Is a Low-Carb Diet Right For You?

Who Benefits from a Low-Carb Diet

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It should not surprise anyone by now to hear that there is no one diet that will work for everyone. Although the term "low-carb diets" encompasses a range of carbohydrate reduction, it still isn't for everyone. Here are some things to keep in mind when deciding whether to try a lower-carb eating plan.

Diet History

Some clues can be gleaned from examining your diet history. What diets have you been on in the past?
What was your experience with them? Why didn't you stay on them? In particular:

What has been your experience with diets HIGH in carbohydrates? (This includes most low-fat and/or calorie-controlled diets.) Have you felt good on them, with lots of energy, clear thinking, etc? Or have you felt hungry, irritable, obsessed with food or other negative reactions? Try to think beyond the first few weeks, after your body had adapted to the diet.

Have you had previous experience with low-carb diets? Other than negative reactions in the first week or two of the diet (which I believe can be mostly avoided), how did you feel when on a low-carb diet, both physically and mentally?

If you've had bad experiences on both, perhaps a moderate-carb diet is the answer. What might be a "maintenance diet" on Atkins, Protein Power, or South Beach might just fill the bill for you.
 

Food and Eating Behaviors

Do any of the following ring a bell for you?
  • You feel like eating even though you recently finished a meal.
  • You feel urges to eat throughout the day, not necessarily related to a meal schedule or even true hunger?
  • You feel fatigued, fuzzy-headed, or have difficulty concentrating without a "pick me up" snack between meals?
  • You frequently feel sluggish after eating, especially after a meal rich in starches and sugars?
    These are characteristic of people who have carb sensitivities or glucose intolerance. There is related information in this article on "carb cravings".

    Medical History

    Some clues might be found in your medical history:

    Diabetes - Many diabetics find that reduced-carb diets are helpful to them in controlling both blood sugar and weight. Similarly, people with pre-diabetes can benefit from keeping blood sugar in the normal range by limiting carbohydrate.

    Metabolic Syndrome - A low-carb diet has been shown to be effective for the signs of metabolic syndrome (high waist/hip ratio, low HDL cholesterol, etc)

    Are you significantly overweight, especially with extra abdominal weight ("apple" shape rather than "pear")? The more overweight you are, the more likely that insulin resistance is an issue for you - this is a sign that reducing carbohydrates in your diet can be helpful. Other signs of insulin resistance include:

      Family History

      If there is anyone in your family with diabetes or any of the above health risks, this is another potential sign. Usually, the immediate family is most significant, but the genetics in the extended family has its influence. Although my parents are both of normal weight and in good health, I am shaped more like aunts and uncles who have or had diabetes and other chronic health problems.

      Some diabetes experts define diabetes as a multiple-step progression of symptoms, with an actual diabetes diagnosis happening mid-way through the progression. If you or a family member have these traits, you could be in the first stages of diabetes, and you owe it to yourself to take control of your health NOW. A controlled-carbohydrate diet may be a positive step for you.

      The Most Important Factor

      No matter what diet you end up with, the most important question you can ask yourself is, "How willing am I to do what it takes to make a permanent change?" All the information, tips, support, recipes, etc, are there to help you, but if deep down you aren't ready to make a real change, no diet in the world will last for long. (See: Making Your Diet Changes Permanent)

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