The first few weeks on a low-carb diet certainly provides the weight loss results that encourages you to stay in the course. After the initial breakthroughs, you might find that the weight loss is less dramatic, or even barely measurable.
Here’s why your low-carb diet isn’t continuing to perform the way you’d hoped – and why you should stick to it.
That great change in your weight after week one and two of your low-carb routine is probably mostly water weight loss. If your goal is losing fat, measure your progress differently. Keep your tape measure handy, and maintain a record of the change in your waist measurement. This gives you the information you really need about your physical changes on a low carb diet. Better yet, have your body fat measured from time to time, and record that as well.
Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, before and after pictures give you the complete story. Put on you’re your favorite outfit at the outset of your diet (or today, if your diet is already a few weeks in). How do you feel in your clothes? Where do they feel tighter or constrained? Take another picture in the same outfit a few weeks from now? Even if your scale has somewhat disappointing news, your picture may tell a different story.
Does your regimen include weight lifting? The muscle you are gaining will raise the number on your scale, even as you are losing fat!
Your weight-loss slow down may also be an indication that it’s time to cut carbs even more. This is especially the case if your metabolism is particularly sensitive to carbs. You can find out how sensitive your system is by going very low carb temporarily. A diet under 50 grams per day will mean cutting out most fruits, except berries. Under 20 grams limits your intake to protein, healthy fats and leafy green vegetables.
A high stress level may be another factor affecting your weight loss, as elevated levels of stress hormones like cortisol can cause you to feel hungrier and reach for unhealthy foods. Yoga, meditation and breathing practices will reduce your stress more effectively than junk food, and without the extra fat in your diet.
When you’re cutting carbs, how you replace them matters. Quality counts, so be sure to avoid processed foods. Prepare your own high quality natural meats, fish, eggs and vegetables, using healthy fats in your cooking. Even the healthier processed bars and snacks should be cut out, or be very occasional treats.
On the other side of the spectrum, a protein-only diet is not a good choice. In fact, you need plenty of healthy fats to keep hunger at bay and maintain optimal hormonal levels that help you burn body fat. Note, however, that nuts are not an ideal source of healthy fats if you want to lose weight. For most of us, it’s far too easy to overeat nuts because they’re tasty and easy to carry. Remember, though, they are also very high in calories and fat.
High protein dairy foods should also be on your watch list if your goal is losing weight on a low-carb diet. The amino acids present in dairies like cheese, milk and yoghurt can bring as much havoc with your insulin level as white bread can. Spiking insulin levels affect your metabolism in a way that counteracts your low-carb diet. Minimizing dairy protein is your best bet, even if you are not generally dairy sensitive. Butter is an exception, because it is low in the protein and lactose that spikes insulin.
In addition to dietary changes, a healthy sleep regimen is crucial to maintaining positive results in your health goals. Science tells us that lack of sleep increases the appetite, and when we’re tired during the day the craving for unhealthy snacks increases. Make sleep time more restful by reducing caffeine, especially in the afternoon and evening. Don’t exercise or drink alcohol close to bedtime. Instead, relax by reading, keeping a consistent time to turn in, and blocking out all light from your bedroom.
Cut down on sweeteners, too, even the low calorie ones. All sweeteners tend to increase appetite. Also, be honest with yourself about the amount of cheating you do. Even minor cheating – a junk food binge or a couple of off-diet meals each week – can derail your progress.
The age-old advice about eating smaller, more frequent meals probably won’t help. It’s not supported by evidence, and it’s just too hard to maintain. Instead some people have found that intermittent fasting for about 8 hours to be an effective strategy to break through weight loss plateaus.
An old fashioned strategy that does work is counting calories. Keep track and consider a short-term reduction of 500 calories per day, which typically (though not in all cases) results in losing an extra pound each week. Keep in mind though that long-term extreme calorie cutting slows down your metabolism and is detrimental to your weight loss goals and your overall health.
In addition to paying closer attention to what and how you are eating, think about how you’re working out. Exercise routines based on burning calories do little to help you achieve your goals. The sad truth is that even small diversions from your diet – a high calorie snack or a celebration piece of cake – can quickly replace any calories you’ve burned. Instead, look to workouts that increase metabolism and build muscle. Weight lifting is a great choice for balancing hormones and environment and increasing muscle mass, and in the long term will help you shed weight. Add high intensity interval training and daily walks to your day to see optimal results and feel great.
Take a good look at any medications you take, and see if weight gain is a side effect. Talk with your doctor about this as soon as possible; you may be able to replace your medication with one that doesn’t make you gain weight. Also, ask your doctor if you are at risk for a medical condition like hyperthyroidism, that affects your weight. Treatment for a medical condition can make weight loss much easier.
Finally, maintain a sensible perspective on weight loss, with a realistic goal of losing 1 to 2 pounds per week. Place more importance on your overall well being and energy level, and less on the fantasy of looking like a model. Remember, it’s your self-discipline and self-worth that make you beautiful – and they will help you attain all of your health and fitness goals.