Failing at low carbing.
June 6, 2011 8:20 PM   Subscribe

Looking for help starting and sticking to a low carb diet!

I'm in my late-twenties and was diagnosed with insulin resistance about five years ago. I've been on Metformin XR since, and it's worked really well for me. But I'm on the max dose for Met and I'm still young, so I'm worried about my body in the long run. I'm also concerned about my weight; I gained weight over this winter from being inactive and eating and drinking way too much. I've just started back up again on Couch to 25k (and I'm on week 3, running 4 days a week), which has helped me lose some weight in the past, although normally I shed 10 lbs and give up because I'm briefly satisfied with my weight loss, even though later I get frustrated at myself for not sticking with it. I've read enough over the past few years to know that I should be eating low carb to deal with both these issues, especially my blood sugar issues.

The problem: Every time I've done low carb, I end up tired, starving, and slightly nauseated. The way I feel after a meal of fish or chicken loaded with veg is vastly different to how I feel after fish or chicken, 1 veg, and couscous with fruit as dessert. When I eat a low carb meal, I'm hungry again an hour later, and I feel weak and exhausted. I know that you're supposed to push yourself through the first few days, but I've had the same feelings still going over a week of low, or lower, carbing.

I feel like maybe there's something with low carbing that I'm just not getting. I'm fairly certain I'm not eating enough fats, because the only fats in my diet are typically avocados and olives, two things I typically eat at least once a day, but is that enough to change how low carbing makes me feel? It's so frustrating to read how other people with insulin resistance are turning their lives around by limiting carbs, when I can barely lift my head up without them!

Other special snowflake details: Female, 5'4", 150 lbs. I'm allergic to dairy, I'm rubbish at cooking anything complicated, and I have very limited kitchen space (limited to one small refrigerator shelf, one freezer shelf, and one small cupboard).

Without low carbing, my diet is typically:

Breakfast: 1 bowl of muesli with plain soy milk
Lunch: Tomatoes, olives, sandwich meat or falafel balls or marinated anchovies, hard-boiled eggs, berries or cantaloupe or bananas
Dinner: Fish, vegetables, couscous
Snacks (usually 1-2 per day): Smaller portions of what I have for lunch, with more fruit

I drink tea and a ton of water throughout the day. Once a week I may have wine or beer with friends.

(This varies depending on my schedule, ie. if I'm up late and sleep in the next day, I might skip bfast and eat lunch as my first meal, followed by dinner, and have 1-2 snacks later. Sometimes instead of the fish/veg/couscous I make chicken, veg, and whole wheat pasta.)
posted by canadia to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
EAT MORE. Seriously, eat until you feel full. Eat more fat, including grassfed red meat and (ideally grassfed) butter.

Also, plan for it to suck for between one to three weeks. It just flat takes time for your body to switch fuel sources.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:23 PM on June 6, 2011

Ack, not butter if you're allergic. Coconut products are a great source of fat too - both milk and oil. And soooo tasty.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:39 PM on June 6, 2011

Fat: eat more eggs? Those are my go-to when I'm trying to cut carbs down and not feel all woogity, but I can't really point to my own success here.

My diet's similar to yours. I've tried the same, but am too dependent on carbs for other reasons. (No insulin resistance, but a gastrointestinal system that emphatically rejects all attempts to load up on lots of fresh veg, beans, protein, or rich/fatty foods, then happily reverts to normal when refilled with a nice, neutral bowl of plain pasta with butter.) But I'm currently trying to cut a few calories without feeling more hungry, so next on my list to try is decreasing carb % while increasing # of meals. That might help you out even more, given the issues you're describing.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:41 PM on June 6, 2011

Bacon and fried eggs.
posted by rr at 8:42 PM on June 6, 2011

Best answer: 1) It takes more time than you think
2) If it makes things easier, eat the hell out of everything the first few weeks and cut back calories once you're used to lack of carbs
3) You HAVE to eat fat or you will feel like you're starving. Eggs. Bacon. Beef. Pork. Chicken thighs with skin. Eat more olives and avocados, much more than just once a day. You need to have some source of fat with every meal and snack.
posted by schroedinger at 8:45 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

The trick is to get into a living situation where you're not "limited to one small refrigerator shelf, one freezer shelf, and one small cupboard." I've been in shared housing arrangements wherein my kitchen space was very limited, and I ate very haphazardly. Being in the kitchen frustrated me enormously, it was like a weird stockpile management exercise. Now I have somewaht more pantry space and I can buy and store whatever food I like. My diet has become more regular and healthier. And if I'm still feeling hungry, I can fish around in the cabinet and find actual food, rather than rely on chocolate to stop the craving.
posted by Nomyte at 8:47 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nuts and seeds are good too. I recently tried paleo for a little while, and I definitely lost the "hungry an hour later" thing after a couple of weeks, and by adding in lots of nuts.

