Starting a Low-Carb Diet? Avoid These 10 Common Mistakes

This diet isn't as simple as cutting out bread and buying low-carb ice cream

Woman cutting bread
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A low-carb diet can be extremely effective for dropping excess fat, and studies show it may also help reduce the risk of insulin resistance and diabetes. Since it eliminates foods that we have a tendency to overeat (can you say bread basket?), you end up saving yourself tons of calories, and since carbs spike blood sugar, you'll have more stabilized levels. However, as with most diets, there are some common stumbling blocks you may run into when you embark upon this specialized diet that restricts certain foods.

From expecting results too soon to overindulging in other macronutrients to failing to plan, some of these missteps can wreck your best intentions on a low-carb diet. But they don't have to! Here are ten of the most common mistakes I see in low-carb eating and how to avoid them. 

Eating Too Few Carbs

Low-carb dieting, while it may seem self-explanatory at first, has nuances and details that are important to keep in mind for your success. To maintain a healthy diet while going low-carb, it is crucial to ensure you're getting a healthy amount of all the macronutrients (proteins, fats, and carbs). Remember, low-carb doesn't mean no-carb; vegetables, both starchy and non-starchy, contain carbohydrates, as do fruits and other healthy foods that you should be eating.  If you eat too few carbs at first, you may suffer a carb crash and decide low-carb isn't for you. This is a shame when a simple adjustment or two can usually get you through the start comfortably to the great rewards at the end of it.

Over-Eating "Allowed" Foods 

Because you're keeping your carbs low (anywhere between 50 to 100 grams, depending on your exercise level), you may find yourself reaching for more of the macronutrients you don't have to restrict: Protein and fat. That often means overdoing it on the meat and cheese, which can not only have health risks—it also means you may gain weight, as these foods contain a lot of calories.

So going low-carb isn't a license to eat as much of these foods as you want. Rather, follow the low-carb food pyramid to find the optimal amount of macronutrients for you and let your appetite be your guide; eat when you are hungry, and stop when you are comfortable.

7 Things to Know about Carbohydrates

Getting Through the First Week

Skimping on Vegetables

Time and time again, people tell me they don't feel good eating a diet lower in carbohydrates, and it turns out they are eating almost no vegetables or fruit. This will not work in the long run. My low-carb pyramid has vegetables at the base; in other words, you should be eating more of them than any other food! Fruit, too, especially fruit low in sugar, has an important role in a complete low-carb diet. And these extremely healthy foods contain the micronutrients your body needs to function well and stay healthy—so they won't just help your waistline. They'll go a long way toward preventing chronic disease. As a rule, half your plate or more should be filled with vegetables. Follow these preparation tips to incorporate more veggies into your day. 

Being Afraid of Fat

Shying away from fat is as detrimental as overconsuming it, as healthy fats are a crucial component of a healthy diet.

Despite the fact that the "low-fat" fad has been widely discredited and healthy fats have been shown to improve everything from high cholesterol to brain health, hardly a day goes by that I don't see or hear a negative message about fats in the diet. This, and a desire to drop weight fast, may cause you to attempt a low-fat version of a low-carb diet. At the beginning, you might see results if you are using up a lot of your own fat (as opposed to eating it). However, fat loss inevitably slows down, and you may then become more hungry if you don't add some fat to your diet. Nothing will sabotage a diet faster than hunger.

So don't let this happen to you. Have half an avocado with your eggs and dress your salads with olive oil-based dressings. 

How to Overcome Fat Phobia

Forgetting Fiber

Eating enough vegetables and fruit goes a long way toward ensuring you are getting enough fiber in your diet, which can prevent gastrointestinal disturbances such as constipation and bloating that people often experience when cutting out high-carbohydrate, high-fiber foods (think grains and potatoes). Familiarize yourself with high-fiber, low-carb foods (most of them can be found in the produce aisle, so make sure you head there!), and the different types of fiber you need to be getting each day. Also, you may want to keep high-fiber flax and chia seed, as well as a low-carb bran cereal such as All Bran, on hand in case you get backed up. 

Tips for Dealing with Food Cravings

Lack of Planning

When you first start a new way of eating, you'll undoubtedly run into old habits that need to be changed to new healthier ones. No longer can you mindlessly hit the vending machine or drive-thru. This is a good thing: Pausing to re-consider our habits is a constructive step toward making improvements in our lives. But in the case of eating, it's important to plan ahead for awhile until your new habits come naturally. Nothing will sabotage your goals more quickly than realizing that you're hungry but you don't know what to eat, you have nothing in the fridge, or you have no time to cook. Meal-planning before you grocery shop, as well as batch-cooking—which is picking one day of the week to make a bunch of meals that you can eat throughout the week—can be excellent tools to ensure you always have food at the ready. Also, keeping low-carb snacks on hand is a great idea. 

Low-Carb Menu Help

Getting into a Rut

There are people who eat the same things day after day and like it that way. But frankly, most of us like variety, and will get bored very quickly if that is not built into the way we eat. There are many ways to avoid low-carb boredom. There is no reason not to eat a wide variety of foods, and in fact, a varied diet is likely to be better for us nutritionally. Every cuisine on the planet has low-carb options; you just need to skip the starch and sugar. Also, most dishes can be "de-carbed." 

Falling Prey to "Low-Carb" Packaged Foods

Be wary of low-carb ice cream, meal replacement bars, and other "treats" labeled low-carb or sugar-free. They often contain ingredients such as maltitol, which is just as bad as sugar in a lot of ways; it's a carbohydrate that affects blood sugar. In general, products that talk about their "net carbs" or "impact carbs" deserve close scrutiny of the ingredients and careful experimentation.

What Are Net Carbs?

Maltitol: Just Say No

What are Sugar Alcohols?

Letting Carbs Lurk 

You're eating low-carb. You're feeling great, and the weight dropping off as if by magic. You're not hungry between meals! You have energy! You can concentrate better! Wheee! You think you'll have a piece of toast! It doesn't matter! You still feel great! You think you'll have some low-carb ice cream! Hey! You're still losing weight! A little sugar in your coffee can't hurt, can it? Maybe not, but...uh oh. Something has sent you over your own personal carb limit. Suddenly, you're having cravings, you're hungrier, you're gaining weight, and you're in a vicious cycle that's hard to break of eating carbs, being hungrier, eating more carbs...ugh.

Sometimes it happens more subtly, but it's common to let more and more carbs creep in, sometimes unawares. If that happens, it's time to take stock and probably start over, at least for a few days, to break that cycle.

Don't Let Carb Creep Creep Up on You!

How to Count Carbs

Skipping Exercise

There is a temptation to leave exercise out when talking about low-carb diets because often people can be successful at first while staying sedentary. However, there are several reasons for talking about exercise in any diet discussion (Atkins called it "non-negotiable"). One is that exercise lowers insulin resistance - this is probably partly why exercise alone will tend to help many people lose a few pounds. The second is that exercise is good for our bodies in so many ways. And the third is that while we can lose weight by diet alone, at least to some extent, we are very unlikely to be able to maintain a significant weight loss without exercise.

See Also: 10 Things Not to Do on a Low-Carb Diet

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