Low Carb FAQ

[UPDATE: I am busy with a number of things and thought I might leave this post in place for a while, updating occasionally with new questions. Let’s see how this goes]

A lot of people get to this site through search engines, and I can see what these folks entered into the search bar to find me. A lot of these form questions, and I thought I could save you the miserable experience of reading through my site and instead provide a short FAQ of my answers to popular questions.

Please note I said my answers – not the answer. I am no expert. Consider me just some schlub answering your question and not any authority on the subject. Do your own research: I might be a loony.

At present they are in no particular order – and will probably stay that way. I’ll put the most recent at the top so the readers who keep tabs on me don’t have to dig.

Can nicotine lozenges help me lose weight? (07-04-13)

Please do yourself a favor and DON’T try this. My blog chronicles my long and expensive experiment in this. It didn’t work – except to give me a nicotine addiction I needed to shake, finally precipitated by a most splendid panic attack. (It was quite interesting in retrospect, this panic attack. I wrote about it but never published it – perhaps someday.)  Then stopping the nicotine only made me crave food as a substitute. If you are considering this – reconsider.

Nicotine lozenges are meant to be used to aid you in stopping smoking. They worked for me in that respect. If you smoke, I recommend trying them to help quit, but to start using nicotine when you don’t smoke as a weight loss aid is probably one of the stupidest things I’ve done in the near decade I’ve been on a low carb diet.

Why do I pee so much on a low carb diet?

Because carbs in your body need water to be processed. By cutting out most of the carbs, your body doesn’t need to carry around all that water and dumps it. Of course, there are other times your body retains water for various internal maintenance (the ladies are especially aware of this) so you can still retain water for various reasons at various times – but it ain’t the carbs.

Can I lose 10 pounds in 10 days on a low carb diet? 

You people in a rush make me crazy. You want to lose weight and keep it off – and being in a rush is the best way to sabotage this. OK – now that you’ve been scolded – yeah – maybe. Some people retain 5 pounds of water weight that just gets flushed the first few days. Some people store even more water. Also – depending on your age and weight – and what you ate the day before that first day on low carb, it is possible – I just don’t recommend it as a goal unless you are appearing on a TV in 2 weeks, have a job interview, or are getting married. I believe in taking it slow and easy.

Can I drink alcohol on a low carb diet? 

Some people pull it off. Most  can’t. Beer won’t cut it and neither will wine coolers or any other drink with sugar in it. Some people have success with red wine, some people can pull it off with hard liquor. The fact is, alcohol itself has calories – 7 per gram, and your body needs to burn it ASAP. If you keep the booze to a minimum you might lose weight but it will slow you down.

What is ‘The Atkins Flu’ or ‘Why do I feel so crappy on this diet at first?’ 

When you get your carbs below about 50 grams, your body needs to start burning fat instead of carbs for fuel. This is called ketosis. You have probably spent your life running on carbs and now your body is switching fuels. This change is the nutritional equivalent of starting to exercise after years on the couch. How do you feel after that first workout in years? Like shit, of course – you’re out of shape. But if you keep it up, your body adapts to the exercise, you start to feel better, and the benefits of exercise start to show.

The same kind of adaptation occurs with Atkins Induction or ‘nutritional ketosis’. As long as you are producing ketones your body is adapting to the new fuel and some people get flu-like symptoms. Some people report shakiness. Some folks get headaches. I usually just get lethargic and maybe a minor headache. Atkins recommended laying off exercise for the first few days at least while your body adjusts.

What are the best supplements to take on a low carb diet?

Do yourself and your wallet a big favor and AVOID that entire wall of supplements in the local pharmacy and just buy yourself a high-quality multivitamin (not the cheap store brand) without iron – the ‘senior’ formulations usually don’t have iron. Read the label. You should get more than enough iron from the meat you’ll be eating. Get your nutrients from the best quality food – and now you have extra money from not buying numerous magic potions that claim all sorts of marvelous powers but never deliver. The higher quality food and the elimination of crappy carbs should do that.

What are the best artificial sweeteners to use on a low carb diet? 

I use EZ-Sweetz. It is a liquid and 2 drops go a long way. It is zero carbs – those little packets actually have about 0.6 grams of carbs – but they can label it as zero if it’s below 1 – sneaky, huh?

Aspartame (Nutrasweet) causes stalls in some people, though a small amount shouldn’t hurt – guzzling a 6-pack of diet cola might, though.