I wasn't doing it to lose weight, though, so YMMV.
posted by backwards guitar at 9:02 PM on June 6, 2011

Eat more protein, particularly meat, eggs, chicken, etc. Buy a rotisserie chicken, take all the meat off the bones and parcel it out into 8 little containers in the fridge. When you're hungry, grab one. Just 3 or 4 ounces of chicken can be surprisingly filling.

Save the chicken bones and make stock. Use the stock to make a vegetable soup using onions, carrots, celery, etc (no potatoes or starchy veg) and have a bowl of soup before your evening meal, or during the day as a snack.

Have an omelet for breakfast.

Snack on raw celery and carrots. A whole celery contains hardly any calories and is very filling. I take mine into work cut into little pieces and nibble on it throughout the day.

Low carb is hard to get into but I find that once I've done it for a couple of weeks, and provided I eat enough protein, I don't feel hungry on it at all.
posted by essexjan at 12:15 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I recommend Mark Sisson's the Primal Blueprint as a good diet for most people to get into.
posted by Not Supplied at 1:25 AM on June 7, 2011

I think it'll be tough to low carb it while exercising so much. When I went low carb, the recommendation was to not exercise for the first week, or be sure to drink milk or have some complex carve a bit before exercising.
posted by vitabellosi at 3:20 AM on June 7, 2011

Agreeing that coconut oil is a great source of fat for low carbers. You can saute your vegetables in it, blend some into a smoothie - you can even melt a teaspoon of it into your tea here and there to help you stay satiated. Also, when you make bacon (which is one of the best parts of eating low carb!), you should save the fat and cook with it later. Saute some spinach in bacon fat, or use it to grease the pan for a big steak. Give yourself at least a week to get past the carb withdrawal, and maybe experiment with slightly higher carb foods like sweet potatoes and berries (especially after exercising). I second Mark Sisson's book; his website is also a good resource.
posted by katie at 4:02 AM on June 7, 2011

I know you're not vegetarian but even so it's worth it picking up a copy of Rose Elliot's Vegetarian Low Carb Diet book. She has a lot of great recipes that will help you feel full - the one I really recommend is the yeast bread recipe. If you like whole wheat bread you'll love this bread. Try it with butter and cheese whenever you're hungry and you'll feel tons better.

Are you allergic to butter/cheese? If not try adding these fats to your diet. Also try to start during a week where you don't have a lot of activities planned, slow down your exercising, etc. Once you make it through the slump you'll be fine, but you definitely need to plan for the inevitable slump when you start.
posted by hazyjane at 4:07 AM on June 7, 2011

You should not be hungry on a low-carb diet. Since you should also not be counting calories, this works out well. If you don't know what to snack on, eat a boiled egg. If you want a regimented, effective way to start and stay eating low carb, I like Atkins.

Get an old copy of Atkins (DANDR, 1996 edition, before the brand sold out and started maked frakenfoods with fake sugars, which you do not want.) Join this board and do a bootcamp - it is so much easier with other people. Track your food so you have the right fat/protein/carb ratio. You should be counting carbs, and during induction, 65% of your calories should come from fat (this later drops to 40%). I did an Induction Guide for Dummies when I completed induction; let me know if you want a copy!
posted by DarlingBri at 4:31 AM on June 7, 2011

Relevant blog post from Michael Eades.

Chicken and fish do not have much fat, and adding a bit of avocado and olives is not going to do it. You need lots more fat. Get some fattier cuts of meat, lose any guilt about eating bacon, be liberal with oils, etc.
posted by Durin's Bane at 4:51 AM on June 7, 2011

Eat more fats! You may also need to eat more food, period, to replace what you're losing when you take out the carbs.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:26 AM on June 7, 2011

eat fat, fat, and more fat!! fat is your friend. fat will make you lose weight. fat is good for you. (when you're on a low-carb diet)
posted by katypickle at 5:29 AM on June 7, 2011

Allow me to again pimp my favorite South Beach (and hence, low carb) blog: Kalyn's Kitchen. LOADS of South Beach recipes and ideas of how to pair them. A typical day for me on South Beach looks like this, FWIW:

Breakfast Casserole Recipe with Artichokes, Goat Cheese, and Canadian Bacon (I modify this slightly with half eggs, half egg whites, but whatever is fine.).

Coffee. If I'm being really good I will drink water at this point but I struggle with drinking enough water.

Spiced Chickpeas with Avocado or Gazpacho or something like Curried Chicken Salad.

