How to Cope with "Carb Loss"

woman tempted by cake
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For so many people, their low-carb stories read like this: Off the carbs - on the carbs. Cutting back a little, but not enough. Doing well for a few weeks, then relapsing back into the "eating carbs -> craving carbs -> eating carbs" cycle. How can we get off the merry-go-round and cut carbs for good? Here's one overlooked step.

Grieving the Loss

Twenty years ago, when I found out I was gluten intolerant, I went through a few weeks of real grief.

I was depressed and upset at this change in my life which affected so many things. I had to throw out much of the food in my pantry, and learn new cooking techniques. Tricky social situations kept coming up. My family and friends didn't know what to serve at gatherings. It was by turns upsetting, irritating, embarrassing, and sad.

I am now convinced that my reaction was both healthy and helpful. In time, I was able to move through these feelings to a gluten-free life without feelings of deprivation. When I realized that high-carb foods also had to go, I went through a similar phase, but because a lot of carby foods have gluten, it was shorter and less intense.

If you are feeling some of these feelings, they are normal. If you find yourself hopping on and off the low-carb bandwagon, maybe you never really faced the loss. Here are some steps to help you move through this process.

Wake-up Call

These days, people go on and off so many diets that they often don't think about what it would really mean to adopt a new way of eating permanently.

However, the truth is that if your body does not process carbohydrate well, this is exactly what you must do. If you are sensitive to carbohydrates (sugars and starches), are insulin resistant, have metabolic syndrome, are pre-diabetic or diabetic, you have a greater risk of living a shortened and less happy life if you do not do something about it, period.

If take measures early in the progression, you can avoid a lot of damage to your body. By the time diabetes is diagnosed, the pancreas is really failing, and the risk of damage throughout the body rises dramatically. However, the damage begins long before reaching that point. So don't wait.

Need more of a wake-up call? Here are some studies that author Jenny Rhul has compiled about damage caused by pre-diabetic levels of blood sugar.

The Loss is Real

Changing the way we eat involves real loss. We are probably losing some of our favorite foods - comfort foods, celebration foods, and just plain tasty foods. There are also social adjustments, as many social situations revolve around food. Some people can even become a little hostile. Who wouldn't be bummed out about this? It's perfectly normal. In fact, I believe that if you allow yourself these feelings, you'll get through them faster, and they will be less likely to sabotage your new healthy way of eating.

A Variety of Reactions

At one time, I facilitated grief groups for people who had recently lost loved ones. One thing I would do was hand out lists of common reactions to grief. I remember one woman exclaiming, "Wow! There are so many options!" Indeed, there are many "options"!

Although the "stage theory of grief" (that the process has an orderly progression) has been disproved, the most common reactions are ones we've all heard of and they do tend to begin with shock/denial and progress (hopefully) to (at first wavering) acceptance. Examples:

Denial - "Carbohydrates aren't that bad; it's the calories that really count." (Sorry, not if your body doesn't process sugar well.)

Bargaining - "If I stay low-carb all day, I can eat what I want in the evening." or "The carbs in fruit/nuts/cheese/tomatoes don't really count."

Anger - "I'm not giving control over my life to this problem - I'll eat what I darned well please!" "There are no low-carb convenience foods - eating has turned into such a hassle!"

Sadness - "What kind of a life is life without doughnuts?"

Irritability - "Oh, go eat your cake and leave me alone."

All of these are perfectly normal reactions to loss. Unless you get stuck in them for a long period of time, don't worry, they will pass.

Be Good to Yourself

Give yourself a lot of credit for doing something hard. You deserve to be treated well! Think of things you like to do and make a list. Reward yourself for getting through this difficult time.

Get Support

As much as we don't like to admit it, it's nearly impossible to make a major change in our life without support. When you successfully get through a restaurant meal with carb-eating friends, give yourself a pat on the back! Better yet, tell someone who understands what you're going through so they can celebrate with you. 

See the Silver Lining

Sure, it sucks to have to give up some of our favorite foods. But there are good things about your new low-carb life, and it's always a good idea to look on the bright side whenever you can.

You have a treatable condition - When I first was diagnosed with a gluten problem, I complained to the people on the email list I was a member on. Some sympathized, but others basically told me to "get over it" and be happy I had a condition which could be treated with diet. I did not appreciate that advice at the time (it was too soon), but it is true. Lifestyle changes can largely make a difference for a body that has trouble processing carbohydrate, especially if you catch it early in the process.

Low-carb foods are healthy - Giving up high-carb foods, is, for the most part, giving up processed foods and sugary foods. Ideally, everyone would be doing this - but you have added incentive.

Low-carb foods are tasty - No longer do you have to worry about eating bacon and other high-fat foods! Woohoo!!

No cravings - Many people find it a great relief to be free of cravings for sugar and other foods. Whew!

Have Patience With Yourself

Coping with any loss is a process, but it can be done! Be good to yourself, get support, and give yourself lots of credit for taking the healthy path. Your future self will thank you again and again!

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