Stevia has gained popularity because it’s ‘natural’ – it’s not. The source may be natural but it’s processed as well, doesn’t taste all that great in my opinion, and is sold as an appetite stimulant for livestock.

I use the EZ-Sweetz but I only have a few drops a day at most. Some people think it’s evil and dangerous. The Splenda people (EZ-Sweetz contains sucralose ‘AKA’ Splenda) certainly don’t. I personally think a little doesn’t hurt, but I may be wrong.

I have headaches on a low carb diet or generally feel miserable. Why? 

You might not be getting enough salt. That’s right – you aren’t getting enough salt. Isn’t this a great diet of what? You apparently excrete more salt on a low carb diet than regular, normal, carb-gobbling people. I don’t recommend eating an entire salt shaker’s worth of the stuff, but DO NOT go on a low salt, low carb diet.

Am I going to get constipated on a low carb diet? 

Constipation is not what you think it is. Millions of people have an anxiety attack if they don’t have a daily movement and think their constipated. I read somewhere that constipation is only a medical diagnosis if you haven’t gone for three days.

Unless you do work where you don’t have access to a toilet, don’t fret about ‘timing’. Let the body choose the time. Now, when you do go, if you would like to determine if you are constipated, check out the Bristol Stool Scale (please don’t click the link if you are eating or otherwise find drawings of poop offensive). If you are in the middle of this scale – type 3 or 4 – you’re cool.

For those people who ‘don’t’ have the luxury of an available bathroom, psyllium husks – Metamucil is one example – mixed quickly in a large glass of water and chugged as fast as you can – will keep you ‘regular’. Just take it between meals and a few hours before or after you take your multivitamin – the stuff tends to bind to minerals in your food and prevents absorption.

Atkins isn’t working. Help! 

The typical reasons for this are:

  1. You are eating some processed crap that has hidden carbs in it
  2. You’ve only been on the diet for a few days – patience. Give your body time to adjust – at least 2 weeks
  3. You are eating some low carb ‘crap food’ – low carb breads, too many Atkins bars, or something that touts itself as ‘low carb’ containing any number of artificial ingredients that might impact some people’s weight loss
  4. You are eating too many calories.

How do low carb diets work? 

When you reduce your carbs to below about 50 grams per day, your body begins to convert your fat into fuel. You begin burning ketones instead of glucose as fuel for your body. Ketones are also an appetite suppressant, whereas for many of us, carbs make us more hungry. You might find that you are less hungry and forget to eat – maybe for the first time in your life. There might or might not be a ‘metabolic advantage’ at work where you can consume more calories than on other diets. This is fiercely debated. I think I get a metabolic advantage and my guess as to how it works is that you don’t absorb as many calories – but I don’t have any evidence if this is hogwash or not. It seems I can eat more than one would think and still lose weight, but, like I said – maybe I’m a loony.

What can I eat on Atkins?

Dark chocolate, strawberries, raspberries, any meat, any fish, most cheeses, cream, sour cream, ricotta cheese, and low carb vegetables like kale, cauliflower, cucumbers, zucchini and the like. Take a look at my recipes. I find I have a lot of variety in my food, enjoy what I eat, and don’t feel deprived (though I will always miss bread).

I cheated on Atkins

So what? Like exercise, one missed day at the gym doesn’t matter – it’s what you do in the long run. Enjoy your cheat, don’t guilt trip yourself, and go back to low carb – you’ll be fine.

I don’t like to foods allowed on Atkins

Jeez Louise – try some new foods for goodness’ sake! I’ve been experimenting for a decade and found a number of foods that I thought I would never enjoy. Dark chocolate was never my bag, but if you aren’t overdosing on artificial sweeteners, the Lindt 85% dark chocolate starts to taste pretty sweet. I hated dark chocolate. Now I love it. Eat it at room temperature to really savor the flavor.

Try different cuts of meat. Perhaps different vegetables. I tried jicama – a root of some type. It didn’t go over well and I haven’t tried it again – but I tried it. Getting in a regular routine of trying new low carb foods can be a truly enjoyable experience. I love the foods I eat, and while I’ve made some things the dog wouldn’t eat, I’ve come up with a few gems that my family asks me to make. At the time of this writing I am having a love affair with baked pork belly thrown on the BBQ for a few minutes after cooking. Heaven.