Pork Chops with some kind of roasted veg, or to make it really really simple, we'll have a soup or chili - Chard & Chickpea Soup with Sausage or Vegetarian Lentil Soup.

In general: load up on veggies. You want to eat FIBER because fiber helps you feel more full. Believe me, I feel your pain - I've been off the wagon for a bit (vacation, you are evil and yet so enjoyable!) and I've for sure got the annoying headachey feeling coming off carbs. While the admonitions to "eat more fat" here are accurate, if you are trying to lose weight eating low carb, you should keep your meat choices to less than 10% fat - so *Canadian* Bacon is great. Regular bacon is a little high in fat for losing weight. Good luck!
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:21 AM on June 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

stoneweaver, I realize is kind of ridiculous but they have a great list of meat low in saturated fat.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:14 AM on June 7, 2011

Best answer: When you're eating carbs, your body gets its energy from glucose. When you're not eating carbs, it wants to get that energy from ketones, which come from breaking apart fats. If you are not eating much fat, you have to hope your body is breaking up its stored fat at a fast enough rate to supply your energy -- and it's not doing that. It tries to, sure, but it can't bust it out of storage and break it apart as fast as it can simply break apart circulating dietary fat. Since you're already insulin resistant, this is going to be more pronounced in you than a person without insulin resistance because extra insulin floating around acts like a chemical barrier to keep fat in storage -- but most people's bodies will not be able to break apart stored fat at a rate fast enough to sustain their energy needs, and it will need to be supplemented with dietary fat.

In other words, your body needs to meet its energy needs via fat, but you're not eating fat and you have extra molecular guards blocking it off from its fat stores. If you're not even overweight, you have even less of an available source of energy. Your body is getting a trickle of energy it manages to sneak past the guards instead of the steady stream it needs, so you feel weak and hungry.

Add to this that you're exercising, and yes, you're going to feel weak if you're not eating enough fat. Glucose gets you through exercise without feeling weak because your body can take it up and use it quickly; it wants to get it out of your bloodstream ASAP because it can build up to toxic levels. Your body can't break apart ONLY stored body fat fast enough to keep up with a regular day, much less exercise; you MUST have some dietary fat circulating to have a hope of regularly running without feeling hungry and weak. There are athletes that are full-time low-carb and they can tell you how crazy it is to try and exercise without getting adequate fat. Other athletes eat carbs prior to or just after exercising (both for energy and for helping to build muscle) but if you're already insulin resistant I would try to see if simply eating more fat works. Failing that, you may want to lay off the exercise until you've got a handle on low-carbing without feeling weak and hungry, and then try adding it back in.

Eat a lot of eggs and fatty meat and cheese and butter. Om nom nom.
posted by Nattie at 7:26 AM on June 7, 2011 [5 favorites]

I would suggest checking out Tim Ferriss' 4 Hour Body book - in it, he has a "slow carb" diet that is basically a low carb diet with beans.

I've been on it since early May, and I am rarely hungry. Keep in mind that calories of things like veggies & salads are *way* less than those like bagels, or bread, so you have to eat a lot more of them.

Also, make sure you're drinking enough water - I've heard that sometimes we can misinterpret thirsty as hungry.
posted by needlegrrl at 7:44 AM on June 7, 2011

For reference, on a day I planned a menu I might eat bacon and eggs for breakfast, chicken mayo/chicken salad for lunch with one sliced tomato, and for dinner pork chops, green beans and fresh corn plus salad. For snacks, sliced ham and coleslaw whenever I got hungry. So, you know, a lot of fat. I'm not on induction so snacks can also sometimes be olives, raw cashews, or fruit.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:15 AM on June 7, 2011

Best answer: I feel like maybe there's something with low carbing that I'm just not getting.

I think what you're not getting (or what you didn't expect) is that there is a learning curve to this and it will take time for you to figure out which low-carb foods you like/hate, how to fill yourself up so that you're not hungry all the time and how to manage carb cravings (or just regrets that you're on this cruddy diet).

You sound like me, in that you don't like stuffing yourself full of protein and would often rather go without eating than have to eat another chicken breast... And this leaves you hungry. I deal with this by having smoothies. If I just can't stomach more eggs or whatever protein food, I make a smoothie, and since I'm really trying to lose weight, I use water, only a small amount of frozen berries, a tablespoon of almond butter and, of course, protein powder.

I think the advice above is great - eat more fat, eat more altogether, eat cheese and nuts, let yourself eat delicious but not so good for you stuff like bacon in whatever quantities you like at the beginning and start to reduce that stuff only once you're resigned to the diet, consider Tim Ferriss' version of the 'slow carb' diet, etc.

