Going from "Low-Carb Dieting" to a Way of Life

Staying low-carb has many benefits—here's how to make it a lifestyle

Avocado toast
Natasa Mandic/Stocksy United

You've heard it before: "You have to make your new way of eating part of your life." "It's not a diet, it's a lifestyle change." "Fad diets lead to yo-yoing, and you gain the weight back anyway."

All true. Juice cleanses, fasts, super low-calorie diets, extreme carb-restriction, and other modes of depriving your body of food may work initially to help you drop weight—but they are unsustainable in the long run.

You not only send your body into starvation mode, you also set yourself up for binge eating and nutritional deficiencies. But if nothing has worked for you in the past besides deprivation, how do you set yourself up for sustainable, healthy weight loss, or keeping your weight steady once you reach your goal weight? 

The key to success on a long-term low-carb diet lies in transitioning from "dieting" to a new, healthier way of eating that meets your unique needs and goals. Here are four tips to help you on this path. 

Find Your Carbohydrate Sweet Spot

The idea of carb reduction is that eventually, you will figure out what carb level keeps you at your best—high energy, low hunger, lowest sustainable weight, and stable blood glucose. Ideally, the amount of carbohydrate you eat will keep your blood sugar steady, so it won't be too high-carb, which sends your blood sugar on a roller-coaster, gets you craving sugar and junk food, and increases belly fat.

Once you find your unique carb tolerance—the amount that keeps you satiated but doesn't make you crave more carbs—and experience how good you feel when eating the correct amount of carbohydrate for your body, you will be well on your way toward making low-carb eating part of your lifestyle over the long haul.

Make It About Health

If you were allergic to wheat, or gluten, which is the protein found in wheat, you would learn to get along without it. In restaurants, you would get used to ignoring the bread basket, asking for no croutons, not ordering pasta, etc. Sure, it would be challenging at first to adjust, but eventually, it would just be "the way you eat." You would know that this is just the way your body is. There are many medical conditions that force people to adjust their way of eating—permanently.

For example, some people are more likely to have diabetes or be on the road to developing it. If you have insulin resistance, the precursor to diabetes, you could have blood glucose that isn't stable and jumps around, causing you to feel less than your best. This means it's best to avoid high-carb foods, which increase your blood sugar and worsen insulin resistance. 

There is no doubt that it's a bummer to permanently remove foods from your diet that you actually enjoy. It is no fun to find out that your body needs extra attention to be at its best. But look around. This is true for many if not most people, and as we age, it definitely becomes "most."

The positive side is that once you accept that your body has "special needs," you can do something about it—something that costs very little money doesn't involve surgery or medication and has no painful procedures involved.

De-Carb Your Comfort Foods

If eating low-carb seems too strict or difficult for you, it's time to go about finding low-carb, healthy substitutes for at least some of your favorite foods. Consider using zucchinis to make zucchini noodles in place of wheat noodles in your favorite pasta dishes. Make cauliflower rice in place of white rice. Instead of potato fries, try making carrot fries. There are endless ways to use vegetables, and they have endless health benefits—that's a win-win. 

Learn Simple Cooking Techniques

The fact is, without knowing how to cook, there's only so far any diet can take you.

If you're constantly eating out, you cannot control the ingredients used, or the fat, carb, calorie, or sodium content of your food. That makes it pretty hard to even know what you're eating, let alone count carbs. If your idea of cooking is "slaving in front of a stove," let's change that right now. So many delicious, healthy meals can be made in minutes if you have a few easy-to-learn cooking skills. Any chef will tell you that simple is often best. Learn how to make one food you really like, and get good at it. Then, add another, and another. Amaze your friends! Cooking can actually be a relaxing, creative activity if you get into the mood. Thanks to YouTube, there is no shortage of video tutorials showing you how to cook everything from eggs to steamed broccoli to more complicated dishes. 

Banish the Terms "Cheating" and "Falling Off the Wagon"

This may be the most important of all. When low-carb becomes "just the way you eat," any particular high-carb food which you may choose to eat from time to time is still within the context of a low-carb way of eating. For example, most of the time, you can eat delicious low-carb foods. You can use vegetables instead of pasta. You can bake with nut flours and flax seed meal. You can focus on protein and vegetables at every meal, whether at home or out. But if you go out for sushi with a group of friends, you don't have to pick all the rice out of the rolls (it's easy enough to lift the fish off the rice with nigiri, though). If you go out for a special meal and there's creme brulee on the menu, you can indulge. Does this mean you're "off the wagon" or "cheating"? No! There has to be room for flexibility in any diet. Life takes us in many directions, and food is an important part of life.

Of course, it's possible to get too flexible—then, we will find ourselves with carb cravings, weight gain, or "carb hangovers." When this happens, there's no need for hysterics, self-blame, or criticism. We've just wandered off exploring a side path, and we need to wander right back. But that needn't be a struggle— after all, we now know what way of eating is best for us. You just have to get back on track after those inevitable bumps in the road.

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