on the other end, starving and miserable. Keep your carbs low will also help prevent and control type 2 diabetes by preventing spikes in blood sugar which would then create spikes in insulin, fueling the metabolic syndrome that many people living on a Western diet will suffer from in their lifetime.
So we know that ketosis will benefit us, particularly if we want to lose weight, but there's a lot of unpleasant information out there regarding the transition, which can be rough if you don't know what you're doing, so here are what, in my opinion, are the top five factors to successfully navigating the starting of a low carb diet.
Running is a great way to get in shape, and to accumulate stickers with numbers on them to the back of your car.
Cut And Burn
Day 1, restrict carbs as much as possible - under 10g if you can, but 20 might be more realistic. Eat liberally of fat, and moderately of protein (probably not over 100g unless you're very athletic or weight lifting), but make sure your carbs are very, very low.
That first day, do a solid routine at the gym, particularly weight lifting, but if you don't like to lift, some High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT cardio, will work, too. A very simple version of HIIT would be to squat as much as possible with good form, as quickly as possible, for 20 seconds, and then rest for 10, repeating for 4 minutes.
The purpose of these two things combined is to deplete your body of stored glycogen, which is glucose stored to be readily available for exercise and exertion. Your body stores it in water within your muscles and liver, and through carb-restriction alone it can take 24-48 hours to completely burn through all of it for the average person, but because of the exercise AND the restriction of dietary carbohydrate, you will be entering ketosis (most likely) much sooner.And while we're on the topic of glycogen storage...
Hydrate Thy Self
You will be peeing. A lot. Glycogen storage causes water retention, and by using all your glycogen, your body doesn't need as much water, so you end up getting rid of a lot of it, and this is the cause of a large amount of the weight loss your first week or two. You will be shedding several pounds of just water, and though ketosis will make you lose fat fast, you cannot look at your first two weeks of weight loss and expect that every week, because you will be disappointed. This massive weight drop, however, can serve as incentive, as even though half will likely be water, you will still slim down as it normally relieves bloating you might be experiencing, in addition to genuine fat loss. You will need to drink though to replenish the collateral water lost in the storage purge. And again, due to this purge...
Do Not Restrict Calories
Well, at least for the first two weeks. Because you're going to be going through the symptoms of keto flu (to some degree), and the fact that low blood sugar will make you ravenous and want to eat anything near your face, it's best to just eat liberally of low carb foods and not count calories. Once you're in ketosis, your appetite will generally self-regulate, and you will tend to restrict calories naturally, because you simply won't be as hungry. Trust me, unless you're gorging yourself for two weeks, which is very unlikely, you will still lose weight. Once keto flu goes by (2-6 weeks normally, but in my experience it's more like 5 days, though the brain fog might last a bit longer) you will find you have more energy, particularly when you've not eaten for a while.
Make Sure That You Exercise
Though most low carb sources will tell you it's not necessary, I have found in my own experience, and those of friends who have lost weight through ketosis, that weight lifting especially helps lose fat faster, and creates a much more appealing post-loss physique. Losing a tremendous amount of fat without building up some muscle, or at least maintaining the muscle you have, creates a state commonly known as "skinny fat". You'll be thin, but flabby and sallow. By lifting and staying fit while losing weight, you'll have definition, and you'll look and feel far more vibrant afterwards, in addition to priming your body for putting on a little muscle afterwards to increase your metabolism and help you look and feel your best.
Be Sure To Supplement
Peeing a lot means you're flushing a lot of electrolytes out, too. Sodium, potassium, and magnesium are all critical to proper bodily function, but high sugar diets and water fluctuation can wreak havoc on your stores of these crucial elements.
Magnesium - about 400mg is the daily recommended allowance for a healthy adult, and we get sadly far less. You can supplement with magnesium chloride or citrate, but they can have a laxative effect, so be careful. Magnesium helps with regulating sleep, muscle control, and mood, as well as heart palpitations and anxiety. Most people are somewhat magnesium deficient, but you can get it from your diet in the form of almonds, spinach, and salmon, among other things.
Potassium - crucial particularly for the electric impulses of the heart, as well as energy and alertness, potassium is one that people think "I can eat a banana and I'm good". Unfortunately, the rda for potassium is pretty high - about 4700mg, and supplementing it can be dangerous unless strictly controlled by a doctor. Ketosis-friendly sources of potassium are avocado, fish (again), dark leafy greens, and nuts, in that order (about 1000mg - 200mg per average serving). A whole avocado a day is probably one of the best things you can do for your health, in case you were wondering.
Sodium - this one is pretty easy to supplement, but it's been so maligned for so long, people are afraid. On a ketogenic diet, you need extra sodium (around 3,000 mg a day) because insulin normally slows the rate your kidneys process sodium, but without a high presence of insulin, you'll burn through it quickly. Supplementation is easy, though - drinking bone broth, bouillon in general, or just liberally salting your food are all good ways to up the sodium.
Proper electrolyte balance is key to avoiding "keto flu", which is the catch-all name for the cluster of symptoms that accompany this transition - headaches, fatigue, stomach issues, irritability, etc. Depending on how addicted to sugar and processed food you are, you might actually have a real withdrawal component to your entering into ketosis, as well, so it can be worse for some people.
This is the easiest path to entering into ketosis, and beginning a low carb lifestyle to help you burn fat, get in shape, and control your health for a lifetime. Remember, diet makes up most of your success - healthy bodies are made in the kitchen more than the gym, but you'll need both to succeed long term. Good luck!