I would only add a couple things - that I exercise a lot on this diet (at least 1.25 hours 3x a week) and I don't find it any more difficult than exercising always is. For the nausea, it should go away after a week or so. I took gravol to help me deal with it.

You can do it! You just need practice.
posted by kitcat at 10:18 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Eating lots of cheese and butter can feel kind of gross. I know it does to me. As you know, avocado is a great source of fat. So is flax; you can mix ground flax into shakes, use flax seed oil on your food, etc. Olive oil is great. Fish oil capsules are good too. We tend to think of fat as stuff that's greasy-salty-bad, but it certainly doesn't have to be.
posted by kitcat at 10:25 AM on June 7, 2011

Eat more! Figure out what your favorite low carb snacks are and keep them around, and eat whenever you're hungry. You're restricting carbs, not food, so eat more veggies and protein and fat--whatever sounds good to you. Don't let yourself get to the unhappy starving place.

I had a hard time eating more fat when I first started eating low carb. I had to fight off years of FAT=BAD propaganda echoing around in my head to buy the full-fat yogurt. It just seemed wrong. I'm much better at it now, and the 20 pounds I've lost eating low carb is really good reinforcement. Also, it tastes better!

For me, the getting in to ketosis process sucks and makes me feel crappy. I found that out by eating way too many carbs a few times, and having to get back to my happy low carb place the hard way. Avoiding that is one of the things that keeps me from consuming lots of carbs any time. Once I'm in it, though, my hunger signals change dramatically and my energy levels improve. So wait out the crappy part and be nice to yourself during that phase. You'll get there!
posted by gingerbeer at 11:49 AM on June 7, 2011

A possible alternative for you might be the Carbohydrate Addict's Diet, in which you have carbs once a day as part of a reward meal, which has a strict time limit of one hour. According to the authors, you get the same basic benefit as any low-carb plan in terms of controlling your insulin response and metabolic syndrome. However, you eat enough carbs to keep your glycogen stores from running out and switching over to ketones, thus avoiding the "keto flu." Might be worth a read.
posted by kindall at 1:02 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can you try eating low-GI carbs instead?
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 1:20 PM on June 7, 2011

I started low-carbing and the Couch-to-5k last week! At first I was kind of weirded out by the whole "eat more bacon! and add bacon grease to everything!" attitude, but as the diet got hold of my system I found that my appetite dramatically decreased and I HAD to cook with more fats to keep fueled and satisfied (while still staying easily within my reduced calorie range). You should never, ever, ever be starving on low carb.

Cook with more fats! For lunch I just had half a chorizo sausage, a cup of gai lan stir fried with sesame oil, and a handful of almonds. It was good.

Do you track your food intake? When I change my diet I find that tracking what I eat for a few weeks -- I use, but there are a ton of other resources -- can be very educational and gives me a better idea of why or why not something might be working for me.
posted by jess at 1:21 PM on June 7, 2011

Oh, and I am not anything even vaguely resembling an expert, but I would think you wouldn't have to go into ketosis levels of low carbing to see positive effects on your medical issues. A limit of 100g a day or so might be sufficient, and still let you get in a suitable piece of fruit.
posted by jess at 1:23 PM on June 7, 2011

I too have had to drastically reduce my carb intake lately, and I'm the kind of person who would happily eat cake for every meal. Frankly, I hate it. But pretty much the only good thing about it is it's a great excuse to just mainline almonds and pistachios. Oh my god I have never eaten so many pistachios in my whole life. And also cheese...happily I live in a region where cheese plates are often part of the dessert menu so instead of eating dessert I can at least enjoy something else magnificent.

I find myself eating weird combinations of stuff - plain yogurt with sunflower seeds mixed in, "salad" with more cheese than leaves, etc. I get mocked at work because we have fancy cheeses and crackers on Fridays and I'm the only one eating just straight up wedges of cheese with my hands.
posted by troublesome at 8:41 PM on June 7, 2011

Response by poster: Update: For the past two days, I've been doing what everyone said and eating way more protein and fatty foods, and it looks like you were right, because I've been doing great! I'm already seeing a benefit in my blood sugar, and I'm neither starving nor tired. The only negative effect so far is I was only able to do half of my normal afternoon run, but maybe starting next week I'll experiment with my carbs and protein on running days. Thank you, Mefites!
posted by canadia at 5:03 PM on June 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

Great! The running thing is totally to be expected on a low-carb diet, particularly if you go fairly long distances. You may need to add carbs, or you may consider switching to some sprint work and weight training instead to get you through the adjustment.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:34 PM on June 8, 2011

Glad to hear that it's been working better for you. I've been eating low carb since January and am really happy with the results and with how easy it's been. If you have more questions I can give them a shot via email.
posted by gingerbeer at 7:18 PM on June 9, 2011

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