Can I do a low-fat version of Atkins?

No! No! No! No! No! It’s not Atkins if there’s no fat. You also run the risk of gallstones as some researchers have found that fat keeps the gallbladder functioning properly.

Can a low carb diet harm my health?

Of course – just like the diet of beer, ho-hos and tortilla chips can harm your health. We all have different genetics, and if a peanut can cause some people to die from anaphylactic shock, of course a new diet of any kind might harm your health. I recommend going to your doc, telling him you are going to try low carb, and getting him to, probably grudgingly, agree to monitor your progress. People with kidney issues or existing gallbladder issues might want to avoid Atkins, but I think it’s critical to talk to your doc – don’t ask him – tell him that you are going on the diet and if after 3 months if there hasn’t been an improvement in your health you’ll try whatever diet he thinks works. If he says no – ask why. If you have a pre-existing condition that he thinks might be worsened by it, you might want to reconsider. If he is vague it might be he just doesn’t believe in them. If so – find another doctor. More doctors are warming to the notion that low carb does work for certain people.

Can I go to restaurants on a low carb diet?

This is awesome. Most restaurants have dishes that are perfect for low carb. They usually provide a protein, a vegetable, and a starch. Tell them to ditch the starch and double the vegetable side. I avoid fountain diet sodas because it is too easy for them to accidentally bring the regular cola rather than the diet cola – I stick to seltzer or water.

Should I count calories on a low carb diet?

Yeah – when you feel like it. I use a calorie-counting app but don’t pay as much attention to the calories as I do the fat percentage. I like to be in the 70% range. When I get sick of the counting – I don’t. If I feel stalled or perhaps I’m not paying attention to what I eat – I start counting again.

I also don’t recommend being anal about the counting. Estimate. If you are plus or minus 30%, I think you’re fine.

Should I weigh my food with a scale on my diet?

I find that doing it at least sometimes help for you to eyeball the rest of the times. Use the scale with new foods, then when you count, your estimates will be close enough. Please – don’t stress over the numbers too much – approximations are fine. Don’t drive yourself crazy.

What about ‘The Drinking Man’s Diet’?

The author, Robert Cameron, lived into his 90s – and he was still flying planes in his 90s. It worked for him. Research the diet if you like – I don’t have a problem with his approach, though I doubt it would work for me.

Does low carb work for everybody?

I doubt it. No diet works for everybody. I suggest – with a doctor’s approval, no matter how grudging, that you try it and see. If it doesn’t, try another diet. I do recommend a diet that is low in processed foods, but if you find low carb doesn’t work for you after a month – try something else.

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6 thoughts on “Low Carb FAQ

  1. Jeez Louise. I guess that’s what you say when you read my comments!!! I am making an effort to try new foods. Or I will be making an effort to try new foods after I eat what I have here in the house.

    I think answering these questions is VERY helpful. Good job.

    As to the sweetener. I find a few (2 or 3) packets of Splenda a day in my coffee makes me a happier person. I also use the liquid stuff. It’s just liquid sucralose, but not EZ Sweetz. My grocery sells it. The sugar free coffee flavorings (Walmart) are excellent ways to sweeten cream, yogurt etc. I buy the sugar free vanilla. They sell chocolate, hazelnut and raspberry also. I use less than the serving size.

    • You are *not* the only person that is hesitant to try new foods. I see that question a lot.

      BTW – pork belly on the grill is not ‘jiggly’. It is crunchy and creamy – not ‘jiggly’.

      • I saw a recipe for pork belly on a site I read (with pictures) and it wasn’t what I thought it would look like. I might even like it. So, I plan on finding some and following the recipe and trying it. I like bacon.

  2. More questions and answers! Love it! And I found the Bristol Stool Scale most interesting! 🙂 🙂 I really like the EZ Sweetz ~ my old packets of Truvia have carbs in each small packet.

  3. Hi, I don’t leave comments often but I liked this post, this idea, answering questions but I don’t find reading your blog to be a “miserable experience” at all, I find it inspiring in that you can slip and slide around low carb but you always end up losing. Admirable and its noteworthy that you don’t have to be perfect to achieve results. I also learned something from this post, why I pee more as a low carber, I did not know that carbs need water and if not eating carbs I would dump the water. Explains a lot! Thanks for blogging your eating life, I for one enjoy your posts.

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