How to Avoid Carb Creep on a Low-Carb Diet

Is Carb Creep Creeping Up on You?

reaching for a cupcake
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There is an insidious problem that happens at some point to most people on low-carb diets (actually, a similar thing happens on almost any restricted diet): over time, people start adding more carbohydrate, until it becomes "too much". Studies that track people on diets almost always show this. For people following a low-carb way of eating, this is what we call "carb creep". So how can we combat this tendency to eat more carbohydrate than is good for us as time goes on?

To be clear, for people who start out on a very low-carb phase such as the Atkins and South Beach diets recommend, most people are going to be adding carbohydrate. The trick is to figure out how much and how fast, and to be alert for the signs that you've gone overboard.

How Much Carb is Right for You?

How to Tell if You are a Victim of Carb Creep

As the name implies, carb creep happens slowly, but when you've gone over your limit, one or more of the following can happen:

  • Weight loss stops.
  • Food cravings and excess hunger return.
  • Symptoms return that went away while eating low-carb, and benefits of low-carb eating go away.
  • Blood glucose is less-well controlled.
  • For those who are aiming for nutritional ketosis, blood ketones are below recommended levels.

How to Combat Carb Creep

1. Go back to the beginning and track your carbs carefully. Often it's a good idea to start over again and get that good low-carb feeling back.

Make sure you're familiar with how much carbohydrate is in different foods. There are lots of ways to track your food these days, from Web sites such as Calorie Count to smart phone apps. Be sure to read labels carefully. There is also information on this site:

A note on carb counts: Databases can vary, so you may find different counts in different places.

2. Watch Your Serving Sizes!

A common mistake is to think "well, that food is low in carbs, so I don't have to pay attention to how much of it I am eating". I have found this to be especially true of certain foods, such as nuts. Nuts are generally a fine low-carb food to eat, but they don't have zero carbs, and are a food that some people can get carried away with. Also, there are foods that actually may say zero carbs on the label, but due to serving sizes they are not and it can be fairly easy to overdo. Cream is an example of this. It says a tablespoon is "0 grams of carb", but in fact it is just under one gram. So they can add up if you're dumping lots of cream in your coffee.

For more information, check out these 6 Foods that May Have More Carb Than You Think

3. Don't Eat the Same Things Over and Over

People sometimes eat more carbs as a way to combat boredom with the food they are eating.

This especially happens when people "go on a diet", and restrict their food choices unnecessarily, eating the same things over and over. For low-carb eating to be something you can stick to, eat a wide variety of types of foods, cooking techniques and spices. Also, it's usually possible to de-carb your favorite foods, or at least find a different way to get the flavor combinations you're hankering for. For example, pizza.

4. Don't be Too Hungry

Are you reaching for carb-laden foods because they are handy and you are hungry? If so, perhaps more planning is required. Make sure you have food that is on your plan accessible to you. If you seem to be running out of carbs in your allotment before you run out of time in your day, consider adding more fat to your diet, which will satisfy your hunger without carbs. Add extra healthy salad dressing to your salads, for example. Have some guacamole with your meal. Put extra butter or olive oil on your vegetables.

These tips should bring you back to the amount of carbohydrate that is right for you, so you can reap the many benefits of low-carb eating again.

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